When a friend who’d seen Kanye West’s Saturday night stop at the Staples Center told me it was “interesting” and that he was eager to hear my thoughts on Monday night’s show, my imagination began running wild. Would Ye be lowered to the stage on a gold-plated cross? Perhaps thorns of Swarovski crystals would be glistening from above his no-doubt furrowed brow? The show West ended up delivering wasn’t nearly as flashy as all that (no biggie there), but about an hour into it, I realized my friend hadn’t meant “interesting” in a positive sense.
As far as holding my interest, no modern artist has done so as completely and consistently as Kanye West. I look forward to each solo album release and collaborative effort, yet I’d never had the opportunity to catch a live performance until I was invited to do so from the Staples Center’s Hyde Lounge, and at the time, I couldn’t have imagined a more appropriate venue from which to experience Kanye live.
The swanky Hyde Lounge has all the trappings of the type of intimate Hollywood nightclub I’d imagine Kanye himself frequenting — plush leather seats, signature cocktails, a staff so attentive, I saw three different members descend upon a single spilt drink just moments after it hit the floor — but with the benefit of live music by big-name artists thanks to the arena-sized venue in which the lounge is situated. The perfect combination, right?
Perhaps I was expecting too much, but the Yeezus production left me underwhelmed.
Positioned at an angle nearly parallel to the floor, the enormous circular screen that hovered just above the now-oft-Instagrammed mountain at the center of the stage show was barely viewable to anyone who wasn’t standing near the stage, and the black curtains that would generally prevent an audience from seeing the backstage production area (where the concert’s “sausage is made”) were inexplicably left open throughout the show.
Unless you brought binoculars or were standing near the stage, you never got a good look at Kanye himself (again, the only screen used during the show was viewable only to those near the stage). My contact prescription is up-to-date and my view from Hyde wasn’t obstructed in any way, but I couldn’t even tell Kanye was wearing a mask until my photographer told me so (and he had the benefit of a zoom lens). Obviously a lot of money was spent, but overall, the production just didn’t seem suited to the massive venue at all.
Not that West himself was anything short of spectacular.
From the moment he crept on stage to perform “On Sight,” gold chains swinging near his knees, Kanye was ON. The confidence and aggression he’s nurtured over the course of his career have evolved into an aura of invincibility, and even during his performance of the emotionally vulnerable “Coldest Winter” (my pick for the set highlight), he seemed untouchable.
The crowd sang back lines to all the songs (not just the hits), and Kanye stalked the stage like he owned the place, which he did for the duration of his performance. I would have just as soon stripped away all the sets and nude body stocking-clad backup dancers and simply watched Kanye with a mic for two hours, preferably backed by some giant screens so that everyone in attendance could enjoy the finer details of his performance.
Combined with an outstanding opening set by SoCal’s own Kendrick Lamar, the artists were on-point Monday night. I just wish the same could be said about the production.