Monday, November 25, 2013

Review: Yeezus Tour (Philadelphia)

Contributing to an atmospheric suspense felt along the trafficking wavelengths of I-76 last Saturday night was the unknown. At first it was unclear if Kendrick Lamar, the original opening act for the Yeezus Tour, would be in attendance. Kanye had announced several postponements, cancellations, and adjustments for the tour two weeks ago, and with no help from, it appeared that Pusha T would be opening in Philadelphia instead of Kendrick Lamar -- I prepped myself accordingly to hear "Numbers on the Boards" and others -- but by the grace of Twitter, this folly became quickly (and favorably) resolved. There was also the matter of Kanye himself. This would be his first show since placing the tour on brief hiatus, naturally attracting suspicion as to what may or may not change from previous shows. 

Kendrick opened with an expected magnitude. His ensemble commenced with footage of Compton, video reel of neighborhoods and street personalities which played throughout his set, and warping audio as the segue into "Money Trees" became enhanced by his electric guitarist and drummer. His set took turns for ammunition and emotion, following up with "Yawk! Yawk! Yawk!" for the explosive "Maad City" then simmering into "The Art of Pressure". Back up the richter scale for "Backseat Freestyle" and back down for the widespread singles "Swimming Pools" and "Poetic Justice". Added indulgences were his "F*ckin' Problems" verse, an interlude segue of 2Pac's "Hail Mary", and tacking on his added remix verse from "B*tch, Don't Kill My Vibe". 

Arguably most memorable was his semi-ranting sermon following the emotive "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst", which showed me the only tangible common ground between Kendrick and Kanye. Kendrick spoke on his theme of positivity, how none existed where he came from, and how he felt that that circumstance resonated him with Philadelphia. His genuine contact transferred the west coast orientation, as if Philly became Compton for close to an hour. 

Awaiting the main event was barely a calm before the eventual Yeezus storm, with dark samples, haunting chorals and synths swirling the arena ominously as crew and staff made their final preparations during an incredibly creepy intermission (a special cheer erupted on the ground as producer Mike Dean sprinted out). Kanye West emerged after an orchestral introduction to the boisterous "On Sight", surrounded by his cloaked, faceless disciples, wearing a jeweled Maison Martin Margiela mask (which changed several times throughout the night) in a form of glory perhaps unfamiliar to many. Countering with fellow Yeezus bangers "New Slaves" and "Send It Up" ensued a demonstrative, riot-friendly, top-of-the-roller-coaster wave of sonic energy.

Amongst the many obscure highlights, most evident was Kanye's endless catalogue of musical art, jumping from the recent, older, and most coveted eras of Yeezy. Stints from his G.O.O.D Music Cruel Summer collaboration project included his "Mercy" monster, the "Cold" single, which was introduced by an attributed "cold as ice" sample, "I Don't Like", and the anthemic "Clique". Fellow Yeezus contributors were "Black Skinheads" and "Blood on the Leaves", while "Drunk And Hot Girls" (Graduation, 2007) and "Streetlights" (808's and Heartbreaks, 2008) were more heritage treats. Representatives from the 2010 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy included "Power", presented from an elevator ramp which brought Kanye to the peak of his structured set, "Lost in the World", arriving later in the show but right on time, "All of the Lights", and "Runaway", which followed the usual showmanship suit of Ye playing the chords manually on his MPC. Per usual, he would extend the instrumental to speak and rant about his countless aspirations, using a mixture of auto-tuned vocal riffs and his traditional elocution.

Visual renditions were varied, mysterious, but somehow all symbolic of Kanye's majestic caliber; during "Can't Tell Me Nothing", the front end of the main triangular-shaped stage platform slowly inclined while Ye ascended into the cut from his 2007 Grammy-winning Graduation album; for "Coldest Winter", he laid on his back and sang the 808's and Heartbreaks memorabilia while snow came down on him; the red-eyed beastly creature that pranced around the set during interludes; the long-haired, black amazon who stood alone on stage as he sang "Heartless"; the fully covered minions who held him up during "I Am A God" and formed a collaborative mirage as he performed "I'm In It"; the visual representations left every audience member to gather their own interpretations, as every piece of art does.

Submerging interludes were soundtracked by the dense compositions of "Hold My Liquor"-- three prophecies entitled 'FINDING', 'RISING', and 'SEARCHING' headed Bible verses shown on screen as parables. After more proverbial blasts from the past, the pop sensation "Stronger" from 2007 and his debut single "Through The Wire", Kanye's internet-viral Jesus figure emerged out of a light tunnel. Contrary to what had been seen/heard from previous showings (a back-and-forth dialogue segment between Jesus and Ye) the figure merely walked out to center stage to touch Kanye's forehead (unmasked for the first time and remainder of the show) -- a more appreciated subtlety and fitting introduction for "Jesus Walks".

SYNOPSIS: The Yeezus Tour represents an unknown peak for Kanye West. Coming off his sixth solo studio album there is still the innate desire to simply create and inspire. Although we've always known West to be the adamant, outside-the-box visionary, the Yeezus complex is certainly most grandiose, but still interrelated with his musical pinnacle. You felt his glory during the "Give Us What We Need" choir outro as he knelt before his angels and the Jesus figure once more. The masks, minions, angels, creatures, mountain set, lighting, cascading smoke, hellishly statuesque back drops, they all encompass an extreme evolution, an expression that captivates yet does not fully articulate, leaving perceptions of an iconic rap figure to the unknown, once more.

Scroll below for some of the video footage from the Yeezus Tour in Philadelphia.

- Martin S. @marley_mcfly

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