Kanye West at Toyota Center, 12/7/2013
All images supplied by some kind PR folks from a date earlier in the tour.
Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar Toyota Center December 7, 2013
Kanye West built a mountain. He may not have built it with his own two hands, but he was able to pull together the resources that took the mountain out of his imagination and into arenas across the country. The mountain is one of many memorable visuals of The Yeezus Tour, but it seems to be the one he's most proud of.
As a piece of art, The Yeezus tour is incredible. The story may not be the deepest in the world, but there are moments of production that are completely jaw-dropping. If Kanye was setting out to create the ultimate calling card to the world of entertainment, he succeeded.
But it doesn't make for a great concert.
Maybe it was the fact that he was adjusting his in-ear monitors every other minute. Maybe the masks he wears affects this breathing. Maybe he's just tired for the toil that comes with hitting the road on his first solo tour in five years. Whatever the reason, there were many moments Saturday night where Kanye just didn't seem to be running at full speed.
There's always going to be a bit of call and response, especially at a rap show. That kind of thing is expected. However, it's one thing to kill the beat so the crowd can sing a particularly great hook, it's another thing entirely to expect them to sing damn near the entire first verse of "Blood On the Leaves" without any help. It's almost as if Kanye feels the visuals are so powerful in the front half of the show that he can do things like that.
Things were further hampered by the fact that he played every single song off Yeezus, and very few of those tracks have any weight live. That minimalism that so many critics like to talk about does not yield itself to big arenas.
That's not to say that he never came alive. "Runaway" remains a standout in any Kanye performance, both on the strength of the song and the fact that everyone knows he's going to speak his mind before the piano melody disappears. Then once he removed his mask -- which required a visit from White Jesus to make happen (swear to Yeezus that's how it went down) -- it became a more traditional Kanye West performance, with the hits folks know and love. Free from the restraints of creating art, West reminded everyone that he does in fact remember how to rock a crowd.
Review continues on the next page.
To his credit, if he was just coasting on the visuals in the front half of the show, it's easy to understand why. Whether it was his mountain becoming a volcano for "Blood on the Leaves", his background dancers forming a sexual ouroboros around him during "I'm In It," a red-eyed monster stalking the stage for multiple songs, or snow falling during "Coldest Winter," there was almost always something worthwhile going on during any particular song.
Still, in a show that is a tribute to his ambition and ego, it's weird that the chief complaint is that there wasn't enough Kanye.
Kanye wants to take this sort of thing to stadiums, and while I would never be one to tell anyone -- especially Kanye-freaking-West -- not to follow their dreams, I'm not entirely sure he knows just how difficult that path will be. It's hard enough to create a traveling stage show with a story without turning it in to a bad off-Broadway production, let alone one that can engage an audience of 80,000.
But if there's one person that could do it (aside from Roger Waters) it might very well be Kanye West. If you've ever seen him live you know he can work a crowd. If you've seen the Yeezus tour you know he can create an epic production. Can he combine the two in to a package that works completely?
I have no doubt that he'll do his damnedest to try. After all, he did build a mountain.
Russ: Did It My Way Tour
TicketsSat., Aug. 6, 6:00pm
World Famous Gospel Brunch at House of Blues Houston
TicketsSun., Aug. 7, 1:30pm
TicketsSun., Aug. 7, 8:00pm
The Noise Presents: Periphery - Sonic Unrest Tour
TicketsTue., Aug. 9, 6:00pm
TicketsWed., Aug. 10, 7:00pm
So What Did Kanye "Rant" About Tonight? The difference between haters and dreamers (haters have forgotten their dreams); that he's happy that Kendrick Lamar and Daft Punk got Grammy nominations (for a moment it seemed he might go in to a Grammy rant but it never materialized); the question you can ask all the people that don't like him ("Have you ever built a mountain?"); "I am 36 and I am Kanye West. Where was Disney when he was 36 and what did his bitch look like?" (He had created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse. I don't know what his bitch looked like.)
So How Was the Opener? People love Kendrick Lamar, and from the very beginning of his set people were waving their arms and screaming out the words. I don't know if the decision to tour with a band was the right one for this tour -- it felt at times like things weren't quite in sync between Kendrick and the band on an energy level. His visuals were amazing. His mike had too much reverb. I liked "Fuckin' Problem" more when A$AP Rocky did it a few weeks back.
Personal Bias: I love Kayne. Yeezus is my album of the year. I hate head colds. This review was written with one.
The Crowd: I don't know if I'm the only one that noticed this, but I've never seen so many people eating at a show before. Guess it was too cold to go out for dinner beforehand.
Overheard In the Crowd: "For $40 that better keep me fucked up for the next nine days," said one guy to his friend after a misunderstanding on the price of a shot.
Random Notebook Dump: There was an altercation in the stands before Kanye took the stage, the end result being someone throwing their drink at another person. Yes, people started yelling "Worldstar." I know, I didn't think that happened in real life either.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.