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Photos: Kanye West Elevates 'Pablo' At Knockout Weekend Homecoming

By Katie Karpowicz in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 9, 2016 2:00PM

Ask yourself this: When was the last time I went to a concert to see an artist who has produced music for more than ten years and the audience was more excited to hear the “new stuff” than they were the “old stuff?"

Sure, the crowd at the first night of Kanye West’s Chicago stops for The Life Of Pablo Tour was excited to hear “Jesus Walks,” but nothing compared to the responses to “Waves” or “All Day” or any of the other more recent tracks West played at his United Center show. It’s indicative of the relationship we’ve always had with Kanye.

When The College Dropout came out, we were blunt-passing party animals. When 808s & Heartbreak was released, we were sad. Kanye was (mostly) happy on The Life Of Pablo, and so it was decreed that the fans would be too.

Nothing about Friday night’s show could have been more different from the native Chicagoan’s last stop at the United Center, in December 2013. It's interesting that West chose to pair a relatively minimal show with a comparatively robust album when the tour for Yeezus—perhaps West’s deepest dive into minimalist production—was an undeniable display of extravagance.

Much like everything West has done throughout his career, his current tour challenges our assumptions of musical experience. How many times have we gone to a show and listened to the band or artist go on about how great the crowd looked from the stage? West’s floating stage concept creates a constant dual view of both the crowd—consistently going bonkers under Yeezus’s feet—and the cause for such frenzy.

Unlike any other tour this writer has experienced, the audience was as much a part of the performance as Kanye himself.

The Yeezus Tour was full of theatrical absurdities—from near-naked women strewn across the stage to a full-on mountain—but even with his impressive "flying stage," this weekend’s shows were nearly devoid of any other dominating presence aside from the billed performer. His last national tour was full of 15-minute rants between songs, but West barely acknowledged the crowd on Friday night, his first time back to the stage since his wife, Kim Kardashian West, was held at gunpoint in Paris. He opened up a bit at Saturday's show, at Allstate Arena in Rosemont—sharing his hopes that one day we all come together as "one race" and relaying that his ideas keep him up at night—but the chatter was still pretty slim. Despite the dozens of lights that accompany his current stage rig, his shows this weekend felt progressive, completely Kanye and yet not overdone. Is this a weird insight into the way West sees himself? Elevated above his fans, alone and on display in a sea of other humans. Must be... interesting?

As for song selection, we’ve finally hit a wall. West has always been a pro at packing as much into a show as possible, but with seven solo albums, two collaborative albums and a seemingly innumerable amount of guest features, it’s tough to hit all the high points without risking exhaustion. True to the live routine of many contemporary rappers, not every song was completed in full and sometimes things were cut off right before they reached their peak. That said, there aren’t a lot of songs we’re still jonesing for after that set. Still, we would have taken more.

That’s the premise of Kanye’s mega-successful career: “It was fantastic, but we’ll take more.” It’s been a continuous pattern since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (hell, maybe even 808s). West has a way of appearing to lay himself bare on record while still creating a sense of urgency for the next chapter. It wasn’t clear how the show would end (this writer declined to view any videos of the tour or recent set lists beforehand). There is no song in the Kanye West discography at this point that definitively marks the end of a show. When the stage descended at the climax of “Ultralight Beam,” when West detached himself from the stage’s harness, it still didn’t seem real that the show was over. We’ll always want more.

It’s been a year of “wants” from Kanye West’s fanbase. We wanted The Life of Pablo, but we didn’t know when we’d get it. We wanted to know when these shows would start, but instead the set times were apparently random—demanding attendees to be ready at any moment. We wanted him to perform every song, but we’ll have to wait for another tour for some favorites to resurface ("Bound 2," "All Falls Down"). We’ll always want more and, for that reason, Kanye West will continue to hold a power unlike any other pop star today.