It’s probably a testament to Kanye West’s voluminous history of unpredictability that we left his Madison Square Garden “Saint Pablo” show — which featured a mind-blowing floating stage and a massive lighting rig that spanned nearly the entire length of the arena floor — feeling like there hadn’t been many surprises. There were no rants, no disses and no guest appearances, although there were apparently several celebrities in the crowd (Ariana, Kim, Kendall, Kylie, yadda yadda), not that their seats were near ours.
That’s not a bad thing at all: The evening was 90 minutes of Kanye concentrate. He played a 32-song set filled with hits, focusing on more recent material but covering his entire career, dipping back to his debut with “Jesus Walks,” Watch the Throne for “N—as in Paris” and even Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like.” According to online reports, it’s the same set he played at the first Garden show the night before and in Boston two nights before that, but has a few notable differences from the tour opener in Indianapolis. No matter: The crowd was ecstatic through the entire show, singing along, dancing and (especially) taking pictures with wild abandon. Kanye had them in the palm of his hand.
You’ve probably read plenty of reports on this tour already, so here are five things that stuck with us.
1) That Floating Stage Is Unbelievably Cool
We’ve been to dozens if not hundreds of arena concerts, and we’ve never seen anything like it. While it actually creates more distance between audience and performer — it was difficult to see him from the floor, except when he went to the edges of the stage — it somehow makes the audience more participatory, more part of the show. (Needless to say, there was a roiling mosh pit directly underneath the stage for basically the entire show, including, hilariously, the choir interludes on “Ultralight Beam.”) And while Kanye did look kind of lonely up there and it eliminated many traditional concert rituals — there was no one for him to play off of; when he took off his hoodie and put it down on the side of the stage, it stayed there for the rest of the show; obviously, there was no easy way to walk offstage for an encore; good luck stage-diving — it created a few new ones as well. Kanye wore a harness that was anchored to the center of the stage, and at times he used it to lean toward the crowd like a dog straining at its tether; the audience’s vantage point changed several times during the show as the stage moved; for once, the higher up you were, the better you could see. It’s surprising that the stage floor wasn’t made of some kind of clear acrylic, not that anyone would really want that view of anyone (maybe next time). You get the feeling this was just the beginning of a new way to stage a concert — Noisey even called it, with a hyperbolic paraphrase of its subject’s most infamous quote, “The greatest tour of all time.”
2) The Lighting Rig Got Its Own Solos
The sheer scale of the lighting rig — which reached almost all the way from one end of the arena floor to the other — did not become apparent until mid-show. Kanye began the set mostly cloaked in darkness, but when the rig maneuvered into position, like a space station connecting with a shuttle, and its long rows of lights began flashing in sequence — for which West stopped performing and let some haunting ambient music play — you realized what a monster it was. It’s surprising Kanye didn’t make more use of such a sophisticated rig: While it hulked over the entire floor, it was generally used for massed, moodier lighting rather than dazzling displays.
3) The Show Started and Ended Almost Exactly on Time
What hip-hop time? The house lights went down at precisely 9:30 p.m., and the show ended (rather abruptly) right around 11.
4) He Treats His Best Features Like His Own Songs
Two of them got aired on Tuesday night, but they were classics: Drake’s “Pop Style” and (our all-time favorite) Schoolboy Q’s “That Part.”
5) The Merch Lines Were 50 People Deep, Even in the Middle of the Show
Say what you like about his fashion lines, but we’ve never seen so many fans flocking to merch, or so many places to buy it: There were multiple stands on each floor, and each one was packed every time we looked. With prices ranging from $40 (for a standard tee) and upward, many fans were buying multiple items, and a big percentage of the crowd were wearing items from this tour (as well as previous ones). Billboard is investigating unconfirmed reports that West broke the Pope’s record for merch sales at Madison Square Garden.
Can’t wait to hear what he has to say about that …
Setlist: Kanye West’s “Saint Pablo” Tour, Madison Square Garden, New York, Sept. 6, 2016
Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 / Pt. 2
I Don’t Like
Niggas in Paris
Can’t Tell Me Nothing
Blood on the Leaves
I Love Kanye
Touch the Sky
All of the Lights