Kanye West kicked off his highly anticipated Yeezus tour at Seattle’s Key Arena on Saturday night with a two-hour-plus show that was as emotionally unsettling as it was awe-inspiring. Kendrick Lamar, the tour’s support act, got things started with a frantic 45-minute set made up almost exclusively of cuts from his critically acclaimed good kid, m.A.A.d city album. Lamar has been criticized for being something of a lackluster live performer but he generally managed to put any such concerns to rest from the get-go and delivered a truly inspired performance. By the time the last notes of “Compton” had faded from the venue’s speakers, the crowd was on their feet chanting his name for more.
That was not to be, of course, because it was West’s turn to show Seattle what he could do. Clad in a green tank top and wearing the first of four different masks he would don throughout the evening, West set the scene by taking a place at the front of the stage’s extended catwalk, his arms outstretched, bathed in a single white spotlight and surrounded by a gaggle of women cloaked in white dresses, their faces obscured by stockings. The audience responded to the display with an explosion of jubilation, and with the first strands of Yeezus‘ opening track, “On Sight,” West was off to the races.
West’s energy level was extraordinary from the very beginning, with his manic gyrations causing the front end of the stage to rock violently up and down like a giant diving board. The opening number was followed in short order by another two songs off Yeezus, “New Slaves” and “Send It Up.” As the night progressed, West managed to play every song off the new record in addition to a variety of selections from his extensive back catalog, including a sparse rendition of “Stronger,” and truly electrifying performances of “Power,” “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Runaway.” While he did play a few songs from his earliest records, including “Jesus Walks” off The College Dropout, most of the non-Yeezus material seemed to derive from either Graduation, 808s & Heartbreak or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
The stage as imagined and executed by West was truly something to behold. It featured a sixty-foot tall white mountain as a centerpiece with a gigantic circular projection screen hanging above. But while West’s last solo outing, his Glow in the Dark tour, was a case study in sensory overload, the Yeezus tour is most notable for its starkness and absence of color. Yes, there were the mandatory laser lights, and as always West’s outfits are a surefire attention grabber, but the real grandeur, the real spectacle, lay more with the vast array of unsettling imagery offered by the various stage performers and by West himself.
The previously mentioned group of women clad in white made intermittent reappearances onstage, most of the time wearing sheer body suits that left nothing to the imagination. At one point, the stage mountain cracked open and they poured out two-by-two in a cloud of thick white smoke carrying various religious iconography – the Virgin Mary, a swinging thurible spewing incense, and a crucifix – with West belting out the song “I Wonder” behind them.
The capper ultimately was the guest appearance by none other than Jesus Christ himself, for whom West finally removed his mask to proclaim that he had been looking for him. Jesus naturally responded that he had been there all along. Later, the mock Christ would ascend to the top of the mountain as West bowed in supplication before him while the haunting refrain from “On Sight” – “You give us what we need/it may not be what we want” – played repeatedly in the background.