“I made this mountain!” Kayne West cries in self-awe during an obligatory rant to fifteen thousand fans gathered at New Jersey’s Prudential Centre, “This is culture. This is art. This is ten years of working hard as fuck and should be respected as such.” The Mountain he is referring to stands behind him, a 50ft hunk of grey polystyrene that forms the centrepiece of Kanye’s 2014 Yeezus tour and that alternates throughout the show between volcano, pulpit and possible cognizant representation of Kanye’s steeped self-esteem. This Mountain, while certainly breathtaking when first revealed to opening track ‘On Sight’, is also precisely the kind of thing one would expect from a Kanye West tour, particularly considering it’s his first solo outing since 2008.
Freed from the stale glitz of his last series of Watch the Throne shows with Jay-Z, Kanye has constructed an icy spectacle that places so much emphasis on aesthetics but that also acts as a barnstorming platform for his stripped down, punk-industrial, socially conscious Yeezus period. Borrowing equally from Jodorowsky surrealism, Broadway glamour and Pink-Floyd style theatrics he crafts a show that is as obnoxiously egotistical as it is wildly entertaining.
Thankfully, while Kanye might have constructed a mount, he doesn’t limit himself to one sermon. After dropping ‘Mercy’ and ‘Send it Up’, he launches into his 2012 beautiful dark twisted theme song ‘Power’ whilst straddling the peak of his summit, surrounded by artificial clouds and accompanied by a chorus of adoring fans. By the fifth song, Kanye descends the Mountain, so as to be with his fans and proceeds to work them into a frenzy of stomping for a furious version of ‘Black Skinhead’, complete with rib-cage throbbing bass and tinnitus-inducing shrieks. Now, as if the whole ‘descending-from-the-heavens’ routine isn’t enough to clarify that Kanye regards himself as deity, he takes us into ‘I Am A God’ whilst joined by a gaggle of nude girls who contort themselves into a throne for Him to sit upon. His gathered legions wait for the part of the song where Kanye demands pastries.
But it isn’t all Caligulaen set-pieces and obtuse literalism (a monster skulked on stage for the intro to ‘Monster’, for ‘Jesus Walks’ an actor playing Jesus walks, for ‘All of the Lights’, there were, you guessed it, many lights). During a toned down, borderline tearful take on ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ Kanye talks about his mother Donda as the stage rose to form an approximation of pride rock from The Lion King. There Kanye sits, raised above the writhing horde, breathing mournful lines into his microphone; “I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny…and what I do? Act more stupidly.” It is actually touching, especially considering Kanye is wearing a balaclava made of diamonds.
This sentiment continues as Kanye bitterly runs through ‘Heartless’, spitting each anguished lyric to a naked model representing every girl who was mean to him and whose hair runs down to her feet. Although ‘Blood on the Leaves’ and ‘Lost in the World’ perk things up again, it is a sonically majestic ‘Runaway’ that really starts a return to the hysterical worship at the altar of ego. Beginning by playing the opening bars in a deliberately slow tease, Kanye gradually draws the entire chorus from the crowd until the entire stadium is chanting the lyrics as one allied mass. Unfortunately, as the song dies down Kanye begins the mandatory tirade, it starts as a magnanimous declaration of respect for Drake despite recent comments to Rolling Stone, but soon turns into a veering twenty-minute invective that brought all the shows momentum to a grinding halt and included the following;
1) Calling out 69 year old Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels for making fun of him in sketches.
2) Calling out the Grammys for not giving him more recognition (“Giving me two nominations is like giving a waiter a 2 dollar tip”).
3) Calling out Nike for not making enough of his shoes.
4) Praising Aidias for agreeing to make more of his shoes.
5) Calling out the media for labeling him as merely a “rapper” in the light of his substantially diverse portfolio and considerable artistic creativity.
6) Calling out people for making fun of his man-skirt.
7) Complaining there is too much smoke on the stage.
8) Reminiscing about a Daft Punk concert in Coachella.
8) Acknowledging, in an improvised, auto-tune heavy, haiku that this rant will likely end up on YouTube.
10) Declaring that his mountain is a monument of proof of his vaulting artistic genius.
People file out to buy overpriced t-shirts and beer. Others tweet selfies. Toilet queues form. Kanye goes on and on, fueled by frustration and undermining every thoughtful idea he spouted by following it with an obnoxious one. However with the rant complete, Kanye then brings his set to a close by shutting up and playing a rundown of hits, ‘Through the Wire’, ‘All Falls Down’, ‘Touch the Sky’, ‘Homecoming’ and ‘Niggas in Paris’ get the show back on track, before everything blows up with ‘Golddigger’.
For the closer he chooses the melodically stuttering, Kardashian love-letter ‘Bound 2’ and is welcomed back into his mountain by Jesus and yet more naked models. With such a colossal set-piece Kanye seems to suggest (and then literally proclaims) that he should be regarded as a prophet of pop culture, disseminating art in the form of songs, shoes and showmanship in the way Jesus Christ disseminated loaves, fish and lessons. However unlike Jesus Christ, Kanye’s talent is more indisputable, as his charisma and ambitious pursuit of a constantly evolving aesthetic can be seen on each new album (which unlike Jesus’s miracles, can be downloaded from the internet).
But with the mountain of the Yeezus tour he unwittingly comes across as being closer to Prometheus than Jesus, chained to his own inexorable ego to an extent that it limits and taints fair appreciation of his work. Kanye cannot simply make something and let it be looked upon; he has to scream that it is artistic genius and that whatever amount of respect being paid is insufficient. He cannot escape this handicap. He made this mountain.