Museum of Modern Art
Tuesday, May 10
Better than: The obscenely long line outside. (There may still be people waiting to get in.)
Even if you’re put off by the tortured, why-so-serious vibe underpinning Kanye West’s performances these days, it’s hard to deny the charisma of the performer and the authenticity of the self-flagellation in the artist’s post-“Imma-let-you-finish” era. Therein lies the contraction that’s made 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy an improbable modern classic: Yeezy can make the sort of brooding and angst typically reserved for junior-year poetry sound fun.
West performed just five songs from that album at the Museum of Modern Art’s annual Party in the Garden benefit Tuesday night, but its dourness hung relentlessly over the outdoor gala, only subsiding when Jay-Z joined Yeezy for a surprise two-song encore.
Tuesday night’s show was a hot ticket, as evidenced by the presence of young celebs like Aziz Ansari, Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, and the Olsen twins and the $500 asking price on Craigslist for the $150 tickets. The line to get in stretched down 53rd Street, around the corner onto Fifth Avenue and halfway down 54th, and those fortunate enough to be inside when West came onstage at 11 p.m. sharp were greeted with “They Won’t Go When I Go,” a flinty Stevie Wonder cover that set the tone for the 76-minute set.
West measured the depths of the sound system with “Hell of a Life,” one of Dark Fantasy‘s deeper cuts, before “Power” moved the jam-packed dance floor into a fist-pumping, camera-phone-snapping frenzy. Older, detached partygoers observed from elevated, sculpture-obscured perches on the flanks.
What followed was a career retrospective that blended formative tracks from The College Dropout (“Jesus Walks”) and Late Registration (“Gold Digger”) seamlessly with ‘Ye’s later material. It was as stripped down as a Yeezy show can get, his rapping embellished only by a modest light setup, smoke machine and all-white-clad, three-person band.
The night’s most upbeat stretch came near the end during a sequence of “Gold Digger,” “All of the Lights” and the Daft Punk-powered “Stronger.” In a rare break of character, West played to his vertical audience–the partygoers watching from the museum’s fifth-floor balcony, along with the people watching from overlooking apartment balconies. “I see you up there!” he crowed, allowing a smile. “I see you across the street getting a free show!”
West closed his set with the MPC-driven “Runaway,” substituting the Pusha T verse with tortured soul-baring: “Thank you for loving me when they told you not to love me. Every bone in my body, I give it all to you,” he sung during a cathartic, Auto-Tune-enhanced coda that seemed to end the show, with some patrons skulking toward the exits to get the jump on the cab line. “Do you know what it feels like to be hated, when the nicest thing someone can say is that I don’t believe what people say about you? One day the real will rise to the top; one day, one day all will be perfect. I’m sorry for when I fucked up; I’m sorry for my ego. Nobody is perfect. You gotta realize I lost my mind.”
The miracle cure for West’s melancholia came in the form of Jay-Z. On stage together in New York for the first time since Hova’s Yankee Stadium shows in September, the two performed “H.A.M.” before tearing into the set-closing “Empire State of Mind,” with Ye rapping on top of Jay-Z’s verse, unabashedly joyous. With one final send-off from Hova–“Peace and love, New York City!”–they were gone.
Critical bias: Let’s have a toast for the barkeeps, who were pouring ’em stiff all night.
Overheard: @iamwillym relayed via Twitter that the Olsen twins were particularly lusty when screaming “We want pre-nup!” during “Gold Digger.”
Random notebook dump: What might have passed as a season-four Gossip Girl might not seem like the likeliest environs for a Yeezy show, but the scenic and spacious Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden proved a surprisingly great concert venue, with better-than-expected sound, plenty of space (except right on the dance floor) and rarely a line at the open bar.
They Won’t Go When I Go (Stevie Wonder cover)
Hell of a Life
Say You Will
Can’t Tell Me Nothing
Run This Town
All of the Lights
H.A.M. (with Jay-Z)
Empire State of Mind (with Jay-Z)