Published on October 21st, 2016 | by Craig Silliphant2
Concert Review: Kanye West (Edmonton)
That time we probably saw Kanye West (hard to say, it was dark) live in Edmonton. It reinforced all the things everyone says about him.
I flew to Edmonton last week to cover the Kanye West show, and my friends Joel and Taunya drove up from Calgary to meet me. It was a great weekend of friends, libations, record shopping, and pancake breakfasts. You wouldn’t know it from reading the Edmonton Journal’s colour-by-numbers-just-name-the-setlist-and-describe-the-show-without-committing-or-being-critical article, but unfortunately, the concert itself sucked. But we’ll get to that.
Right off the top, I know I’m going to take some shit for even having gone to a Kanye concert. Whenever a server asked why we were in Edmonton and the answer came back, “for the Kanye West show,” they usually gave us a look like we had loudly expelled gas in their mouths. At work the week before, people gave me questioning looks when I mentioned I was going. ‘Why would anyone want to see Kanye West? And further to that — why would you of all people want to see him?’
Taunya and I talked about this while we checked into the hotel. She had similar conversations with coworkers. She had the best response, which was along the lines of, “Fuck you — I don’t have to justify this to you.” She’s right. For starters, none of us are Kanye West super fans by any stretch of the imagination. But we are huge pop culture nerds, wallowing in music and film and the other nerdly arts, so the idea of a spectacle like this is a fascinating proposition. And to me, Kanye is the manifestation of a guilty pleasure.
But that’s a cop out. Fine, I admit it — I like some of Kanye’s music, like ‘My Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and ‘Yeezus.’ Especially ‘Yeezus,’ with its dark, terrifying, minimal production. Do I think he’s a buffoon? My god, yes. But the angrier people get about his antics, the funnier I think he is. He’s a cartoon. I can’t hate him anymore than I could stand in reverence of him, like some of the kids we overheard getting hyped up before the concert.
However, a few days after the concert, Joel sent me a message that said, “I think that concert might have ruined Kanye for me.” I realized I felt the same.
First of all, the concert started over an hour and 15 minutes late. My guess was that this had to do with insanely long merch lines, hundreds of people deep. I was worried about having to stand in line for beer, but that was barely a thing. People wanted merch, and the event was so poorly planned that they had to withhold the actual concert. I get that the crash of the record industry means you need to sell merch to make dough. Then open the doors early or print the proper starting time on the ticket. Anyway, I’m not holding that against the concert itself, but if I’m complaining like a little wah-wah crybaby, then I might as well throw that on the fire.
The stage itself is definitely worth mentioning. On the plus side of things — it was sheer brilliance. It’s a small floating stage that moves out over the audience, which Kanye is fastened to for safety (was this meant to create the visual metaphor of slavery as well?). It had a lighting rig above it that spanned most of the length of the floor space at Rogers Centre, which gave off a cool, but awkwardly non sequitur Close Encounters of the Third Kind light show part way through the concert (which West was not a part of — he was off the stage at the time).
The stage set up brought him that much closer to the folks in the cheap seats (like us), which was great. However, the problem was, they didn’t do enough with it. Even with that huge lighting rig, the stage illumination was extremely minimal. So in essence, we paid $170 each (in those cheap seats) to see a guy that we think was probably Kanye, stalking around the stage in the dark. That might be a neat aesthetic for a portion of the show or certain ominous moments, but for the whole show, it was bordering on bizarre. A spotlight, a spotlight, my kingdom for a spotlight.
Of course, as much as we were there for spectacle, we were mostly there for performance. Kanye (assuming it was actually him) was fine. It’s not like he’s a roaring vocal or rap talent, so as long as he remembers the words he’s good.
However, he had no real DJ or band creating the music. It was someone offstage pressing start/stop on a laptop or something. Does this matter? Yeah, I think it does. If you go see Public Enemy or Run the Jewels, you will see a live band or a guy spinning in real time. Kanye was basically singing along to taped music. For someone with such an amazingly huge ego, the musical skill on display was negligible.
I could put all of my whiny nitpicking aside though, if not for one thing. The man behind the curtain at the laptop controls kept periodically sinking the volume to zero, throughout almost all of the songs, so that Kanye could hear if the audience was singing along or not. This was similar to the ploy that might happen at a rock concert, where Bret Michaels sings, “Every rose has its thorn,” and then points the mic to the audience to finish the lyric: “Every night has its dawn.” It’s audience interaction and it’s done at a strategic moment in the concert. NOT SEVERAL TIMES DURING EVERY SONG. Seriously. I’m not exaggerating for effect. It was literally several times during almost every song.
It had the effect of ruining the flow of each song. When he busted into a real epic concert jam like ‘All of the Lights,’ but it cut out right at the crescendos, it just killed the momentum. It was also done in the sloppiest of ways, sometimes cutting off Kanye himself when he was singing. They hadn’t planned some of these drops well. (He also had an annoying habit of restarting several songs. I think he restarted ‘Famous’ at least five times, because he wasn’t happy with the audience participation. So you’d see half of the same song multiple times.).
It really begged the question, who was this concert for?
Kanye was not there to perform for the audience. He was there so they could perform for him. That floating stage may be a cool idea, but in this context it was just a mechanism to bring him closer to the swirling, faceless mass of humanity and worship that throbbed beneath his feet. In fact, the only real lighting at the show was underneath the stage — the crowd was lit better than he was. I took the time to observed those at his feet — they didn’t seem to care about any of this. They weren’t watching him perform. They were dancing, hugging, and pushing each other around like they were just on any old club dance floor.
Which makes me wonder — am I just an old man shaking my fist at the clouds? In looking for craftsmanship and performance at this concert, am I missing the point? Am I a man out of time? Are people looking for something else at a big concert these days? Is it just to be in the presence of reality TV royalty, to take MDMA and writhe around with each other? Watching through their phones more than their eyes? Am I just one bitter asshole standing in judgment? Further to that, did another old man see young punk me at a rock concert in 1991, banging my head after drinking 10 beers, and think, ‘it used to be about the music, man?’ Who knows.
Joel and I were both on the same page of confusion and disillusion after the show. “We endure and then we leave,” he quipped once we realized the show was for Kanye, not the crowd, or at least, not us. Taunya enjoyed it much more, keeping the energy of our trio up where it should be. I said to her after the show, “you were the best part of that concert.” And it’s true; she and many of the other concert goers brought an energy that Kanye seemed to take for granted. A rock star should feed off their crowd, yes — but the point of it is to redirect that energy back at them in the form of an amazing show. Anything else is vampirism. Stealing their lifeforce to greedily feed your own.
Now, it wasn’t all terrible. The were some real moments, one of the best being the little Kanye rap from Pablo, ‘I Love Kanye.’ Perhaps because there was no karaoke music being piped in, no awkward and sloppy dropouts. Just him, the crowd, and a fun song. I wish there had been more moments like this.
Near the start of the show, Kanye ranted a bit about us being part of history by being at this show. Implying that people would tell their grandchildren about being in Edmonton on the day Kanye West rolled through town. In my case, that may be true, but probably not in the way that he meant. For me, it will be a metaphor for disappointment. And Joel is right: it was a show so bad that it reaches back and makes the music seem stupid.