Kanye West, Chance The Rapper And More At The Meadows, Citi Field, Sunday, October 2nd, 2016, Reviewed
If disaster hadn’t struck, if some unfathomable breakdown in security in the Kardashian-West household, hadn’t lead to Kim being tied up, gagged, and robbed in Paris, causing Kanye West to rush off stage mid-set, Sunday night at Citi Field during the closing performance of the troubled the Meadows festival, if that hadn’t happened, it would have still been a lousy performance. I hadn’t been thrilled by the Life Of Pablo Tour stop at Madison Square Garden last month (my review here), I enjoyed it do a limited degree: it was too programmatic for artistry, too formal for rock, though in retrospect the floating stage was an ultimate leveling off of the audience, and a spectacular and moving flying carpet was impressive, it wasn’t great music. First and foremost, Kanye has always been about good music, but an idea that began with the Hurricane Sandy benefit 12-12-12, has now derailed his live performances. This is what I wrote then about the twelve minute to the dot showcase lodge between the Who and the Stones: “With no band, no special effects, and no Hova either, West destroyed. Kweezy rapped his verse from Rihanna’s “Diamonds” remix, to “Golddigger” and more, he roamed about his catalog, like the prowling leather skirted monster who so easily is.” It was a smart concept, essentially, he changed his set into Kanyeland: every moment, even the silences, were emblematic of a man who is, simply, the greatest rock star of the 2010s.
Ever since then, he has been streamlining his Kanyeland concept, narrowing it as it widened, until it was a huge wall of West. It really was Dylan’s mercury sound come to life: watching him at MSG, it was 12-12-12 becomes 90: the loquaciousness gone, the concentration complete and the artistry bleeding out all spontaneity. Sunday night, he changed the floating stage to a stationary one and the effect was stupefying: with a huge audience in front of him, and a huge stage behind him, Kanye didn’t have the slightest idea how to fill it. To make matters worse, he was following his protégée Chance The Rapper on the very same stage and, honestly, West didn’t deserve to be there. People had waited hours, a huge audience, all races, though mostly only one age (20 somethings), all staggered together in the night, most waiting from seven when Chance ended, some waiting since 1pm, till 845, when Kanye entered half an hour after the set start time. If you think that isn’t a long wait, try holding your breath for half an hour, not going on stage in a timely manner is the moral equivalent of not running to first on a long fly ball, Kanye would have gotten most of his set in, instead of half. Still, if what we had gotten hadn’t been so disappointing…. Kanye had to have done the work, must have, should have: he couldn’t just move the entire thing from one form of performance to another. This was a magic opportunity to throw out Pablo completely, and do a straight up rap show, to go as deep and as wide as he could imagine, and he was just too bored and arrogant to do itt. It was an indolent, lazy eye performance. Kanye was happy for the audience to play the fifth Beatle while he ran up and down the stage and delivered the exact same set we saw last month with two exceptions, a thrilling “New Slaves” and Kanye jumping off stage and singing directly to the front row for two songs. Nice additions and not enough to make up for the static pre-programmed disconnected performance cut short through a real emergency. That is hardly Kanye’s fault, and I understand his decision to end the concert early. What is his fault is not showing up on time: arrogance doesn’t matter as much when you are great, when you aren’t great it is a bad bad idea. In a year that, far from being the huge success Kanye has claimed it is, in which he followed an album that while I believe to be excellent and beyond reproach, the vast majority of people consider his first disappointment, followed by a tour where everything he has been trying to do on stage imploded, and finally with the laziest performance of his entire career, it doesn’t appear all that great. Cmon, man, work up a proper performance for the Meadows, folks want your crown, it takes work to hold on to it: ask Chuck D, ask Biggie, ask Hov.
Chance The Rapper also didn’t do anything special for the event, but his business as usual was good enough as the Coloring Book tour was brought to life. “He’s preaching”, Tomas Doncker nodded to me as Chance turned his “\Blessings” into evocations, “The miracle isn’t a mixtape, the blessings aren’t of the flesh”. It was Hillsong United without the shitty songs and crappy proselytizing or creepy Godhead, “He is the same as they are” Tomas add referring to the audience, “And so when he tells them about God, they listen. They’ve never heard it like that before”, Chance was coloring in the shades of faith for the multitude, sharing his faith the way, earlier in the day, Pusha T had during “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets” -albeit for different reasons. Pusha is a strong voiced gangsta at war with himself, as he claimed in his most famous verse, drug pushing rapper now “young, rich and tasteless”. I was watching from the side, so I missed Pusha dropping the mic and by the magic of tapes, still rapping. That’s a complaint, though P’s verse from “Runaway”, along with Chance’s verse from “Ultralight Beam”, were more alive than Kanye would prove to be. I thoroughly enjoyed Pusha’s set, and as for Chance…. The Chance Coloring Book story is well told by now, he had a girlfriend, broke up, discovered she was pregnant, and fell back in love with her. While this was going on, he broke pop. These blessings from God have overwhelmed him and he has raised his voice in praise, and invited his audience to join him. On stage, Chance uses his DJ, a Gospel chorus, an “ex-girlfriend” Lady Day and others, all in full muppets drag, to help him tell the story of his emotional, by which he means spiritual but he’s being coy, transformation. A beautiful, bright, colorful stage emblazoned with the word “angels” before he performs “Angels” and three more songs, a fifteen minute throw down with live musicians, including an intemperate horn player, and still the Chicago wunderkind, whom Kanye (at the VMAs!) called the future of rap , hasn’t gotten around to saying hello. .
Much like his Coloring Book mixtape, the set was a full on Gospel meets hip hop meets R&B blow out of immense proportions, couched as a piece of psychological analysis, and including one entire song with Chance sleeping on a bed. It was the absolute state of black popular music, less the child of Good Music and more the child of Michael Jackson, all Chance’s instinct are populist grooves for the masses. Opening for Kanye for the first time ever, much like his appearance on “Ultralight Beam, it was entirely Chance’s opportunity to prove himself, and his well rehearsed well performed concert was the opposite of West’s ill tempered egotism. Chance dubbed himself a rap star who doesn’t brag .The son of big time political operative Ken Williams-Bennett, (an aide to former Chicago mayor Harold Washington who worked for Senator Barack Obama, Williams-Bennett, is deputy chief of staff to Mayor Rahm Emanuel,), might be too blessed to brag, but how many rich kids has that ever stopped? Certainly, a rap star who maintains his dignity is a real rarity. Chance’s performance had all the good will and high spirits that makes us love rap, and none of the misogyny and loathing, that leaves us wary. Still, it wasn’t a perfect set. He peaked very early, and the ending was a complete mess that went on two songs too long. Oh, and for some bizarre reason Chance didn’t perform “Finish Line/Drown”. Even so, this felt as much a changing of the guard as Jay to Kanye on the Watch The Throne tour was. Watch the throne, Kanye,, you have been warned.
Pusha T – B
Chance The Rapper – A-
Kanye West – C+