Oct. 25, 2016
Outside the Forum on Tuesday night were huge banners proclaiming Kanye West’s latest accomplishment: five sold-out nights at the venue. It’s an impressive run that puts him in the company of Adele and U2 for recent L.A. arena stands of a similar length. And considering West’s outspoken reputation, a boast before even entering the venue wasn’t out of character.
What was surprising was how out-of-step it was with the rest of the concert. Little about the night was about West basking in his accomplishments. Sure, he played opening cut “Father Stretch Your Hands Pt. 1” two times in a row to celebrate its recent ascension to No. 1 on the Billboard Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop chart (and even brought it back a third time at the end of "Waves" to shout out the track's guest, Kid Cudi, who is currently in treatment for depression). But for the most part he let the songs speak for themselves. The recognizability of the night’s 31 selections and the crowd’s reaction to them all gave each its own sense of value.
What little West did say between songs packed a punch. He paused during one of his most controversial numbers, “Famous,” to address the backlash he took for what some found to be objectionable lyrics about Taylor Swift. He explained that one of the attractive qualities of rap music is that it gives him the ability to say what he thinks, and he restarted the song to a mass sing-along.
The end of “Runaway” is usually a space for West to rant about whatever is on his mind during shows. But on this night it was unexpectedly spare, as he thanked the people responsible for renovating the Forum and making it a beautiful space for music. “I hope this concert lived up to your expectations,” he said with striking sincerity, before breaking into a massive grin and adding, “I hope it’s the best motherfucking concert of your life.”
Kanye West knows what he has. That’s long been one of the most attractive qualities of the man — the sense that not only is he a profoundly gifted creative mind but that he also is completely aware of it, and unafraid to let the world know it. This can be a turnoff to some, but it can be inspiring when viewed in the right light. And the entire setup and performance of the Saint Pablo tour serves to emphasize this.
If you haven’t seen the countless Instagrams and snaps from your friends in other cities who have attended the tour, here's the rundown: West’s stage is suspended above the arena floor, drifting from one side of the venue to the other, with those in the GA floor section shuffling along beneath the stage. The bottom of West’s floating stage shines lights on the audience below, while West himself is often barely illuminated. In a sense, the audience and their reaction to the songs becomes the show. It’s nice to see West jump around and peer over the edge, but it's far more interesting to watch the exhilarated young people standing underneath him, leaping into the air with every beat drop, eager to shout every resonant lyric right back to the man who created it.
West gets some flack for those lyrics, particularly on this year's The Life of Pablo, where his rhymes felt like afterthoughts to the album's often impressive production. But on Tuesday, that didn't matter. Fans were just as eager to shout about bleached assholes as they were to chant "Jesus walks." What mattered most was that everyone in the building knew the cues, and were there when West decided to let them carry the weight. This was most effective on 808s and Heartbreaks standout "Heartless," with West letting the arena handle the closing choruses as he added his own Auto-Tuned harmonies.
Then there was a stray moment on TLOP's "Feedback" where a lyrical change made all the difference. On record, he raps the line "Name one genius that ain't crazy," but on this night it was different. "I swear to God I ain't crazy," he said in its place, beams of light shining down on him from a rig above, the smell of sweat and weed permeating the air. For 90 minutes, everything was in its right place, carefully orchestrated to look like organized chaos. There's nothing crazy about that kind of genius.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Set list below.
Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 (2x)
Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2
Can't Tell Me Nothing
Blood on the Leaves
I Love Kanye
Touch the Sky
All of the Lights