Concert Reviews

Last Night at ACL (With Pics!): Kanye West Is The Best Performer You'll See, Just Ask Him.

Kanye West
Bud Light Stage -- Austin City Limits
September 16, 2011

Better than:
what you probably heard about the show, unless you heard it from Kanye.

It didn't take long for Kanye West to buy into his own hype last night, as he headlined the first night of the 2011 Austin City Limits Music Festival. Just maybe five songs is all. At that point, he was sure of it. So he boastfully shouted his certainty into his microphone: "You'll never see somebody with so many hits on one stage, in one night!"

Later: "I got more hits than everybody, that's all I'm gonna say."

He, of course, had more to say. Like this: "Rest in peace to the Black Eyed Peas. You'll be missed."

The crowd was mostly amused by West's immodest display. It's not like they had much of a choice. This was a particularly erratic Kanye West that was on display at Austin City Limits 2011. This -- essentially a rehash of West's impressive set from Coachella earlier this year, when he helped kick off the summer festival season -- was what we got.

And, for the most part, it was near-euphoric -- especially near the massive main stage, as West fanatics screamed and danced and shrieked with glee. Further back, as is the case with most ACL sets, the mood was less  of an ecstatic one, the crowd as amused by Kanye's antics as they were with his set list.

Fair enough. Both were entertaining.

There were, however, some problems: After his over 90-minute performance by performing on a riser set up in the middle of the crowd, West returned to the stage to perform his song "Power," only to find his microphone cutting in and out during various lines. He sounded hoarse, too -- a fact he later dismissed because he "just got off a plane from London."

He was energetic, though, running around the stage at a non-stop clip. And he had some help in the form of the ballerina crew that was so prominently featured in his Runaway film from last year.

You can understand West's pride; he certainly does boast an impressive catalog. His set, divided into three acts, was designed to highlight various parts of his career. The first act was more philosophical ("Power," "Jesus Walks," "Touch the Sky"), the second more of a throwback ("Heartless," "Gold Digger," "Through The Wire," "All Falls Down") and the third more introspective ("Stronger," "Runaway," "Lost in The Woods," "Hey Mama"), and, no, there wasn't a dull track thrown in throughout.

There were, however, some dull moments -- like when West would go off on tangential rants, riffing on love and Auto-Tune singing sentiments along these lines over and over again. One line in particular -- "If you love someone tonight," which came as West blended "Runaway" and "Lost in the Woods" at the end of the night -- was repeated so often it eventually drew laughs. The repetition also forced Kanye to go past the festival's 10 o'clock curfew by 10 minutes; he thanked the City of Austin for letting him break it.

Then, after announcing that this was the last night of his tour (certainly, referring to this stage set-up he's used throughout the summer, a giant, carved-out stone-like backdrop), he thanked everyone involved in the tour, from his dancers to his stage managers. It was a nice sign of humility in a set otherwise devoid of it.

"I want you to remember this moment for the rest of your lives," West shouted during Act 3's "All of the Lights."

As the night Kanye West served as his own biggest hypeman and somehow managed to not disappoint in process, no doubt.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I'm probably being a little harsh on Kanye specifically because I like his work so much. He's a Top Five act for me -- has been since he entered the scene back in the early '00s. I often think that there's little he can do wrong. His set last night was enjoyable enough. But there was some wrong.

Random Note: Can you really hate someone as ridiculously pompous as West? There's a genius behind being that committed to any notion -- even if the notion is that he believes that he's a genius.

By The Way: No fewer than six people around me said, "Hey, this is the Bon Iver song!" when West launched into the Justin Vernon-sampling "Lost in the Woods."

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman

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