Waking up for the third day of a festival is a difficult task. Going in, you have these grandiose dreams of being the first one through the gate, seeing The Vaccines in the front row, and writing the best article you’ve ever written through journalistic diligence.
But you are so sore. And then your roommate/fellow die-hard Kanye fan impulse-buys a ticket to the festival. And everything changes.
Since this picture was taken in 2010, Westlake and I have seen Kanye West four times together. We journeyed to Pittsburgh for the Watch the Throne tour. We drove 14 hours to Wisconsin for Yeezy’s set at Summerfest. We were together at the show in Atlantic City when Kanye announced he was pregnant and I was inspired to write my first real piece of ShittyBanter.
In short Me, Westlake, and Kanye go way back. And while part of me was concerned that adding a member to the team would interfere with the journalistic integrity of this process, our shared history was more important. And I knew Yeezy would not let us down.
We grab two Bud Ices at Duane Read and began our walk.
We arrive on the festival grounds just in time to get a good-not-great spot from which to watch Cold War Kids. I was there to hear two songs by them and it was totally worth it.
The refrain to “Miracle Mile” is one of my favorites in rock music since “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier.” The quality here doesn’t do it justice; I had chills despite the heat. Later in the set, they play “Hang Me Up to Dry” and the whole crowd is screaming and everything feels very much like a festival. They were a great late-afternoon set. Festival Tyler even got to meet Mario and Luigi.
Afterwards, I betray my promise to a friend to see Deerhunter in order to get a front row spot for Gary Clark Jr. My friend Rory is already camped at the front of the Honda Stage, and he is determined not to move until The Avett Brothers have finished their headlining set at some time around 11pm. We watch Gary Clark Jr. with him and the greatness of being that close to the artists quickly becomes apparent.
Up until this point, not being in the front row had not bothered me. Festival Tyler had more room to dance in the mud when not crushed by the immovable force of countless other human bodies and stank. But we were really close to Gary Clark Jr., and it was really crazy.
To illustrate this point, here is a list of words that Festival Tyler wrote down to describe the sounds Gary Clark Jr. was making with his guitar.
The point is, if you are a fan of the art of guitar playing, just go see Gary Clark Jr.
Westlake and Festival Tyler leave the Honda Stage satisfied. While there are still other bands on the day’s schedule that we would like to see, the possibility of seeing Kanye as close as we were to Gary Clark Jr. is too tempting. We decide to forgo sets from Yeasayer, The Lumineers, and Bloc Party in favor of getting closer to Yeezus. As we approach the Main Stage, this is our view.
That’s a lot of mud. But much more importantly, that’s a lot of space for us to get closer to Kanye. Having done the “stand around in one spot for a headliner” grind last year for Jay-Z at Made in America, I know what we are about to get into. All you really need is water, cigarettes, and to go to the bathroom beforehand. I was covered on the latter two, so I hustled my way to the closest bar for a bottle of water.
But they have beer, and you can refill an aluminum bottle of Miller Lite with water, as I would soon find out. So Festival Tyler spends five more dollars than he wanted to, slams a lukewarm beer, refills the bottle with H2O, and starts running for the stage.
Even though there is still a little over three hours before Kanye’s set began, there was no time to waste. We embed ourselves within the crowd that is gathering for Grizzly Bear, hoping to make a polite yet forceful push for the front once they have left the stage.
If you have never been to a festival of this size, one interesting aspect that you might be unaware of is the awkwardness of the set before the headliner. In this case, the crowd for Grizzly Bear was pretty huge, but made up of approximately 63% Kanye fans who could not care less about their music. This leads to lots of talking through cooing songs and a lot of disappointed hipster girls.
I personally do not listen to Grizzly Bear, although I often pretend to when having conversations about music because I am aware of their relevance in the indie scene as a band from Brooklyn and I know how to properly pronounce “Veckatimest.” The highlight of the show for me was rapping every word of Childish Gambino’s “Bitch, Look at Me Now” while the band played “Two Weeks” live behind me.
