The scenario that the 20,000 or so true believers sang of so lustily was no more within their reach than the man rolling his shoulders and stomping his feet half a dozen feet above their outstretched arms.
And yet, still they gave voice to a self-anointed superhero’s words as if they were their own.
It was one of the more surreal scenes in the history of outsize arena concerts: There Kanye West was, little more than a shadow tethered to a floating, light-strewn platform suspended from motorized trusses that slowly prowled up and down T-Mobile Arena on Saturday.
“If I ever instigated, I’m sorry,” he sang, both his features and voice largely dimensionless, the former due to scant illumination, the latter the result of his voice being Auto-Tuned to the point where he sounded like a remorseful robot. “Tell me, who in here can relate?”
And with that, he let the crowd sing the opening verse to “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” a song with gospel-like incantations that details the perils of having intimate relations with a model who recently bleached her nether regions.
The frothing audience carried the tune with deafening gusto, not just reciting the lines in question, but shouting them out with such fervor, it was as if they were recounting an experience they’d encountered firsthand.
It was a moment that begged a serious question: How can an arena full of overexcited teenagers, ripping their shirts off next to serious hip-hop heads, middle-age parents with young kids in tow and 20-something women zipped into stretchable fabrics all identify so passionately with a man who pointedly elevates himself above all other sentient beings in terms of status, talent, import, even stage presentation?
The answer was spelled out song by manically received song Saturday night: The reason Kanye elicits reactions like this, the reason he’s so beloved, is because he gives himself so fully to, well, himself, the good and the bad, the laudable and the lewd, the brilliant and the petulant, the observant and the obscene.
He’s a true man-child, in an enviable sense.
Think about it: A lot of us are at our most creative when we’re kids, before the responsibilities, demands and social mores of adulthood place bounds upon how our imaginations manifest themselves outwardly — of course, we also tend to be at our most impudent, obnoxious and oblivious to the feelings of others at this age.
West is all of these things at once, and he wages the battle between his childlike id and his more discerning superego in real time, for all to see.
“I embody every characteristic of the egotistic / He knows, he’s so gifted,” he beamed on “Power,” rhyming over a clapping beat and bright synth jabs worthy of Van Halen’s “Jump.” “Reality is catching up with me / Taking my inner child / I’m fighting for custody.”
Sounds a little maddening, but West has an answer for that, too.
“Name one genius that ain’t crazy,” he demanded over whip-cracking snare hits and melodic guitar accents on “Feedback.”
One of West’s greatest skills is taking the insular and making it universal. He doesn’t do so in the traditional way that a songwriter might, where he or she gives voice to an intensely personal feeling, like the experience of heartbreak, and bonds with the audience because it’s an emotion plenty of us have felt at some point, regardless of the details.
West is the opposite: He reminds you in every other song how he’s not like you, how he’s better than that, his arrogance becoming almost motivational in a sense, because it’s the product of an artist who’s willing to follow his creative muse off a cliff. For him, it’s better to be spattered on the rocks below than to compromise his vision.
There’s certainly no capitulating on “The Life of Pablo,” West’s latest record, whose tunes formed a little over a third of his 90-minute, 30-song performance. It’s his most artistically anarchic album, a deliberately fragmented pastiche of contradictory sounds and sentiment alike (Hey, why not pen a tune imagining what it would be like to have a GoPro affixed to one’s penis, but make it sound like something that could be sung in church?).
The chaos of that record was brought to loud, sweaty life on the general-admission floor of T-Mobile Arena, where throngs of fans danced, moshed, jumped on to one another’s shoulders and shouted every lyric in a frenzy of overtaxed adrenal glands.
There were times, like during the one-two punch of “All Day” and “Black Skinhead,” where the energy generated was of such intensity, that it shook the lower-bowl risers until they felt as if they might crumble beneath one’s shoes.
It was like a fault line had been awakened — or perhaps created — by the stomping of so many feet in unison.
West was an equally kinetic presence, swiveling his torso as if he was dodging blows, throwing his fists like a pitcher hurling a fastball, delivering his songs at a breathless pace, seldom lingering on a tune until completion and saying little between tracks (this was a definite change of pace from past tours, where West was frequently prone to serious sermonizing).
The pace slowed during West’s more reflective numbers, like “Only One,” an ode to his deceased mother and his firstborn child, a bewitching “Wolves” and an almost uncomfortably candid “Blood on the Leaves,” where West comes clean about a tryst that led to him impregnating a woman he didn’t want to be with.
It was on this more contemplative note that the show reached its conclusion, ending where “The Life of Pablo” begins, with the album’s spiritually minded opening track, “Ultralight Beam.”
It’s a song about faith, West’s nod to a higher power.
Clearly, he considers said entity a peer.
Who: Kanye West
Where: T-Mobile Arena