Concert Review: The Yeezus Tour (Kanye West + Kendrick Lamar) at The Air Canada Centre in Toronto

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It’s been a while since I’ve been to a big stadium/arena sized concert like this.  Previously, I had seen Kardinal Offishall perform in this same building during halftime at the Raptors’ 2011 season opener, but the only other actual concert I’ve been to that was this big (or even bigger) was in 2010, at the first show at Detroit’s Comerica Park during Eminem & Jay-Z’s “Home & Home Tour“.  That show was epic for so many reasons, and while this Yeezus tour isn’t expected to be as historical, I was still very excited to see the two artists headlining it.  I’m a huge fan of both Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, and this was my first time seeing either of them.  I never got to see Kanye on his “Glow In The Dark” tour in 2008 or his “Watch The Throne” tour with Jay-Z in 2011, and while Kendrick was in Toronto with Earl Sweatshirt about five months ago, his ticket prices were too ridiculous for me to buy one before they sold out.  I guess it all worked out for the best.

With this being the very last show of the Yeezus Tour (the Toronto shows were rescheduled after some equipment got damaged in a car accident), there’s been much talk about the tour on the internet.  I’ve seen pictures of an actor playing Jesus on stage, Kanye rapping on top of a mountain, naked models in body paint, and I read that even Tech N9ne (a legendary showman is his own right) was blown away by this tour.  Then there’s been all these Kanye West interviews popping up on the internet where he’s talked about this tour being more than just rap concerts.  I tried not to read up on the tour too much to maintain the element of surprise, but all of these things had me really excited to be going.

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First up was Kendrick Lamar.  I had first heard of this guy around 2011 when a friend recommended his mixtape and independent album from that year: Overly Dedicated and the very hyped Section.80.  I’ll admit I was slow to join the fanclub; I found his smooth flow combined with the mellow production on these projects to be mind-numbing and boring (regardless of the great lyricism), although Section.80 has since grown on me a lot and I appreciate that some of Kendrick’s most meaningful songs of his career were part of this album.  Then his official major-label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d. city came out in 2012, and I think everyone who even moderately likes rap music became a full-fledged Kendrick Lamar fan.

It was surprising to see the building wasn’t even full when Kendrick got on stage.  Maybe it was the severe ice storm that hit Toronto the previous night that caused people to miss the show, maybe it was the concert date being moved from November to December, maybe it was the fact that this was the second show in the same city, or maybe Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar don’t necessarily have the same fans.  When Kendrick came out to “Money Trees”, there were still a lot of empty seats and empty space on the floor.  He did a nice 45-minute set as the building slowly filled up, although I think he should’ve been given more time.  He didn’t perform “The Recipe” or any songs off Section.80, mainly sticking to tracks off good kid, m.A.A.d. city, as well as his verse on “F***in’ Problems” by A$AP Rocky.  Kendrick’s mic was also cutting out, or maybe his voice just didn’t carry to the upper bowl of the arena that well.  Overall it was a good rap set with a live band bringing a unique sound to the production, but what followed was more than a typical rap concert.

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Next up was the “God” himself, Kanye West.  Say what you will about his latest album and his public antics, but over the course of his career, Kanye has been a huge influence on my life.  His first two albums, The College Dropout (2004) and Late Registration (2005) were major factors behind me being voted “Most Changed Since Grade 9” in my grade 12 yearbook.  His Graduation (2007) album was pretty special to me too because it came out during the same year I graduated from high school.  I didn’t really care for his 808’s and Heartbreaks album when it came out in 2008, although a couple (just a couple) songs on there have grown on me over the years.  Everything else he’s done since then I’ve pretty much enjoyed moderately (Cruel Summer) or a lot (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy).  You can read my thoughts on the Yeezus album here; I’ll just say I like the ideology behind the album, but the actual music just didn’t do it for me completely.

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When the stage was set for Kanye to come out, you could tell this wasn’t going to be a typical rap concert.  By now you’ve all probably seen pictures of the mountain behind the stage, the huge screen to show the sky behind it (which we couldn’t see from our angle), and the models in body suits.  The show was split into five themes: Fighting, Rising, Falling, Searching, and Finding.  After the introduction of the first theme, Kanye came out to “On Sight” and then did a bunch of songs off his newer albums like “New Slaves”, “Mercy”, “Clique”, “Don’t Like”, and “Cold/Theraflu”.  I don’t remember the exact order of the songs, but the first part of the show was mainly newer songs from 2010 onwards.

