The first person I met in line for the “Saint Pablo Tour” was a young man in a onesie comprised of a collage of Miley Cyrus faces. Under most normal, public circumstances, the outfit might have been a little jarring, but at a Kanye West concert, everyone is going to get weird.
The Quicken Loans Arena is often a place for the passionate and proud people of Cleveland to let go of their inhibitions. The usual tenants of The Q, the NBA-Champion Cleveland Cavaliers, have brought a sense of joy and unity to the city that already had enough heart to fill Lake Erie. Clevelanders know how to rally. Who better and more worthy to rally around for an off-season night at The Q than Kanye West?
Everyone I talked to, passed by, or knew beforehand that was going to the show was nothing other than excited. Sure, the long, twisting lines outside of the arena delayed the show a couple hours, but in retrospect, it was a small price to pay. I spent most of my time before the show running into friends of new and old, which wasn’t surprising, considering West’s longevity in popular music. West has an entire generation of fans who have grown up on his music. Other than the occasional middle-aged man in a Riddler costume and toddler in a fresh pair of Yeezys, most of West’s fans at The Q were millennials, like me.
After a couple hours, I split from my friends and wandered up to the rafters to my seat. Everyone else in the nosebleeds had the same question that I did—how were we going to see Kanye? The stage seemed to be blocked by the scoreboard above. But just after the lights shut off and the eager crowd released their impatience through their boisterous cheers, West came floating over the ground on a flying stage with the intro to “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” playing behind him.
The best concerts are concerts that demand your attention. Nothing else matters other than the artist, the music, the rest of the crowd, and you. These shows are rare. But the best rap concerts are the ones where you are not only on vacation from your thoughts for an hour or two, and not only completely engaged in the present moment free of the outside world, but also where you can party with thousands of other people who are feeling just as euphoric as you are. West knew what he was doing when he opened with “Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1” and “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2.” There wasn’t one person in the crowd who didn’t recite, “If young Metro don’t trust you I’m gon’ shoot you.” There wasn’t one person standing still, even if they were just following along with a classic head nod.
West pushed the arena’s ridiculous level of hype even higher with “Famous,” the song as iconic as any off of The Life of Pablo. All around the arena, people turned on their cell phone flashlights and waved them in the air. The lights combined with the rising haze of the fog machines on the court floor, turning the inside of The Q into an enormous, glittery, snow globe. West then cut off “Famous” mid-song, a trend he continued with a couple other Life of Pablo tracks later on in the night, and asked for his fans to intensify their energy level. The place was already blissful mayhem. But everyone obliged and cranked it up even more.
The only other instance when West spoke to the crowd was in the beginning to remind his Cleveland fans of how inspiring the story of the Cavs winning the championship was (there were even a group of Cavs at the show in one of the suites). Otherwise, West maintained a breakneck pace. He performed at least thirty songs over an hour and a half span with almost no breaks in-between songs or verses. The pacing of the show was near-perfect, as West masterfully mixed bangers with slower songs, and newer tracks with older hits.
Impassioned fans sang in unison against all of their worst exes when West ended “Heartless” with an extended, acapella cut of the song’s chorus. Some fans teared up during “Runaway.” A group of high school white boys sang Sia’s background “oohhs” on “Wolves” in their most shrill voices. Everyone was twerking something when “Fade” came on, while West danced through red laser beams on his private hover-stage. Few artists have such a bevy of songs that can evoke such a wide range of emotions as West has. Almost every song West performed would’ve been a highlight performance at almost any other concert I’ve been to.
An hour and a half is a long show for one artist to be on stage. For most artists I’ve seen live, over forty-five minutes would be excruciating. But I could’ve watched West perform his entire discography. As polarizing as West is and has been to the media, other artists, and other celebrities in general, there should be no doubt that West works hard at his showmanship and must love his fans. And thanks to being a once-in-a-generation talent and once-in-a-generation performer, he gives his fans more than enough reasons to love him back.
Seeing West live should be a top priority for fans of music, but especially fans of hip hop in general (or West, obviously). If the “Saint Pablo Tour” is coming to your city, go.