Has he graduated with honours or fallen at the third hurdle?
For those who’ve got a soft spot for dead royalty and pop megamixes, the day before this gig was a bit of a big one.
While Kanye West joined the hodgepodge of corny pop stars and horse-faced bourgeois at Wembley to play seven minutes of a mammoth gig – a gig whose TV viewing figures far overshadowed the Live Aid concert 20 years previously – an even more momentous event was taking place. Smoking cigs indoors was banned. So just how did live music cope on its first tab-free days? Um, well, by the looks of things, Manchester didn’t give a toss – they were having much more fun ‘throwing their diamonds in the air’ and worshipping at the boxfresh trainers of the most successful college dropout of all time.
Compared to the Diana Memorial Concert, tonight’s gig is as intimate as you can get. It’s a bit like going from winning Wimbledon to teaching toddlers how to play tennis with foam balls, but Kanye, ever the showman, doesn’t care one jot.
A stage is a stage, and a yelping crowd is a yelping crowd – even if they were booing loudly for the full 30 minutes before he made his big entrance. Why hip-hop law still states that artists should never appear on time is still beyond us, but Kanye knows the rules and keeps us waiting. We bet he’d never do it to his mum.
Finally, he bounds on in front of a harem of hotties in red gowns brandishing violins, cellos and a harp, as a lady in red satin pantaloons does her best Shirley Bassey impression for the opening bars of ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’. In a jacket seemingly made from Bacofoil, Kanye leaps up and down and sprints from one side of the stage to the other, showcasing dance moves that can only have been taught to him by a drunk Jack Peñate or a very sober Michael Jackson. All this leaping evidently tires him out a touch though, so he nips offstage and lets pantaloon lady come to the front and shake her not insubstantial derrière, while the DJ does a yawn-worthy bit of scratching and everyone looks at their watches and wonders where Kanye’s gone.
He hasn’t gone far. Still grinning, he slips in recent single ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ and the Daft Punk-sampling new song ‘Stronger’, both from forthcoming album ‘Graduation’, and attempts to squeeze in another newie, but stops after 20 seconds due to a mixture of forgetting the words and the unimpressed looks from the audience. “I’m gonna get a call from my record company for that,” he sniggers, in perhaps the only piece of non-scripted banter we get all night.
So it’s back to the classics: a sublime ‘All Falls Down’, ‘Through The Wire’ and, of course, a still-censored ‘Gold Digger’. Slipping in samples from Peter Bjorn And John during a re-hash of a snippet from his latest mix-tape, Kanye reveals his weedy indie boy side and his cool is further jolted by the finale of ‘Jesus Walks’, in which he gets 2,000 people shouting out in praise of Jesus like some scary evangelical rally.
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We almost make a run for it, but he hits us one more time with the sweet soul of ‘Touch The Sky’ and claws his way back into our hearts. Kanye may have his faults, but you’ve got to the love the man. Everyone else here sure does.