Concert Review: Kanye West at the 2015 Pan Am Games Closing Ceremonies in Toronto


Here we are, Day 3 of my birthday weekend festivities; this one was courtesy of a birthday present. Day 1 was spent at Toronto’s Festival of Beer with Naughty By Nature, Day 2 at the Unity Festival’s free Dundas Square concert headlined by Wu-Tang’s GZA, and Day 3 would be the Pan Am Games closing ceremonies at the Skydome/Rogers Centre/Pan Am Ceremonies Venue, featuring Kanye West.

Similar to the Action Bronson situation with the NXNE Festival last month, there has been controversy surrounding the choice to have Kanye West headline the Pan Am closing ceremonies.  A petition was started to have Kanye removed from the lineup, and over 50,000 signatures were made as of one week before the concert (fun fact: the Rogers Centre has the capacity to hold about 54,000 people).  While I didn’t agree with having Action Bronson removed from the NXNE lineup, I could at least see the logic behind that petition and could accept the result.  With this Kanye West petition however, there didn’t seem to be any logical argument behind why he should be removed other than “I don’t like him, boo-hoo 😥 .” 

Sure, the petition stated that Canadian artists should be supported, but Serena Ryder was included in the lineup, making this argument inapplicable.  Sure, it would have been nice to have a Canadian headline and close out the show, but who do we really have that can fill up as many seats in the Rogers Centre and get the same television ratings as Kanye West?  Most of our big names had other commitments out of town, Drake had his OVO Festival the following week (look up the concept of diminishing returns), and Justin Bieber simply does not fit the brand of the Pan Am Games (his music is known for swooning teenage girls, whereas Kanye’s is known for inspiring greatness and hard work).  Besides, these are the Pan Am Games, a celebration for all of North and South America; the point is we’re bringing international talent to our city rather than shoving our local artists in everyone else’s faces.

This controversy was simply an embarrassing moment for the city.  Toronto is supposed to be one of the most multicultural, accepting cities in the world, and here we were projecting hate towards an artist and possibly Hip-Hop culture over something as idiotic as racism and character judgement.  Let’s face it, there probably wouldn’t have been the same backlash if Adele, U2, Shakira, Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry, Foo Fighters, Lady Gaga or Justin Timberlake headlined the show (none of them are Canadian either, all of them are chart-topping superstars we’d welcome with open arms).  This is about us judging an artist over celebrity gossip and TMZ headlines while ignoring the ground-breaking, monumental and iconic music behind him.

Despite whatever character traits you dislike about him, Kanye West’s music embodies what the Pan Am Games are about.  His music is about overcoming obstacles, being the best person you can be, acknowledging your failures and working hard to bounce back from them, and perhaps hyperbolic celebrations when you’ve fought off the opposition.  He has reinvented his style and sound with every album he has released, similar to how athletes have to change their approach to sports as their bodies age.  He shifted the entire mainstream sound of Hip-Hop to the point that Drake, a heavily suggested replacement, would not be considered as cool or popular had Kanye not taken the risk and made the lullaby-rapping style popular in the first place.  Kanye deserves a shot at headlining a show at the revered Skydome, just as much as any other pop star they could have booked, and unfortunately the arrogance in his public personality has caused people to overlook the cultural impact he’s made through music.


Okay, rant over.  Let’s get to the actual concert review.  The Pan Am Games have been taking place in Toronto over the past month, screwing up traffic worse than it already was, but bringing several fun events to the city.  They are a sporting event that happens once every four years, and so it’s a big deal for any city to be chosen to host them.  The closing ceremonies were taking place in the Skydome, and would include performances by Serena Ryder, Pitbull and Kanye West.  We got to our seats at around 6:45, when the ceremony was scheduled to begin promptly, but nothing happened for about an hour.  From watching the televised event afterwards, it seemed that the people at home were seeing highlights from the actual Pan Am Games while the people at the stadium were listening to speeches and admiring the layout of the stage, which resembled Toronto’s skyline.

All the athletes who competed in the games came out wearing their countries’ colours, and they slowly filled up the ground-level of the Rogers Centre.  There were a few speeches congratulating the competitors, and several cultural performances.  All the participating countries had their flags carried on stage, with Canada obviously getting the loudest cheers, and then Peru was introduced as the host country for the next Pan Am Games in 2019.  I believe Peru’s national anthem was sung, their flag replaced Canada’s on the Pan Am display, and there was a dance performance on stage.  Many other cultures were represented on stage too, including a Caribbean dance segment (Toronto’s Caribana Festival is happening soon).














