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Kanye West Lights it Up, Lets Crowd Do the Talking at Fourth Forum Concert
Any seasoned Kanye West gig-goer knows that as piano stabs signal the beginning of "Runaway"(from 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) there's no limit to the amount of run time Kanye might use to stall a show. In the past "Runaway" has provided a moment for speeches that can last upwards of 20 minutes. It's the one you time a toilet break for. Here in his adopted home of L.A. -- during his fourth of six nights at the Forum -- he's a man of few words. “I wanna thank everyone who supported,” he mumbles. “For being a part of history. This is the moment when people say, I gotta watch Ye do a rant!” he says. Always talking of himself in the third person, it's easy to criticize that as narcissism. On the other hand, in order to stay sane perhaps Kanye must separate his personal ego from the magnitude of the West brand, which is larger than life tonight.
“You know the funny thing is,” he continues, “I don't know how to do that much talking any more because y'all can talk for me. I think doing six nights at the Forum is talking for me right now.” Exalted over the crowd on his floating stage, Kanye passes over the floor of the Forum during a 90-minute show. He gets rowdy during "All Of The Lights", "Touch The Sky" and "Black Skinhead". He sits seemingly on the edge of the world for "Wolves" from 2016's The Life Of Pablo. He stalks back and forth on Drake's "Popstyle" and Schoolboy Q's "That Part". He vogues on industrial techno number "Fade" against a backdrop of pink strobes. It makes for the most interpersonal hip-hop show on this scale in memory.
And Kanye is right -- the crowd says it all tonight. Despite the fact he never instructs them, they know what to do intrinsically. They mosh beneath his magic carpet unprovoked, they raise their iPhone cameras and shine white twinkles to highlight the room's scale. Ye offers just one instruction, and it's philosophical. “Don't feel afraid for you future, we are tomorrow,” he says. Potentially it's a nod at the upcoming election, only one week away.
“I'm so so happy to have in the building tonight – my wife,” he says, announcing Kim Kardashian's presence despite the robbery that disrupted her excursion to Paris Fashion Week last month and the social media blackout which followed. Following Oct, 21 -- Kim's birthday -- Kanye played a video during his show. Tonight he plays it again. It's at once uncomfortable and comforting to watch family-found footage from Kim's childhood, including her younger brother Rob, and her mother Kris Jenner. The video is from a time before Kanye even knew Kim. A time of innocence. A time of uncertainty about the future.
In a recent interview I conducted with Kim she told me Kanye was “the dopest person on the planet”. You can see why. It's these moments of pure heart that show off Kanye's charm. His performance sloped towards the front of the room for "Wolves" is as intimate as Kanye gets. The second the song ended, his rig tilted on its axis like a see-saw, turning his back on this particular crowd, then launching immediately into the harsh realities of "Heartless", as if to show that Hyde to his Jekyll. Whatever version of Kanye they get, the audience here are virtually under the weight of his spell, including Mick Fleetwood -- the only other celebrity besides Kim of note.
When the stage descends to chants of “Yeezy!” with huge mechanical jolts, it has the weight of a spaceship descending from another planet. The thought of this huge structure lowering itself on a large audience immediately communicates the trust here, for both the crowd and Kanye. “I just wanna feel liberated,” he sings on "Father Stretch My Hands Pt.2". He drifts towards the back of the room shrouded in darkness, while beneath his platform moshing fans are lit-up, limbs reaching up, heads shaking out. Their collective mania is almost a deflection of Kanye's own. This is where he seems most comfortable.
Over the career-spanning set, Kanye does free himself from past tours' rhetoric. Conclusions have been drawn in the past that Kanye's live performance amounts to witnessing a man have a nervous breakdown onstage. Here, Kanye's silhouette focuses attention on everyone else's lack of inhibition. Tonight on "Feedback" he changes a lyric to “I swear to god I ain't crazy” looking like the most collected person in the room. On "Harder Better Faster Stronger" as he delivers the line “Bow in the presence of greatness”, he bows to the audience. Who is in adulation of who?
Known for his stop-start perfectionism, the first time he cuts a track tonight is two songs in. After the controversial opener of "Famous" ("For all my South side n****s that know me best/I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex") he breaks immediately. “Hold on!” he says. “I know the first time y'all heard this song you were like, This is why Ye is my favorite and I can't wait to go to this tour and sing this shit at the top of my lungs. So L.A. we gon' take this shit back.” The track starts again. Not good enough. It's third time lucky. He plays the beginning of "Waves" three times too but only because he's so animated with the crowd's response.
After a highlight in "Power", the stage transitions as the rig's huge sheaths of Connect Four-style light boards tilt onto the crowd, lighting up thousands of raver faces, like a moving, breathing, living art installation. The voice of Billie Holiday sings "Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees," while Kanye hangs, his own oddity on the fringes of the audience. Elsewhere, he breaks to dedicate a song to Kid Cudi. “We bout to sing tonight. Y'all ready?” he shouts, then launches into "Father Stretch My Hands Part 1" which features the rapper who checked himself into a rehab facility for depression very recently.
The gospel-tinged "Ultralight Beam" – ends the evening's spectacle, and a space is cleared on the floor for Kanye to dismount his platform. It's hard not to listen to Chance The Rapper's guest rap on that track -- “I met Kanye West I'm never going to fail” -- and not consider them in this context. Love him or loathe him, Kanye West has willed his “god dream” here and it's a true inspiration.
Kanye West's 'Saint Pablo' setlist at L.A. Forum, Nov. 1, 2016
Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1
Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2
Facts (Charlie Heat Version)
Can't Tell Me Nothing
Blood On The Leaves
I Love Kanye
Touch The Sky
All Of The Lights