Kanye West Reaches New Heights on Saint Pablo Tour

Photo courtesy of Jared Hay

Photo courtesy of Jared Hay

The days leading up to the opening night of Kanye West’s Saint Pablo Tour in Indianapolis were marked by a specific discussion amongst my friends: Who would be the opening act? Frank Ocean just dropped a much-anticipated release. Kid Cudi and Pusha T are always in play. Maybe newcomer Desiigner would make an appearance. And what about Chance?

Those conversations were based on the unspoken idea that this would be a typical concert-going experience in which performers would take a set stage at scheduled times as onlookers faced forward and watched. A better question to ask might have been, “What in the hell is Kanye going to do now?

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Photo by Kiel Hauck

As you’ve certainly read and seen by this point, the Saint Pablo Tour is anything but typical. There was no stage, per say, but instead, an enormous contraption made of various platforms, lights and framework hung from the ceiling at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and served as a sort of installation art from which West would spend the evening performing.

This opening night of the tour featured one sole performer – West – tethered to a platform that floated above the general admission crowd that filled the floor of the venue. The platform tilted and glided from end to end, offering a different perspective and vantage point of the performance for everyone in the building. A few intermissions filled with ambient music and light would lead into a completely new segment of the set with West appearing on another portion of the shape-shifting apparatus.

Photo courtesy of Jared Hay

Photo courtesy of Jared Hay

As expected, West used the evening to premiere many of the tracks from this year’s The Life of Pablo, which composed just over a third of the set. However, Kanye also sprinkled in several cuts that rarely see the live stage, including “Amazing”, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Devil in a New Dress”. With a set that lasted over two hours and included 30 songs across an expansive catalogue, it’s hard to complain, although the absence of “Ultralight Beam” felt slightly egregious.

Then again, as the opening night for a nearly-implausible performance with so many (literal) moving parts, grace certainly abounds. At times, the evening felt slightly like a dress rehearsal. “Blood on the Leaves” was stopped and re-started three times before Kanye finally cut his losses and moved on. Opener “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” was played twice. West ad-libbed an array of apologies and thank you’s during a 20-minute interlude after “Runaway”.

Even with its hiccups, the night was a true spectacle of the highest order. I found it hard to focus my attention in any one direction for longer than a few seconds. The moving platforms and fluid light movement provided constant engagement, although I often found my eyes drawn to the crowd below, moshing and moving like a body of water beneath West as he performed. Yet this wasn’t a meaningless and chaotic display – there was meaning buried at nearly every turn.

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Photo by Kiel Hauck

After the concert, my wife made an astute observation of West’s use of light. The show began with West awash in the glow as his platform drifted out over the fans. Kanye appeared god-like above his worshipers; the clear center of attention. Near the end of the set, though, the lights had shifted to highlight the sold-out crowd in the Fieldhouse, leaving West in complete darkness – his presence only known by the sound of his voice. The payoff is yet another example of West’s startling self-awareness and a beautifully painted picture of some of his deepest inner struggles.

At age 39, now seven albums and 21 Grammys into an illustrious career, Kanye has nothing left to prove as an artist. Yet instead of mailing in this tour for a quick cash grab while performing some new songs, West has once again pushed boundaries – this time in regard to what it means to experience a concert and where our attentions are focused in such a setting. A mid-concert ad-libbed refrain of, “I know they call me crazy sometimes; I just call them lazy all the time” proved funny at first, but oddly profound by night’s end.

Kanye has explained The Life of Pablo as being a living, breathing work of art – subject to change and expansion. The Saint Pablo Tour appears to be a reflection of that very sentiment, displayed as a constantly evolving two-and-a-half-hour experience. If the tour stops near you, make every effort to attend. It’s worth every minute.

Photo courtesy of Jared Hay

Photo courtesy of Jared Hay

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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