The Yeezus Tour has been a viral sensation so far. After every show Kanye has played, fans in different cities have uploaded their own photos and video footage to Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Vine. We knew to expect grand theatrics, including but not limited to: a giant, glacial mountain; huge visual projections on a circular LED screen; fireballs and clouds of smoke; futuristic dancers; and of course White Jesus. So although most people in attendance had at least a vague idea of what was in store, all the discursive imagery that’s been passed around in the last few months ultimately just added to the general sense of “what the fuck is about to happen?”
Opening for Kanye was Kendrick Lamar, the 26-year-old rapper who in the past couple of years has essentially been labelled as hip-hop’s future hope, inheriting the figurative crown once worn by greats like Rakim, Nas and Tupac. Needless to say, Lamar is a man of the people, and he seemed to go out of his way to make sure everyone was having a good time, balancing his more conscious and thought-provoking material with a handful of crowd-pleasers. The highlight for us was “Swimming Pools (Drank),” a song about the complexities and dangers of binge drinking, which, outside the context of Lamar's album good kid, m.A.A.d city, sounds like any other party song about intoxication. It was great watching everyone in the arena go berserk and raise their drinks while chanting the hook.
Kendrick held his own, especially considering the fact that everyone was holding their breath for Kanye the entire time (and the sheer size of the stage was a constant reminder of Ye's impending set). But Lamar did managed to get a tiny bit of upscale production — he was backed by a live band for the first time of the several we've seen him, and there were even a couple little bursts of fire and smoke toward the end of the set.
No one on the floor in front of the stage seemed to budge between sets. Random and sparse cheering broke out every so often while the crew assembled the stage. When the mountain was wheeled in and a massive sheet was pulled off of it to reveal it in all of its glory, everyone on the floor level cheered for about 10 seconds.
West started his set by storming the stage — populated by a dozen women in nude bodysuits — to the tune of “On Sight,” the opening track on Yeezus. One frequent complaint about Yeezus is that the melodic interpolations placed abruptly throughout the record should have all been longer. Well, Kanye gave the crowd what they wanted on Wednesday night, playing an extended version of the interpolation on “On Sight,” a recreation of “Sermon (He'll Give Us What We Really Need)" by Keith Carter Sr. and the Holy Name of Mary Choral Family. Clad in one of the multiple Maison Martin Margiela masks he'd don throughout the night, Kanye then went into several more songs from Yeezus, with a good bit of the crowd chanting along to every single word.
Those who found it difficult to make any sense of Yeezus when it first dropped should make it a point to catch one of the remaining tour dates, if given the opportunity. The general sparseness, bombastic bass and almost-shouting vocals make perfect sense when experienced live. So much sense, in fact, that during the show you might start to wonder what it is about Yeezus you didn’t initially get. Yeezus was made to play on the loudest speakers you have, and the presentational nature of West's live show puts his themes (celebrity, religion, self-perception) into a visual context.
The Yeezus experience is a spectacle — one that Kanye has described several times as more akin to a Broadway production than a concert. We’re inclined to agree. The sheer scale of the stage production was almost overwhelming, with West perching on the bodysuit girls during "I Am a God" as though they were a throne, a furry, red-eyed beast stalking the stage behind the MC, and the massive LED screen pitching forward like a setting moon.
West performed “Power” from the peak of the mountaintop. There was live image capturing during “Black Skinhead,” similar to the leaked video for the single that dropped earlier this year. And he performed “Coldest Winter” while laid on his back on the edge of the stage that had just been raised 20 feet or so by hydraulics, with one leg dangling off the edge while fake snow fell from above. Nevertheless, somehow, West still seemed to occupy every inch of the massive stage.
West's entire set was over two hours long, but everyone seemed relatively rapt from start to finish, waiting to see what could possibly transpire next. The last leg of the show featured the previously blogged (but watch it again below for good measure) customary address, aka “rant,” to the audience. The rant of course mainly focused on West's relationship with corporations (Nike, Disney, Louis Vuitton, etc.), and his assurance that he is "the most important artist of the past 10 years." It was a 20-minute address, and while many fans hung in there, it was a trying-by-design exercise. At one point, West pointed to the stage behind him and reminded everyone that he designed this entire tour. He then highlighted the irony of being able to design the Yeezus Tour and still not receive a call-back from certain corporations, and then claimed that the media likes to depict him as a "lunatic" — an attempt to trivialize his accomplishments, perhaps. Touché, Kanye. Touché.
After Ye's speech, as promised, White Jesus came out and blessed Kanye, after which he took off his mask. It was essentially an encore, wherein West awarded his audience's patience with a full-bore tear through all the hits, including “Through the Wire” and, naturally, “Jesus Walks.” He shook the outstretched hands in front of the stage and even gave the microphone to one lucky fan during his last song, the hypnotically jarring “Bound 2.” And as West strutted off the stage during the song’s final notes, we couldn’t help but think that the mountain, the snow, the fireballs and futuristic bodysuit dancers were all designed not as an extension of West's outsized ego, but as genuine attempts at entertainment. Some like to criticize Ye for no longer being for the people. But if that was the case Wednesday night, we couldn’t tell.