Just hours before his first solo concert in Boston since 2008’s Glow in the Dark tour, creative mastermind Kanye West visited the intellectual grounds of Harvard University and spoke to a group of design students on Sunday. In his conclusion, he said with a smile that his stage, despite its flaws, aimed to represent “an expression of emotion.”
The Harvard speech served as a moment of honesty and humility preceding an unforgettable night.
The rapper explored his emotions in a pain-tinged exhibition that was as much a visual spectacle and a true show of brilliance by one of hip-hop’s finest acts.
An enormous, textured mountain sat at center of the stage. A winding path scaled its summit. For a genre characteristically defined by simplistic performances with little movement or variation, the structure was breathtaking.
A singular walkway started at the mountain’s base, which led to another larger, triangular stage in the middle of the packed arena.
Fittingly, religious themes laced a vast majority of the evening’s moments: A dozen women, perhaps assuming the role of Yeezus’ disciples, silently introduced their leader and acted as torchbearers for his arrival. Their worship was made especially clear when they together formed a human throne for a masked West.
This dark-but-heavenly aura clashed with another character: a monstrous devil figure whose red eyes glowed ominously. Notably present for more traumatic songs such as 808s & Heartbreak’s track “Coldest Winter,” about the passing of West’s mother, the creature served as a reminder of the relationship between the inanimate stage and its living components.
Numerous vents, which had before remained ambiguously embedded within segments of the multiple platforms, burst with unexpected flames and light during the massive drop of the fan-favorite, Nina Simone-sampling Yeezus track, “Blood on the Leaves.” Projections of steaming lava poured down the grand mountain’s surface to mirror the boiling mood of the artist.
His smile would remain hidden behind ornate facemasks for the better part of his appropriately long set time at Boston’s TD Garden Sunday — first surfacing for the live delivery of “Good Life,” the 2007 smash hit, when he removed his sparkling veil.
Less grandiose, but equally effective, was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s “Runaway.” The familiar piano notes, simulated on a MPC drum machine, rang throughout the Garden at ear-popping levels.
West’s impressive energy and intensely provoking visual aspects prove that nobody does it better.
Certainly not Kendrick Lamar, West’s opening act at Sunday’s show and the man GQ just hailed as the next “King of Rap.” Drake, hip-hop’s latest mainstream superstar, pales in comparison.
Even self-proclaimed “big brother” and formidable mogul Jay-Z, who takes the stage at the Garden in January for his own tour, occupies a spot below West on rap’s artistry totem pole.
While full of enjoyable, rowdy moments, West’s show is not the place to go and “turn up.”
West challenges you. It is an unprecedented live experience constantly questioning the limits of music’s power and the parameters that define “creative.”
During a mid-song speech, he urged all at the Garden to find their inner creative, to find the truths in a world of lies.
In a final display of self-awareness and salvation, one of rap music’s most polarizing figures bowed down amidst his dozen masked followers just beyond the base of the mountain. Then Jesus himself climbed to the peak of the icy, white summit with arms held high, standing above all with power and superiority. Yeezus would not have it any other way.