Other than that, the show was uneventful. But that didn’t matter, because once they left the stage, there were only 90 minutes between Festival Tyler and Kanye West.
Westy and I end up about six rows of people back from the gate that separates the VIPs from us plebeian festival goers. It doesn’t matter. This is the closest I have ever potentially been to Kanye West.
Kanye West (He gets his own section.)
This will be my 7th time seeing Kanye West perform live. I am somewhat of a veteran. I know how these things go down.
First, he will be late. I do not believe this to be a knock on the crowd, but Kanye knows we will wait for him and really does not mind making us do so. I spend my time fantasizing about the upcoming set. We are assured to get an emphasis on his new music, but Kanye is not one to debut all of his new material in front of a festival of people there for his hits. He has listening parties for that. I knew we would get the hits.
One thing was peculiar though: those lights set up on stage never rose. They just sat there. I was sure that those lights were meant to be lifted over the stage until the crew started setting up instruments in the lower row of openings. However, the upper two gaps in the lights remained empty.
What could that possibly mean? Two empty spaces in the middle of a pyramid (well, triangular prism technically, but work with me here) made of lights? At a show where Kanye West will definitely be performing music off his new album?
Do you know who is featured on three or four songs on his new album? Do you know who else has an affinity for triangular light sequences? Do you know who was recording a music video in midtown this week?
Oh man. Oh man oh man oh man. Festival Tyler had just solved The Da Vinci Code. Those two spots were going to remain empty until 50 minutes into the set when Kanye went into “Stronger” and then Daft Punk was going to ascend from the depths of that triangular prism and blow our minds. I was sure of it. After all, I was the first guy to report that Kanye was pregnant. Me and Yeezy are on the same page.
A few minutes after these fantasies of Daft Punk danced through my head, a crew member came out of seemingly nowhere and set up Kanye’s keyboard on an island stage no less than 15 feet away from where we were standing.
Festival Tyler almost fainted. “THAT’S THE KEYBOARD FOR RUNWAY” he yelled to anyone that would listen. I was sure of it. I had seen it before. At the very least, we were going to get one of Kanye’s best songs right in front of us. Furthermore, “Runaway” is one of three songs that Kanye has been known to “rant” during. FRONT ROW FOR KANYE RANTS.
Festival Tyler never thought he would be so happy to skip a Bloc Party set.
Smash cut to 9:50pm. Kanye is now 20 minutes late. The crowd explodes with applause at the end of every filler song played over the loud speaker, and an audible groan occurs when another one cues up. The only saving grace of this process is that Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest is one of the albums in rotation.
Finally, everything goes dark. Then this happens.
I was familiar with “Black Skinhead” from Kanye’s performance on the season finale of SNL. He did some pretty amazing things with lighting and shot framing during that performance that conveyed a lot of powerful emotion, mostly anger. But seeing those black KKK “glory suits” against the hard white background of a video projector is an extremely jarring image in person. I was immediately struck, which I believe is a sign of successful art. So kudos Kanye, even if I was a little taken aback. That’s a good thing.
Kanye then keeps it 300 (like the Romans) and smashes into “New Slaves” almost without pause, followed up his verse from the Cruel Summer ensemble hit “Mercy.”
“Cold” is as of now, in my personal semi-expert opinion, the wildest Kanye song to see live. Not the best, not the highest quality, but always the wildest. He always let’s the audience sing the last hook and it is as close as any human being has gotten to the Platonic ideal of “awesome” on this plane of reality.
The set goes on and everything is amazing. And then Kanye comes out to that island stage I mentioned earlier everything gets amazinger as he destroys his now expected and beloved medley from 808’s and Heartbreaks. My phone is dying, and I know that there are still two videos that I will need to record, but I am also still positive that Daft Punk is going to show up, and I want the world to know that I knew first. I decide to call my shot via Twitter in case my phone dies while recording Kanye’s rant.
