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Idol Worship and the Saint Pablo Tour Review

  • Post Author
    by Web manager
  • Post Date
    Sun Sep 18 2016

Technically, there wasn't even a stage. When we got there it was nothing more than an empty basketball arena with a low-hanging rectangle of lights centered around twenty thousand people anxiously filling their seats. In the dim grey light curious fans gave their best guesses as to how Kanye West was going to kick off his latest concert series, the Saint Pablo Tour. Ominous music with deep bass drops and a few Travis Scott sightings were enough to keep the excited crowd on their toes. What was expected was the unexpected. In the past, Kanye's tours have been huge productions that provide a visual dimension to his music. In 2008, Kanye took the robotic stadium sound of his 3rd album Graduation around the world for the Glow in the Dark Tour. The performance had Kanye lost in space, guided only by a talking spaceship as he navigated his way through spectacular light shows. More recently, for his YEEZUS Tour in 2013, Kanye performed from the top of a mountain built inside the arena and was joined onstage by masked women dressed as angels and even an actor portraying Jesus. On the Glow in the Dark Tour, Kanye was accompanied by Rihanna, Lupe Fiasco and N.E.R.D., while the YEEZUS Tour was opened by Kendrick Lamar. It's safe to say the impatient fans inside the Banker's Life Fieldhouse that Thursday night were joined by hip hop fans around the world, eagerly waiting to see what Kanye would dream up next.

When we arrived in Indianapolis that afternoon, my friends and I were bent from the five hour drive to see The Louis Vuitton Don in the flesh. We're the type of dudes that don't mess around when it comes to Kanye. The whole drive there we blasted his entire discography, each of us knowing every word. I've been a proud Kanye follower for a long time. I've been there for the ups and downs of his career, watched him struggle to express himself in the most innovative ways, and have been consistently rewarded with amazing music. Like many of Kanye's hardcore fans, his music has impacted my life enough to influence my style, personality and overall mindset. In high school, I was “the Kanye guy”, and I have yet to apologize for it. I could talk endlessly about the man and his mission, which is great if you're a Kanye Stan yourself, but gets old quick if you're my mother or my ex-girlfriend or someone who doesn't appreciate art in its most modern form.

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So if you're a guy like me, downtown Indianapolis on that warm August night was exactly where you should be. Walking the streets only a few hours before the show, it was easy to see that this was no ordinary day in Indy. Clothing from Kanye's previous tours was everywhere, along with his recently released “I Feel Like Pablo” t-shirts and in the same style, yellow “I Feel Like Kobe” shirts. YZY Boosts of all styles and colors were waiting at every stop light. Kanye fans were out in full force, and the streets were humming the cello solo from All of the Lights.

When we arrived at the Banker's Life Fieldhouse, only a few blocks from our hotel, it was clear that this was no ordinary hip hop show. The doors had not yet opened, the front of the arena was crowded with people and the line snaking down the street was spilling into the road. I wasn't surprised; Kanye, an avid perfectionist, is notorious for delaying the start of the shows in order to fine tune every aspect of the performance. At this point, Kanye had not announced an opener, which is uncommon for any artist this close to the show. I hoped that Kanye would bring out all of the GOOD Music family, everyone from Pusha T to Big Sean to Young Thug and make the opening of the Saint Pablo Tour something to remember. No matter what happened, we knew, it was going to be spectacular. The lack of an opener had us worried, but there was no way Kanye could put on a one-man-show, could he?

While waiting in line, what struck me most was how well everyone was dressed. I've never felt under dressed at a rap concert, but here, freshly sauced in Virgil Abloh's Off-White/UW-Madison exclusive t-shirt (I'm always reppin the UW)  and the crispest pair of Nikes (sorry Ye) that I could afford, I was belittled by the name brands surrounding me. Dudes came fitted in A Bathing Ape, Supreme, Off-White and even some pieces off of Kanye's own Yeezy Season lines. Their ladies looked even better, all of them dressed to the nines in threads that would usually been seen in a much more luxurious setting than a rap concert. Kanye's fashion influence was more alive than ever, and his fans told the story of how he has come to represent something much bigger than hip hop alone. Surrounding me was a diverse mix of race, gender and age, not to mention some of the most attractive women I've ever seen. Young teenagers came chaperoned by their parents and men and women well over forty stood comfortably alone in the crowd. What connected us all was one man, and that man was about to put a show to be remembered for a lifetime.

Getting inside was chaos. As soon as the doors opened the traditional “waiting in line” system broke down and everyone mobbed through the doors and security. We found our seats, took note of the seemingly stage-less stadium and sprinted madly through the building in search of merchandise for the tour. On the YEEZUS Tour, Kanye had some of the illest designs for t-shirts and posters and my expectations for Saint Pablo merch were high. Alas, when we reached the empty t-shirt racks, we knew we were out of luck. For the Indianapolis show, the tour merch was only three shirts: one with the album art of The Life of Pablo, another that simply read “Pablo” and also a shirt that Kanye released in pop-up shops earlier this year, with pictures of Donda West and Robert Kardashian on the front and back. We left the concert empty handed and our disappointment was only worsened when more t-shirt designs appeared at later shows on the tour. But we didn't have time to dwell on our loss; we needed to find our seats. The show was about to begin.

We sat about twenty rows back from the main floor. In the center of the arena, people were grouped around where they thought Ye would first appear. Other than the eager fans, the floor was completely empty. On one end of the floor was a giant screen with a square platform jutting from the top, but there was no obvious space for Kanye to perform. Hanging above the crowded floor was a darkened rectangle of lights about the size of a basketball court. As the stadium slowly filled to the sound of dark, ominous music and heavy-hitting bass drops, anticipation was in the air; when the house lights went dark and the music subsided, we knew Kanye had arrived.

