Kanye West Kicks Off The Saint Pablo Tour: The 10 Best Moments
By Killian Young
And the fact that it took this long to take the stage in the States wasn’t for lack of trying. West’s headlining spot at GovBall was canceled after a severe storm scare, and his attempt at a low-key show later that night at Webster Hall caused thousands of Yeezy fans to swarm the East Village. (’Ye did make a surprise appearance at MetLife Stadium that same day as part of the G.O.O.D. Music Showcase for Hot 97’s Summer Jam, but this was his first true solo performance since he headlined Paradise International Music Festival in the Philippines.)
Expectations were sky high for me: I last saw Kanye perform a masterful homecoming set at Chicago’s United Center while promoting Yeezus, followed by a pared-down headlining spot at Made in America in Philly.
Those two gigs are perhaps unfair reference points to this tour opener. As these shows continue, I’m sure ’Ye will further refine his setlists and performances. This gig was a little rough around the edges, but even West openly admitted to this during the set. A few minor issues: The bass was too turned up on “Freestyle 4” (so much that I could feel my brain rattling around my skull); “Ultralight Beam” was written on the setlist but not performed; and “Fade” was an anticlimactic closer, which lingered a bit too long before the house lights turned on.
Overall, this was an immensely satisfying concert that ran the gamut of Kanye’s collaborations, a ton of other TLOP tracks, a handful of deep/older cuts, and an assortment of hit singles. Most notably, Kanye utilized a levitating stage that glided throughout the arena, allowing him to engage with fans everywhere. (Security had the difficult task of trying to constantly clear the space directly beneath the stage, which proved futile over the show’s two hours.) It was paired with a massive, rectangular lighting rig, which similarly tilted and contorted for a variety of effects throughout the set.
The setup wasn’t as theatrical or grandiose as his mountain or intricate masks during the Yeezus tour, but it was effective nonetheless to get an entire stadium hyped. The elevated platform also showcased two sides of Kanye’s persona: The god-like figure that towers over his devotees and the hip-hop community as a whole vs. the humble man of the people, eager to give himself to the fans. And for over 30 tracks, West impressed in both the quiet and the dynamic moments.
Yeezy season has finally arrived, so relive the 10 best moments of the Saint Pablo Tour kickoff.
Play the G.O.O.D. Hits: “Mercy” and “Don’t Like”
After getting the crowd moving with his ScHoolboy Q collaboration “THat Part”, ’Ye jumped into a couple of his biggest G.O.O.D. Music singles. The stage tilted precariously as West laid down while performing “Mercy”. And the energetic Chief Keef cover “I Don’t Like” followed. West is worth the price of admission, but despite the proximity of Indianapolis to Chicago and the secrecy of an opening act — there was none — no other associates appeared outside of Travis Scott. I wouldn’t be shocked if some of the bigger city stops (L.A., NYC, Chicago, Toronto) include some surprise guests, though.
Kanye as Horror Movie Composer: “Wolves”
Maybe Kanye’s been watching a bunch of John Carpenter films or wants to build his résumé to score some horror (feature-length adaptation of “Monster”, anyone?), because the anxious synth interlude after “Power” made for the perfect lead-in to “Wolves”. As a layer of spooky fog settled on the floor, it was a great atmosphere for the paranoid track. During the performance, ’Ye remained crouched onstage, shielded from the sea of cell phone-wielding fans below. Sure, this isn’t exactly comparable to the threat that he perceives against Nori and Saint in the song, but the scary concept of always having eyes on you isn’t too far-fetched, either.
Fan Outreach: “Blood on the Leaves”
For safety, Kanye was tethered to the center of the moving stage. But he had enough slack that he could perch himself on the edge and even lean over. During “Blood on the Leaves”, he stretched his hand downward as the platform slowly lowered toward the audience. On the floor, there was a massive push to get close to ’Ye. As West came close to the crowd, he quickly yelled “Bring it up! Bring it up!” I wasn’t close enough to see exactly what happened — whether a scuffle broke out or if someone got knocked over in the mad dash — but Kanye requested security to help someone in the middle of all this, which earned a round of applause.
Help From Real Friends: “N-ggas in Paris”
After “Good Life”, Kanye kept the energy going with “N-ggas in Paris”. When the beat kicked in, the crowd went wild, bouncing along in the center of the floor. At this point, Travis Scott tore through the crowd in the general admission area, becoming the center of a rowdy mosh pit beneath Kanye’s platform. (Right before the set started, Scott also sprinted through the crowd, which led to a brief frenzy on both the floor and the lower bowl seating.) As the song reached its end, those surrounding Scott formed a circle and swayed side to side in unison, in a similar way to how football and basketball teams get pumped in pre-game warmups.
Pablo Comes to Life: “Feedback” and “Facts (Charlie Heat Version)”
Aside from the blaring “Freestyle 4” and the subdued “30 Hours” or “Fade”, a couple other TLOP tracks received worthy debuts last night. On “Feedback”, West led the audience with “I can’t let these people play me…” The crowd screamed back, “Name one genius that ain’t crazy!” Kanye cracked a big grin and ended the song right there. ’Ye, as the concert perfectionist, was out in full force, from his precise cues with the production team to slicing songs at exact moments. (Thankfully he cut “Facts (Charlie Heat Version)” before the ill-advised and oddly sympathetic bit about Bill Cosby.) And despite a softened stance toward sponsor-turned-rival Nike (more on that later), the crowd got especially hyped for his pro-Adidas jabs and the “we made a million a minute” lines.
