Zach Berger contributed to this post.
On Thursday, February 13, 2014, State College was blessed with the presence of Yeezus. The events that unfolded last night were unlike anything any of us anticipated witnessing.
When Onward State writer Alex Robinson, who braved the cold to camp out for the first spot in line, tweeted a picture of the setlist, there was a sense that something different could happen tonight. The combination of the 10th anniversary of his debut album The College Dropout being just a few days before, Kanye playing a show on a college campus, and this being his first show of the second leg of the Yeezus tour (and first in 2014), there was something in the air at Penn State. Nobody could quite put their finger on what.
With rumors of various openers and set changes swirling, Kanye West decided he’d take the evening to put on the greatest live performance I have ever witnessed. Full disclosure, I am a complete Kanye Stan. I defend him to the end of the Earth, the dude is borderline infallible to me musically (except “Drunk and Hot Girls,” let’s just pretend that song never happened). Not that I can recreate it or even do justice to what I experienced, and I’ll probably forgot some specific details from the earlier half of the show, but here’s a brief recap of the events.
So, the theme of the show is five acts. Fighting, Rising, Falling, Searching, and ultimately Finding. Fighting begins violently as one would expect, with Mozart played backwards and the Yeezus trio of “On Sight” (with the “I Am Not Home” opener), “New Slaves,” and “Send It Up,” and then finishes with Ye’s verse from Mercy. The music, however, was secondary to the incredible theatrics. The women dressed as Druids, the mountain, the lighting — it was an experience. Oh, I forgot the mask. He had a mask for each act that he changed. Nobody saw his face until later on, but we’ll get to that. Yeezus may not be the most popular Ye album, but man does it fill up an arena.
The tectonic plates shifted and Kanye decided to bring out the stadium bangers during rising. “Power”, “Cold” (with an intro sampling “Cold as Ice” by Foreigner for good measure), “I Don’t Like,” “Clique,” “Black Skinhead,” “I Am A God,” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” were explosive (literally at times, with pyrotechnics backing him), with an army of girls in nude-colored stretch fabric who looked vaguely like his ex-girlfriend Amber Rose clones backing Yeezy, because, well, why not?
After finishing up “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” with the middle platform of the stage being raised in the air, Kanye laid down on it and decided to change up the tone. He talked about his mom, Donda, who passed away in 2007, and explained that “a lot of people don’t know” that the song Coldest Winter was written for her. Despite the relative lack of love most people show to his album 808s and Heartbreak, the emotion the man poured out during that song was extraordinary.
When the beat for “Monster” started bumping in the BJC, people got hyped. But you had to know he wasn’t going to play that. While this happened, though, a strange Where the Wild Things Are-looking Yeti monster thing with red glowing eyes marauded around the stage and up the mountain/volcano for a while.
Calling the ‘Falling’ act vaguely Macabre wouldn’t be a stretch, and it was really during this act you fully realized this isn’t just a concert. The Yeezus tour makes your average concert look amateur, and makes your average broadway show look like a high school production. The theatrics with the music were absolutely mesmerizing in an absurd way. The high art and religious elements surrounding the show, the masks and outfits — all of it absurd, all of it incredible.
The transition went to Yeezus‘ Chief Keef and Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver fame) supported “Hold My Liquor,” followed up with “I’m In It,” “Guilt Trip,” and “Heartless.” All quality tracks, and the last one being a legitimate radio hit, but when the “Strange Fruit” sample for “Blood On the Leaves” started building, so to did the emotion in the BJC.
The backdrop once again supported West in a way few sets ever have in a musical performance, and his yell-rapping the track along with the crowd was fully energized. If that 17 song performance had been the entirety of the show, it still would have been a great experience. But that wouldn’t be Kanye West, would it?
So Kanye leaves the stage again (the little tent backstage probably has more valuable fashion in it than this entire school combined), and up walks a straight up Catholic mass, complete with the incense and everything. It was bizarre for sure — eerie in a captivating sort-of way.
This section began with another Vernon-supported track in “Lost In the World,” as one of the procession members grabbed a box from someone stage-side and lifted it onto the iceberg/center stage. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was Kanye in the box (I did), especially since he’s a relatively diminutive guy. What it turned out to be was an MPC, which can only mean one possible song, and the most anticipated part of this entire tour.
He struck one key, and everyone instantly knew “Runaway” was about to happen. The thing with the Yeezus tour version of “Runaway,” however, is that instead of the song transitioning to Pusha T’s part, it fades out, and Kanye proceeds to go on a nearly half-hour rant. He unveiled this last summer at The Governor’s Ball (along with performing Yeezus tracks live for the first time), and whether you find it cringeworthy or captivating, you couldn’t help but anticipate it.
Interlude – The Rant
For a man as famous and boisterous as Kanye, having detractors is a pretty obvious issue. With someone with Ye’s obvious ego, though, they can become a source of obsession. He began to talk about there only being two kinds of people in this world, “Haters and Dreamers”, and that the only difference was that Haters forgot their dreams. He mentioned how he talked “a lot of shit” in 2013, but that in 2014 he wasn’t doing that, just talking truth. “Yeezus wasn’t meant to be digestible” West declared, followed by a discussion on how he burns your brain like soft drinks burn your throat, and how fear is a four letter word and the number one disabler (facts, but kinda obvious ones).
He talked about how nobody is gonna do anything about anything he does. “After all that shit I said last year, what’s gonna happen? NOTHING!” The crowd was getting into it and so was Kanye, and you could tell that this show was different than the rest of the Yeezus tour. It was bound to come to fruition sooner or later.