Festival Tyler feels a bit guilty having his phone out, but then realizes that everyone has their phone out, and proceeds to make a Vine of everyone else making Vines. If there is one thing either Tyler likes almost as much as Kanye, it is meta social commentary.
Then came the two defining moments of any Kanye show:
First, the opening lines to “All of the Lights.” You probably know these lyrics already, regardless of whether or not you intended to learn them at any point in your life.
“Something wrong / I hold my head // MJ gone / __________.”
I write the lyrics that way not because I am queasy of using sensitive terminology, but because for all intents and purposes, those are now the lyrics to Kanye’s part of the song. See here.
Three notes about my brain processes throughout the course of this song:
1) I knew I wanted to catch the crowd singing that line, but having seen Kanye six times previously, I knew that he always repeats the first verse a cappella after going through the whole song once, and was able to save my recording for that moment. I am something of a Kanye beat reporter at this point.
2) I recorded the freaking video vertically because I screwed up my Vine last time, only to later remember that I was recording regular video and should have been holding horizontally for YouTube purposes. These are the problems we have in 2013.
3) HOLY SHIT DO YOU SEE HOW CLOSE I WAS TO KANYE WEST.
Anyway, the song is nuts, and moments later, Kanye jumps into the second defining moment of any Kanye show. After killing his verse from “Clique,” the audience is treated to a very special segment we like to call…
After struggling for a moment with my iPhones dying battery, I was able to capture the majority of what Yeezus had to preach.
A pretty mellow Kanye Rant by all accounts. His rant from Atlantic City was much longer and much more scatterbrained. Here, it really felt like Kanye knew what he wanted to say- he knew how he wanted to be living his life, he knew how he wanted to be making and releasing his music, and ain’t nobody fuckin’ wit his clique.
Yeezy goes on to destroy his verse on the Remix of “Don’t Like” with much audience participation. He then forgets the last verse of “Good Life” and decides to scrap the song all together. It was a bit odd, but has totally happened before. Kanye gets super involved with the entire show. In Atlantic City, he repeatedly told his guitar player to adjust his volume to certain levels, loop different segments of songs, and stop playing altogether.
Kanye is both a perfectionist and a narcissist, but neither of these aspects are a negative. They fuel each other. Throughout the show, Kanye spent much more time looking at his own image on the screens behind him than at the audience. I do not believe this to be out of his self-worship, despite his titling of a song “I Am God,” I think Kanye just wants to put on the best show he possibly can, and the perfectionist in him knows exactly how that show looks. I feel that this comes through pretty well in this amazing NYT interview with him that everyone began to take out of context. The main points are that Kanye knows what he wants to do, and he hasn’t failed yet, he has only continued to go further than anyone thought he could. Because of this, he thinks it ridiculous that anyone is still telling him what to do. He is confident in his abilities, and if you let him do him, he will do something you didn’t think possible. Just read Ayn Rand. It will make more sense.
Anyway, back at the show, Kanye rocks “All Falls Down” and starts into “Stronger.” My eyes are glued to those two gaps in the lights, waiting for my favorite Frenchmen to ascend.
They never do. Whatever. Just call me the boy who cried Daft Punk.
Kanye begins “Runaway.” I can never take this song. It’s too much. It’s too good. Back when he was still heartbroken Kanye, he used the breakdowns of the song to express his sorrow at messing up relationships. Since Kim, relationship Kanye has supplanted those freestyle moans with “If you love somebody tonight, hold on to them tight.”
It always makes me feel a little lonely, but holy shit am I excited to take a girl I love to go see Kanye West.
Kanye shuts the lights out. The crowd goes nuts. Kanye punches the lights back on and plays “Black Skinhead” one more time, just to make sure that we know he is not for sale.
Festival Tyler floats on air back home. He has to write the shit out of this article. Yeezy made it easy.
Only nine days until Firefly.