On the same day that Kanye steps up to what seems to have become a weirdly make or break set, venerable folk rock hero David Crosby, of ‘…Stills and Nash’ fame, was quoted as saying that Kanye couldn’t “write, sing or play”. It’s sadly typical of a lot of blinkered reactions to a booking that really shouldn’t have been in the least controversial. But you know what? David Crosby’s a silly man. And people on the internet are dicks. Barring disaster, it wasn’t really ever in question that Kanye would triumph over those sorts of people. The only question was how. Would he open with a reproving 20-minute monologue about how we should give him more respect? Would he prove his point with wall-to-wall hits? Did he really try to bring a tank onstage?
‘Stronger’ is the perfect opening number in the context, simultaneously confrontational (“take this, haters”) and rousing (“I need you right now!”). Kanye’s stage set up, meanwhile, is both technically brilliant and minimal, a raft of lights that raises, lowers and tilts, starting off in a low position that cleverly shrinks the stage, focusing attention on his single, intent figure, which is clad in bleach-spattered denim that makes him look only slightly like he’s been painting a ceiling.
‘Power’, second up, sounds colossal, “way too much, I need a moment” indeed. The crowd bellow for ‘Niggas In Paris’, screaming every word, and he gives a satisfied little neck-crack as if limbering up; he’s letting his music speak for and prove itself. It’s all going great, in fact, until Kanye is forced to suffer the unthinkable and deeply irritating indignity of having his stage invaded by comedian Simon ‘Lee Nelson’ Brodkin during ‘Black Skinhead’. It kinda spraypaints a spurting cock on Kanye’s Mona Lisa; he falters and is forced to restart the song. Things are soon back on track, though, Kanye ending the track rolling on the floor and screaming up at the rippling lights; Close Encounters Of The Kanye kind-style.
‘All Day’, stripped of its incredible Brits show, can’t help but sound a little weaker in comparison, but in the middle of the crowd, at least, the amount of people singing every word to not just his biggest hits, but //everything//, makes clear how far off the mark the anti-Kanye crowd are; when he hears the words for ‘Clique’ being screamed back at him, he gives the hint of a smile.
From there, a cover of Chief Keef’s ‘I Don’t Like’ begins a dark, moody section of the set with ‘New Slaves’ sounding particularly furious, everyone bellowing the “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower” line. ‘Lost In The World’ also starts off sounding enormous, but once Kanye stops to acknowledge the presence of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon onstage, things go not exactly adrift, but a little more indulgent; he describes the song’s genesis as a tribute to Kim Kardashian, and proceeds to vocally noodle with Iver for a long minute or so. ‘Hold My Liquor’ and ‘No Church In The Wild’ follow, and great as they are, it’s a welcome moment when ‘Jesus Walks’ slams in, with its hard rolling bounce, the lights now tilted up more showily, smoke filling the stage. And from there, it is solid gold: ‘Bound 2’, ‘Runaway’, an emotional ‘Only One’.
He begins ‘Touch The Sky’, and the crowd lift off with a roar of ‘BABADADADADA!’. And then… it stops dead. Completely dead, and the screens go black. For a long time. Has he gone off? Was he that upset about Lee Nelson? Was it bloody Crosby?
And then, it restarts. And Kanye is on a bloody CRANE, gliding, in a monumental feat of literalism, through the sky over the crowd’s heads. But greater peaks await: namely, ‘All Of The Lights’, Kanye roaring it down, the crowd roaring it back up in sheer joy as the stage erupts with light. Back on earth, he half-covers Bohemian Rhapsody’. Perhaps its his way of saying ‘Sure, I’m an egotist, but don’t rock fans like egotists and dandies?’. Or maybe he just loves Queen.
‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ forms a framing retort to ‘Stronger’ and to David Crosby; “Old folks talking bout back in my day / But homie, this is MY DAY”. Another long pause, and it seems like that might be it, but the crowd aren’t having it; they start singing ‘Golddigger’, and Kanye doesn’t let them down. But just before he starts… he has one last point to make.
‘I’m gonna say this tonight, because 20 years, 30 years from tonight I might not be able to say it…” He seems to change his mind, think better of finishing the thought. But then… fuck it, facts are facts, right? “I AM THE GREATEST LIVING ROCKSTAR ON THE PLANET!” That cleared up, he slams through ‘Golddigger’ and ‘All Falls Down’, before he lets himself finish, with what may well be the most decisive mic drop of all time.