Kanye West likes to make a big splash.
That much was obvious when the rap star decided to rent out AT&T Park in San Francisco Monday night to propose to his girlfriend, reality TV queen Kim Kardashian, with the help of 50-piece orchestra and a 15-carat engagement ring valued as high as $8 million.
Yet, that maneuver wasn't nearly as flashy as what he pulled off during his two-hour concert on Tuesday at the SAP Center in San Jose.
West's Yeezus Tour, which was also scheduled to visit the Oracle Arena in Oakland on Wednesday, is arguably the most elaborate road show in hip-hop history. Its closest competition is probably West's previous solo trek, 2008's Glow in the Dark tour.
The tour is every bit as big, bold, thrilling, perplexing and mildly disappointing as its namesake album, which has been the year's most widely debated and polarizing release. Perhaps the stage show's biggest problem is West's decision to wear masks throughout most of the show. That's not really a new idea -- the guys in Slipknot have been doing it for years -- yet West's masks were completely devoid of human features. They were basically ornate coverings that served as little more than blank canvases for fans to project whatever emotion they wanted onto them. It was certainly striking at the start of the show, but it grew awkward and redundant as the night progressed. I never realized how important facial expressions were to live music until I watched the Yeezus Tour.
I applaud West for trying something different, but there can be a heavy price for trying to stand out from the pack.
The tour is only a few days old, yet it has already had its share of problems. Saturday's opening night gig on in Seattle started some two hours late, reportedly due to the time required to erect the massive set. The tour's second date, Sunday in Vancouver, B.C., was postponed, reportedly because of more problems with the set.
The San Jose concert was comparatively trouble-free until a huge technical glitch marred the show's climax (more on that later).
Following a solid opening set by hot newcomer Kendrick Lamar (with a guest appearance by East Bay hip-hop icon E-40), the main event got underway with the definition of the word "fighting" displayed on a large circular overhead screen. It was accompanied by a quote -- "Light beamed into the world, but men and women ran towards the darkness."
Thus began our voyage, with Mr. West serving as our guide out of the darkness and into the light. The show was filled with plenty of religious imagery, most of it Christian, and had a strong spiritual feel to it.
The 36-year-old rapper spent most of his time at the center of the arena floor, pumping out songs old and new from an "in-the-round"-style stage. He also went to tell it on the mountain -- literally. A second stage was dominated by a tall snowy white mountain that resembled the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland. The two stages were connected by a long catwalk, which doubled as a spectacular lighting device.
West delivered the songs like parts of a sermon, preaching out "New Slaves" and other "Yeezus" cuts as well as older offerings like "Power" and "Can't Tell Me Nothing." "Yeezus" is a difficult and inaccessible record, which I believe was West's intention. Yet I was happy to see how well these newer songs connected with the audience in concert.
He was joined by a curious cast of characters onstage, including a hairy yeti-like creature stalking the mountain and approximately a dozen women in full body and face stockings, looking utterly dehumanized, like creatures of clay or moving mannequins.
The whole show was seemingly building toward a moment of enlightenment, which came, believe it or not, when Jesus Christ entered the picture. It was then, after approximately 100 minutes onstage, that West revealed his face. As the tension built, Christ (played by an actor) approached the unmasked rapper and uttered ... well, who knows?
Unfortunately, Christ's mic went nearly dead and his words were basically inaudible. What a disappointment.
Maybe Christ was reprimanding West for hiding his face all night. If so, he was right. The strongest part of the performance was when Kanye faced the crowd, unmasked.
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