“God arrives right on time; he’s not hiding or sleeping,” read the projector screen, as Ye transitioned into the final phase of the show. The familiar voices of Daft Punk bumped as he began to do an A Capella version of “Stronger” before the beat arrived and bumped.
Then another monologue, this time about the car accident that nearly killed him and left his jaw wired shut, with “Through the Wire” blasting as Kanye spit the bars through a disco ball-looking mask. Then, as the song ended, out walked the lord himself, Jesus.
He approached Kanye, and Ye addressed him. “WHITE JESUS!” he proclaimed, as the son of God blessed Kanye and took off his last mask, revealing his face to the crowd for the first time. Everyone knew “Jesus Walks” was next, but how hard he went on it cannot be done justice with mere words. He followed it up with “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” and the only time you’ll see more diamonds tossed up in the air is THON weekend. After that, the show exploded.
The College Dropout and Catharsis
Ye decided he’d do “six or seven more songs” to thank everyone for coming through the snow to see him. With four songs left on the original set list, you’d figure maybe he’d toss in an extra or two. Instead, the man decided to take this from a great show into a legendary one.
He talked about it being the tenth anniversary of The College Dropout (his debut, which many argue is his best album), then proceeded to play “All Falls Down” and “Homecoming.” For every song after this, Kanye would go to his DJ, discuss the next track, then start performing. It was typically only a bar or two, and he admitted he forgot the words (whether that was tongue-in-cheek or not remains to be seen), but the man does not simply perform songs from The College Dropout anymore, save for “Through the Wire” and “Jesus Walks.”
The bumping bass for “Gold Digger” and the whole crowd screaming “WE WANT PRENUP!” were impossibly cool moments, but he just kept going. His verse from “Run This Town” was followed by the Estelle-backed hit “American Boy.” He sarcastically asked the crowd if he we were mad that he was extending the show, but I was too dumbfounded to respond. He began playing “Spaceship,” and forgot the words, but that was okay, because he dropped bars from “Get Em High” and, most importantly, “The New Workout Plan,” which he hasn’t performed since 2007.
“Heard Em Say” and “Dark Fantasy” were next, and then to everyone’s surprised, “N****s in Paris”. Kanye and Jay-Z typically don’t play their Watch the Throne tracks solo, but Ye reversed the beat and went on the most self-aware wardrobe-based rant I’ve ever heard. “What’s that jacket, Margiela?” became “What these shoes, Margiela?” and, most incredibly “What’s this MAN DRESS Margiela?”
A fuck the haters rant followed, with Ye declaring that he found his spot, and that he is “permanently the away team.” He was smiling throughout this entire set, the happiest Kanye has looked at a performance in so long. This seemed cathartic for him, a bit of a new leaf being turned over…well, as much as a guy like Kanye can.
Ten seconds of “Touch the Sky” played before Ye began to scream “STOP THAT SHIT!” and decided it was time for a final address of the haters. “Ten years of this shit!” he declared, talking about being in the studio until 5 a.m. and taking stabs at Jimmy Kimmel for mocking his girlfriend and himself, Charlamagne Tha God for dissing him in an interview, and even old pal Sway (a relationship people thought was patched up).
He did a little A Capella version of the chorus of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” and asked his haters in a very calm voice “What the fuck did you do? What the fuck have you done with the past ten years of your life? I AM YEEZUS!” he shouted. That incredible interlude of unplanned tracks made this show go from great to legendary, no doubt about it.
As the lights show for “Flashing Lights” began with girls on stage dancing, Kanye declared in the most gleeful way “LOOK AT THIS SHIT! THIS SHIT IS AWESOME! I MADE THIS SHIT UP!” I haven’t seen Ye so happy and so enthusiastic in so very long, it was incredible. You were happy with him, as he finished with “All of the Lights” and an insane round of explosions. “Good Life” came on and he was absolutely beaming throughout, tossing in an easy “It feel like Miami, it feel like Penn State” for good measure.
He talked about how much he appreciates all of his fans standing up for him and explained how Yeezus is inclusive, “Yeez Is Us.” Say what you want about the man’s ego, he loves his fans like no other. He talked about how we all have haters we can’t say anything to, so he spent 2013 telling all of our haters off. “I’d rather not be scared” than be someone else, he said.
This show, based on such an angry album, became a fully happy, enveloping and cathartic experience. “You don’t stand for nothing, you fall for anything” Ye declared, as Tony Williams took us home with “Bound 2.” Kanye made sure to make note that his next shoe will be available to everyone, as his most recent shoe, the Air Yeezys, sold out in record time. “Bound 2” dominated, with the Druid women rejoining the stage.
Epilogue and Finale
“We gonna turn up for 2014” Kanye declared, as Tony Williams took everyone out and the lights came up.
I don’t know that anyone will experience the performance Kanye put on for us last night again. I feel like he’s finally at a point where he’s comfortable with everything in his life. He’s in love, he’s successful, and he spent a year of his life making sure his haters know that they don’t run him. The atmosphere was so overwhelmingly positive by the end, you couldn’t help but laugh and be happy.
Where the tour’s first leg was based on absurdity and anger, last night Kanye gave us pure unadulterated happiness. What he’ll do next is anybody’s guess, but I feel like a better person for having been at this concert and getting to experience this with my best friends and with Kanye himself. We may have just witnessed a legendary moment in live music history, and for sure one in an already illustrious career.
Yeezy season approached, Yeezus walked with us, that effervescent smile shining, and for a night, everything was right in the world.