Kanye West hitting the stage at 8:15 p.m. would be the first of many surprises at the hip-hop artist’s latest Montreal show. Montrealers were promised Yeezus last fall, but the show had to be rescheduled – we lost opening act Kendrick Lamar in the process, but West was more than able to hold his own.
The show lasted about two-and-a-half hours – West has a seemingly endless catalogue of hits and a very long wind. A mid-show rant about his work, career and genius took up more than 20 minutes alone. It served as an entr’acte, with two very distinct shows manifesting themselves pre- and post-rant. Pre-rant, West was serious, distant, angry even, going through a high-concept story about rises, falls and egos. Post-rant, and after ditching bedazzled masks he’d been donning for the first half of the show, West the showman (and an unapologetic show-off) gave the audience what they had been waiting for and expecting all night: sing-alongs, engagement and West’s biggest hits. Yeezus is definitely the most artsy hip-hop concert I’ve ever attended (in his rant, West mentioned the change hip-hop shows have gone through, from a bunch of guys on stage with live microphones to tours by West, Drake and Jay Z with sophisticated sets and artistic concepts. If he saw me nodding tonight, it was because I was remembering one of my first hip-hop shows, Ja Rule in the early-2000s. Let’s just say it was memorable because it was such a mess.)
Here are my three favourite moments from Yeezus in Montreal:
3. The masks: Bejewelled and covering his entire face, West wore a handful of masks during the first hour of the show. At first I blamed them for the wonky sound, like Tom Hardy’s Bane from The Dark Knight Rises – then I remembered I was at the Bell Centre. The audio problems persisted after West ditched the masks, at which point the energy of the show increased about a thousand-fold as West fired off song after song from his back catalogue. I did like the masks, especially the gold and red-tasseled one with which he opened the show. In his rant, he said that like at Halloween, they allow him to be whomever he wants. As if he’s ever had trouble being himself.
2. “Blood on the Leaves”: For me, the song was given a new life tonight. I was surprised by its popularity during an audience sing-along and some really neat pyro work here caught me off guard. (Was I supposed to feel the heat halfway across the stadium?)
1. Post-rant medley: Driving the main thesis (that he’s often accused of being brash, arrogant and cocky about his success and music, but is it those things if the music really is as good as he claims?) of his rant home, West – and a wild audience – went through an unreal amount of past hits, from “Get Em High,” “Through the Wire,” and “All Falls Down” off his 10-year-old College Dropout album, to “Ni**as in Paris” off Watch the Throne, the 2011 collaboration with Jay Z.
BONUS: West got Jesus to bless him and the show.