Concert Review: Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West @ The Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario (with setlist)

Lots of comparisons have been made between the ice storm and power outages that hit Toronto the same day Kanye West arrived in Toronto for his first of two rescheduled shows (due to damaged equipment from a truck accident). I suppose acting like a God and having a song called Power can lead to some obvious jokes. The cruel winter might not have been an ideal situation to see Kanye West and opener Kendrick Lamar, but at least they had power and heat, unlike a quarter of a million in and around Toronto. It makes you feel a little weird watching a show that wasted oodles of energy, while hundreds of thousands of people can’t heat their house. Should’ve bought a ticket then, eh!?!

After topping many critic’s year end lists, which is exactly what Kendrick Lamar did in 2012 with his last album, Kanye West wrapped up his 2013 North American tour with the first of two Toronto shows last night. Amid a whirlwind year, in which he fought with paparazzi, Jimmy Kimmel, stationary sign posts, and pretty much everyone, it was nice to not be distracted by the headlines and instead focus on the INSANE STAGE SHOW SPECTACLE.

Kendrick Lamar kicked off the night with a strong 45 minute set. He had a small band backing him, which was nice to see rather than laptops and a DJ, and meant he didn’t have the often annoying hype man running around repeating his last 2 words. Who needs a hype man when the Toronto crowd turned up early and shouted back his words?

He had a slick, HD screen set up backing the band, which either showed 3 images or one widescreen image, often of people in his hometown of Compton. Playing tracks like Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe; Swimming Pools (Drank); and Compton from last year’s breakthrough album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Lamar’s smooth flow mixed with the live band showed that Lamar belongs on an arena stage.

Now, Kanye West. Without getting into too many details, the stage show consisted of:

– A huge, fuck off mountain
– Girls in nude stockings
– Girls in nude stockings carrying around Kanye West
– Kanye West wearing a series of jewelled masks for about 75% of the show, which made him look like a WWE Wrestler. He wore these masks until a Jesus lookalike, who walked through the now-split in half mountain took the mask from Kanye and revealed him, as one does
– Random intermissions with a female voice over explaining the definition of words like fighting and rising, using the Brian Burke-approved word ‘truculent’ in the definition of fighting
– A scary, red-eyed yeti who first appeared during Monster and sort of crawled and lurked in the mountain for a few songs in the darkness

So what the fuck does it all mean? There’s an interesting theory on the Internet that the stage show is an ode to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film The Holy Mountain. Check out the post with pictures from the movie and the stage show and you’ll see what I mean. Is Kanye way smarter than we give him credit for?

Needless to say, the show was a bizarre and very Kanye-esque spectacle. You definitely wouldn’t see any other rappers trying this, and most rock bands stick to the crazy lights and giant screens sort of shows, not a full on, bizarro musical production.

Enough about the stage, how about the god damn music? He opened with On Sight, with its sick beat and clever raps. He hit us with several Yeezus tracks to start off (New Slaves, then Send It Up) before moving to some G.O.O.D. Music stuff from Cruel Summer, such as Mercy, Cold, Don’t Like, and Clique, with Power sandwiched in there after Mercy. The stage was sort of an arrow head, with Kanye sometimes rapping so hard and jumping around that the stage looked like it was on hydraulics.

Kanye returned to Yeezus tracks with Black Skinhead, with the animation from the video appearing on the giant circular video screen above the mountain mimicking Kanye’s on stage actions to some extent.

The girls in nude re-emerged for I Am A God, carrying around their God-like Yeezus in a somewhat (ironically) comical sequence. The screams at the end of the track were a mix of live and backing track screams, which was a touch disappointing.

During Can’t Tell Me Nothing, the hydraulics for the front stage rose up and formed another mini mountain from which Kanye rapped atop. Snow fell as Kanye laid on his back at the top of the mountain for Coldest Winter.

We got a snippet of Monster, and that’s all, which is a terrible shame as it’s one of the most original songs he’s ever done. I suppose when you had guest rappers all over a track, what are you supposed to do. We did have a yeti show up, which I thought was Kanye at first until he re-emerged during Hold My Liquor. Another couple of Yeezus tracks followed, I’m In It and Guilt Trip, with a circle of nude girls laying around Kanye, centred in the middle. Every time I try and get girls to go along with my artistic ideas at parties, I’m always slapped – how do you do it, Kanye?

Guilt Trip was followed by 808s and Heartbreak track Heartless. Then, the giant snowy mountain turned into a volcano, complete with bursts of flames and mini fireworks, as West jumped around to Blood on the Leaves. The mountain then split in half for Lost in the World, and the high energy continued as the track Runaway kicked off, with Kanye jumping around even more frantically and delivering the lyrics in a frenzied manner. This energy was definitely lacking for some of the other tracks that could’ve benefited from this out of nowhere energy.

Then came the ‘you knew it was coming’ rant. Kanye went on (and on and on) about how he’s just going to keep getting crazier, and that he’d like to apologize FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Oh Kanye! People used this to get more drinks and run to the washrooms, with some people grabbing their jackets and leaving in my section.

Kanye needed to bring the crowd back, and fast, and he did it with Stronger. Through the Wire kept us all standing, and then the roof got blown off during Jesus Walks, where Jesus met Yeezus in the stage show. Not a bad gig if you get to tour with Kanye and play the role of Jesus – I wonder what that pays?

Diamonds from Sierra Leone continued the series of hits that ran right through to the end of the show with Flashing Lights, All of the Lights, Good Life, and the song that James Franco and Seth Rogen forever ruined for me, Bound 2.

Kanye said that he wanted to thank to Justin Bieber for coming out, which was met with moderate applause and confusion, and then noted he wanted to thank the rap god Drake for coming out tonight, which received huge cheers. Drake 1 Bieber 0.

As far as shows go, this was a spectacle. We got 27 songs, a giant mountain, a bizarrely entertaining production, and hit after hit after hit. A few songs didn’t translate well to a live setting, and there were jumbled sections of “is he actually rapping or is it backing vocals”, but overall, a show that you should definitely see.

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PHM Rating for Kendrick Lamar: 7.5 out of 10
PHM Rating for Kanye West: 8.5 out of 10

Setlist for Kanye West at the Air Canada Centre, Toronto – December 22, 2013
1 – On Sight
2 – New Slaves
3 – Send It Up
4 – Mercy
5 – Power
6 – Cold
7 – Don’t Like
8 – Clique
9 – Black Skinhead
10 – I Am a God
11 – Can’t Tell Me Nothing
12 – Coldest Winter
13 – Hold My Liquor
14 – I’m In It
15 – Guilt Trip
16 – Heartless
17 – Blood on the Leaves
18 – Lost in the World
19 – Runaway
20 – Stronger
21 – Through the Wire
22 – Jesus Walks
23 – Diamonds from Sierra Leone
24 – Flashing Lights
25 – All of the Lights
26 – Good Life
27 – Bound 2

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