The stage is all white. The DJ is dressed in all white. Kanye West is about to arrive.
I’m stood in London’s Hammersmith Apollo with hundreds of Yeezy fans, waiting in anticipation for the man of the night to show his face. We know he’s making us wait – keeping us in suspense. The two guys behind me are getting annoyed with the taller boy in front of us all who has managed to secure a space right by the barrier. “There should be a special section for abnormally tall people, like people over 6ft,” says one. “Yeah, but I don’t think that would be legal mate,” says the other.
It goes quiet and photos of icebergs suddenly flash onto the projector screens surrounding the stage. In case there was any doubt as to who was ready to make his grand entrance, the name ‘KANYE WEST’ then appears over the iceberg imagery and “Cold As Ice” by M.O.P begins blaring out of the speakers. “Way Too Cold” is about to be his opening song.
Dressed in a white straight jacket, Kanye West walks down the inbuilt slope on the stage and straight into the track formerly known as “Theraflu”. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t in total awe of him from the start. I’d seen Kanye before (at the O2 last year with Jay-Z as part of Watch The Throne), but this was different. This was far more intimate and I could sense an element of vulnerability to him now Jay wasn’t by his side.
“Way Too Cold” ends and “Mercy” begins. Kanye says “swerve” and his DJ joins in as they both do the famous steering wheel style arm manoeuvre that accompanies the word. Of course, we all join in too. The superstar rapper goes on to perform “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”, “Power” and “Jesus Walks”, before walking back up the sloped stage and briefly disappearing.
Foam snowflakes start to fall from the ceiling and Kanye returns, this time wearing the famous feather mask he debuted in Atlantic City earlier this year. He breaks into “Say You Will”.
The mask soon comes off and he places it on the mic stand in a sacrificial manner. The icebergs fade away and red spotlights beam down in their place, while “All Of The Lights” begins. We chant along to the hit track, but Kanye isn’t satisfied. He tells us that when the line “MJ gone/Our n*gga dead” is played again, we must shout a lot louder than we did the first time. He sounds like a teacher disappointed in his pupils, rather than an excited entertainer trying to hype up a crowd. Nevertheless, we all obey him without a second thought.
Everyone chants the line again, as loud as we can, but this time something else is wrong. Yeezy stops the song and shouts out to a member of his team, complaining that the first five seconds were out of sync. He signals for the crew to try again. They get it wrong. They try again. They get it right. It doesn’t matter that a room full of fans are watching as Kanye disciplines his team and makes them correct the timing of the track – he’s a perfectionist and will do whatever it takes to ensure his show sounds exactly as he wishes.
After he performs “Clique”, Yeezy takes a moment to explain why he felt the need to go on a spontaneous rant about the Grammys and Barack Obama at Saturday night’s concert. “I wasn’t feeling good yesterday,” he admits. “I had to get some shit off my chest. But I’m feeling good tonight.” And there’s certainly no doubt about how good he is.
He proceeds to perform one of my all time favourite singles, “All Falls Down”, following it up with “Stronger”. Adding to his simple yet bizarre outfit choice, Kanye then dons his Maison Martin Margiela haute couture diamond mask and treats us to a rendition of “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”, remixed with his version of Rihanna’s chart topping recent single, “Diamonds”.
One of the most notable things about the night is the way Yeezy seems to zone out at times, especially when he starts to sing “Runaway”. With other songs the Chicago raised rapper chooses to just give us one verse, but with “Runaway” he absorbs himself in the full 9-minutes and doesn’t cut it short. At one point I wonder whether he even knows (or cares) that we’re still here. He seems to find the song therapeutic, like a kind of release from the egotistical energy of his other tracks. He plays around with the lyrics and gets lost in his own world.
Speaking of which, “Lost In The World” is Kanye’s penultimate song. He then goes off stage, climbing back up the slope and disappearing once he reaches the top. I contemplate whether the in built hill is supposed to signify his rise to stardom or his ongoing journey towards success.
A couple of uncertain minutes go by and he storms onto the stage to perform one last track: “Touch The Sky”. He gives it all he’s got – bounding, leaping and shouting – until his shouting turns into hysterical screaming at the top of his lungs and he throws his microphone down at the floor with a startling amount of force.
And he’s done. No ‘thank you for coming’. No farewells. Just a smashed up microphone and an empty stage to let us know the show is over. But it’s Kanye West, he can end a show however the hell he wants and he still managed to do in style.
As the crowd starts to drift out I take a few minutes to let the experience sink in. Despite the technical issues and problems with the sound, Kanye put on an amazing concert. The next day would see a myriad of people claiming that the G.O.O.D music superstar needs mental help and that he’s ‘lost it’ because he decided to throw his mic on the floor in what looks to them like an uncontrollable fit of rage. But I know that’s not the case. Kanye is an artist and he chooses to completely and utterly immerse himself in his art. He lives and breathes it, to the point where it may very well look like he’s ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’. But so what? Most geniuses are a little crazy.