When Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and North West touch down in a country, there’s always going to be some fanfare. While Kim has been visiting the the country’s hotspots like Paramatta Westfield, Kanye has been making headlines with his powerful Yeezus tour. Despite the rants and reportedly telling disabled people to stand up, Kanye’s tour has been met with adoration. With Kanye in mind as the modern messiah, we analysed his 10 commandments while devouring his Sydney show.
The audience was incredibly responsive on Saturday night, whether it be from a single note in Runaway or the slight mention of Kim & North . The night before, he ranted about people not standing up, but on Saturday the crowd both started and ended the evening standing up, of their own accord, albeit a little more sweaty. Energy permeated the whole room with punters yelling to the hook in Gold Digger or calling back, “can’t a young nigger get money any more?” on Cold. It felt like a room of his biggest fans and of course, when he replaced a lyric in Good Life to say “It feel like Sydney”, everyone went batshit cray.
Kanye is an exhibitionist – an artist who’s made a career on being larger than life. His last album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, brought with it a live show with dancers, cranes and pyrotechnics, however, with Yeezus there has been a remarkable shift in attitude. The Yeezus tour was formed on the pretense that less is more. All he was accompanied by were two large screens and a few smoke machines; it was up to him to create the energy by aggressively rapping and stirring the crowd. Visually, it looked stunning, placing real Kanye as a mere ant against the god-like projections.
Kanye’s rants and general big headedness would have people believe that he’s self-centred but his setlist says a very different thing. He showed appreciation for his entire catalogue and formed a setlist that pleased the crowd and also pleased him. He only chose four cuts from Yeezus, spending much of the time churning out hits like Good Life, Jesus Walks and All Of The Lights. Much of his onstage energy seemed to be induced by the crowd’s energy and a greatest hits set that recognised what the crowd wanted was his greatest strength. And by the way, they all sounded incredible, from the hearty Rihanna hook of All of the Lights to that stomping brass sample of Touch The Sky.
Throughout the night, Kanye paid homage to his past inspirations, The Rolling Stones, U2 and his favourite artist of all time, James Brown. “I had the opportunity to open up for U2 on my second album”, he said, bringing up a particularly topical point, given the release of U2’s iTunes-infiltrating album. Despite having an ego larger than Darling Harbour, West has always been able to admit the brilliance of others, offering praise to rappers like Jay Z and Lil Wayne. Even when Pusha T came out in Runaway, he gracefully shared both the stage and the spotlight.
When Kanye released his difficult fourth album, 808s and Heartbreak, everyone scoffed at his use of auto-tune, yet on Yeezus, he used auto-tune from Hold My Liquor to Blood on the Leaves and no one flinched. His commitment to auto-tune seems to have paid off and in concert it’s actually quite emotionally affecting. He extended Runaway into a 10 minute-plus epic, ad-linking with auto-tuned vocals that sounded more Maxwell than T-Pain. Auto-tune seems to be one of the few ways that Kanye shows fragility. When he sang ,”all things are possible”, it created one of the more delicate moments of the night.
Kanye has always held his mother, Donda West, who tragically passed away in 2007, in high regard. On his last tour for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he finished every set on his knees to Hey Mama, in one of the hugest, most humble moments of his career. On the Yeezus tour, he’s dropped Hey Mama from the set but her presence is no less felt. He called her his greatest influence alongside U2 and the Rolling Stones, to which everyone in the crowd cheered.
Kanye’s rants weren’t extremely aggressive in Sydney but he said a few poignant things. “I take my responsibility very seriously”, he remarked at one point, referring to the way people are influenced by him. With it, he thanked those who stood by him through his artistic detours (808s and Heartbreak) and noted that he takes his audience’s opinion on board, whilst at times it may not seem like it. Although Yeezus was not the most radio-friendly album, the tour was crafted by a Kanye that was there to stir the audience into complete anarchy.
One of the highlights of the night came with Yeezus standout, Blood On The Leaves. Returning for an encore, the Nina Simone sample bellowed through the arena before Kanye emerged with auto-tune fragility. For those who didn’t know the song, it would’ve lulled them into a false sense of security. When the TNGHT sample dropped, the entire arena shook. Kanye threw himself around within an inch of his life, the lights strobed in anarchy and the bass absolutely tore a hole in the roof. It was a valiant, triumphant moment that even beat set-closer, Niggas In Paris.
It may seem hard to believe, but arena-tours can often swallow performers. If you don’t have the stage presence or the audience on your side, it doesn’t matter how many dancers you throw on, you’ve already lost. Standing against two large screens, Kanye looked like a mere man against a huge projection of himself, but he was by far the biggest person there. The reason? He was committed from the beginning to the end. If it didn’t feel right he’d start the song again, as he did on Runaway and Blood On The Leaves, and if the huge crowd was dipping, he’d let out a primal scream. From the minute he entered the stage to the thundering finale Black Skinhead, he was like a boxer attempting to knock-out the air around him. The music was loud, real loud. Songs like New Slaves and Power threatened to belittle him but his menacing confidence meant he always won, stealing the limelight by just having himself- one body- on the stage.
Kanye did a talk at SXSW where he said that if he’s going to work with something, he wants it to be the best. That’s why he waxes lyrical about Apple, works with Jay Z and married Kim K- he believes they’re the best. Incidentally, he also believe he’s the best and while it’s easy to take it as reckless arrogance, none of Kanye’s music would work if he didn’t believe he was the best. At the height of his popularity, he released an album like Yeezus, which is an industrial and, at times, difficult record, yet live, he has an audience of 15,000+ rapping along with him to New Slaves. “Don’t get too caught up in the hate,” he says at one point in the show and while at many times in his career he has, tonight he seems at peace. His last Australian tour was perfect, glued together by a pristine white set and flawless dancers. Yeezus is nothing like that. At times it’s gritty, raw and imperfect, yet Kanye wholeheartedly believes in it and as such, so does the crowd.