Kanye West - US Airways Center - 12/10/2013
Yeezus walks with them.
Photos by Yezmin Villarreal
Yeezus. Yeezy. Kanye. Ye. Call him what you will, but if last night is any indication Yeezus will go down as one of the best tours of all time, with or without Grammy nominations. Kanye West made sure to mention that his latest record only received two nominations for a record that's been considered one of the best records of the year. He made allusion to Michael Jackson, and how he faces similar struggles when it comes to being taken seriously as an artist, because people simply want to put him in the "urban" category.
"I'm talking beyond that," he said to the crowd, when he remarked that out of the 21 Grammy's he owns, none of those were won when he went up against a white artist. Regardless of awards or nominations, it's hard to deny the holy rapture in which he held the crowd at US Airways last night.
Kendrick Lamar opened up the show exactly at seven sharp, so if there were any lingering souls who thought they could show up after the scheduled start time, they were wrong. As soon as Kendrick's performance ended, a large white mountain appeared on stage with appropriately eerie music, and it gave the impression of both the Holy Mountain and Moses.
The Yeezus tour had five subsets within the show--commandments, you could say, and Kanye would probably want you to. They were Fighting, Rising, Falling, Searching and Finding. Each was presented with a dictionary definition read aloud on the big screen in the dark.
As the anticipation built up for Kanye to make his initial appearance, a group of stoic-looking long-haired models all dressed in white came out on the runway. Suddenly Kanye ran out covered with a gold embroidered face mask, a gold chain, and a tank top that made allusion to the "Bound 2" video--a bald eagle with an American flag on it. Lights beamed in on him from the right, left and from atop.
As he was getting into "Mercy," he stopped midway to say, "How long is it going to take to get the light right?" He refused to go back to the song until the lights were just right. When they were Yeezus approved, he went back into just as intensely before the technical mishap and then there were about 15 lights on the right and left of the stage that flashed in unison with the beat of the song. There was a screen in the shape of a circle above Kanye that was constantly displaying lights, effects, and reflections of Kanye.
As he jumped into "Cold" he changed into an all-black outfit with a black sparkling face mask and a gold chain dangling from his neck. It was during the line, "Don't talk to me about style, I .... embarrass you," that I realized the truth of that statement, as I looked around in amazement at the sound, lights, clothing, set and philosophy that Kanye and DONDA put together for the Yeezus tour.
During "I Am a God" the models, who made frequent appearances throughout the show, picked him up and held him, and then another mountain rose on the front of the stage, which led inevitably to Yeezus delivering his sermon, or rap, from the mount.
A Chewbacca-like figure joined him on stage, serving mostly as a prop roaming the background, but paired with the monotone-looking models it made me realize just how creepy this show would have been if this wasn't a big arena concert.
People like to claim that Kanye doesn't know what he's doing, but he knows exactly what he's doing: he has a vision and he executes it. This was clear when a Sistine Chapel image was portrayed on the circle screen circling him as he performed, while laying on the floor, and the models circled him.
I couldn't help thinking: are we boring Yeezus? Why is he rapping from the floor?
It was hard to shake the feeling that we were all at church, especially when people put their hands up in rapture, as if they were in a performative church informed by the avant-garde aesthetics of the Holy Mountain and Kanye's wave of hip hop, which he labeled as his new demo tape to the world.
When "Blood on the Leaves" came on, the lights all went off, except for red spotlights; fire exploded from the mountain behind him as it turned red and orange from the lava that flowed from the top. In that moment, I thought about that famous Kanye quote--"My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live," It sounds like an impossibly silly thing to say out of context, but the Yeezus tour is incredible--everyone should be able to experience it.
The sky on the round screen above him portrayed an image of a sky on fire as the lava kept flowing, then suddenly, like Moses parting the Red Sea, Yeezus split the white mountain behind him, as the creepy models reemerged on the runway in a Catholic procession shaking censers that scented the stage. Others walked with long, white, lit candles, a large wooden cross, and an icon of Virgin Mary, while Kanye came out in a trenchcoat, the Wooden Cross behind him.
At this point, he had a white facemask on, and I was starting to wonder if we were all actually seeing Kanye West. Who was behind the mask? It made me think he was taking the religious metaphor as far as he could: we've never seen the true face of God, so thus the crowd would not be allowed to see Yeezus' true face.
This proved false shortly after, once he finally took off the last of his Margiella face masks. Then the moment I had been both expecting and waiting for came: a Kanye monologue.
In response to only receiving two Grammy nominations he said, "Did they think I wouldn't notice? Do they think that in some way that I don't have the power to completely diminish all their credibility at this moment? People congratulate me on those two nominations, I say, Fuck those nominations, it's only patronizing, don't patronize me!"
He said he didn't have any negative feelings about it, but rather only positive energy: "It doesn't matter, success is imminent. We will win. We will overcome because your headlines can't beat the drums. There is nothing that you can do to stop 20,000 people from showing up tonight. There are two types of people: there's dreamers and haters. Only difference is the haters forgot about their dreams, or they let somebody kill their dreams, so they try to kill our dreams, but right now I need you to put your hand up if you feel like you could do anything, or live out any dream."
The monologue went on a little longer than the crowd had patience, but it was surprisingly emotional. He really connected with the crowd, in a way that's difficult to when you are performing in an arena concert, when the space between artist and audience is so defined and distant.
"You can't be scared to fail; you can't stay in that jail--that mental jail that the peer pressure puts you in," sang Kanye in auto-tune, towards the end of his sermon-like message.
Following that, he went into "Through the Wire." He followed it with "Jesus Walks," where a Jesus figure came out onto the runway towards Yeezus, where Kanye said, "It's White Jesus!" Then the mask finally came off, and I could say, for sure, that it was Kanye West on stage.
A pyramid of light lit the front of the stage and encased Kanye within it as fireworks went off for "All of the Lights" and red lights started flashing, as the models held fire on the white mountain behind him.
He ended the show with "Bound 2," which has been the focus of both acclaim and mockery in the media. There's those who claim he's a genius mocking stereotypical art, and then there's those who like the James Franco/Seth Rogen parody too much to take "Bound 2" seriously. Pick your own side, or don't--because that's part of Kanye's appeal. You'll be hard to find an indifferent Kanye fan. Like he says, there's dreamers and haters, and that applies to how people respond to his work. His fans adore him and defend him to death, and then there's those who dismiss him as 'cocky,' but that's too simple of a description of one of the most arguably important pop culture figures of our time.
The show ended with Kanye on his knees, along with the eerie stoic models, who were all staring up at the White Jesus who found his way up to the top of the white mountain at the back of the stage. Yeezus was in rapture to White Jesus, as the lights blacked out, and the crowd dispersed to the nearest exits.
Setlist On Sight New Slaves Send It Up Mercy Power Cold I Don't Like Clique Black Skinhead I Am a God Can't Tell Me Nothing Coldest Winter Hold My Liquor I'm In It Guilt Trip Heartless Blood on the Leaves Lost in the World Runaway Stronger Through the Wire Jesus Walks Diamonds from Sierra Leone Flashing Lights All of the Lights Good Life Bound 2
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.