Kanye West’s “Yeezus” was, to say the least, one of the year’s most disputed experiments in minimalist industrial hip-hop. The supremely bizarre record was purposefully designed to be divisive, much as its potent predecessor, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (2010), was designed to please West’s followers after the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards Taylor Swift incident that threatened his reputation.
The “Yeezus” tour should be nowhere near as polarizing. Simply put, there’s hardly a chance that anyone could come out of one of West’s concerts without thinking it was one of the most spectacular live music events of their lives.
An unforgettable night was guaranteed even before West took to the stage last Sunday at Boston’s TD Garden. As the opening act, rap’s rookie sensation Kendrick Lamar gave the bulk of his catalogue a dazzling live treatment, flowing effortlessly from hit to hit, mostly from his landmark LP, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” (2012).
Soon after Lamar’s departure, a dozen white-robed disciple-like figures strode onto stage as ominous church music resonated throughout the venue – music that was quickly overtaken by the noise of the Daft Punk-fueled electronic riffs of the “Yeezus” opening track, “On Sight.” Then a muscular masked man prowled into view, and an arena’s worth of screams broke out as West began rapping with tremendous determination.
With just one song, it was already beyond question: West had the entire crowd under his command.
The rapper and his entourage then retreated to an almost 30-foot tall mountain at the back at the stage to perform “New Slaves” and “Send It Up,” two of the most intimidating numbers in modern rap history. Upon descending to the main level, West made it through more of the “Yeezus” playlist, channeling the ultra-intensity of “Black Skinhead” and “I Am A God.” He then started about 20,000 pairs of hands clapping furiously alongside the beat to his 2010 single “Power” and revisited a solid chunk of last year’s “Cruel Summer” mixtape with masterful renditions of songs like “Mercy” and “Clique.”
Then, just when it seemed as though the show could not get any more boisterous, West suddenly went mellow. He performed “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” (2007) – one of his moodiest singles ever – as well as the eulogic “Coldest Winter” (2008), the track that represents the artist at his most vulnerable.
“I heard the news that my mother had passed away … I wrote this song for her,” West told the crowd. This somberness was the antithesis of the persona he had adopted earlier in the evening, making it the perfect onstage moment for a rapper who has demonstrated such artistic and emotional variety over his decade-long career.
The pace of the show grew slightly sluggish as West made his way through some of the slower songs on “Yeezus,” including “Hold My Liquor” and “Guilt Trip,” before dipping offstage for a breather. Moments later, however, the mountain onstage split open and the 12 dancers marched out, dressed as priests and carrying religious ornaments. West followed behind them, performing his genre-bending epic, “Lost in the World,” in one of the most majestic moments of the evening.
After his entourage left, West stood alone on a stage drenched in deep red lighting to perform the creepily melodramatic “Blood on the Leaves.”
“Let’s get on with it!” West shouted. With a blast of smoke and an eruption of flames, he brought back the same theatrics for “All of the Lights” (2010). This number once again featured his dancers standing in line across the mountain, holding glowing red fuses. West teased the audience by dragging out the introduction of “Runaway” (2010), then rewarded them by nailing the rest of the song, as well as “Graduation” (2007) era smashes such as “Stronger,” “Good Life” and “Flashing Lights.”
It may have been a missed opportunity to not delve further into “Late Registration” (2005), arguably the strongest and most hit-laden album of his career. However, West still managed to draw upon his other early records, including “Through the Wire” and “Jesus Walks,” both from his classic debut, “The College Dropout” (2004). “Jesus Walks” was especially memorable with a Christ lookalike, who “christened” a kneeling West at the beginning of the performance.
The Jesus figure then emerged atop the mountain as West performed his album and concert closer, “Bound 2.” With the entire crowd chanting the chorus together as the performers left the stage – “I know you’re tired of loving, of loving / with nobody to love” – it was clear that the rapper had kept his audience captivated right up until the end.
While the debate over the artistic merits of “Yeezus” will go on, the vibrancy and passion of West’s catalogue-in-full are undeniable, as is the total thrill of seeing it all condensed into a single night’s concert.