Very, very few things in life are worth braving throngs of barefoot teenagers on ecstasy queuing up for Porta-Potties in ankle-deep mud. Seeing Kanye West at the Governors Ball not only made up for this bleak, hepatitis-hazed sight—it was the most exciting show I’ve seen this year.
Even on a sunny Sunday evening, the Randalls Island festival site resembled and smelled like a pigsty, albeit one with food trucks at the edges. Grizzly Bear was running through its hits, and the mood was… limp.
But from the moment West's set began, the air crackled. A huge lighting rig took up most of the stage, with West’s musicians nestled inside, and two JumboTrons looming on either side. West strode on and launched into smack-in-the-face new song “Black Skinhead” from Yeezus. You likely saw him perform the song on SNL a couple weeks ago, but hearing its glammed-up malevolence in the dark, with those screens beaming out visuals of barking hellhounds and Klansmen in black hoods, was something else.
And then, of course, there’s West himself. He spat the song’s immaculate, clipped lyrics with equal parts precision and passion—a punk with a mission. And this, really, is what makes West so captivating, and one of very, very few actual artists who pass for musical stars. He means it. He is as disgusted with the modern world and himself as he is delighted with both, and his music occupies the exquisitely uncomfortable terrain in between with openness. Oh, and humor: New song “I Am a God” has West rapping, “I am a God / Hurry up with my damn massage / Hurry up with my damn ménage / Get the Porsche out the damn garage.”
West is not afraid to make himself vulnerable; he performed most of the show from a walkway in the middle of the crowd. Similarly, while his attention to musical detail is meticulous, he frequently went off on vocal explorations, messing about with his phrasing, feeling his way into a song—whether that was in the bare, blue 808s & Heartbreak track “Heartless” or while screaming the climax of “I Am a God.”
And the hits just kept coming—“Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” “Power,” “Clique,” “Say You Will,” “Good Life”—the atmosphere swinging from hands-in-the-air party to hard-core underground rave. It was exhilarating. And when you contrast what most performers offer at a music festival—say, a big sing-along to “Pumped Up Kicks,” some beers, some merch—with what West delivered last night, the disparity is staggering.
Last word, of course, goes to West: “Honestly, at this point when I listen to radio, that ain’t where I want to be no more,” he said, midshow. “Honestly, at this point, I could give a fuck about selling a million records as long as I put out an album for the summer that y’all can rock to for all fuckin’ summer. At this point I don’t really give a fuck about outside opinion.”
"Can't Tell Me Nothing"
"I Am a God"
"Say You Will"
"All of the Lights"
"I Don't Like (Remix)"
"All Falls Down"