One thing I noticed right away was the amount of work put into the choreography with all the characters, lighting effects, props, and Kanye himself.  Even his walk from the center stage to the mountain was choreographed to the beat, with different lights hitting him at specific angles and timing.  He had a rising platform behind the mountain to make it look like he was climbing it during “Power” (this probably looked a lot cooler from the ground level), and later when he got back to the main stage, that part rose up as well during “I Am A God” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”.  The stage was now a cliff, and he laid down on the edge to perform “Coldest Winter”.

There was a point where the start of “Monster” came on, but rather than perform the song, an actual monster-like creature (person in a costume) came out to possibly represent the devil/evil/monster inside us in this journey Kanye was taking us on.  While it made its presence known by climbing the cliff that was the main stage, it soon left and would only be seen in the background throughout the show, possibly representing the evil lurking upon us while Kanye represented our strength to keep it distanced from us.  The stage was brought back to the ground level and Kanye performed some songs that represented the theme of Falling, including “Hold My Liquor”, “I’m In It”, and “Blood On The Leaves” with lots of pyrotechnics.

After Fighting to claim the mountain, Rising to the top of it, and Falling back to the human level, the mountain split in half and Kanye walked through it to introduce the theme of Searching.  After coming out to “Lost In The World”, he performed “Runaway”, trolling us for a few minutes by playing one note on the MPC and running away from it.  After this performance (or in the middle of it), rather than go on a half-hour intermission, which would be normal for a show of this length, Kanye just stood in the middle of the stage and talked to us on what most would call a “rant”.

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While I would’ve liked to hear more music, I can see the point Kanye was making.  What would you rather complain about?  Silence during intermission, or Kanye giving the band a break by talking to us?  It was a similar point he was making about music critics and “haters” in general.  Since it was the last day of the tour and Christmas and New Years were approaching, he also talked about becoming a more positive person in 2014 and never talking negatively about Nike or The Grammy’s again.

After performing some throwbacks like “Stronger” and “Through The Wire” with an incredible light show, the final theme of Finding was introduced.  The highly publicized portrayal of Jesus Christ made his appearance, walking out from the gap in the middle of the mountain to greet Kanye on the main stage.  After a brief interaction, he walked back into the mountain and Kanye took off one of the masks he had been using to cover his face for the entire show, then proceeded to perform “Jesus Walks” with his face revealed.  Kanye then talked to the crowd, thanking us for coming out just days before Christmas, and it seemed like the show was about to end.

It was far from over though.  Kanye said since this was the last show of the tour, he would perform a song he had never done live before.  The beat for “Forever” then came on, Kanye did his verse, and then to our surprise, Drake came out to do his own verse and finish the song.  Drake then performed “All Me”, doing both Big Sean’s and his own verses on that song.  After Drake left, Kanye got into “All of the Lights”, with all kinds of fireworks and pyrotechnics coming out of the mountain.  Kanye finally closed the show with “Bound 2”, ending it by giving the mic to a fan in the crowd to yell the lyrics “Jerome’s in the house, watch your mouth!”. 

With the Yeezus Tour, Kanye took us on a journey through the struggle for people to find success and happiness.  I learned here that Kanye is far beyond doing just typical rap concerts where the DJ plays the beat and the rapper raps; the level of showmanship here is beyond what I’ve seen from any other rap artist.  Granted not many rap artists have access to the same resources Kanye has, but Kanye is dedicated to giving us a unique show we haven’t seen before with every tour he does.  I was surprised he touched on every album in his catalogue except for Late Registration, my favourite album of his.  I can’t complain though, he was on stage for an entire two and a half hours and it’s clear he put a lot of work into perfecting the presentation of this show.  I feel like I definitely got my money’s worth, and I would see Kanye perform again on the next tour he does because it’s bound to be something different.

For more videos from concerts I’ve been to, check out the SYpher Sights Youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjiIhS7fd3t1ZutK1va7w8g

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