Our local artist Serena Ryder had taken the stage earlier to perform the official song of the 2015 Pan Am Games, but now she had returned with an entire band to perform some of her own songs.  Believe it or not, this would be my second time seeing her perform, as I had previously seen her at the 2013 Luminato Festival, where she was joined by k-os and DJ Kid Koala.  Some of her songs felt familiar, and I can say that the people in the stadium got to see more songs performed by her than the people watching at home.  I’m personally not the biggest Folk/Rock fan, but Serena definitely rocked the house and the Canadian crowd represented for their hometown artist.

Next to perform was Pitbull, an artist I can’t say I’m a fan of.  The only song of his I really know is his “Cuban Rideout” on Lil’ Jon & The Eastside Boyz Kings of Crunk album.   He’s come a long way since then, abandoning Hip-Hop to become a full-fledged Pop star.  He did a bunch of generic club songs and had a group of female dancers tearing up the stage with him.  His performance was kind of lame, as he pretty much let the DJ play a Ne-Yo song while he acted as a hypeman for the recording.  It was good party music I suppose, but the performance would have been better suited for a nightclub where he’d be behind a DJ booth.


Almost immediately after Pitbull wrapped up his set, the Daft Punk sample used in Kanye West’s “Stronger” started playing, and he came out in near complete darkness except for a spotlight on him and the mic.  I had last seen Kanye at the Air Canada Centre during his 2013 Yeezus Tour right before Christmas, and I witnessed first hand the extravagance in his stage shows.  While Kanye may not be the best traditional, technical MC, he is a supreme showman, choreographing the lights, pyrotechnics and other stage props to create a show that is well worth the ticket price.  He’s even open to surprises, as last time he had brought out Drake for a surprise performance of “Forever.”

This show at the Pan Am ceremonies seemed minimalistic in comparison, as it was only Kanye West and a microphone on stage.  Kanye mostly rocked tracks from the latter half of his discography, as they’re better suited for large stadiums like the Skydome.  He got everyone clapping to “Power,” and after one verse quickly dove into “Black Skinhead.”  He went back in time a bit, going back to his Graduation album with “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and then even further back to Late Registration with “Gold Digger” and “Touch The Sky.”  I was especially happy to see that latter track performed, as he didn’t do it last time I saw him live.  Kanye was rocking the stage well all by himself, nailing his verses and even fitting in the censor-words into his raps perfectly.  He told the crowd “we’re just getting started, we’re going to have a fun time tonight,” foreshadowing a major screw-up about to happen.

Next, Kanye performed his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy hit, “All of the Lights,” and it became apparent that something was wrong just as he rapped “something’s wrong” in the first verse.  None of the stage lights were moving to the music, and Kanye was just performing to the house lights simply turned on.  Knowing Kanye’s style, it seems like there’s no way he had planned for there to be nothing going on with the lighting during this song.  Last time he performed this in Toronto, he had pyrotechnics shooting out of the mountain prop on stage, dancers carrying torches and stage lights moving to the beat.  For an event like this, I was expecting to see fireworks during this song, as we had previously seen for other performances.

Things got ugly really quick, although those watching on their televisions at home may have had no idea.  Kanye started performing the celebratory “Good Life,” and while the people watching at home could hear him on their televisions, Kanye’s microphone had cut off mid-verse for those in the stadium.  After watching on TV, it seemed like he planned to toss the mic at the end of the song, but for those attending the show in person, it was clear that the people in charge of the sound and lighting screwed up to the point that Kanye tossed the microphone out of frustration, and it broke as it landed on the stage.  Those watching on TV may think Kanye was being his arrogant self by leaving the stage abruptly, but really it was the sound engineer who cut the show short.

Honestly, while I have written one negative concert review in the past, the Pan Am Games closing ceremony was by far the worst concert I have ever been to in my life, and this time it was actually completely the fault of the people running the event.  The crowd was cool, Serena Ryder rocked, it was great honoring the athletes who competed over the past few weeks, and Kanye’s set was great at the start, but Pan Am put so much effort in promoting him as the headliner of this show, only to cut his microphone off not even halfway through his set.  It felt like Pitbull even got more stage time than Kanye, although that might just be the effects of not liking is music.

Perhaps it was a timing issue, as they had to fit into a timeslot for TV, but I don’t see the point in cutting off the artist on stage in favour of setting off fireworks the people inside the stadium can’t even see because these fools didn’t open the roof of the Skydome (despite the beautiful weather).  If they were planning on leaving the roof closed, it makes more sense to let the TV crowd see the fireworks while they keep the show going for those inside the stadium.  Regardless of any petition, the stadium was filled with people who paid a lot of money to see Kanye West, and cutting off his microphone to end the show in the middle of a song was completely disrespectful to both the artist and the fans.  I’ve never said this about any concert I’ve been to before, but I think the attendees should all get their money back.  The Pan Am Games have been an inconvenience for commuters, and the end to these closing ceremonies showed the lack of respect they have for the city, the people who paid for tickets, and the artists they paid to perform for them.  Good riddance.


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