"I just wanna apologize for...ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!," exclaimed Kaye West during the Toronto edition of the AutoTune'd rant the rapper pencils in for every stop of his Yeezus tour. "Because at least I tried something. And I'm only gonna get crazier!"
It's hard to imagine Kanye getting crazier, though, after witnessing his two-hour-and-10-minute avant-garde performance art spectacle. The Air Canada Centre, home to Toronto's Maple Leafs and Raptors teams, doesn't usually feature concerts where the star's face is covered by a series of bizarre, bejeweled masks or where the stage features a ice-covered mountain, a stormy sky, a red-eyed monster, fake snow and a dozen women alternating between marching in cult-like white robes and writhing in see-through nude body suits. Oh, and "White Jesus."
But I believe Kanye will get crazier, because as he pointed out, "I'm too lazy to lie," while adding "people are so uptight that you can fuck them up by telling them the truth." West is intemperate, impolite and often inarticulate, but he's also usually right. (Beyonce's "Single Ladies" was one of the best videos of all time and Bush did not care about black people -- or more accurately, poor people. Though his recent "ignorant compliment" about Jews having money and connections is obviously just ignorant.)
Even when West's onstage rant detoured into self-help parody -- "the only risk in life is not taking risks" -- he was not wrong.
Yeezus, both the album and the tour, are perhaps the riskiest career moves I've seen a major act make since "In Utero." But Nirvana's reputation was always based on their alternative insurgency whereas Kanye's incredibly confrontational new album, more inspired by Nine Inch Nails than Biggie Smalls, is light years from West's origins as the dude supplying sped-up soul samples for Jay-Z to brag over.
Lady Gaga, currently debasing herself with that R. Kelly duet, should be ashamed of herself after seeing Kanye's actual artpop. And Arcade Fire might want to question how creatively safe they played it with Reflektor. After all, Yeezus was inspired by the rise of EDM, too, but West took electronic music's building blocks and made something dark and dangerous with it.
The last time I saw West in concert was with Jay-Z as part of their multi-millionaire stunting Watch the Throne project, and the pair have since become polar opposites. Kanye released a livid industrial art album decrying corporate control with songs like "New Slaves" while his former boss dropped a lazy Samsung ad of an album. (Though both Yeezus and Magna Carta Holy Grail are equally arrogant album titles.)
When Jay toured through Toronto earlier this year with Justin Timberlake, he came off tired and old, going through the motions to halfheartedly earn his payday. West, however, has never felt more electric or experimental, and I've seen every tour since his first almost exactly a decade ago.
But even that show -- in February 2004 a week or so after The College Dropout dropped -- demonstrated Kanye's outsized ambitions. Unlike most fledgling rappers who tour with a DJ, 'Ye arrived with a full band, including then-unknown piano man John Legend. He wasn't famous yet, but he acted like he was and soon enough it was true.
Still, it was a long voyage from there to here.
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The ice storm outside didn't deter the crowd -- despite more than a quarter-million people having no electricity -- but it did give the show some added epic oomph, especially since the "Yeezus" stage set-up was appropriately icy.
The concert was split into conceptual sections with biblical foundations. "The Rising" act, to borrow theatrical terminology, included an awesomely self-aware bible passage that read, in part: "pride always preludes the crash, the bigger the ego the harder the fall." It also featured a shirtless, masked, gold chain-adorned 'Ye performing "Power" atop his glacier mountain like a prophet. (The mountain later split to become a volcano and after that became the site of Jesus' second coming.)
And West performed like he was divinely inspired, too. Even without being able to see Yeezy's face for 90 per cent of the concert -- his series of masks were designed by avant-garde fashion house Maison Martin Margiela -- his passionate intensity was palpable. This was even true of "Cold Winter," a heartbreaking ballad about his late mother Donda performed lying down while fake snow fell from the arena rafters.
Kanye performed songs from across his catalogue, from minimalist douchebag epic "Runaway" and AutoTune anthem "Heartless" to his barrage of concert-closing hits like "All of the Lights," "Flashing Lights," "Stronger," "Jesus Walks," "The Good Life," and the lush Kadashian-loving new single, "Bound 2." But the concert was shaped by the abrasive artistry of Yeezus.
Each album has been a self-contained statement, and it's only when seeing Kanye live that you realize how far he's come from barely surviving a car crash to literally rap "Through The Wire" with jaw wired shut to becoming the iconoclast behind concert highlights "Blood on the Leaves" and "Black Skinhead."
It's an artistic evolution on par with The Beatles -- mind you, I'm talking trajectory, not heights -- and while that's a comparison that 'Ye would love and the haters will, er, hate, it's not unwarranted. Not to mention that Lennon only said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, Kanye actually brought the guy on tour.
Look, West has suffered a lot of slings and arrows as of late, largely due to saying things that even he acknowledged in his rant to be "stupid as fuck." But he also said, "it doesn't matter." And he's right, there, too.
The interview quotes and twitter meltdowns might incite momentary outrage and mockery, but what matters is his music. West demonstrated in concert that, much like the arrow-shaped stage he prowled, he has a point, which is to challenge preconceptions, push envelopes, tear down walls and, ultimately, make art. And during an era rife with e-tarded EDM, toothless rock and one-percent rap, that is something worth praising.
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