The 12 female dancers in nude body stockings surrounded Kanye West on the makeshift cliff in the middle of the Barclays Center floor and hoisted him over their heads while he rapped, “I Am a God.”
This is the way to experience “Yeezus.”
West’s ambitious album is a stunning musical accomplishment, incorporating industrial dance music and high-powered cultural politics into hip-hop. It’s also hard to listen to repeatedly, as West’s rage and boasting are designed to upset. In concert, though, that disappears, especially when it’s placed in the broader framework of West’s life.
The first two-thirds of the show — built around the themes of Fighting, Rising, Falling, Searching and Finding like a five-act Broadway-ready musical — are wrenching. At the start, West is seething with anger on “On Sight” and “New Slaves,” the thundering bass rattling through the crowd as a masked West spits accusations. The boasting in the Rising section is just as fierce, in “I Am a God” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” before it all comes crashing down in “Coldest Winter,” written about the untimely death of his mother.
West sings it as he lies on his back at the edge of the cliff, now tipped 30 feet in the air, while fake snow falls around him and the crowd below. It’s a wrenching moment, especially when paired with “Heartless” and “Blood on the Leaves.”
The show pivots on the epic “Runaway,” where he advises people he loves, “Baby, I got a plan, run away fast as you can.” It’s made all the more potent as he rants about how “creative inventors who weren’t recognized in their time.” But he also has a seeming epiphany, as he croons, “If you love somebody tonight, hold on real tight” and removes his mask to show his face for the first time, nearly 90 minutes into the concert. Young ‘Ye has learned his lesson — presumably aided by his fiancee Kim Kardashian and their baby North — people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.
From there, the party is on. West rolls through his most upbeat songs, including “Stronger” and “Good Life,” before closing with “Bound 2,” and finally a seeming benediction from a Christ-like figure on the massive fake mountain.
The “Yeezus” tour is amazing stuff, showing how West has mastered the art of staging and performing — he is constantly moving and swaggering across his huge stage — as well as rapping. Not only does it explain his vision as an artist, but it offers some insight into his oft-misunderstood personal conduct as well.
SET LIST: On Sight / New Slaves / Send It Up / Mercy / Power / Cold / I Don't Like / Clique / Black Skinhead / I Am A God / Can't Tell Me Nothing / Coldest Winter / Hold My Liquor / I'm In It / Guilt Trip / Heartless / Blood On The Leaves / Lost in the World / Runaway / Street Lights / Stronger / Through The Wire / Jesus Walks / Diamonds from Sierra Leone / Flashing Lights / All Of The Lights / Good Life / Bound 2