A quick glance on Twitter on Saturday evening reminded me just how difficult it is to separate Kanye the man from the music. So let’s get this out the way early: for me, Kanye2015 is just a massive douchebag – coming across as having such a blinkered, uncritical view of his own output that he probably can’t flush a dump until his entourage have applauded it first.
And yet, behind all the rambling, ranting and Beck-bothering it’s easy to forget just how good some of his stuff really is. Yes, the first 3 albums still make up a high proportion of his inevitable “best of” but tracks like Black Skinhead, No Church in the Wild and “…Paris” deserve their place too. Hell, I even quite liked a bit of the vocoder stuff from those awkward middle years but I’ll keep that to myself.
So I had high hopes for his headline Glastonbury set. No, I’m not there in person but tried to do my best – sound up, projector out and a few beers down. And after Jay-Z broke down the barriers, this was Kanye’s chance to swagger his way through and show that he’s an artist and music-lover first, dickhead a long second. Keep your shit together; put on a show for the ages; and, as for greatness? show, don’t tell.
A little under eight years earlier and I’m an indie kid at V2007 (yes, I know, hardcore) being blown away by the sheer energy, talent and passion of a man who clearly loves music – any music. With my friends back at their tents, I go there alone but am immediately swept up as part of one huge, joyous, electric celebration. As well as his own songs, he plays Rehab (as a tribute to Amy Winehouse, who was unable to perform) as well as snippets of songs by the Verve, Annie Lennox and others. As those tracks play he just smiles, conducts the crowd and takes it all in. He’s sharing the moment with us and we respond in kind.
Back in 2015, we’re about quarter of an hour in and I have goosebumps. Without speaking a word, he blasts straight through Stronger, Power, …Paris, Black Skinhead – less a set-list, more an all-out assault on the crowd answering the doubters in the best way possible. The staging is simple, stark and striking – as if to say forget everything else and focus on the music. Without gimmicks, or distractions (even shrugging off Lee Nelson fairly gamely), he seems to lose himself in the music and is, briefly, incredible.
And then he screws it all up by, well, being Kanye. For someone so good at rhythm it’s unforgiveable that he chooses to fade so many hits away mid-track or worse, stop them abruptly just as the crowd are getting into it. There is also far too much self-indulgent navel-gazing – another huge misjudgement for a festival crowd. With no backdrop or band, the stage starts to look dull and empty and the lights just isolating. His only interaction is with Bon Iver and the occasional instruction to crew. He’s there with 200,000 people but if there is going to be a moment, it seems it will be his alone. Like Joey and a sandwich, you get the feeling Kanye2015 does not share.
Hiring a crane and covering Bohemian Rhapsody were horrible ideas that just crying out for a little self-awareness, but it gets worse for the encore. First, he somehow turns Gold Digger into a dud, re-starting so he can pull his “greatest living rock star on the planet” shtick and once-again petering out part way through like he’s lost either interest or his train of thought. But the final insult is left to All Falls Down where he proudly claims “we gonna rock until they pull the motherf*cking plug” before ending minutes later with another fade. Perhaps, out of kindness, they did?
Ultimately, he came out swinging then became rambling, self-indulgent, gimmicky and hard to like before ending with a whimper. Love it or hate it? Worse I’m afraid, it was just kind of meh.