Let’s assume that the reason Kanye West’s set at the Big Day Out and his solo shows were identical is because he doesn’t do things by halves.
If the Big Day Out wanted him, they were getting the mid-crowd scissor-lift intro, the twenty dancers, the renaissance back-drop, the set and costume changes, and the three act performance where each section focuses on each indulgence he wallows in: reconciling braggadocio with humility when it comes to his God, reconciling his wounded romanticism with his permanent erections when it comes to women, and his final pledge to himself (and all attending) to better themselves, with a little help from Mama.
If you want a track-by-track, blow-by-blow, skip to the bottom of my BDO review here.
The difference between seeing it from the back of a paddock among thousands who have varying levels of interest and being within spitting distance of the physical manifestation of hip-hop’s most conflicted ego is simple: intimacy. The Big Day Out set was a monumental spectacle for the masses. In this, Yeezy’s final Australian show and one where I was lucky enough to be about six rows from the stage, you could see those pearly whites along with the cartilage-rattling bass.
Even when he was recreating the coldest stories ever told from 808s & Heartbreak (a significant section if only because of elongated confessional mid-Heartless which I really wish I’d timed but I estimate at least 20 minutes), Kanye was happy. In that rumination, he was recounting the hours of a night he was stood up – his pride battling with his libido – and he was funny.
No doubt Kanye is a titanic douche. He says it himself, which contributes to why his naked ambition to be the new King Of Pop is so fascinating. But he never gets points for how funny he is.
Tonight, he gently ribbed the lighting guy for not being able to give him a strobe during an epilectic verse of ‘Hell Of A Life’. When Rihanna’s ‘Run This Town’ popped up during a brisk medley of hits, he spotted an overexcited balcony punter and cheekily yelped “I love this song, too!” During some stream-of-consciousness piece he made a droll reference to Pitbull. He seemed present.
He grinned and galloped and shrugged when, at the very beginning of the third act after an elaborate set change and swelling Vangelis left him alone on the podium, the very first piano note on ‘Runaway’ was crazily off-key. That note is the whole damn song! Kanye’s perfectionism got a night off. It was the final hurrah and he could be loose.
Not to say it wasn’t a highly choreographed, pretentious exercise is classicist appropriation – stone angels and interpretive dance and plumes of smoke the only visuals that could do justice to his gilded pop.
As he, his musicians (who employed the use of ciggie-and-champagne roadie ninjas during the show) and the hordes of lithe dancers walked out for their deep theatrical bow at the end, they were completely obscured by the output of a hyperactive smoke machine. Did Kanye crack it, dragging them to the front of stage? No. He grinned, looked to his friends, and waited until it dissipated.
West’s obsessively-crafted, grandiose hip-hop moved the masses, but tonight he was content to let fate have its way. Which can be fun sometimes, Ye.