Kanye West's Yeezus tour combines his exhaustive catalog and revolutionary new album with intricate stage design and production to create the most assured and evocative auteur vision I've ever seen from a concert.
Attending West's second night at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, I was lucky to catch one of two dates where A Tribe Called Quest lent support in what will be the group's last shows ever. Despite the venue's dreadful sound, Tribe's 17 song set was non-stop "I listened to this so much in my car in high school" jams. I'm still processing when Busta Rhymes dropped in for his legendary "Scenario" verse only to be given a dead microphone but after set closer 'Award Tour', I had a hard time complaining especially considering what was soon to follow.
Kanye's nearly 2.5 hour set is based around a unique narrative structure following the character of Kanye West as he breaks free from the control of his oppressors, transforms into the God that is Yeezus, and subsequently mutates into the black monster America wants him to be. Kanye’s 2010 XXL stream-of-consciousness essay La Dolce Vida provides context for West’s thought process as he writes; "People asked Miles Davis, 'What do you want to be remembered for?' He said, 'That I’m Black.'”
Kanye’s growing self-awareness allows him to reclaim the media's caricature of himself as a bigheaded black savage and he does just that, utilizing excellent character development for the transformation into the grotesque 'Black Skinhead'. West repurposes the hate for him into art that successfully undermines the power of the prejudice that birthed it. The Yeezus tour is defined by Kanye’s deliberate decisions to do everything an American pop artist shouldn't do, such as largely ignoring the bulk of his early catalog of fan favorites, selling t-shirts adorned with more confederate flags than the words "Kanye West," and covering his face with crystal Margiela masks for the first two hours of the show.
A group of predominately white, faceless dancers in tan tights play a large role in the production, ceremoniously hoisting the masked figure that is Kanye as he screams gutturally for 'I Am A God' and makes the final transition into full-on Yeezus. Kanye proves that all he had to do to be a God was to say so but the image of Yeezus screaming up to the rafters in pain as the silent quasi-Greek choir raises him up feels more like a crucifixion than a celebration At one point, a dude in a costume that looks like a dirty black puffball monster scurries across the stage and lurks in the corner behind Kanye throughout a collection of songs that outline the temptations of Yeezus, starting with 'Hold My Liquor' (Intoxicants), 'I'm In It' (Pussy), 'Blood On the Leaves' (Amber Rose), and 'Runaway' (Kanye West). The first two hours of the show descend into a hazy, depressive mood as Yeezus endlessly beats himself up, moving song-by-song through his own crucifixion. I really don't blame Kanye for wanting to bring the energy back up and 'Flashing Lights', and 'Through the Wire' certainly do the trick but the power of the Auteur-level work in the more thematic portions of the show is so strong that I found myself upset at the notion of hearing a happy audience singing 'Good Life'.
I have a strong feeling what Kanye West has put together for the Yeezus Tour will be talked about for years to come much like Pink Floyd's 1980 The Wall Tour. The Yeezus tour is the most interesting and confident art I've seen this year hands down. Once again, Kanye West creates something that is light-years ahead of his peers, further establishing himself as the most exciting artist alive.
Words: Nick Boyd