Kanye West Live: Some Cruel Summer in Cold Winter

Bombastic, bolshie, but still brilliant, Kanye West played a massively over-priced one-off gig at the Hammersmith and I was there to take in the god-king's "wisdom"...
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Bombastic, bolshie, but still brilliant, Kanye West played a massively over-priced one-off gig at the Hammersmith and I was there to take in the god-king's "wisdom"...

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Say what you will about Kanye West – the producer-turned-rapper with a penchant for leather drop-crotches, CAP LOCKS and Kardashians – but he is certainly not boring. Everyone has an opinion on the Atlanta-native: unconscionable boor to some; egomaniacal musical genius to others (an opinion which he also appears to share). His fan-base is wide-ranging to the point of bordering on ridiculous: genuine hip hop heads, teenyboppers, pretentious musos, indie kids – a quality matched only by his label-partner, frequent collaborator Mr. Beyonce – I mean, Jay-Z.

When it was announced that Kanye, in town expressly to sample the wares of London Fashion Week, was to play a special “one-off” gig at the Hammersmith Apollo, the internet went bat-shit: the fight for tickets became vicious as servers struggled for to stay alive and many F5 buttons did not survive. As the “one-off show” became “three shows” (as if someone from the West camp was surprised that the originally slated show proved to be so popular) expectation grew...

The Hammersmith Apollo, itself, is the perfect venue for someone who could sell out the O2 in a day (and probably would have had not One Direction been in town that very day): large with a feeling of intimacy, a superlative structure where the fans at the back get just as good (if not better) a view of the stage as those die-hards at the front. Despite travel chaos on TFL (natch) the Apollo was heaving.

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As Kanye entered the stage – a panoramic set of screens onto which snowscapes and oceans were projected: a typically bombastic and effective touch – melodrama was already in the air. Never known as one to shy away from the limelight, Kanye basked in the adulation thrown up by the droves who had paid extortionate prices (they really were) for a glimpse. Opening with DJ Khaled-collab “Cold” from GOOD Music's hit album “Cruel Summer” was a good choice: a club-worthy joint typifying the West ethos about how much better and cleverer he is than any and all of us: explicitly stating how if you try to talk to him on any subject he'll “motherfucking embarrass you”.

The crowd went crazy, typically bellowing along to every word, as Kanye bounced around the stage in a straightjacket (oh yeah, he was wearing a straightjacket and his band were too) to assorted hits but then he left the stage... Snow-machines shooting out ice over the baying audience in what was to be an extremely literal metaphor for what was to come.

After the extremely positive reactions to, among others, the orthology-baiting “Can't Tell Me Nothing”, West returned to the stage in an impressively-rendered abominable snowman mask to deliver a audience-energy-zapping rendition of hits from his divisive slow-burn album “808s & Heartbreaks”.

A great album full of experimentation and balladry though it is, quite why West – self-styling as the Jean-Michel Jarre of fashion-rap - felt the need to kill the collective buzz of the venue so totally with extended performances of its songs is beyond me.

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Before too long (it felt longer but the “808s” interlude was actually only about ten minutes in duration) West was back on his good foot: slaying with the awesome three-punch combination of “Homecoming”, “Flashing Lights” and “All of the Lights” - the latter two an obvious, but enjoyable, segue. As he brought down the house to the sounds of his later period work, the audience begged for the early stuff: a dichotomy that has bothered artists from time immemorial. Besides a barnstorming rendition of mega-hit “Stronger”, a quick burst of “All Falls Down” and some bars of “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” were all the fans were given.

West commented mid-concert that he was feeling “much better today” (referring to his mid-set mini-breakdown the night previously, where he subsequently ranted tirelessly about industry misdeeds and how the Grammy's can “suck his dick” - despite winning 23 of them) but the ending again left a sour taste: an excruciating twenty-minute rendition of “Runaway” (a song already bloated by self-indulgence) gave way to a quick encore where one verse of hit “Touch the Sky” had the crowd on their feet before West quickly threw the mic to the floor and exited.

A typically ballsy, histrionic end to a relatively intimate gig by one of the genre's leading navel-gazers, clearly in transition between the music we love, the music he likes and the music that works live.