Kanye West, Rihanna, N.E.R.D. and Lupe Fiasco all turned in stellar sets to begin the “Glow in the Dark” Tour, what will likely end up as one of 2008’s most talked-about bills. All of Kanye’s openers were given thirty minutes to do their thing at Seattle’s KeyArena last night, and Lupe Fiasco kicked off the night with a fast-paced half-hour into which he crammed parts of eleven songs, including the hits “Kick, Push” and “Superstar.” (Matthew Santos, who sings on the latter track, appeared for three songs at the end of Fiasco’s set.) The stage was bare for his performance, but Fiasco made up for it with vibrant physical energy and a very red dress scheme shared by his backing singers and DJ.
N.E.R.D. — Pharrell Williams’ rock ensemble — played second. Fronting two drummers, a bassist/keyboardist, a synth player and guitarist (as well as a small handful of hangers-onstage who helped hype the crowd at climactic moments), Williams and co-vocalist Shay threw themselves into performances of “Lapdance,” “Brain,” “Rock Star” and “She Wants to Move” (the latter featuring a brief jam on Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”). After the set was finished, Pharrell returned to the stage to apologize for his use of profanity in front of a young child seated in the front row.
No apologies were necessary from Rihanna, whose stage set-up included light-up speaker stacks that glowed yellow, pink and aqua. The singer and her dancers’ clothes were basic black accented by pink and lime neon; the entire presentation was very new wave, down to Rihanna’s bright pink lipstick. The show was tightly choreographed but never felt laborious, and she got some traction doing “Hate That I Love You,” a duet with Ne-Yo on record, by herself. She also introduced “Umbrella” by saying, “I remember going up to Dream” (R&B phenom The-Dream, who helped produce and write the song) “and saying, ‘If you give this record away [to someone else] I’m going to kill you.'”
The headliner took his time, playing eighteen songs in an unbroken ninety-minute set. Half of the songs came from 2007’s Graduation, five from 2005’s Late Registration and the rest from 2004’s The College Dropout. Kanye stood alone on a stage that was made out to look like a spaceship, complete with a giant video backdrop that flashed psychedelic fractal patterns, bursting stars and moonscapes. Ostensibly, Kanye was trapped aboard a rogue ship piloted by a female version, dubbed Jane, of 2001‘s HAL 9000. Kanye began with “Good Morning,” then touched on “Through the Wire,” the thematically inevitable trio of “Flashing Lights,” “Spaceship,” and “All Falls Down” and hit his climax for “Hey Mama,” during which he bowed forward on his knees and delivered an emotional monologue about following one’s dreams. The song that came immediately after Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” blasting over the PA before Kanye-in-space got his strength back to deliver “Stronger.”