He first appeared shrouded in heavy smoke. When the lights came up he sat crouched on the square platform at the top of the giant screen, in the background an extended sample of Pastor T.L. Barrett's Father Stretch My Hands built suspense. When the beat dropped (courtesy of MetroBoomin), the arena came alive; Kanye's platform began floating across the floor, about twenty feet above the mass of people fighting their way towards the legend. The platform suspended from the ceiling could tilt in every direction; Kanye remained tethered to the center with a harness he wore under his coat. Because we were sitting higher than the main floor, we were almost eye-level with Kanye for the whole show. Kanye could move from one corner of the stadium to the other and would stop periodically to perform. In doing this, he eliminated the front row and made the show more inclusive of all sections. The rectangle of lights rose above him, so Kanye was always bathed in a deep yellow light; he was visible, but just out of reach of the fans below. By the time Kanye made his first pass across the floor, the entire building was on their feet and rapping along to his legendary “bleached asshole” line from his Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1. The crowed was electrified, and Kanye returned the energy tenfold. With twenty thousand people dancing and singing along, it felt more like a huge party than music performance by just one guy.

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The set list was all hits. With a career like Kanye's, it isn't hard to put on a two hour long show while only playing a handful of songs from each album. Seeing Kanye live, it is easy to see how he has mastered the stadium sound, each of the songs filled the whole arena with booming drums and slick beats.  Kanye burst into the show with some of his more recent bangers such as Famous, Facts, his verse from Schoolboy Q's That Part and even his verse from Drake's Pop Style. After a strong intro, Kanye paused to thank us all for coming and officially announced the start of his international tour. While Kanye performed, the rectangle of lights would tilt in various directions, sometimes illuminating the crowd while Kanye performed in near-darkness. It could also break into pieces as it raised and lowered, sometimes becoming a massive complex of lights that took up the whole arena. The giant screen on one end of the floor showed the performance from different angles, including from above.

About halfway through the show, Kanye stopped as the lights lowered to the level of his smaller platform. He unhooked from the small platform and stepped onto the lights, where he was tethered to a track on the bigger stage, now able to move more freely. In near-darkness he stepped up a box on the new stage and tapped the first note of his all-time classic, Runaway. The box was an Akai MPC 2000 XL beat machine, the only instrument that Kanye uses in his live performances. With it, he is able to play the various sounds and samples from Runaway and essentially can freestyle the beat while performing the song. It was amazing. It serves as a reminder that Kanye was a producer before he was a rapper and shows that his commitment to the best quality production (in his music and performances) has been consistent since the early years of his career. After Runaway, Kanye talked at length about various topics: Adidas and Nike, the battle between art and money, and how his perspective has changed since starting a family. “Dreams are possible” he said, “But every day is a struggle”.

After the break, a rich bass drop gave way to my favorite song, Devil in a New Dress and suddenly the concert was back in full volume. He returned to the small “stage” and continued to bounce around the arena, leaving no section underappreciated. For the latter half of the show, Kanye focused on some of the biggest hits of his career. The crowd went wild for All Falls Down and Niggas in Paris, and Good Life had every hand in the building to the constellations. By now the floor crowd had become comfortable with the set up and formed a constant mosh pit underneath Kanye's floating platform, although fans were also able to exit the craziness and watch him perform at a distance. Once, Kanye stopped the show to tell security on the floor to let the audience go wherever they wanted. Kanye performed harder than anyone I've ever seen, pushing himself song after song with few breaks. Sometimes he'd run out of breath and let us do the rapping for him.

Towards the end of the show, Kanye slowed it way down with some of his gentler songs. Real Friends had us cherishing our bros, while Only One– the ode to his daughter and late mother- had us wishing we'd called Mom before the show. After some long transitions and more shifting of the light set, Kanye gave us the last song on The Life of Pablo: Fade. Kanye circled the arena while the weird techno-bop of his last song rocked the house. Returning to his starting point on his square silver surfboard, Kanye raised a hand to tremendous applause and faded into the smoke from which he came. When the house lights came up, the show was over, and Kanye was gone.

The Saint Pablo Tour will be remembered for being like nothing that came before it. Continuing his tradition of groundbreaking ideas, Kanye and his DONDA think tank created a new way to perform live. It won't be long until you find yourself looking up at your favorite artist as they perform from ten feet above. I wouldn't even be surprised if Drake starts performing while swinging above the crowd in a trapeze. This concert was also different than any of Kanye's previous tours. A typical Kanye concert has him alone on a big stage. The audience watches as he goes through his routine, sometimes performing, sometimes acting. Usually Kanye has several wardrobe changes and long breaks where he freestyles or rants. This show was different. On the Saint Pablo Tour Kanye embraces his fans like never before. Instead of a concert, Kanye gives his fans a space to rock out with him. This show lacked extravagant visuals and instead put focus on the music and the fans. Kanye just wanted everyone to have a good time, which seems to be his main message lately. Since becoming a father, Kanye has adopted a more positive approach that can be seen in his life and heard in his music. The Life of Pablo is all feel-good music that Kanye graced to his faithful followers for practically free. No longer is he a raving sociopath in the eyes of the public. Instead Kanye's giving YZY's to Obama, headlining New York Fashion Week and defeating the evil pop megagiant Taylor Swift. Kanye sits at the height of his power, as he has for his entire career; the man is forever improving. On the Saint Pablo Tour, Kanye affirms he is the world biggest rockstar, a cultural icon. The zeitgeist, if you will. No one ever knows what Kanye will do next, what dope shit he will give to the world. As fans, all we can do is sit back and enjoy the show. Because this is Pablo's world and we're just living in it.

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