Live: Kanye West's Big And Loud And Secret Show
Better than: Not being let in.
Thunder shook Brooklyn, drops of rain fell, and over a thousand people took refuge in Skylight One Hanson, inside the old Williamsburg Savings Bank, for a much whispered-about Kanye West show. We were the chosen ones. If the world was going to end, at least we would be safe behind a velvet rope.
Every recent Kanye concert in New York has been an exercise in power and validation. There was last summer's early-hours secret show at The Box, last November's hundred-dollar VIP scramble at the Bowery Ballroom, and now this. Details, few and far between, had been saved for but a few "influencers." Couldn't get a ticket? You probably didn't deserve one.
This was a beautiful space saved for beautiful people. A PR email not-so-casually announced that fourteen celebrities would be in attendance: Diddy, Estelle, and Hype Williams; models of Sports Illustrated, Victoria's Secret, and King (ha) caliber, too. These beautiful people came to see a show of enormous proportions, Kanye outdoing Kanye.
Rumors swirled that Jay-Z would be therehell, his bodyguard Norm stood upstairsand that because of a strict-in-name "no cameras allowed" policy, the two of them would perform cuts from Watch the Throne. (Jay-Z never showed up.)
Extending sixty feet in the air, the ceiling probably made even Mr. West feel small and had an unfortunate result for someone who so demands to be heard: the sound was pretty terrible. (It would be no worse than when Q-Tip, during his DJ set opener, said something that might have been a call for people to raise their hands. No one raised their hands.) The issue would be addressed, though never completely fixed; the audio supposedly sounded perfect in the monitors, and high-quality footage will be released on Vevo.
Forgetting the muffled sound, the light show and stage performance were pretty outstanding. Red flashes made the room feel as if it was the inside of a volcano; gold lasers streaming through the ever-present fog recalled aurora borealis. Turrets of smoke would erupt on cue during "Power" while Kanye stood on stage like a god upon Mount Olympus. At times he was Thor, throwing down lightning and watching it strike. Then, with shades removed, he was happier, benevolent, skipping around for the combo of "Good Life" and "Gold Digger." During "Flashing Lights," Kanye stood atop a hydraulic pillar that lifted him ten feet in the air, making it look like he was floating above a thick fluffy cloud. It was awesome (in the most biblical sense of the word).
But this wasn't just a Kanye show: it was a showcase for his label, as well. Surprisingly, Mr. Hudson did best, his bass-free Europop most easily breaking through the sound barrier. ("Young Forever" was a highlight, mostly due to the fact that when Jay-Z doesn't show up, it's just Alphaville's '80s anthem.) Pusha T looked uncomfortable, the beat to "Grindin" more in the pocket than the artist performing it. (He had done better earlier in the week.) Moving like a wind-up toy, CyHi Da Prince came in anonymous and left less so. Big Sean, dressed in a Big Daddy Kane getup, debuted the surefire club hit "Marvin and Chardonnay," its bass trumpeting and its chorus infectious. And then there was Kid Cudi, moody and aggressive: when his hands weren't grabbing his crotch, his tight pants did the job. Later on, he would smile.
For all of the thunder inside the roomthe drama and the noiseby the time the night had come to a close, the rain had stopped. It was 2 a.m. in Brooklyn. The world had not ended, but it had been shaken.
Critical bias: The best concert I've been to was Kanye's Glow in the Dark Tour in 2008. The worst show? His 808s-promoting night at Cipriani.
Overheard: "Is Common still on G.O.O.D. Music?" "Who cares?"
Random notebook dump: Watching Kanye perform with his artists makes you wonder which of them does the best Kanye imitation. Big Sean? Maybe. During "All of the Lights," there were as many as four to five Kanyes onstage, all doing the same Kanye moves and wearing the same Kanye clothes. It was like watching Kanye walk through a house of mirrors. (That's probably a fantasy of his.) Still, while each was good on his own, a bunch of Kanye imitators do not a Kanye make: bits of paper glued together are still rip-offs.
Set lists: Kanye West: Dark Fantasy Power Hell of a Life Jesus Walks Can't Tell Me Nothing
Pusha T: My God Grindin'
CyHi Da Prince: Sideways Hero So Appalled (with Kanye West and Pusha T)
Mr. Hudson: Love Never Dies Supernova Young Forever
Big Sean: I Do It Marvin and Chardonnay (with Kanye West) My Last
Kid Cudi: Mojo So Dope Memories Pursuit of Happiness Poker Face (with Kanye West) Erase Me (with Kanye West)
Kanye West: Gorgeous (with Kid Cudi) Flashing Lights Good Life Gold Digger All Falls Down Through the Wire All of the Lights (with Kid Cudi, Big Sean, CyHi Da Prince, and Mr. Hudson) Runaway (with Pusha T)
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