On October 23rd, just two days after his engagement to girlfriend Kim Kardashian, Kanye West performed the third concert of his Yeezus Tour at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. The tour comes several months after the release of his sixth studio album and is also his first solo tour since Touch the Sky (2005).
Just like the album Yeezus itself, I expected the show to be extravagant and over the top, with weird and unusual twists. It was nothing less.
As a hardcore Kanye West fan, I realize that admiring a person and his or her music also requires a critical eye. Considering my extensive history with his shows, I felt up for the task. This was now my third Kanye concert; my first show was at the beginning of his career (and ego) in 2005, and my second time seeing the rapper was during last year’s Watch The Throne tour. The latter show with Jay-Z was the best show I have experienced thus far.
The show started with a flawless performance by Kendrick Lamar. In his usual impeccable manner, Kendrick’s talent shone on both aggressive, intense songs (“m.A.A.d. city”) as well as on slower, lyrical tracks (“Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”) from his debut album good kid, m.A.A.d. city. In the background, Flying Lotus and his supporting band were set up in front of three large displays, flashing scenes from Compton, CA; Kendrick’s hometown. The highlight of his set? When he asked the audience to light up their phones for a moment of magic.
It took half an hour between sets to prepare the stage for Kanye’s performance, but it soon became clear that the staging would be a core element of his show. The central stage was triangular, resembling an ice block (otherwise interpreted as slice of brie or cheesecake). This was connected to a huge ice mountain in the back from which Kanye would conduct his empire. The epic structure represented his main theme of the night: power.
When the lights finally turned down, setting the mood, another of Kanye’s recurring themes became apparent: religion. Women dressed in white robes came onstage and performed as a church choir. This was followed by the heavy lines of “On Sight,” which were a sharp contrast to the holy opening.
“A monster about to come alive again”, West belted with force from the first track of Yeezus.
It was a clear demonstration of the ideals he’s been espousing about his new release in the media. In a recent interview, Kanye expressed that he did not want to do another perfect album like he had accomplished with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Rather, he wanted to do something new and unexpected. “On Sight” perfectly expressed that—especially live, where it sounded more like a harsh, raw awakening than an intricately crafted melody.
What came after his impressive intro was a surreal, two-hour extravaganza of nearly 30 songs. Kanye performed many of the politically-charged and darker hits of his latest Yeezus, including “New Slaves,” “Black Skinhead,” and “I Am A God.”
At times, Kanye was downright scary, more screaming than rapping. On the other hand, he also showed his softer side, performing “Coldest Winter.” This was an extremely emotional and touching piece. Kanye introduced it by speaking about his writing process, which happened shortly after the death of his mother, Donda West. His performance was made even more effective with artificial snow that was rigged to fall down on the stage.
Besides those welcome anomalies, Kanye maintained a high-energy, loaded character throughout the night.
It’s impossible to mention every highlight of the show, but in summary, there was also a yeti, many women dressed in skin-colored suits walking and crawling around the stage, and an actor featured as Jesus. The “White Jesus” (as Kanye called him) not only blessed West, introducing the song “Jesus Walks,” but also removed one of Kanye’s masks, one of a handful he had been wearing throughout the evening. The fascades were sparkling, and complimented his outfits; one mask even functioned as disco ball. After Jesus de-masked him, he kept his face clear for the remainder of the performance.
The fans as well as myself, who were lucky to experience these theatrics, were also delighted that Kanye played nearly every classic or single he’d released throughout the years, and he performed each one with great energy and “Power.” The introduction to “Runaway” was just as dramatic as when he first performed it at the 2010 VMAs: a few isolated notes played on a synthesizer, followed by that distinctive intro hook. Only this time, instead of a red suit, Kanye was draped in a thick coat and a white mask.
Before the show started, I had turned to my friend and said, “I would not want to be the person who ruins something in Kanye’s show. I think he can get really unpleasant.” And a dozen songs into the set, his infamous temper was tested. At the beginning of “Blood On The Leaves,” the music cut abruptly, and I braced myself for his responsive fit. But he handled it very professionally. And all of a sudden, Kanye was more likable to me–less perfect, but more human.
And that was the moment I knew how much respect I had for him.
A dedicated fan cannot choose how an artist develops, and I certainly do not support everything Kanye says these days, but I also could not imagine him turning out any differently than he has.
He is Kanye West. He is a genius. In my mind, this show reinforced that.
Bay Area fans can find the full setlist from Kanye West’s amazing night at the Oracle here.
Article by Clara Speer