Theater of the Absurd

by: Michael Shields

Coming on the heels of Kanye West storming off the stage in Tampa mid-show, we discuss the glorious absurdity that is the Yeezus tour…..

Egomaniacs make for some of the best entertainers. They have within themselves a certain something that the rest of us simply do not. They need the spotlight, the attention, the love and admiration of their fans. But more importantly, they desire the respect they presume to deserve. In their attempts to steer all eyes their way, they realize the need to produce a spectacular. To attain that required limelight egomaniacs need to perform at a level, consistently, that demands it. These narcissistic individuals have one gear: They are all in. Whatever it takes is their credo, their battle cry. Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Mayweather Jr., Christian Bale, Lady Gaga, Tom Cruise, Muhammad Ali – all consistently remind you how great they are, and in reality they are indeed gifted, but due no doubt to their incessant need to fuel their own fire. These are people who take themselves far too seriously, and thank all that is good for that, as their artistry makes the world a more exciting place to live.

Possibly the person who reigns sovereign in the field of egotism is Mr. Kanye West. His antics have been well documented, and he is the first one to tell you how impressive a specimen he is. But, the fact that he is incredibly talented is indisputable. His catalog of music is proof positive of his capabilities, and his peers (of which, I assume, he believes he has few to none) will also vouch for his abilities1. But Kanye West is also undoubtedly insufferable. The touting of his excellence can wear down even his most ardent of supporters, detracting from this genius he speaks of. So often the butt of jokes, Kanye lashes back at even the slightest hint of criticism, something that is, in a word, off-putting. The point here being the he makes it tough to love him, but he doesn’t really give a fuck.

Highlighting Kanye West’s braggadocios manner is, of course, his most recent album, Yeezus, and the tour in support of it. Anytime you place yourself in the same playing field as the self-proclaimed Son of God, you will draw the ire of many. But this is how Kanye rolls. Recently, he took his high-wire act through New York City, playing two nights at the freshly erected Barclays Center, before sweeping through Madison Square Garden for two more performances. What those in attendance experienced was quite the bizarre, a unique musical experience operating on countless levels.

When preparing to attend a Kanye West show it is important, crucial even, to walk in with a certain mindset. First off, you have to like the music. This might sound obvious, but Kanye West, to his credit, has an eclectic library of music. If you don’t favor a specific segment of it, well, there could be a problem. Particularly if your dispute lies in his most recent and polarizing release, the aforementioned Yeezus, the centerpiece of this tour. If you get down with say “Through the Wire” or “Gold Digger” but you find yourself offended by the arrogance behind say “I am God”, you are better off at home bumping Late Registration or My Dark Twisted Fantasy. But, if the complex, sonic, jarring electro-beats of Yeezus are your cup of tea, then this experience is yours for the drinking.

To fully appreciate the theatrics of Kanye West’s latest traveling circus it is imperative to have your expectations in order. Do not, repeat – Do Not – show up expecting anything that resembles a regular hip-hop show. You will not find it here. What you will find however are towering mountains, icebergs, dancers in flesh colored body suits, a plethora of masks, an unparalleled light show, smoke, mirrors, and even a confrontation between Yeezus and Jesus. It’s akin to the over-the-top production of Roger Waters’ The Wall tour, P-Funk’s epic mothership-propelled Earth Tour, or David Bowie’s stylistic Diamond Dogs tour in 1974. Completely excessive, overblown, and fantastic.

A turn-off for many, and a reason to steer clear of this exaggerated manufacturing, is that Kanye will speak his mind. He cannot help himself. And the concertgoer will get the most out of the experience if they accept this facet of the concert as part of the overall performance. You see, you have to want the rant. It’s part of the adventure. One of the reasons you purchase a ticket, clear space on the calendar, doll yourself up and attend the concert is the desire to soak in the madness that ensues when Kanye lets it all hang out. The more absurd, the more arrogant and contemptuous, the better. And at the Garden, on his final night in the Big Apple, New Yorkers were treated to a doozie.

He went on, and on. About how the latest Hunger Games mimics his life. About how there wouldn’t be “Niggas in Paris” without Lenny Kravitz. About how he was treated like a child when he told designers in Paris he wanted to learn more about furniture. About being let down by Nike CEO Mark Parker and designer Heidi Slimane. About H&M and Zara stealing people’s ideas. About how rap is an amazing way to express genius.

And he referred to himself as the “number one rock star on the planet.” He described himself as the “Tupac of this clothing shit,” and as the Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, David Stern, and Michelangelo of this generation. All in autotune. All with a white spotlight chasing him around his elaborate stage, illuminating him as the prophet he claims to be. He poured his heart out to a capacity crowd hanging on every bumptious word, capping it off with a shameless appeal to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who was in the audience, for money and for support. It was exhilarating, intoxicating, and worth the price of admission alone. The theater of the absurd, a soliloquy delivered with unadulterated passion and steadfast conviction.

Do not get it twisted though; the Yeezus tour is much more than a sideshow act. You are not spending your hard earned dollars for the freak show alone. Amidst all the pageantry, Kanye’s classics, young and old, are dropped reminding you, right quick, why you came in the first place. You recall why you deal with the nonsense. Why you learned to laugh off all the baggage – because the music is the genuine article. The pieces are scattered, and throw together like a patchwork quilt sewn in the dark, but throughout the night “Power”, “Click”, “Black Skinhead”, “Hold My Liquor”, “Heartless”, “Blood on the Leaves”2, “Runaway”, “Through the Wire”, “Jesus Walks”, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”, “All of the Lights”, and “Bound 2” auspiciously fill the air. Tracks which instantaneous rock the crowd into a frenzy, who in turn accurately thrust back every lyrical cue sent their way. Magic fills the air, when what Kanye does best is the focal point of the spectacle as opposed to all the grandiosity. The Yeezus experience climaxes magnanimously when Kanye simply showcased his masterstrokes.

The Yeezus tour is not for the faint of heart, the easily irked, or the cynical. It’s for the real ride-or-die Kanye fans, and those who fancy dramatics and melodramatic extravaganzas. It’s an original, avant garde, brazen experience. An egomaniac wearing his heart on his sleeve; an artist, naked to the world, bearing it all and putting on the most innovative and enigmatic performance he is capable of. The Yeezus tour may not be for all, but certainly for those that can appreciate Kanye just being Kanye.

  1. “No one’s near doing what he’s doing. It’s not even the same planet.” – Lou Reed []
  2. In my estimation, the peak of the evening, with when pyrotechnics erupted from the stage as Kanye West’s most recent masterpiece was brought to life. []

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