Kanye West took Texas by storm this weekend with back-to-back-to-back tour dates in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Perhaps not coincidentally for a show that features a giant iceberg and fake snow, West arrived right on the heels of our worst cold front of the year. And while the icy roads and frigid weather may have deterred some of Yeezy’s less fanatical fans in Big D, Houstonians seemed more than happy to brave the conditions, packing the Toyota Center to the rafters to catch Kanye’s first solo tour in five years. For anyone who has followed Kanye’s career trajectory over the past decade, the show provided a retrospective glance at the highs (his breakthrough collaborations with Jay-Z, his six bestselling albums, his nascent fashion career) and lows (his near-fatal car crash, the death of his mother, his nascent fashion career). Like Kanye himself, the show was big, loud, overwrought, passionate, infuriating, and brilliant. Above all, it was weird. How weird? Let us count the ways.
1. The set consisted of a towering ice mountain connected by a narrow runway to a wedge-shaped, iceberg-like stage. It was as if Kanye had anticipated the arctic conditions outside and fashioned his set accordingly.
2. Kanye was preceded on stage by an angelic choir of approximately 10 women in white robes and skintight nude leotards wearing what looked like pantyhose over their heads.
3. For the first two-thirds of the concert, Kanye wore a succession of bejeweled masks (designed, like all the costumes in the show, by Paris couturier Martin Margiela) that completely obscured his face, prompting my friend to wonder aloud if the person onstage was really Kanye at all. (It was.)
4. During key parts of the concert, the iceberg stage would begin to bounce up and down, with Kanye riding it like a surfboard. Then, during Kanye’s rendition of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” the tip of the stage rose about 20 feet into the air, with Kanye clinging to the top like Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic. The rapper recently cited this moment as the most dangerous in the show, comparing it to the experience of being a police officer or a soldier.
5. Around this time in the show a fur-covered creature with glowing red eyes posted up on the ice mountain for no apparent reason. He (she?) hung around for a few songs before skulking quietly away.
6. At one point in the show the angelic choir of women formed a human throne, which Kanye naturally proceeded to sit down in.
7. About halfway into the show, the ice mountain split in half, disgorging a hieratic procession of priestesses (the angelic choir again) swinging censers of incense. In the place of a priest was Kanye himself, who stood in front of a makeshift altar holding a computer console that Kanye then played like a keyboard. (I swear I am not making this up.)
8. Kanye then proceeded to deliver from the pulpit an approximately 15-minute auto-tuned rant-slash-sermon in which he criticized the film and fashion industries for not giving him enough money to implement his ideas. “I’m 36 years old,” Kanye said. “Where was Walt Disney when he was 36?” Declaring that the world was divided between “dreamers” and “haters,” he addressed the haters directly. “I’m sure you all know someone who says, ‘Ye is crazy, I don’t f*** with Ye.’ You know what, next time you see one of those people, ask them this: ‘Have you ever made a f***ing mountain?’”
9. At the climax of the show, a bearded actor dressed as Jesus emerged from the mountain and approached a kneeling Kanye, who had now finally taken off his mask. After anointing Kanye, Jesus returned back into the mountain, which closed behind him. Kanye then performed “Jesus Walks,” his first major radio hit.
10. Towards the end of the show, Kanye thanked the Toyota Center audience for coming out. Then he announced that his days of playing basketball arenas are over. Despite the anemic turnout at some of the dates on his current tour, Kanye said that from now on he would be playing only to stadiums, “like Bruce Springsteen.” See you next time at Reliant Stadium, Yeezus!