Kanye West knows he is often painted as a brooding egotist, but during his Baltimore Arena concert Friday night, the 36-year-old rapper wanted fans to know he was happy.
“Don’t believe the pictures of me looking mad,” West told the crowd, adding he felt like he was in his living room speaking with friends.
The 15-minute rant was filled with hallmarks many have come to expect from the controversial artist: Cursing “the media,” denouncing “haters” and still, inexplicably, taking shots at “Saturday Night Live.” But, above all else, the speech — given after the night’s cathartic, emotional centerpiece “Runaway” — felt more inclusive and aspirational than self-serving.
West said he spent last year “turned up a smidgen,” which elicited laughs from the crowd, on behalf of fans unable to fully express themselves for fear of society’s repercussions. West wrote “I am a God,” from last year’s “Yeezus,” for those in need of a boost of confidence, whether it was for a job interview or a sporting event, he said.
His music is “that sonic cocaine, that extra shot of espresso,” West said.
For roughly two-and-a-half hours, West performed nearly 40 songs that spanned the past 10 years of his storied career. To its benefit, the show lacked an opening act (Kendrick Lamar was the Yeezus Tour’s featured guest last November at Washington’s Verizon Center), which allowed West to pull out seldom-performed fan-favorites such as “Get ‘Em High” and “All Falls Down,” both from his 2004 debut, “The College Dropout.”
But those decade-old songs came later during an earned victory-lap portion of the show. Before it, West leaned heavily on the acidic tracks that make up his most recent album. Most powerful were the pyro-flame-inducing “Blood on the Leaves” and “I’m In It,” his delirious ode to carnality. While “Yeezus” songs lack the maximalism of West’s earlier work, they are still dynamically well suited for arenas. It’s a testament to the craftsman.
The show induces awe at multiple turns, as West provides powerful, standalone images throughout the night. On his back, he performed “Coldest Winter,” an Auto-Tuned bloodletting of a track he wrote after his mother passed away, as fake snowflakes fell from the rafters. Most impressive was “Power,” which found a shirtless West performing from the top of a mountain.
“I got the power to make your life so exciting,” he rapped. The crowd, which was not sold out, seemed largely convinced.
Later, after West performed the career-defining single “Through the Wire,” a figure in all-white representing Jesus Christ met the rapper in the middle of the stage’s “glacier” platform. After touching West’s head, he walked away and West removed his mask. (Earlier in the night, a fan yelled for him to take it off earlier, and West coldly — and hilariously — reminded him, “This is the Yeezus Tour,” not the Whoever You Are Tour, except in more explicit language.)
The mask’s removal brought levity, and ushered in the section of old hits: Horns blared for “Touch the Sky,” fans filled in for Coldplay singer Chris Martin on the chorus of “Homecoming” and West even joyfully played “Gold Digger,” a single that is far from his favorite. It was an appealingly loose segment, as West forgot and stumbled over lines that many in the crowd knew by heart. He fed off the crowd, and as the stomping beat of “Run This Town” kicked in, West sarcastically exclaimed, “We ain’t got no hits!”
The show finished with a trio of feel-good songs: “All of the Lights,” “Good Life” and “Bound 2.” During the finale, it was natural to think of West’s fiancee and star of the song’s video, Kim Kardashian, who West earlier acknowledged was in attendance. (The crowd approved of this.)
Based on the wide smile on his face, it seemed likely he was thinking of his valentine, too. West is happy — happy to finally have an office to “work on my little clothes” for Adidas, happy to be a father and happy to still play arenas 10 years into his career. And whether you love or loathe West or his music, he made it clear Friday night he had earned it all.