Kanye west delivered the second in his edition of two massive, floating, confrontational, and elusive Miami shows this past Saturday at the American Airlines Arena. For how much excitement this tour generated within the Miami scene, it was an interesting take only having known I was going a couple hours before. Nonetheless, right at doors the crowd was pouring in, only to have to wait an hour and a half before the show, sans opener, through nothing but smoke and an occasional false alarm.
When the show finally started, though, he did not disappoint. Churning out hit after hit from his newest album The Life of Pablo before dipping into his extensive and masterful back catalog, there wasn’t a single moment, melody, or lyric unchanted or unmissed. However, given Yeezy’s live persona has often been acclaimed and criticized for its overblown, self-aggrandizing, and rambling nature, what was most surprising was to see, among a floating stage, screaming fans, and a galaxy of phone camera flashes, a behemoth who tended toward being defined by negative space. Whether he was accented by a single spotlight he resisted standing under, outlined by the impressive grid of red light broadcast through the arena during “Fade,” or merely suggested by gesture through the ambient light of the arena, there wasn’t a single moment the crowd actually got a look at West’s face directly.
The motivation for this elusive approach seemed only to elevate this self-proclaimed rockstar’s claim to genius, which was backed up by his stage talk that included “I am Newton, I am Einstein, I am Picasso,” and other associations with some universal, if stale, sense of what marks a great mind of past generations. And he would not have it any other way: West’s appeal toward impulse, egotism, short-attention span, and knee-jerking proclamation are all the makings of a figure unparalleled in controversy. Yet, an interesting sense of mass-appeal to a united and esteemed populace are present in his penultimate ballad featuring a repeated verse along the lines of “your desires will come true” and serenading a fan specifically for “bringing tears to my eyes.” From one moment looking at Beck’s Grammy win over Beyonce as the committee “not awarding the real artists,” to telling the average show attendee to go into work the next day saying “I feel like Pablo,” his mix of being elitist and inspirational can be taken as clashing or, simply, convenient.
In contrast to a performance I glimpsed at Bonnaroo 2014, featuring frustratingly sparse usage of lighting or jumbo screens and restless questions of “where the press at??” West clearly demonstrated a more collected and focused concept of how to motivate a crowd and use a massive performance space this time around. All in all, as one of the most talented voices of our generation, or perhaps just one of the most ostensibly talented, Kanye does not care how he is defined: his reward comes from the speculation.