Cack Skinhead: Why Kanye's Rubbish Live Shows Threaten To Destroy His Legacy

He might have had the world purring with Yeezus, but increasingly average gigs are putting a previously near-flawless reputation in jeopardy...
Publish date:
Updated on

Kanye West has long been a divisive figure for music fans. One man's delicious, flavourful Marmite being another's foul-tasting, smelly...well, Marmite.

This peaked with the release of Yeezus in 2013, the lo-fi and often self-indulgent sonics confounding some existing fans while gaining new ones who would not have previously had him on their radar. Many of us who enjoyed the album wondered whether the title was a tongue-in-cheek jibe at his own expense, an admission of self-awareness of his own ego's reputation, or a genuine exercise in self-aggrandisement. It is not always acknowledged that he has previously dropped self-deprecating lines in his songs, and the awareness of his public persona shown in lyrics like "I don't need your pussy, bitch, I'm on my own dick" is seldom commented on (possibly because that particular line is terribly rude).

However, with his headline performances at the London Wireless Festival 2014 (due to headline on Friday, West ended up topping the bill on Saturday too as a replacement for the unwell Drake), it seems any semblance of humility has blown away like Kim Kardashian's top in the "Bound2" video.

There were a number of criticisms to be aimed at West's performance during his Watch The Throne tour with Jay-Z. At the O2 show I saw, his mic skills inevitably suffered in comparison to the typically impeccable Mr Carter, but it was his masturbatory auto-tuned mini-set that really brought down the energy of the whole evening.

At Wireless on Friday, Kanye's auto-tune material was watered down even further by the interruption of a 15 minute rant against companies including Nike and Luis Vuitton. Whether the validity of this diatribe was fair or not isn't really the issue; for a festival crowd hyped up from earlier performances by Basement Jaxx and, for hiphop fans, Angel Haze in particular, it was something of a mood killer. In fact it was Angel Haze especially who showed Yeezy's hubris up for what it was. Not only was she the best MC of the day, her unexpected chops as a singer threw Kanye's vocal shortcomings into even sharper contrast.

College Dropout Ten Years On
Yeezus Is Kanye West's Hardest And Darkest Work Yet

On Saturday, West threw in another 15 minute improvised monologue, the "highlight" of which was his comparison of being scrutinized by paparazzi to rape. In the main, this speech came across as celebrity self-pity. Again, although there were some valid points raised, they were all but lost in the ham-fisted delivery and self-important nature of his ramblings. There was a certain irony that so many people chose to leave at this point on both nights, as the rants came at the same point during West's performance of the track "Runaway". A toast to the douchebags indeed.

It's not Kanye's fault necessarily that he suffers in comparison to many of his peers. In fact, the breadth of quality of his recorded output dwarfs the majority of them. Perhaps his live show suffers due to the high expectations created by his mostly excellent albums. But he doesn't do himself any favours. He is famed for bringing energy in a live setting, but on Friday and Saturday night the size of the stage and crowd drowned his energy out, and all we were left with were mediocre versions of some great songs.

While it initially seemed laudable not to use a hype-man or live band, you have to draw the conclusion this was driven more by ego than any particular concern over the quality of music. When compared to relative newcomer Chance The Rapper's excellent use of a full band on Saturday, it looked a foolish decision.

This egomaniacal approach to quality control also drew attention to the berating of a poor cameraman who attracted West's ire for not making things look "cool enough" on Friday.

West's stage presence simply wasn't enough to carry the show, and his rants only served to further disconnect him from an already slightly detached crowd. At last weekend's Calling Festival, Stevie Wonder's charisma and self-deprecating humour when talking to the crowd made them feel closer to him, and meant any moments of self-indulgent noodling were more easily forgiven. West's less obvious talent as a performer, combined with the bizarreness of his rants drew a stark comparison between his perception of his talent and the truth.

His now legendarily diva-ish behaviour threatens to leave a more lasting legacy than his music, which would be a crying shame

If he wishes to be remembered in the same vein as a legend like Stevie he needs to realise how he appears to his audience. Part of Friday's irritating soliloquy saw West say how he wants to "change the world". On this occasion all he succeeded in changing was the mood of previously jubilant festival goers.

Kanye West is a supremely talented producer, and as a lyricist has a perennially underrated gift for making potentially corny lines work extremely well. I consider myself a fan. Perhaps that's the reason I, and many others, have been so underwhelmed by his onstage performances. His now legendarily diva-ish behaviour threatens to leave a more lasting legacy than his music, which would be a crying shame.

50 Cent famously walked off stage after being bombarded with bottles of urine by a UK festival crowd. Perhaps Yeezus is getting belated revenge by serving us up a shower of luke-warm piss in place of the concert his fans deserve.