Kanye West Unleashes Wild Set at Museum Benefit

West plays everything from 'Jesus Walks' to 'Runaway' at Museum of Modern Art show

May 11, 2011 12:45 PM ET
Kanye West performs at the 2011 MoMA Party In The Garden on May 10, 2011 in New York City.
Kanye West performs at the 2011 MoMA Party In The Garden on May 10, 2011 in New York City.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

By the time Kanye West took the stage at Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Modern Art last night at 11, the crowd of 1500 – young, moneyed Manhattanites, vodka sodas in hand, the women carrying expensive handbags; the men in blazers and, by this point, loosened ties; everyone looking vaguely like they were at a fraternity formal – was getting restless. (The party, held after the Museum's dinner benefit for major benefactors, is geared toward younger donors.) They had tried chanting "Kan-YE! Kan-YE" in a futile effort to get him to show up, but if there was one lesson this audience should have taken away from West's performance last night, it was that he does things on his own terms – to the extent that towards the end of his set, he took 10 minutes for a rant that seemed like an extension of his now-seemingly dormant Twitter feed. "I'm sorry for my ego, goddamn nobody's perfect," he mumbled into the microphone.

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That this was West's soapbox evident from the opening song, a moody, haunting version of Stevie Wonder's "They Won't Go When I Go." But if West was trying to get a message about wealth and privilege across on songs like "Power," "Can't Tell Me Nothing" and "Run This Town," it was probably lost on this audience, who sang along enthusiastically to lyrics like "Wait til I get my money right." "This is the life that everybody asks for!" West rapped, swinging around the stage as though lost in reverie, and grinned as the crowd sang, "We gonna run this town tonight."

"Golddigger" was greeted with squeals of delight, and it seemed like everyone knew the line, "But when you get on, he leave yo ass for a white girl." And the last three songs of the main set – "All of the Lights," "Stronger" and "Runaway" – seemed pointedly addressing the feelings of alienation that West still feels, despite his success and his wealth. "I see y'all up there," he improvised on "All of the Lights," pointing to the VIPs watching from a glass-enclosed space high above the Sculpture Garden; on "Runaway," he seemed to take especial delight in the lines "Here's a toast for the douchebags, a toast for the assholes."

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It was after this song – and his diatribe, which concluded with West admitting, about his mother's death in November 2007, "I didn't want to live no more when I lost her" – that West finally seemed to actually be enjoying himself: his friend and collaborator Jay-Z showed up, smiling broadly, wearing a black leather jacket, jeans and a gray T-shirt. The pair performed almost goofy, enthusiastic renditions of "H.A.M." and "Empire State of Mind," and concluded the hour-and-a-half-long show with their arms around each other, grinning, as the crowd pleaded for more.

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