Kanye Proves He Can Still Bring His A-Game Live
Kanye West. Photo: Julian Bajsel
I don’t normally do show reviews, for various reasons; usually because the odds are low that the artist in review will come back through sooner than later. However, I wanted to write a review about the Kanye West show here in Houston because possibly the most misunderstood figure in rap blew me away with a festival set at Glastonbury last year. The simplistic stage arrangement made me want to see what Ye would have in store for those in attendance on the Saint Pablo tour, and I hate admitting that I was actually impressed with what I witnessed.
For starters, I’m not the biggest fan of West as a person, though I’ve always found his inventive way of getting his vision out there to be at the least intriguing. It also didn’t help that it took me six months to get what Kanye was trying to achieve with his latest album, The Life of Pablo and that it was nothing like anything else in hip hop today for a reason. The slow-burn nature of the tracks that popped off made them slow bangers rather than ragers, giving me about three to five tracks that I was excited to hear in person.
The biggest reason however was the stage set up. When you hear that Kanye is going to hover above the audience on a moving stage, it’s definitely something you want to see in person. The stage was a trip to say the least. Going low, going high, at some points being low enough for West to lean over the side and rap the lyrics of “I Love Kanye” as well as angled and moving forward, Kanye definitely took the idea of a hip hop show to a new level. Though I knew he’d be anchored in from what I was told prior to getting there, it didn’t really hold West back as the hopped, jumped, and danced his way through a set full of energy and occasional banter with the audience. The weirdest part of the stage setup was that it violently shook when he jumped on it, which was scary for even the biggest Kanye haters. Employing a simple light rig that rarely lit up West for the bulk of the show — but that also lit up the audience below like they were bigger than West who hovered above them — Kanye grooved and moved on the stage like nothing could hold him back.
Kanye West. Photo: Julian Bajsel
As far as his set, it wasn’t hard to notice that Ye was enjoying performing his newer tracks than his older ones. Opening with “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” and throwing hit track “Famous” out as fast as he began, there was definitely the vibe of let’s get this party started when things began. In fact when West performed “Power” and “Runaway” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it felt like he was ready to retire the tracks with the lack of energy he put into the performances of these songs. His energy level was still high for Yeezus bangers “Black Skinhead” and “Blood On The Leaves,” but was almost to sleep for the slow pace of “Only One,” as you’d expect. No, it was the newer tracks like “Waves” and “Feedback” when Ye really got into the set that covered plenty of ground overall. The downfall of the setup was that when Kanye was either winded or just needed a break, there was nowhere for him to hide. The lack of emotion behind his performance on some of the older tracks was painfully out in the open for all to see. There was an intermission where the lights did this Close Encounters Of The Third Kind alien thing, but overall the set was definitely worth making it out for.
The worst part of the show, for me at least, was how disrespectful those on the floor of Toyota Center were to Kanye. I’m not a fan by any means, but there’s no way I’d ever throw anything onto a stage. There’s surely no way that I’d thrown something onto a stage that floats above me and that an artist could fall off of. However, consistently throughout his set, West had to toss off hats or kick off cups that had made their way onto his stage. It made me remember back to the days when friends of mine in bands would express displeasure in performing here in Houston when on tour, and upset me as someone who tries to highlight the best parts of our city every chance I get.
Aside from that, or the fact that the merch was pretty terrible, the show itself was worth making it out for. While the Saint Pablo tour was entrenched with tracks from an album that felt like it wasn’t well received by fans, the live version of all the tracks proved that West can still bring it when he performs. Afterwards I was glad I went, realizing there’s a reason why West has gained the superstar status he’s achieved. Even with a floating stage and a lighting rig alone, West proved he can still bring a crowd to its knees when he performs in person.