Kanye West and Rihanna at Tweeter Center, May 15, 2008
First, readers, an apology. The universe decreed last Thursday night that it should take nearly two hours to drive from Cambridge to Mansfield, so I missed the opening sets of Lupe Fiasco and N.E.R.D. at Kanye West’s “Glow in the Dark” spectacular. Their performances surely live on in the giddy hearts of many thousands of high-schoolers, and maybe it’s better that way. In any case, my bad.
Here’s what I didn’t miss: Rihanna is coming into her own as pop’s sexy robot antidote to Beyoncé’s all-enveloping femininity. Framed by large gray polygons and dressed like the chick from Metroid from the waist up, she toured her rapidly growing catalogue of electro-tinged hits in fine voice. It was lovely to be reminded that she’s still fairly new to the superstar game; her stage banter and “spontaneous” dance moves were endearingly overthought. But “Umbrella” soared, just as it always does. I hope she’s around for a while.
That left me totally and happily unprepared for Mr. West. If there are still any doubts that he is America’s greatest and most exciting pop artist, this tour should put them to rest. Here’s the set-up: Kanye is exploring the universe, searching desperately for new sources of creativity with which a near-dead Earth might be revived, when his spaceship Jane loses power and crash-lands on an abandoned planet. His commitment to the role was astonishing: “Jane, what are we gonna do?” he cried, clutching his head with both hands. As dry ice flowed over the alien landscape, stars, clouds, and sunsets danced across a gently curving LED screen. It was beautiful.
Even better, Kanye’s music more than lived up to his visual and conceptual audacity. “Good Life” was a big happy rap blanket on a par with Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy.” “Heard ’Em Say” sparkled delicately. “Jesus Walks” is unstoppable, at once a persuasive hit and a religious piece of music. I even heard “Gold Digger” with new ears. (How funny, how subtle that final verse is!) I’ve suspected for a while that Kanye is a genius; I think this show proved it.
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