By the end of the first night of this year's Austin City Limits, Kanye West had gone over his allotted set time by 15 minutes, turning in one of the most un-rap, rap shows, injecting a Bjork and Talking Heads stage-commanding sensibility into a collection of champion singles. It was everything we wanted it to be and less, to be honest.
Tech problems, and what sounded to us like a hoarse voice, only slightly marred a thrilling set by West. Early in the day, rumors abounded that either Jay-Z, Bon Iver, or Chris Martin of Coldplay would make an appearance with West. The one rumor that he would open his set from a lift near the soundboard ended up coming to pass.
To the audible chagrin of the audience, who had also gotten wind of the same rumor, we saw no one but 'Ye and his small group of engineers and a cavalcade of modern dancers onstage for almost two hours.
So how was the show? It was great, from beginning to end, but we couldn't shake the feeling that our man wasn't too thrilled with himself, which dug into us. West alone onstage proves how much his live show pops.
He has a stage presence, and with him alone against his ornate Roman backdrop, which echoes his own public, ego-driven persona. He takes risks, at the expense of his image, and it keeps bringing people back. Being by his lonesome onstage almost looked defensive.
The show split into three acts, showcasing the grim ballet of the dancers, and what seemed like a storyline, but was a bit buried.
Opening with "Power," he raged in front of ballet dancers doing a dramatic interpretive piece to the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy track. The minimalism compared to other rap shows of this caliber, was a stark statement. Here and there between songs he would hint at wanting to talk shit. Seeing him struggle with the mike popping out, and watching his ensuing frustration, was fun.
We could have been seconds away from a walk-off. That's not just talking, that was the general consenus among well, everyone.
"Monster" would have been a perfect place for guests, but he stood out, testifying his ode to his one Kanye-ness, with "Run This Town" cut in half itself. "Jesus Walks" was a stomper, bringing the first bouts of headbangs in the crowd.
"All of the Lights" was restarted a few minutes in at West's request, which would have been a red flag with anyone else, but for West it was business as usual, and the reason some of us camped out for two hours for.
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By the time we got to "Through The Wire" and "All Falls Down," he was deep enough to his set, and running out of time, that his frustration only added to what were his first two major singles.
West's set was the stuff of all-time ACL headlining sets, the ones that get remembered for years. He's working right now at the top of his craft, maybe of his career. He may be batshit to most, but Friday night he proved that he's at least making it thrilling. And hell, he's a showman.
Personal Bias: Watching West is like watching someone defuse a bomb in front thousands of people.
The Crowd: People too cool for Coldplay, and too baked to move. And it did seem to some that the West crowd was smaller than the one for the British soft-rock act. Chalk that up to an ever finicky ACL crowd.
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Overheard in the Crowd: We heard about three sad-sack couples fights before West came onstage. Coldplay probably would have cured their domestic ills on the other side of the park.
Random Notebook Dump: The 808s & Heartbreak material slayed last night, and whatever mental baggage that was going on stage with with him at showtime only magnified the dark depths of those cuts.