Glow in the Dark- Vibe Magazine Live

Mai 16, 2008

At the risk of opening on an extremely obscure note, The Glow In The Dark Tour reminded me a lot of the popular Disneyland ride, Star Tours. Just getting that out of the way.

Last year Kanye West told journalists that his third album, Graduation, was a stadium album, designed to fill arenas and induce sing-alongs. He made no mention of the elaborate, at times convoluted broken spaceship/talking cyber-computer storyline that would accompany those filled arenas. But as is Kanye’s way, one can almost always expect the most ridiculous extravagance. It’s his shamelessness that has made him as lovable, as talked-about and as despicable–at times simultaneously–as any pop artist in recent memory. G.I.T.D. is a self-aggrandizing showcase for a musician with ego issues, but it’s also a wondrously amusing visual experience, daring even. And, maybe more importantly, it’s a vibrant musical accomplishment. Though the pink exploding volcanoes, flurrying stars and fluffy gray clouds that fill the screen behind West are hard to turn away from, I found myself LISTENING more than anything else throughout the show. On many of the songs, including an early set tour de force performance of „I Wonder“ that lasted more than five minutes, West has fiddled with his tracks, slowing and speeding tempos, pushing vocoders up in the mix, revving the intensity where things might seem flat otherwise. „Flashing Lights,“ brightened and made even more enormous with a honking brass band, sounded like Outkast’s „SpottieOttieDopaliscious“ on steroids. Likewise for „Stronger“ and „Can’t Tell Me Nothin,“ two songs I’ve had a hard time understanding in the greater Kanye context in the past. They seemed like sore thumbs the first time around. But in a live setting, their magnificence feels earned and unforced. As I listened closely, to songs from Graduation particularly, I heard a terrific live album in the making, a thought I have to assume Kanye has already considered. If he hasn’t, he should.

But about that running storyline: It’s a bit of a mess. I give him credit for attempting to break rank with concert formula–he rarely if at all pandered to the crowd directly and never once broke character. But that character, a shipwrecked intergalactic traveler accompanied only by the female-voiced central computer named „Jane“ is a mysterious and self-serving one. Not once, but twice, Kanye is called „the brightest star in the universe,“ by interstellar beings. I assume he wrote the script himself. The pulsating setpieces and breathtaking sounds, though, are more than enough to sell this show and Kanye need not harp on his own awesomeness, even in the confines of a faux-narrative.

Some other highlights: A raucous, downtuned „Get ‚Em High“ that was vocally screwed and chopped, a neat trick that ‚Ye’s microphone pulled off. He worked the same magic–this time he vocoderized without even changing mics–on „The Good Life,“ a song that sounds as thrilling and joyful live as it did last September. It is built for singalongs. I can still hear 20K people screaming „Lawry’s!“ The transition into „Spaceships,“ my favorite Kanye song ever, was the only one that made any actual literal sense in the context of the storyline and the crowd kept up with the song through the first verse, at least. And the expected „Hey Mama“ tribute was softer and more yearning than a cynical dude like me might have guessed. He won the world over near set’s end with the song. Also of note, no costume changes. Sigh.

Some lowlights: Very few actually, Kanye is getting to that point in his career where he can throw together a bulletproof setlist. „Gold Digger“ was a bit lame, particularly the gold-embossed nu-Princess Leia hologram (there’s Star Tours, again!) swiveling on the screen during the song. Also, after the „Hey Mama“ performance, Kanye sat down on the shifting, raising platform he’d dashed across all night and stared off as Journey’s „Don’t Stop Believing“ blared. A moment of reflection after a draining emotional evacuation. I understand the concept, but it’s really time to put this Journey thing to bed. Not interesting anymore. Also, ‚Ye, no „Gone“? „But if they flip sides like Anakin!“ C’mon, B. Work that in there!

Approaching the show, I was far more interested in the opening acts, Lupe, N*E*R*D and Rihanna. They didn’t disappoint. Lupe was fearless and more devilish onstage than I’d expected, racing between backup singers Matthew Santos (that guy needs a solo album on Merge) and Sarah Green (a Keyshia clone hiding behind big black shades) and bursting forward with killer renditions of „Paris to Tokyo,“ „Superstar“ and „Daydreaming.“

N*E*R*D were even more aggressive, a fierce six-piece, including two drummers apparently recruited by The Roots‘ ?uestlove. Pharrell’s group tore through a seven-song set and the newest songs–„Spazz,“ „Anti,“ and „Everyone Nose“–sounded genius. Also, the inimitable Shay: Rapping well! I’m ready for Seeing Sounds to be my favorite album of the year.

Rihanna, an artist that will probably do a night at MSG on her own next year if things keep going well, was more confident and in command of her voice than I’ve ever seen her. It doesn’t hurt that she’s had some time to work things out, but her feline purr and dense stares are now more a weapon than a liability in her presentation. At one point she scorched through a medley of Beenie Man’s „Who Am I?,“ M.I.A.’s „Paper Planes“ (which, if originally sung by Rihanna, probably would have been a mega-hit) and gasp, Lauryn Hill’s „Doo Wop (That Thing).“ And she killed them all, bouncing along with no pomp or circumstance. And she did well with older hits „Pon De Replay“ (strange to think she’s the same artist who did that song) and „SOS.“ „Don’t Stop the Music“ was also reliably buoyant, a crowd favorite. When alleged paramour Chris Brown came out at set’s end for the remix of her stratospheric hit „Umbrella,“ the moment felt perfectly planned and off-the-cuff at the same time. The kids flipped for Breezy, bless him, and though they only shared a gentle hug at song’s end, we could see the fire in their eyes. Young, famous love: It still exists.

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