The rapper’s headline set at Glastonbury 2015, reviewed.
A gargantuan, rectangular lighting rig, barely six feet from the vast, sprawling floor of the Pyramid stage, projects a glaring white box of light. Cameras flash. The crowd roars and screams. A 100,000 signature petition calling on the festival’s organisers to replace the Saturday headliner has left tonight’s star on the ropes. Will he come out and do the ol’ rope-a-dope? Or swinging and missing? Nevermind the stage: the ring is set.
Now the rig is tilted forwards, practically 90 degrees, shielding the rapper’s entrance. Slowly, it’s lifted. And then: “Work it, make it, do it, makes us, harder, better, faster, stronger”…
Lo and behold. King Kanye, Yeezy himself, stands almighty, ready to perform to his yearns of adoring fans (or should that be subjects?). What follows in the next half hour is nothing short of a masterclass in pure pop perfection. A barrage of hits descend upon Worthy Farm; ‘POWER’, ‘Black Skinhead’, ‘All Day’, ‘Cold’, ‘Clique’. Even comedian Lee Nelson (comedian? Purrrleaze) and his untimely interjection can’t stop the furious juggernaut that’s the rapper’s performance. “Take this, haters”, he triumphantly goads on opener, ‘Stronger’. Even the incongruous feeling that I’m in Smack, what with ‘N****s in Paris’ in my ears and the low-ceiling and sparse lighting effected by the aforementioned rig, can’t stop my enjoyment of what’s a stunning spectacle.
Even the incongruous feeling that I’m in Smack, can’t stop my enjoyment of what’s a stunning spectacle.
So far, so following the script. After all, it was written in the stars: Kanye would, just as Jay Z, Beyoncé and Metallica had before him, defy the doubters, prove the pontificators wrong, and conjure up the sort of performance that would go down in Glastonbury folklore. Instead, the festival and it’s much maligned superstar headliner turn out rather more star-cross’d lovers. Despite personally taking great pleasure in the back-to-back performance of Yeezus tracks, ‘New Slaves’ and ‘Blood on the Leaves’, the rest of my fellow festival-goers are less impressed by the first non-singles of the night. It’s at this point too, that the set goes through its moody, brooding, teenager phase: 808s and Heartbreak’s ‘Heartless’ features, while ‘FourFiveSeconds’ gets its live debut. Where’s Rihanna? Macca!? I’m hoping beyond hope for one of them jump out to make that special guest collaboration happen; to captivate the crowd, jolting them out of their stupor and into the very same rapture they’d been in an hour before. It wasn’t to be, however.
I needn’t have worried…(!) For somebody who holds both For Emma, Forever Ago and Yeezus dearly, the 20 minute cameo mid-set from Justin Vernon (the man behind Bon Iver, and frequent Kanye-collaborator) should be nothing short of a dream come true. Five minutes in, however, I’m already quietly urging it to finish. The decision to perform ‘Woods’ (a Bon Iver cover), ‘Lost in the World’, and ‘Hold My Liquor’ – slow, wistful, ponderous songs – seems a wrong step at best; arrogant and self-indulgent at worst. The atmosphere quickly drains away from the crowd. A rare outing for ‘No Church In The Wild’ brings them back on side, but the momentum is lost again as West’s apparent lack of rehearsal becomes blatant. There’s so much stopping and starting, things quickly unravel from capturing rock ‘n’ roll’s sense of chaos and rebellion, teetering on the verge of collapse, to the just plain annoying.
And the less said about that “cover” of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the better.
For all his great pop songs, his artistic genius, his imagination, he’s fallen short tonight. Like a great Shakespearean hero, foiled by a fatal tragic flaw.
The cherry picker crane episode pretty much encapsulates West. He begins ‘Touch the Sky’, then thinks better of it. He disappears. The stage is pitch black. 5 minutes. No sign of anyone or anything. (I have time to check Twitter. Twitter doesn’t know what’s going on either.) Then BAM. Kanye’s on top of a bloody crane. Which is cool and stuff, apart from the fact he looks absolutely terrified to be up there. Yet another gap in proceedings has killed the mood amongst the crowd again, though. For all his great pop songs, his artistic genius, his imagination, he’s fallen short tonight, like a great Shakespearean hero, foiled by a tragic fatal flaw. Macbeth’s “o’er leaping ambition” springs to mind.
In fact his entire narrative is punctuated by moments profoundly Shakespearean in quality (I’m a Lit. student – can’t you tell?). From the death of his mother following breast-enhancing surgery only afforded by his extreme wealth and stardom, to his attempts to market “affordable”, high-quality shoes to the masses – which RRP at £150 and sell out in seconds… He’s an enigma, a crusader without a sword even; liked and disliked in equal measure. But that’s what makes him so compelling.
It’s difficult not to agree with Noel Gallagher that “for half an hour, it was as good as it f***ing gets”. After that… not so much. As closing song ‘All Falls Down’ begins and West proclaims “I’m the greatest living rockstar on the planet,” I can’t help but think, Kanye, imma left you finish but… that was not one of the best Glastonbury headline sets of all time.