There are headliners for festivals, and then there are headliners for festivals.
The closing night of the Summer Ends Music Festival was undoubtedly the latter of the two, as every act to perform before Kanye West just felt like an opener for the man known to many as Yeezus.
Although his set was scheduled to begin at 8:20 (and the festival ran on time more or less all weekend), West didn’t take to the stage until 8:45. Donning all black except for a tan bandana over the bottom half of his face and a brand new matching colorway of his Yeezy Boosts, the rapper appeared on the smoke-filled mesmerizingly-lit stage to the beginning of one of his many hits, “Power.”
Until the 10:00 curfew hit, West played hits ranging from about a minute of his debut single (“Through the Wire”) to an extended version of “Runaway” complete with drawn-out a cappella moments and beats slowed to nearly stationary tempos.
Regardless of which of his eight albums (that GOOD Music record and Watch the Throne totally count as Kanye albums) West performed from, the sound quality was consistently amazing all night. Maybe it’s because West is known to be a bit of a perfectionist or maybe his production team is just that much better than everyone else’s, but West’s set (which featured live musicians and very limited vocals on the backing tracks) sounded at least as clean as the tracks would sound out of the studio.
The early portion of West’s set contained everything from 2013’s “Black Skinhead” to 2007’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and even this year’s “All Day” (albeit without Paul McCartney). After a quick version of West’s spin on Chief Keef’s “Don’t Like,” Vic Mensa (who performed a fun but not spectacular set on his own during the afternoon) joined West on the stage for “U Mad” before West took things back to Yeezus once again for “New Slaves.”
West followed up the track from his newest album with “Jesus Walks” from his 2004 debut, although the hopeful jokes that he would bring the Pope out for the track proved to be nothing but a letdown.
As Travis Scott (more on him in a bit) joined the show for his song “Piss on Your Grave” and West’s “Blood on the Leaves,” it was impossible to not notice just how white and privileged the majority of the primarily college-aged crowd seemed. Of course, West’s music draws all types of fans, but in Tempe, those who are willing to shell out $120 to see him probably aren’t the ones who can identify with the struggle of being raised without much money (or a trust fund).
With the night’s “Super Blood Moon” revealing itself from its eclipse in the sky above, West continued his set with everything from an interesting slowed intro to “Stronger” to asking the cameraman to zoom in on the aforementioned new color of Yeezy Boosts in the middle of “Good Life.”
To close out his set, West stuck primarily with 808s & Hearbreak (which he’d performed in its entirety the previous two nights in Los Angeles), performing “Say You Will,” “Heartless,” and “Love Lockdown” before performing the new track “Only One” and taking a brief break.
Much of West’s set had a very theatrical feel to it despite the minimalist stage design, as the rapper rarely broke character to interact with the crowd (except for informing everyone that he was told to tell everyone to “spread out,” since overcrowding was a bit of a problem again). It wasn’t a bad performance by any means, as West’s dancing provided nearly as much entertainment as the incredible sound of his performance, but there was something impersonal and borderline trivial about the show. West lacked the emotional connection and storytelling experience that J. Cole so incredibly created the night before.
For an encore, West riled the large (although not compared to Saturday night) crowd up with “Mercy” and “Clique” despite not bringing out any of the present members of GOOD Music, and then sped through pieces of “All Falls Down,” “Gold Digger,” and “Through the Wire” as the clock struck 10:00.
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In the hour prior to the headlining set, Travis Scott did whatever it is that makes him appealing to the collegiate crowd. He’s got energy to spare while on stage, but it mostly sounds like a lot of screaming and unnecessary backing tracks (and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t mind his recorded music and has survived his "rodeo" three times in the past month).
Pusha T was the first real notable set of the night (5 p.m.), and Chance the Rapper put on one of the best performances of the weekend at 6:00. Featuring a full band (including a trumpet player who was absolutely amazing on a few tracks), Chance hit a wide range of styles and emotions during his hour. The Chicago-based rapper even performed the Action Bronson hit he’s featured on (“Baby Blue”), although Bronsolini himself was unfortunately absent.