Kanye West is one of the most acclaimed musicians of his generation and a certified, name-up-in-lights superstar, yet a live Kanye performance nonetheless seems a bit problematic on paper. His records are heavily collaborative affairs, cherry picking the biggest names from his genre and beyond to realise his visions of kaleidoscope, wide-screen extravaganzas. Live, there are just a couple of musicians, no special guests and a lot of pre-recorded backing. It’s basically all Kanye. But in this high-energy juggernaut of a show, that proves to be more than enough.
While a persistent criticism of touring hip-hop acts is the stop-start nature of their performances, Kanye’s foot is rarely off the pedal tonight. After appearing deep in the dancefloor crowd on a crane, he powers through Powerand Dark Fantasy to a near hysterical reception. The classic Jesus Walks soon follows, West stalking the stage and spitting out words with such urgency, he seems more a hungry up-and-comer with a point to prove than the stadium-filling multi-millionaire he has long since become.
As choreographed dancers swoon and swirl around him, West covers just about every highlight from his feted back catalogue with older cuts like the slinky minimalism of Love Lockdown, the robotic maximalism of Strongerand the typically defiant Through The Wire all maintaining the irresistible momentum, while Heartless, featuring a crowd singalong, is a clear highlight.
Like some gold-chain clad pied piper, West keeps the crowd energy bubbling as he moves down a catwalk extending from the main stage and later ventures into the upper tiers of the cavernous Entertainment Centre during Touch The Sky, camera phones flashing and fans racing for an up-close glimpse of their charismatic idol. After completing almost a full lap of the venue he disappears through an exit and reappears a few seconds later on stage to launching into another of his monster hits, the ear-worm Gold Digger.
Divided into three acts, apparently to allow for a costume change and add even further to the stadium-sized grandeur, the final section begins with a Chariots of Fire introduction – ridiculous and over-the-top, sure, but nobody comes to a Kanye West show hoping for a low-key production. Dressed in an eye-catching red suit, he stretches his masterpiece Runaway out into something truly epic, with primal screaming and samples mashed together into noise adding to its cathartic power. Lost in the World sees him pondering the state of the universe, before Hey Mama ends proceedings.
Generous in length and packed with hits, what this show lacked in spontaneity it made up for in sheer spectacle. While his all-star collaborators may have been absent, you wouldn’t say they were missed. Some performers get swallowed up by a venue this big, its lack of intimacy working against them. But Kanye West seems to thrive in such a setting and tonight was no exception. His juggernaut rolls on.
Originally appeared in: Faster Louder