Kanye West Conquers Penn State Once Again
It was all a dream — no it wasn’t. It was real and it was wonderful. Kanye West made his immaculate return to State College on Friday and he did not disappoint. Although the world was speculative of whether the Bryce Jordan Center was going to be capable of handling the unique stage setup featuring a floating stage, the Saint Pablo Tour went off without a hitch, and once again, we are all better off because of it.
Before I dig into the concert review, I guess I have to reveal a pretty big secret: I am huge Kanye West fan. I truly believe his level of artistry is unlike any performer in the world (except maybe Beyoncè). His ability to connect with so many different people from so many different walks of life is an incredibly rare trait. Kanye is not only a harmonious genius but also a master of fusing emotions with his music.
I arrived at the venue around 7:15 p.m. and the BJC was already starting to get mobbed by Yeezy fans. I came with a squad of 10 people and we actually got in fairly quickly. We all knew that Kanye was going to make us wait, but for how long? No one could say for sure. Rumors were flying around that Ye wouldn’t grace the stage until 10:00 p.m. but I was confident on an earlier appearance. We made our way down to the floor as soon as we got in and the atmosphere was already electric. Fog machines were set to maximum overdrive and every so often eerie music would play. The floating stage lowered, waiting for Kanye to make his inevitable appearance. We waited, and waited, and waited. Finally around 9:00 p.m. the lights dimmed and the crowd erupted. It was time for Yeezus to rise again.
If Kanye’s Yeezus Tour was a slow journey, the Saint Pablo Tour is an absolute sprint to the finish. Kanye unrolled banger after banger and the high energy Penn State crowd responded with complete joy. Kicking things off right, Ye jumped right into hits off his newest album The Life Of Pablo. Starting with “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2” back to back helped to set the tone for what the rest of the concert experience was going to be like. With the bass bumping heavy Kanye went right into the song I was probably most excited to see: the notorious “Famous.” “Famous” was everything I was expecting it to be and more. The audacity and confidence in which it takes to write a song like that translated over perfectly into his live performance of it. He rolled the song back twice to catch the massive beat drop again, and the whole crowd exploded with glee. Kanye was dancing and jumping around his UFO-like floating stage. As it moved all around the orange lights doused Kanye in a shimmering setting while fans moshed directly underneath. When “Famous” got to to the part in the song when the tempo and sound switches from the aggressive production to the vibey reggae beat, the dichotomy of sound created a perfect contrast. We all grooved along, but Kanye wasn’t ready to give anyone a break just yet.
Next Kanye doled out some covers of his best rap features. This included Drake’s song “Pop Style”, Schoolboy Q’s song “THat Part,” and the G.O.O.D. Music collective tracks “Mercy” and “Don’t Like.” Mixed in was his bold Nike diss track “Facts.” By now I was sweating like a dog, yet still completely full of energy and ready for the continuation of the show. This setlist seemed to be catered towards wilding out in the pit as Kanye kept the hyped up assertive tracks coming with “All Day” and “Black Skinhead.” And then he shocked me big time by going right into “Ni**as In Paris.” I couldn’t even believe my ears when the familiar intro of “We’re going to skate to one song, one song only” rang through the BJC. Rarely does Kanye play Watch The Throne tracks without big brother Jay Z sharing the stage with him, so the inclusion of that song was definitely a welcome surprise.
The mantra tonight was “can’t stop won’t stop,” and Kanye stuck to that better than anyone. He didn’t need any theatrics or themes to this show. He stuck to good old fashion dancing entertainment, as he kept up going in on his stadium status hits. The classic “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” helped bring people back to some of Kanye’s older music moments, while he followed that up with one of his most rousing singles ever: “POWER.” This song was met with a roar of satisfaction from fans, a perfect combination of controlled lyricism and an intense beat.
“Lost in translation with a whole fucking nation
They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation
Well that’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation”
And now it was really time to mosh. A startlingly creepy song started to ooze out from the speakers. It could only be one track. The spine chilling beginning crept up my back and whispered into my ear. “Blood On The Leaves” was next and the hauntingly beautiful Nina Simone sample reverberated across the BJC before everything exploded out of control. The horns on this song knocked me down a level they were so powerful. The eruption of music had us all bouncing off one another. Then immediately as a follow up Kanye put out his hardest track off his newest album: “Freestyle 4.”
