SXSW 2011, Saturday: Kanye steals the show (surprise!)
Sun Mar 20 2011
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Kanye West interrupts. Besides being this decade's big musical genius, interrupting is his thing: Katrina, Taylor, the fact he bumrushed every single end of year musical poll in 2010... And in 2011, he hijacked SXSW. Those who tried in vain to get tickets to Kanye's show at the Bowery Ballroom will be familiar with the particular type of heartache the secret Kanye show delivers—the fact it's seemingly impossible for you as a fan to get tickets, the fact a bunch of models got in free... You know the deal.
And so it was this week at South By, when Vevo announced that yes, Kanye would be playing a show on the last night of the festival (of course!) at a disused power plant (POWER!) to celebrate his G.O.O.D record label in the company of Mos Def, John Legend, Kid Cudi, Pusha T, CyHi Da Prince and Mr Hudson. Time Out was therefore duly astonished to get hold of two coveted Kanye laminates, and even more astonished to find itself at the front of the line before the show, somehow lumped in with a gaggle of models, coatless and shivering at midnight outside the Power Plant.
After a two-hour wait while Kanye and co soundchecked, we were let in, and so ensued something of a model stampede, the thunderous sound of a hundred odd pairs of stillettos on wood. Inside the building looked like the disused factory in Kanye's "Runaway" video; huge, clean, industrial. Bars were set up at the side and exotic dancers showed off their moves on metal staircases. An enormous GOOD sign was illuminated on stage. So far, so awesome.vThe only weird thing about the night was that it was far less a gig than a TV performance; TV cameras swooped around, and there was nary a word of banter from Kanye himself. So if you're wondering if you missed out on the show of the year, fear not. This was a hell of a spectacle, however. The show opened with all Kanye's guests lining up at the front of the stage, wearing balaclavas, naming their hometowns. "Cleveland, Ohio." "Brooklyn, New York." Wearing a sparkly eyemask (well, why not?) Mos Def played the first set. Once the initial excitement of the fact that at around 1am the show had finally started wore off, Mos's 40 minute set seemed a little excessive. Solid but unexceptional performances followed from Pusha T, Cudi and co. until Kanye took the stage—at last!—at around 2am.
Dressed in a fancy leather jacket and shades (which he kept on for the duration), Kanye was all steely professionalism last night; no rants, no chit-chat and no real experimentation. This didn't dent how great it was to see him play songs from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, live, but it was hard to feel a connection with what was going on onstage.The sound too, was pretty bad; immaculately mixed for sure, but the acoustics of the building meant it boomed and echoed at the front and back of the crowd.
But who wouldn't be thrilled to see John Legend sit himself at the piano for "Blame Game" (which sounded gorgeous)? Legend also played his own "Ordinary People," and Cudi joined Kanye for "Gorgeous." The show was heavy on songs from My Beautiful..., though we did get a peek of "Say You Will," and "Can't Tell Me Nothin'".
Funniest moment? Kanye returning for an encore, resplendent in a red suit, for "Power," only to discover seconds in, that the beat had become somehow mangled. Rather than apologize or laugh, he stormed off-stage ("He's so gonna punch someone" said a dude behind me), returning, wordless, once it had been fixed. For a thrilling "All of the Lights," an elaborately decked-out marching band strode up. The real treat though, was Jay-Z, who joined Yeezy around 3.30am. Tearing through "Monster" and "HAM," it was the first time Kanye seemed expressive (rather than performing), grinning and cracking off-mic gags with Jay. The show closed at 4am with Justin "Bon Iver" Vernon coo-ing a beautiful "Lost in the World." Well done, Mr West, you did it again.