For whatever reason — maybe its universal critical acclaim was satisfying enough, or maybe he’s still mad his Lady Gaga shows got canceled — Kanye hasn’t toured behind My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Meaning that, following his November show at Bowery Ballroom, last night’s gig at MoMA’s foofy charity shindig the Party in the Garden was his second post-album New York performance. Both shows were held in uncharacteristically small spaces and both were punched up with Kanye rants, but only one had a bonkers surprise Jay-Z appearance. From the tone of our voice this morning, guess which one?!
Kanye’s getup from last night (hoodie, jeans, a presumably preposterously priced undershirt) may have been the most practical thing he’s worn in years — but he still came out swinging big. There were the rock-star-swag tricks: dipping the mike stand; dramatically turning his back to the crowd; even singing, earnestly, with his eyes closed. There was the minimal but effective stage trickery: his band, in all white; plumes of smoke that’d blast up behind him throughout the set; dry ice vapors wafting through the crowd, which made our legs cold and sort of smelled like microwave popcorn but looked very cool. And there were, of course, the jams: “Hell of a Life” sounded even scarier live; “Power,” “Run This Town,” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothin’” more massive; “Flashing Lights” even more accurately ambivalent. The sneaky-brilliant “Good Life” (intro’d with its “PYT” sample gradually slowed down) really set things off, so much so that even one of the many non-good 808s & Heartbreak songs didn’t slow down the pace.
Then stagehands dressed like ninjas ran to set up Kanye’s MPC, and he plinked his way into “Runaway.” It was, at that point, the biggest sing-along of the night, and when Kanye moved from Auto-Tune riffing (“oh whoo oh whoo,” etc.) into Auto-Tune ranting, it felt like he’d already delivered much more than could have been expected for a show at a museum. Typing into our phone at the speed of a teen sexting champion, we still didn’t quite get the whole rant. Below is a nice, possibly paraphrased at points, chunk. And, just so everyone’s perfectly clear on this — this was sung. In the robot voice.
Thank you for coming out; thank you for loving me when they told you not to love me. Every bone in my body, I give it all to you I’m sorry for y'all up there who ever had to argue for me. I’m sorry I put you through that — I just can't sit down and listen to this bullshit over and over. They say I’m racist, but how can I be racist, I fuck with so many difference faces. They say I’m such a bad person until they meet me in person. They try to make me run away, but tonight, New York City, they can hear us five blocks away. [That bit in particular got a lot of cheers and was a nice moment]. Do you know what it feels like to be hated, when the nicest thing someone can say is that I don't believe what people say about you? One day the real will rise to the top; one day, one day all will be perfect. I’m sorry for when I fucked up; I’m sorry for my ego. Nobody is perfect. You gotta realize I lost my mind. You make me feel so good. And I know she's looking down right now.
At this point, things felt pretty final! But then the creepy operatic intro of “H.A.M.” kicked in and the aforementioned Jay-Z — all smiles, and still rocking his recent mini-fro — loped onstage. Throughout the night, the mass of girls in inconvenient heels seemed to care progressively less about not getting drinks spilled on them; Jay’s impromptu appearance significantly hurried the process along, and even if “H.A.M.” is a tough song to sing along to, most seemed to be doing their best. And then Jay did “Empire State of Mind” — with Kanye as the silent sidekick psyched to be bopping along — and everyone seemed to really, really appreciate that.