Kanye touches the sky at Blaisdell
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Derek Paiva
The ego landed Sunday night at Blaisdell Arena.
Call the ever-brash Kanye West full of himself. Call him arrogant. Or just call him mad self-confident. Love him or hate him, hip-hop's reigning superstar puts on an ambitious live show that leaves no doubt the critically-hailed, multi-Grammy-winning studio master is also a live performer to be reckoned with — hell bent on redefining what a live hip-hop show can and should be.
No stage-roaming posse or dancers were there to deflect attention from any potential shortcomings in the headlining performance, a la 50 Cent and Fabolous a couple of years back. West has too much confidence in his live stage prowess for that kind of nonsense, and rightly so. There was very little display of bling. And the show carried on for a whopping (by hip-hop standards, anyway) hour and 45 minutes, with little padding.
West's accompaniment? A seven-piece, all-female string section of cellists and violinists, a couple of backup singers and the stunning skills of multiple world-title-winning DJ A-Trak on the turntables.
Impressive as these artists were, however, each was clearly there only for support. West left no doubt from start to finish who the true star of his show was.
He opened with "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," making his appearance center stage under dramatic blue lighting. Sporting a powder blue jacket over a white dress shirt, loose faded blue jeans and white designer shades — he'd change jackets and eyewear three more times during the evening — West flashed an appreciative smile that seemed to say that, brashness notwithstanding, he needs an audience to make the whole package work.
Though filling only two-thirds of the arena, the audibly amped crowd let West know early on about its enthusiasm. From there, West just made sure his show touched on almost everything the crowd wanted from his two discs, "The College Dropout" and "Late Registration."
Working every inch of the stage, West didn't need any special effects to make it work. Every bit of lyrical flow from hits such as "Heard 'Em Say," "We Don't Care," "Through the Wire" and "Slow Jamz" arrived crisp and enunciated, the musical accompaniment sounding suprisingly clear in the usually muddled arena.
On disc, West loves to show off how much of a genre-be-damned music fan he is, liberally sprinkling many tracks with familiar, yet far-flung, samples (Otis Redding, Natalie Cole, Gil Scott-Heron, Lauryn Hill, etc.), expertly used. He gave that love an even more generous reign in a live setting.
The Portishead-lite groove of "Drive Slow" closed out with a string section-led instrumental medley of The Beatles "Eleanor Rigby," Dr. Dre's "Forgot About Dre" and The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" and West pretend-conducting it all.
"The New Workout Plan" made a snippet of the Eurythmics' classic "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" sound almost as fresh as it did in 1983.
"Crack Music" ended with a spin of Damian Marley's "Welcome To Jamrock," apparently for no other reason save for West's appreciation of the song.
His show sometimes threatened to roll into well-oiled-machine territory — its obvious polish evident in its seamless pacing, staged patter and dramatic moments of orchestral sweep — but West remarkably managed to keep things lively, with unexpected tacks.
The best of these moments was an interlude of songs that inspired West. While A-Trak spinned original cuts of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" and Michael Jackson's "Rock With You," a smiling and dancing West soaked in crowd reaction to his turn playing DJ. For a snippet of a-Ha's "Take On Me," whose inclusion he swore wasn't a joke, West even busted some goofy '80s moves straight out of the song's video, to a huge crowd reaction.
West saved his monumental hip-hop march "Jesus Walks" for the show's single encore, boosting the song's dramatic sweep with a magnetic wash of live strings. The anthemic, horn-sample-filled "Touch the Sky" closed the show as West walked offstage with a surprising lack of drama.
No one seemed to mind the quiet exit. West had already earned the right to let the crowd boast his greatness for a change.
Reach Derek Paiva at firstname.lastname@example.org.