Kanye’s “Yeezus” tour heals author’s vertigo

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Kanye’s “Yeezus” tour heals author’s vertigo

Kanye West on stage during one performance in his Yeezus Tour

Kanye West on stage during one performance in his Yeezus Tour


Kanye West on stage during one performance in his Yeezus Tour



Kanye West on stage during one performance in his Yeezus Tour

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Kanye is more of a showman than I expected—and, as I expected, more gracious than his stupid reputation suggests.”










Kanye West is in the middle of his “Yeezus Tour,” his first tour in five years (the last one supported his 2008 album “808s and Heartbreak,” his devastation record; this one supports “Yeezus,” his ego record, which came out over the summer). I caught the tour in Boston, at the TD Garden, right in the east corner of the city–the scariest arena I’ve ever visited.

Imagine that hill those punkass third-graders dared you to sled down, the one that was so steep you had to be careful not to fall forward just standing up.  That’s the balcony seating at the TD Garden.  When Hollywood comes around to its “Vertigo” remake, put Jimmy Stewart’s replacement on that balcony and watch the screen spin.

I was clutching my seat and trying to control my breathing. I felt seasick. I pressed my feet against the floor, hoping it’d remind my body that I was safely grounded, but the ceiling was just above my head, and I could see the suspension cables holding up all the lights–the “Celtics #1 Champions” banners hanging over the arena like socks hung up to dry were eye level. Balcony seating is always sloped; I remember the slope being similarly steep at the XL Center in Hartford, but steep in a fun way, like looking over the side of a bridge. This felt like sitting on a balcony jutting out from halfway up the Empire State Building. If someone had thrown a penny at Kanye from the top of the balcony, he might’ve died.

The concert was scheduled to start at 7, at which time my heart rate had slowed: I was trying to focus on the salaciously clad women around me and not look at the rest of the arena.

At 7:10, Kendrick Lamar, the warm-up act, took the stage–a little guy running across the stage and bobbing up and down as he yelled. From what I know of him and what I could make out through the mic distortion, his lyrics are “women & weed”-style sonnets done better than a lot of popular hip hoppers. He had an actual band on-stage: it was the feral/ethereal guitar that brought me in (on the boasting/good times numbers it was feral, Smashing Pumpkins-like; on the more tender pieces, wafting, a little emo, a little U2).

Seemed like a well-intentioned guy, somewhere between tender-and-tough Frank Ocean and let-the-good-times-roll-I-don’t-know-where-the-f–k-I-am-but-I-like-it-and-f–k-you-all-if-you-don’t Lil Wayne. He ended his set thanking the fans, sincerely, unmistakably sincerely, thanking them like he’d been given a chance to audition for a big show, and then he ran off the stage, into simulated fog.

I’ve heard stories of Kanye showing up two hours late for concerts, without apology. Hell, U2 were more than an hour late when I saw them in Jersey (the worst concert I ever saw).

So imagine my surprise when Mr. West Mr. West Mr. By Himself He So Impressed showed up shortly after Kendrick Lamar’s foggy end.

My near-vertigo evaporated like that fog. Kanye West’s rhythm healed me.

I ain’t talkin’ religion or trying to get deeply spiritual (although Kanye frequently did, most outrageously when a doppleganger Christ wandered up to him and laid a hand on his shoulder while Kanye knelt, humbly, introducing “Jesus Walks” to the joy of the crowd).

But man, Kanye is more of a showman than I expected—and, as I expected, more gracious than his stupid reputation suggests.

He spent four-fifths of the concert in masks, switching outfits between songs. They glistened and sparkled in rainbow colors in the stadium lights. The way Kanye would slowly, quizzically tilt his head to one side, then imposingly survey the crowd, was captured on film in the Eighties by Jeremy Bulloch, playing Boba Fett the stoic, masked bounty hunter in the “Star Wars” movies. But Boba Fett never sweat so much.

Or worked so hard: Kanye sprinted, hopped, collapsed, crouched, skipped, stomped, and howled, not as ferociously as in his f—–g astonishing “Saturday Night Live” performance in May, but with much more energy than on the studio cuts from “Yeezus.”

Those cuts dominated the set list: he got that stadium shakin’ like Parkinson’s with “On Sight” (the Daft Punk-programmed electronica shocked the audience into hysteria), which segued right into “New Slaves,” in which Kanye roared about the DEA and the CCA to my satisfaction. In fact, ‘Ye played the entirety of “Yeezus,” plus some cuts he’d digitally released through his G.O.O.D. Music label, and a couple numbers each from “808s & Heartbreak” (he prefaced “Coldest Winter,” which sounds better live, by explaining that he’d written it after his mother’s death, at which point one female friend screamed enthusiastically—what the f—k?), “College Dropout” (his debut), “Graduation” (his third), and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (his fourth).

All this happened on a set worthy of a large-scale Broadway adaptation of “The Empire Strikes Back,” an ice mountain, which hissed fog, roared flames, shot fireworks, and split in half. During the chorus of “Blood on the Leaves,” the one where he samples Ella Fitzgerald, “Strange Fruit,” once the song exploded into the chorus, the stage exploded in a great cloud of flame (and continued to do so every time we came back to the chorus). It looked like a low-budget Michael Bay picture!

And amidst all the fireworks, explosions, fog, etc., Kanye’s switching costumes for each song. There’s a chick crawling on the ice mountain in one song, dressed in a shaggy creature costume with red eyes that glow in the dark (it looked like an original series “Star Trek” creature). A throng of a dozen-or-so naked women, wearing, apparently, pantyhose over their faces and virtually nothing else (think the nipples were covered, and under skin-colored attire there was a thong: don’t worry, reader, I wasn’t leaving there until I had all the deets) at one point lifted Kanye, godlike, then at other points in the concert writhed on the stage, cowered and crouch-hopped away from him like chimps, and created a naked-woman throne for Yeezus.

“Oh, he’s such a rascal!” the woman in front of me shouted.

The crowd stayed on their feet the whole time, even during the slower/sadder numbers. The crowd—believe it was about 10,000 people—also sang along to every single word of every song Kanye performed. I’ve never seen a concert where the audience was more enraptured. (Second-place, oddly, was a Hall & Oates concert. It’s all subjective.)

I was happy to see that, once the mask finally came off, Kanye was all smiles and laughing at his many outrageous lines (“I know I got a bad reputation/Walking ‘round always mad reputation/Leave a pretty girl sad reputation/Start a Fight Club, Brad reputation!”). It still baffles me that Kanye’s sense of humor gets left in the dust for his purportedly massive ego: yeah, it’s full, but why the hell not? Doesn’t he have every right to think he’s better at what he does than almost everybody else, including you and me?

I was overjoyed that he took the time to rant, for just a few minutes, about how when he was in high school, and, briefly, college, everyone told him he wouldn’t be right where he was that night. This is a guy who came from a lower-middle-class family (“My dad’d say ‘When you see clothes, close your eyelids!’”), whose father practically abandoned him, who could barely pay the rent after he dropped out of college to go after becoming a hip hop artist, who listened to every single person he encountered telling him he couldn’t have what he wanted the most and never would, who struggled after this for years—and here he is, the biggest rapper in the world, eclipsed only by his idol, Jay-Z. No shit he’s feeling good. He should be.

The kid who couldn’t pay for a phone line and worked at the local GAP, who spent summers in his basement mixing beats for an audience that didn’t exist, was a god to 10,000 people on that Sunday night. Yeezus indeed.

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