Kanye West’s show last night (Nov. 23) at Madison Square Garden so closely mirrored his Yeezus sets at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Tuesday and Wednesday that, bizarre as it sometimes seemed, you could never rightly call it random.
I’m duty-bound to report that he did unleash another “rant,” once again past the three-quarters mark of the night, between “Street Lights” and “Stronger,” when he could just as easily have remarked “Are you not entertained?” and been guaranteed a bloodthirsty roar of approval.
This rant (a term he mentioned and dismissed) didn’t interrupt the show so much as strip it down to its raw essence: Literally screaming—it’s a wonder he hasn’t already shredded his voice on this tour—with only a little Autotune and synthesizer to blunt him, Kanye drew the audience in close to better take on the world. (Or Nike and Hedi Slimane, at least.) “Don’t ever let ‘em tell you that I’m crazy,” he shouted, “‘cause I believe in you!”
Kanye agitates, in a way, on behalf of all people who are dismissed as crazy when they threaten someone else’s ideal order—particularly an order that excludes people of color. Whatever affinities Kanye hopes for in the abstract, he easily found last night through his music: The thunderous new songs like “Blood on the Leaves” and “I’m In It” that dominated the first half of the set proved just how well the uncommercial Yeezus can translate to a wide, endorphin-seeking audience; classics like “Runaway” and “All of the Lights” felt unburdened, newly hopeful.
And oh yes, there was a mountain and a guy dressed up like Jesus and dancers in white-flesh-colored bodysuits (who made an altar-boy procession at one point, and got on all fours for Kanye to sit on at another) and a lot of masks—Kanye barely showed his face, not even his eyes and mouth. To describe the masks is to describe the whole show: They were creepy, confusing, abtractly fashionable, highly Instagramabble, and fully, fully committed to by the man himself.
What Kanye did reveal, when he wasn’t wearing a trenchcoat (and especially when he took off his shirt), were a lot of muscles. In some ways, the show was a display of strength, proof that Kanye can hold an audience rapt whether he’s indulging a brute minimalism (stalking around during “Black Skinhead,” say) or layering showpieces on top of showpieces (Jesus emerging from the mountain after it split open). But he also displayed his vulnerability. The masks and muscles alike seemed like protection for a guy who needs to loudly insist that he’s not crazy. At this show, surrounded by supporters, he simply got to be Kanye.