Concert Reviews

Last Night: Kanye West, Rihanna, N.E.R.D. and Lupe Fiasco at Center

The Glow in the Dark Tour featuring Kanye West, Rihanna, N.E.R.D. and Lupe Fiasco May 1, 2008 Center

Better than: Battlestar Galactica.

The lights are off, and an LED screen floating above the stage showcases a passing starscape. The crowd, enthused by what's to come, starts chanting Kanye West's name.

We hear him before we see him. He talks about being on a journey, about accepting a mission "to search the universe for a new source of inspiration." Then comes the female voice--robotic, that of a supercomputer--running through a checklist.

"Are you ready Mr. West?" the computer, Jane, asks. "It's gonna be a crazy ride."

The speakers tease the biggest hit off of West's newest album, Graduation, "Stronger," and Jane, the voice of the theoretical spaceship on which West seems to be travelling, speaks again. This time, she offers a warning: The ship has been hit.

The screen that once showed stars now shows planets whizzing by. It lowers to a moon-like set built on risers atop the stage, and suddenly, finally, and after all this build-up, we see him.

West is lying on the floor.

The whole thing's a bit cheesy, but no one seems to mind; instead, they're taken back by the spectacle of it all--what a perfect marriage of showman and show.

Earlier in the night, the crowd was wowed by the impressive flows of West protege Lupe Fiasco, was dancing to the nouveau stip-club anthems of N.E.R.D. and was gawking at the legs-for-days of Rihanna as she performed her radio-friendly fare.

But this. This is different. This is more than a concert. This is a stage, and West is clearly planning a performance. Of grand preportions.

Finally, he moves, slowly rising from a slumber, to the sounds of Late Registration opener "Wake Up Mr. West," then Graduation opener "Good Morning." The crowd welcomes him like the star that he is--and, over the course of this hour-and-a-half show, he will continue to remind them, figuratively and quite literally, that he is, in fact, "the biggest star in the universe."

Grandiose? Sure. But, oh, does it work. The theme is simple: West's spaceship is lost on an unknown foreign planet, and he runs through a set list of his bigger hits as a means to express his various thoughts and concerns about his lost-in-space scenario before eventually using them as a means to get himself home to Earth.

At first look, it seems a hard sell, but the over-the-top set and props help.

It's all there: "Through the Wire," "All Falls Down," "Jesus Walks," "Gold Digger," "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," "Champion," "The Good Life," "Can't Tell Me Nothing," "Flashing Lights," and at the end of the night, "Stronger," "Homecoming" and, finally, "Touch the Sky," the lone track for which West is not alone on stage.

And though he barely acknowledges the crowd until the very end of his performance--and don't kid yourself, this is nothing short of a one-man rock opera--the crowd eats the whole thing up. Kinda tough not to. With this tour, he's upped the ante on the whole summer tour concept, flashing back to the days of Alice Cooper's lavish on-stage sets and performances.

Now, maybe, the over-sized ego is a thing of the past. Because with the Glow in the Dark Tour, West has finally lived up to his own billing.

Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: As an artist, Kanye had me from the minute "Through the Wire" was released as a pre-College Dropout single. And I still believe that album to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time. There's really not a weak track on it.

Random Note: The one downer of the night was the sound. The bass was turned waaaaaay up on the system, at times blocking out the melodies and vocal tracks. It bothered during the three opening sets, and though West's performance caused the visual to, at times, overwhelm the audible, it was still noticeable. Big shame.

By the Way: West refused all photo media requests, meaning the only shots you'll see of this show are the ones that will pop up on Youtube--if they last very long. But West did leave audiences with a parting gift: a spiral-bound book of inspirational proverbs and anecdotes he'd written called Thank You and You're Welcome. --Pete Freedman

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman