Live: Kanye West At Bowery Ballroom, Ranting, Seething, And Enthralling


This is the rant, but don't skip ahead.

Kanye West
Bowery Ballroom
Tuesday, November 23

Late Monday night word trickled out, via Teyana Taylor's Twitter feed, that a Kanye West performance was in the offing, to celebrate the release of his acclaimed new album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The next day. At 550-capacity Bowery Ballroom. By the time everyone woke up yesterday morning, a sort of mad dash ensued, first to email publicists and venue operators and significant others to inform them tonight's plans might be changing. Then, when news arrived that some tickets would be offered at noon via Ticketmaster, workplace efficiency across New York dipped between 12:00 and 12:04, until most were thwarted by recaptchas and hacked mainframes and goddamn interns. Most failed to score tickets. Much hand-wringing ensued. Kanye West saved, then ruined Thanksgiving, in the same week.

At the zero hour, some press was granted access to the show. A gift and a curse. Doors at 10 p.m., with hopes of a midnight start time, was the word. The scene outside Bowery Ballroom was beautiful and dark and twisted. Rarely a fantasy, though. Dozens of fans with tickets waited for hours, initially with patience, in a line that curled down Delancey Street and around the Bowery. The guestlisted were asked to wait with ticketholders. Famous folks like ?uestlove and Donald Glover seemed to be having trouble getting in. Then that changed. As Spike Lee and his wife, Tonya, were escorted inside, few flinched. Then more celebrities were ushered in. Then former Def Jam and Warner Bros. executive Kevin Liles. Then Def Jam Chairman and C.E.O. L.A. Reid. Then MTV's Sway. The natives began to get restless. Insults were flung. Bouncers were accosted. The mood shifted from excited, to nervous, to unruly. "Hey Sway, can I interview you?" one hooligan barked. "How'd you get in?" More of the privileged were hustled in, and then . . . well, I got in. So I don't know what happened.

And then a Kanye West concert -- led by a track-by-track recreation of Fantasy -- began shortly after 12:30 in the morning. Here is the math.

1. "Dark Fantasy"
GUESTS PRESENT: Bon Iver, Teyana Taylor
FAITHFULNESS: 9
AUDIENCE RESPONSE: Enthralled.

With the loose-lipped Teyana Taylor standing in a slinky black dress on a raised platform stage left, and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon beside her looking rumpled and dressed modestly in a black T-shirt, a recording of Nicki Minaj's lamentable British accent bellowed, "Twisted fiction, sick addiction/Now gather round children, zip it, listen." Kanye emerged during this intro, and when the beat dropped, the Bowery shook a bit. The bass was turned deep and down, into intestine-rattling territory. Kanye, decked out in a black, gold button-accented blazer; a heather-grey tee; denim; and a gold-link belt, rapped with vigor and fiddled with his MPC, which he would return to throughout the night. Vernon, a neophyte to big-top rap performances, seemed visibly nervous, half-bobbing in place, trying to fit in. Taylor, a real natural, swung her hair like a pinwheel and just generally vamped. After the song was over, Kanye said, "Tonight, I'm gonna do My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." True story.

2. "Gorgeous" feat. KiD CuDi & Raekwon
GUESTS PRESENT: None
FAITHFULNESS: 7
AUDIENCE RESPONSE: Bemused.

Though Cudi and Rae were absent, Kanye highlighted his performance of this MBDTF sleeper with an angry a cappella repetition of the crucial couplet, "And what's a black Beatle anyway?/A fucking roach /I guess that's why they got me sitting in fucking coach." He seemed genuinely incensed.

3. "Power" feat. Dwele
GUESTS PRESENT: None
FAITHFULNESS: 8
AUDIENCE RESPONSE: Empowered power-clapping.

By this point, six months since its release, Kanye is good at performing this song. But he surprised the audience by modulating the phrasing ("No one man should have all that power!") and flawlessly rapping the alternate verse from his Saturday Night Live appearance last month, including some wounded bars about his strained relationship with his father. He returned to his MPC to insert flourishes here, as well. Someone please transcribe those bars.

4. "All Of the Lights (Interlude)"
5. "All Of the Lights" feat. Alicia Keys, Charlie Wilson, Elly Jackson, Elton John, Fergie, John Legend, KiD CuDi, Rihanna, Ryan Leslie, The-Dream & Tony Williams
GUESTS PRESENT: Bon Iver, Teyana Taylor
FAITHFULNESS: 5, but whatever.
AUDIENCE RESPONSE: Agape.

Easily the highlight of the night (save a certain show-closing rant, which we'll get to). When the song's ecstatic drums thundered in, and the wall of lights behind Kanye burned bright and flashed dramatically, the show went to another place. "All of the Lights" is a massive thing on record, but in stadiums it's going to burn holes into the earth. Nearly all of the 11 guest stars in the song were absent, but that didn't stop Kanye from grabbing his chest throughout. But when Fergie's verse began, it was abruptly cut. "That was a mistake," he said, chuckling. "Will.i.am didn't clear that." When the song ended, Diddy, leaning over the railing in the rafters, began audibly screaming with joy at Kanye. Kanye, rarely one for reticence, seemed gobsmacked by Diddy's insane glee.


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