Man That Would Be So Kanye: “I Love Kanye” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”
At the conclusion of “Freestyle 4”, Kanye briefly sang “I miss…” This was more than enough of a tipoff that the tongue-in-cheek TLOP track “I Love Kanye” was on the way. After faking out the audience again, the fans eagerly sang along in its entirety as West led the rap a capella. At its conclusion, Kanye gave a response to his own facetious self-critique with a perfect transition to the defiant “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”. With an ideal anthemic chorus for jamming to, this throwback Graduation hit was a good pick to perform in full rather than in a reduced snippet.
Light ’Em Up: “Flashing Lights” and “All of the Lights”
Perhaps the only transition that worked even better than “I Love Kanye” — “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” was the light-themed pairing of “Flashing Lights” and “All of the Lights”. On the former, Tony Williams provided beautiful backing vocals for the chorus. And on the latter, West implored the crowd to “Jump! Jump! Jump!”, and the fans gladly obliged. The light panels fittingly folded around ’Ye, shining tons of spotlights on the rapper while the crowd roared along to the chorus.
We All Self-Conscious; I’m Just the First to Admit It: “Runaway”
The stage lights went dark after “Amazing”, so it was clear that some change to the set was happening. During this transition, Kanye actually moved from his primary stage onto his lighting rig, which had a console installed on it. From here, he commanded most of the latter half of the set, beginning with a chopped-up take on “Runaway”.
The Kanye West Rant was a staple of the Yeezus tour, but if the ad-libbing during “Runaway” is a blueprint for what the segment will entail on this tour, it’ll be a much more positive free-form bit. Throughout, he pensively riffed on appreciating Adidas, as well as regretting his bad blood stemming from his break with Nike:
“Now that I have kids, my perspective has changed. I would like to thank the head of Nike, I would like to thank Mark Parker for giving a kid out of Chicago a shot in the first place. My frustrations led me to a place where I just wanted to create, but there’s no excuse for my actions. And I just wanted to come to you as a man and say: I apologize if I did anything to ever doubt you in front of your family in any way.”
And then, West sang what perhaps best encapsulates his ethos in a line: “I know they call me crazy sometimes/ But I just call them lazy all the time.”
Slow Jamz: “Only One”
After “All Falls Down”, Kanye slowed things down with “Only One”, his touching tribute to his late mother Donda. (Donda was also featured on the show’s merch, which was carted away right before doors opened for non-VIP attendees, but reappeared after the show.) Below, fans embraced and gently swayed to the track as West showed off his vocal chops. At the end, the angelic instrumental used in the trailer for his Donda video game played, and even ’Ye looked skyward from his elevated platform.
Interestingly, West briefly dipped into “Real Friends” right before cutting it off. In terms of setlist dynamics, here’s how the ending of the show was drawn up vs. how it actually went down:
Printed: “Highlights”, “Real Friends”, “All Falls Down”, “Ultralight Beam”, “Fade”, “Only One”
Actual: “Highlights”, “Only One”, “Fade”
’Ye first deviated from the printed arrangement by bumping up “All Falls Down” to follow “Devil in a New Dress”. “Only One” was originally slated to be the closer, and “Real Friends” and “All Falls Down” were supposed to go back to back — perhaps he wanted to avoid the negativity of “Real Friends” after his largely uplifting freestyle? All this made the decision to not play “Ultralight Beam” even more confounding.
Side note: Tony Williams was again an unsung hero of Kanye’s success in this show, providing pitch-perfect calls-and-responses on “Only One”. And the friendly vocalist stuck around the console, signing personalized setlists for a bunch of fans who hung around.
Classics and Rarities Triumph: “Power”, “Jesus Walks”, and “Devil in a New Dress”
For all the buzz around the shape-shifting TLOP, some of Kanye’s older staples still proved capable of delivering the set’s jaw-dropping moments. “Power” grabbed ahold of the audience by leading in only with its rapid-fire drum hits, which the audience responded to with eager clapping. Kanye’s good mood vibes made another appearance, warmly thanking the audience for joining him and surveying which fans were experiencing his show for the first time.
As the track faded out, West led a chant of “I feel like Pablo”, which rippled through the crowd. On “Jesus Walks”, the stage slowly glided throughout the stadium, with Kanye kneeling and glancing skyward at the call-and-response of “Jesus walks for them.” And, of course, it was incredible to hear “Devil in a New Dress” — one of the oft-forgotten tracks off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and one of only a handful of times the track’s been played in a live setting.
As ’Ye sang in his interlude: “It’s about doing something that maybe can inspire the next generation. There might be some flaws in our first performance we did tonight, but maybe somebody out here tonight is gonna do something that’s gonna change everything.”
Setlist: Indianapolis, August 25th
Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1
Facts (Charlie Heat Version)
I Love Kanye
Can’t Tell Me Nothing
Blood on the Leaves
Runaway / Freestyle
Devil in a New Dress
All Falls Down
All of the Lights
The Good Life
Niggas in Paris
Real Friends (Cut Short)*
*Ultralight Beam also printed on setlist, but not performed
Originally published at consequenceofsound.net on August 26, 2016.