Kanye West Takes Over MoMA w/ guest Jay-Z (Pictures & NYT Review Inside)
Moving forward, every Kanye West show should conclude with a rant. In November, at the intimate concert he played at the Bowery Ballroom to celebrate the release of his latest album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” he closed the night with 10 or so minutes of wounded tongue lashings and self lacerations.
Tuesday night, for the Museum of Modern Art’s annual Party in the Garden, he opted for something a little more melodious. For most of the 45 or so minutes that he was onstage, Mr. West was moody, dour, even irritated at points, a star who enthralled even at low wattage.
After a roaring take on “Runaway,” during which he pounded away at his MPC, he began addressing, well, everyone. “Thank you for loving me when they told you not to love me,” he half-sang, through an Auto-Tune-like effect, rendering him an emotional cyborg. “I’m sorry about anybody out there that had to fight for me,” he sang. “Do you know what it feels like to be hated, do you know what it feels like to be degraded?” There was more, about his alleged racism, about branding and marketing, about his late mother: “I know she’s smiling down.”
It’s likely that the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden had never seen such twisted pain. It was filled with a crowd of more than 1,000 – largely men in expensive suits and women in more expensive dresses – and some of its more delicate pieces were roped off, for their own safety. A smattering of famous faces worked the room: Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs; Aziz Ansari in a slim suit, cutting through the crowd at warp speed, trailed by a similarly outfitted entourage.
When he arrived on stage, Mr. West was almost certainly the most underdressed person in the room, in a gray hooded sweatshirt, white T-shirt, light blue jeans and black sneakers. And he began the night defiantly, with a harsh cover of Stevie Wonder’s “They Won’t Go When I Go.” Sung awkwardly but purposefully, it set the tone for the rest of the night. Freed from the emotional restrictions of a major arena show, where joy has to abound, or at least appear with some frequency, he took the opportunity to stew here, emphasizing the more abrasive and gruffer sides of his catalog: “Hell of a Life,” “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” the melancholy “Flashing Lights.” (In this context, the grotesque “Monster” qualified as exultant.)
Even “Good Life,” the rare unambiguously joyous song in Mr. West’s catalog, was extended past its joyous core, dragged into an extended version where timpani-like rumblings gave it an air of impending tragedy. He did something similar on the paranoiac “Run This Town,” where he altered the melodic structure of the verses, turning them even colder and more percussive.
A couple of times, Mr. West pulled his hood down low, fully obscuring his face; it wasn’t always clear he was enjoying himself, even if everyone else was enjoying him. His closing rant felt true to the night’s mood, a characteristically tortured and self-aggrandizing spiel.
But then something surprising happened: he didn’t dwell. Instead, he brought out a surprise guest, Jay-Z, one of the few people who it seems can lift Mr. West’s mood. Together they performed the riotous “H·A·M,” a song that feels disjointed on record, but had just the right amount of mayhem for this moment. Then Jay-Z performed “Empire State of Mind,” typically a limp anthem, but here a palliative. Mr. West, unburdened, rapped along and smiled.
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