Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kanye West--McKale Memorial Center, Tucson, AZ

There is nothing that Kanye West hates more than cameras, or his spaceship crashing down. But fortunately the latter caused him to “land” in the University of Arizona’s McKale Memorial Center in Tucson, AZ on Thursday, April 24. And fortunately for me, I just happened to have a trip planned to visit my family for my birthday (the 24th as well) during that very same week. As luck would have it, Kanye (and opener Lupe Fiasco) is practically the embodiment of Chicago, so although it may seem slightly random that NQL is reviewing a Tucson show this week, I can assure you that I kept the windy city firmly in mind—as did Kanye and Lupe.

We’ll get to the spaceship reference in a little bit, I promise, but first can we please discuss how many ho’s there are that attend my alma mater? I know Arizona is a warm state and that UA has a high Greek life population, but I really don’t remember there being that many scantily clad young women when I attended school there. Nevertheless, the booty shorts, cleavage-baring tops, and “fuck me” pumps were in full effect as I walked from the venue to my car to put my purse inside. That’s another thing; not only did Kanye not allow cameras inside, but he also made security turn away every girl that was carrying an average-sized purse. Note to concert organizers: such information would have been more useful to the 8,083 attendees before the night of the show.

Once I finally made it inside the massive McKale Center (home to the UA basketball team) and found my seats (lower level, not too shabby at all), I scoped out the crowd for remaining fifteen minutes until the show started. The aforementioned ho’s were plentiful, as were a random scattering of popped-collar bro’s (people still do that?), bandana-clad hipsters, and regular people like myself that were waiting with baited breath to see what tricks Kanye had up his Louis Vuitton monogrammed sleeves.

Unfortunately, we had about three hours ahead of us to wait, as the openers for the Glow in the Dark tour readied themselves. Because Rihanna, who is scheduled to open most of the tour, had a previous engagement that forced her to skip the Tucson tour date and a few others, some random DJ’s and rappers, took her place for thirty minutes. Although the house lights were off and flashing strobes highlighted the venue, there was no denying the fact that the crowd could not have been more bored with Kanye’s entourage. Just because Kanye deems you worthy enough to record for his record label, doesn’t mean you should be allowed to embarrass yourself with amateur-sounding raps in front of thousands of people.

Thankfully, Lupe Fiasco appeared next and made everyone forget about the trio of rappers who graced the stage before him. Dressed head-to-toe in a baggy, bright red, Middle Eastern garb, he made his presence known whipping through some of the best songs on his newest album, The Cool, including “Hip-Hop Saved My Life,” “Paris, Tokyo,” “Go Go Gadget Flow,” and “Superstar.” However, it was Lupe’s older songs that received the bulk of the crowd’s attention, as Food & Liquor’s “Kick, Push” and “I Gotcha” culled roars from the gregarious student body. “Daydreamin’” was the grand highlight of Lupe’s set though, as he faux-conducted the orchestration intro to the song and burst straight into the in-your-face rap following it. The crowd was completely enraptured with his performance and it showed in their enthusiastic dancing and singing.

With Lupe’s beats still ringing in the air, I knew there was no way that has-beens N.E.R.D. could adequately follow-up such a stunning performance, and what do you know? I was right. It definitely says something when your last album (Fly Or Die) came out four years ago and your biggest single (“Lapdance”) was released seven years ago. It says that you’ve been out of the public eye far too long to recapture their attention in one single thirty minute opening slot. But you have to give it to them, because Pharrell, Chad Hugo, and everyone else on stage playing instruments whose name I didn’t know definitely tried as hard as they could to make the crowd care about their washed up hits. “Lapdance” and “Rock Star” had the lively masses jumping up and down, while “She Wants To Move” gave the ho’s of McKale Center their grand opportunity to be singled out in the crowd and pulled on-stage by Pharrell himself. Needless to say, there was lots of booty shaking going on.

When N.E.R.D.’s massive bass (and there was a lot of it, I was totally deaf by the end) finally died down, the crowd laid in wait for thirty minutes while scrambling stage-hands prepared the stage for Kanye’s performance. A little after ten o’clock, the lights went out and the black curtain suspended above the stage dropped, and everyone finally got a good look at Kanye’s stage set-up. Now, bear with me a bit here, because this isn’t the easiest thing in the world to describe, but I’ll give it a go. Kanye stood atop a square-shaped stage with a huge monitor hanging directly over it, resembling a MacBook, even though it was supposed to be his “space ship” that had “crash landed” on an unknown planet (aka Tucson). The space ship was on top of a wavy surface about five feet in the air, which looked like a golf course or a skateboard half-pipe with less of an incline. If you’re a visual person, I apologize, but that’s the best description I can give you. Or you can attempt to look at this blurry picture of the stage set-up and figure it out for yourself. With two screens on each side of the arena-size stage showcasing his every move, Kanye gave the crowd their money’s worth with his energetic performance.

While narrating his journey through space and back to earth, Kanye performed hits from all three of his albums. Such highlights included the multi-colored pyrotechnics that shot out of the floor of his space ship during “Flashing Lights,” the fervent crowd sing-along on “Gold Digger,” the spirited favorite “Good Life,” thousands throwing up the diamond sign gesture during “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” and Lupe Fiasco joining him on-stage for “Touch The Sky.” With sweat dripping down his face, Kanye ran from one side of the stage to the other, barely pausing to take a breath between verses.

Although he delivered a fantastic performance, the space ship theme was a bit cheesy from time to time, especially when he decided to cover Journey’s karaoke classic, “Don’t Stop Believing.” Hearing thousands of college kids belt out the lyrics at the top of their lungs was perhaps the most cringe-worthy experience of my entire life. Despite the corniness though, there is no doubt that Kanye gives the crowd exactly what they came for. Above rapping and producing, he is a true performer and not many people can hold 8,000 college kids in the palm of their hand for ninety minutes, can they?

--Anna Deem

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