Kanye West: Hammersmith Apollo, London, Sunday, February 12

Kanye West: Hammersmith Apollo, London, Sunday, February 12

Diamonds, tracksuits and golden women: Kanye must be in town

Kayne West doesn’t do things by halves. When he’s talking up a new album, then music’s very future depends on it. When he sees injustice and speaks out there’s no scribbling on his hand, he embarrasses the American president on live TV. And when he brings his Touch The Sky tour to the UK… well, you know something special is on the cards.

The first indication that something’s different is the stage itself. Usually minutes before the lights go down you can see roadies wandering about scratching their arses. Tonight the stage is covered by a giant grey skirt hinting at surprises behind. The second odd thing is the audience. Middle class couples mix with soccer hooligans, Dizzee Rascal-dress-a-likes chat with indie kids doing their best to resemble Conor Oberst. West clearly has defied genres and pigeon-holes, a man for all record collections. The third special thing tonight – well that’s the transformation of Kanye West himself.

Backed by an all-female orchestra, backing singers and DJ A-Trak, West – dressed simply in jeans and a white shirt – appears and before a rhyme is rapped his disparate audience are united in pandemonium. He deserves the response. Stalking the stage like the best of his hip-hop peers, dropping his words right on cue. The slightly awkward be-suited man who appeared at Abbey Road last year has been refined into a smooth moving, smart talking star.

Tracks from ‘Late Registration’ are deliberately given a roughed-up live edge, as ‘Drive Slow’ never sounded groovier, while the enhanced bass on ‘Gold Digger’ shreds the venue with a power that would put most metal bands to shame.Indeed, despite the dolled-up orchestra, the video screens and West’s costume changes – he compulsively swaps sports jackets between songs – the glitzy production avoids becoming Kanye: The Musical. Breaking the evening with skits, West firstly allows his strings to jam out a bit of The Verve’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, before A-Trak treats us to a selection of his favourite party tunes – including Prince, Jackson 5 and West adding karaoke vocals to A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’.

With ‘The College Dropout’ cuts getting props too, ‘Jesus Walks’ sounds truly mighty while the urgent desperation of ‘All Falls Down’ sees West ending the song on his knees, pleading with the audience. Concluding with a euphoric ‘Touch The Sky’, West again works his diverse followers into an ecstatic union. Whatever your musical persuasion, it’s Kanye West’s world – we just live in it.

Paul Stokes