After what seemed like his 40th guttural bellow during "I am a God," an exhausted Kanye West fell on his back. Like most of the moments during his two-hour-plus performance at Washington's Verizon Center on Thursday night, it felt earned, not contrived.
It had been five years since the 36-year-old Chicagoan's last solo tour (the beautiful, campy Glow in the Dark tour), and West ensured — through a fully committed, sweat-soaked performance, striking stage design and his many, many words — those in attendance of his "Yeezus" tour would not leave questioning his heart and passion. You might find his talking points of creativity and "awesomeness" heavy-handed and ugly, but the conviction behind it all seems more genuine than anything else in pop music today.
As a viewer, the experience of seeing "Yeezus" boils down to one feeling: enthrallment. It was a production unlike I had ever seen, from the creepy, nude-bodysuit-wearing models who looked ready for an "Eyes Wide Shut" sequel to the towering glacier that reminded me of the Aggro Crag from Nickelodeon's "Guts." "White Jesus," a lurking red-eyed monster and a booming female voiceover all made appearances. And yet there was no doubt who the star was. West simply delivered like no one else can today.
Because my mind is still swirling from it all, here are some more random observations from Thursday night:
• Let's start with a quote that will really get some eyes rolling: "Don't ever let them tell you I'm crazy … [pause] … because I'm smarter than all of them."
• After a surprisingly humorous and feel-good version of "Runaway," West seemed to sense the crowd was readying for a rant. He joked, likely because it was D.C., that he would be politically correct for the first time in his life. That lasted about five seconds. Predictably, he fumed about fashion most, like creating the insanely popular Yeezy sneakers with Nike and then having the CEO Mark Parker not talk to him for eight months. West gave an example of a soda company approaching him to be a spokesman, but without letting him have creative input. His response? "I did 'College Dropout,' 'Late Registration,' 'Graduation,' 'Blueprint 1,' 'Blueprint 3,' '808s and Heartbreak,' 'Watch the Throne' and 'Yeezus.' I have ideas."
• Songs from this year's "Yeezus," which sounded specifically crafted for arenas, and 2008's "808s and Heartbreak" dominated the setlist. He recalled hearing his mother had passed away via a phone call while in London. "I thought I was losing my religion. Losing my faith," he said before performing the song he wrote about his mother's death, "Coldest Winter." He laid on his back the entire song, only staring at the ceiling.
• The older songs he performed — "Good Life," "Through the Wire," "Stronger," "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" — have aged very well. Beat-heads complain about the potency of West's drum sounds a lot, but last night, "Jesus Walks" knocked hard.
• Anyone who has seen West live knows he's prone to lyrical flubs, and last night was no exception. "Good Life," a song that trips him up unlike any other in his catalog, was saved by West's shoutouts to Rockville, Silver Spring, Takoma Park and Maryland itself.
• The most thrilling one-two punch, at least viscerally, came early in the show when West performed "Cold" and his remix of Chief Keef's "Don't Like." West felt the energy from the crowd, and responded by jumping and stomping on a platform in the middle of the arena so much that it wobbled and shook.
• OK, how about another quote? "When I walk down the street, I make the street happy."
• During his first rant, he name-dropped Ben Carson, the retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon. He said Carson "will be president one day."
• The "aww"-in-love moment: West changed the lyrics of "Good Life's" second verse to "Welcome to the good life / where I fell in love with the girl on TV 'cause she got more ass than the models."
• It's a tie for my favorite moments: "All of the Lights," which continues to incite crowds with its impeccable drum programming and sing-along chorus, and the cathartic "Hold My Liquor," the best song from "Yeezus."
• West's outfits looked heavy and uncomfortable, but they were a source of pride. "Having all of this custom Margiela on is an accomplishment for me," he said as he brushed off his pant legs. He sounded like a kid with the freshest gear on at the first day of school. And yes, he wears different masks for 80 percent of the show. When he finally took it off for "Jesus Walks," it seemed like a relief for him and the crowd. Just seeing him smile and point to the crowd brought a welcomed levity to the night.
• In terms of disappointments: I did not see Kim Kardashian, and I wish West had played "Street Lights," "Amazing" and "I Wonder."
• This is a must-see show. The price of admission is worth it to see West close the show with his latest single, "Bound 2." (Perhaps you've seen the video.) If you weren't grinning from ear-to-ear and screaming back "Jerome's in the house, watch your mouth," you were doing it wrong.