During the Indianapolis kickoff show of Kanye West’s 39-date Saint Pablo Tour, the rapper unveiled a brand new set designed to bring the action to the audience rather than the other way around. There was no large central stage for everyone to gravitate toward. In its stead, a smallish platform, suspended 15 feet up in the air, that moved constantly around the cavernous space. Above it, an expansive array of lights – similar in appearance to his set from Glastonbury last year – that spanned the entire length of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. When fully lit up in a soft orange hue, and with a dense cloud of fog swirling all around, the interior of the basketball stadium was transformed into something like the alien spacecraft from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Starting off with recent single “Father Stretch My Hands,” West, clad in a light denim jacket, black leather pants, and Yeezys on his feet, took the Midwestern crowd on a two-hour long journey through the the ins-and-outs of his impressive canon. There didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to the set list selection. After dispensing with “Famous” he busted out a pair of high-profile features, “Pop Style” by Drake and “THat Part” by ScHoolboy Q. From there, “Facts,” “All Day,” and then the of Cruel Summer standouts “Mercy” and “I Don’t Like.”
Not that the audience craved any type of narrative or thematic cohesion. For the most part, everyone seemed content to be awed by the impressive new set and to lose themselves along with the man up top as he unleashed banger after banger. “Wolves” performed in a way that simulated the rendition seen on the SNL 40th Anniversary Special received an especially enthusiastic reception, as did classics like “Niggas in Paris,” “Jesus Walks” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.”
Without the benefit of a band or an assembly of dancers in the vicinity to shift focus – West’s faithful collaborator Mike Dean was on hand to take care of the instrumentals, as was his cousin, the singer Tony Williams and Caroline Shaw, but they were left obscured in darkness on the South end of the arena – the onus was entirely on West to keep the crowd’s attention. He never faltered. Whether through his imitable dance moves, adept flows or just the outsized force of his own enigmatic personality, you simply couldn’t take your eyes of of him.
“The whole concept of this is to go anywhere you want,” he explained to the audience midway through the show. And so those below did. Rather than being squashed up against a railing all night to get an up close look, or being left stuck standing in the same position for hours on end, those in the general admission area were afforded free rein to traverse the entire floor of the arena. At any moment, with a shift of West’s slow-moving platform, you could have the best view in the house. Alternately, when the gravity of the crowd moved away, you had a whole swath of concrete to yourself to dance and jump along to your heart’s content.
Multiple times throughout the night the music would drop out as the modular lighting rig folded into an array of different configurations. For “Runaway,” West untethered himself from his small platform and took a place in front of an MPC Sampler on the larger rig itself. As has been his wont through the years, he used the Dark Fantasy track to get some feelings off of his chest. In a different era, some might call these extended monologues “rants,” but there was a noticeable lack of vitriol in his thoughts. As a contented family man, and with his dreams to become a fashion icon all but fulfilled thanks to his collaboration with Adidas, he instead offered a number of motivational sentiments instead like “Dreams are possible,” and “The corny shit has to die, inspiration has to rise.”
Of course, with such an elaborate stage setup being deployed for the first time there were a bound to be a few technical hiccups. At the very end of the show, as the last notes of “Fade” died out, the lift designed to carry him over the massive 30′ x 30′ projection screen up front malfunctioned, forcing him to descend with his stage to the ground and depart somewhat unceremoniously through the floor of the arena. It was an admittedly anticlimactic way to end an otherwise stellar performance.
Spectacle has always been the hallmark of West’s many tours, seeking ways to show his audience something that they’ve never seen before. With his latest presentation, he’s managed to up the ante once again and redefine what audiences might consider “possible” along the way.
“Father Stretch My Hands”
“I Don’t Like (Remix)”
“I Miss the Old Kanye”
“Can’t Tell Me Nothing”
“Blood on the Leaves”
“Devil in a New Dress”
“All Falls Down”
“All of the Lights”
“Niggas in Paris”
“Ultra Light Beam” Interlude