Photo: Zach Berger
As the stage floated around, every so often it would stop for a little in a particular area. The mass of people underneath in the pit would rush as close as possible to Kanye. It was a hectic paradise and also possibly the most unique stage set up of any concert I have ever been to. The way the stage would tilt at an angle and glide all around helped to give Kanye a higher level aura around himself. He was as God-like as ever and seemed perfectly comfortable and at ease.
He went into the first and only song off his debut album as a followup. “Jesus Walks” was easily one of the best tracks of the night. Long live The College Dropout. “Flashing Lights,” “Highlights,” and “Feedback” all helped to maintain the energy but then Kanye slowed things down completely by starting the introduction of “Wolves.” The howling began and the anticipation for what was to come was only magnified as the heavy bass drop of the otherworldly tune began and climaxed with a beautiful hook sung by an autotuned Kanye. With an emotional verse, Ye showed us another side of himself that he hadn’t shown yet at this concert. With “Heartless” next Kanye switched the style up completely.
Now it was finally time for “Runaway.” This song in particular gives me, like many fans, all the emotions. There was one point in my life where I listened to “Runaway” everyday for at least a year straight. I cried the first two times I saw the song performed live and this time the same thing happened. “Runaway” is Kanye’s magnum opus, a long winded ballad that has been transformed from a heartbreak anthem to a showing of how far we’ve all come in our lives.
“If you are with someone you love tonight, hold them tight!” Kanye bellowed from his floating stage during the outro of “Runaway.”
That song is everything.
And as if right on cue Kanye then goes right into his slowest and most emotional song: “Only One.” A beautiful ballad devoted to his daughter North, Kanye’s emotions flooded the crowd and the contrast from earlier in the show was completely surreal. At this point we were 23 songs in and you would think the show would be close to ending, but it’s not a usual show. Kanye West still had some tricks up his sleeve.
With some help from the crowd Kanye transported his concert to a basic Starbucks cafe as he a cappellad his Rihanna and Sir Paul McCartney collaboration “FourFiveSeconds,” a surprise that hasn’t been on every setlist of the tour. He acknowledged this with a few “surprise motherfuckers” as he smiled into the microphone. Then the silly yet glorious “I Love Kanye” was up and just like in the album, Kanye decided to go with the powerful track “Waves” next. “Waves” crashed down upon everyone like an actual tsunami. The music flooded us with euphoria as Kanye rapped “Step up in this bitch like.” He ended up starting the song over because hearing the opening drop only once clearly wasn’t enough for Kanye. To be honest, I couldn’t help but agree. “Waves” was just the high energy track everyone needed coming off slower songs like “FourFiveSeconds,” “Only One,” and “I Love Kanye.”
The last run of songs was the strongest of the show for sure. “Touch the Sky,” “All of the Lights,” “Good Life,” and “Stronger” all followed each other one after another. A slowed down version of “Stronger” at the beginning of the song had everyone singing like it was 2007 again. Eventually it sped up to the normal tempo and with that came the the most insane dance party ever. The whole stadium was grooving, and not a single person had left their feet for hours at this point. In a flash of red laser beams, Kanye went into his hit club song “Fade.” Last but not least, was “Ultra Light Beam” and although clearly missing a certain verse by a Mr. Chancellor Bennet, that song created a perfect ending to a mind blowing night of music. A light shone down on Kanye and many described this as nothing short of a religious experience.
Kanye’s set was one of a kind. No other artist is able to dole out so many hits and still have people yearning for tracks he didn’t play. He will always draw you back for more with his intoxicating presence. I remember coming home from the first time I saw Kanye West live and trying to explain to my mom what it was like. My mom, someone lucky enough to see Michael Jackson live during his Thriller world tour, instantly understood. Despite the age gap, she got what it was like to see one of the most iconic people in the world perform live. She understood what it was like being so close to someone who transcends his profession.
Kanye is a revolutionist and I am part of that small club who has been able to actually look into his eyes and for him to look back and actually recognize me. And that shit has happened to me three times now. I am already looking forward to the fourth time. Come back to Happy Valley soon Kanye, I promise — we’re already waiting for you with open arms.