It might have been the second time I watched Kanye West bumped fists with Jesus Christ Himself that I understood that I was no longer in what I perceived to be reality. To spend two consecutive nights with Kanye West is to enter the Yeezuniverse: a dimension of sound, of sight and of mind, to enter into a land of comprised of both shadow and substance; of things and ideas. Every minute detail of Kanye’s live show has been painstakingly pored over with the utmost care.
Every gesture Kanye makes, every word he says, every step he takes, comes with it a purpose; a consideration of how the audience might be further compelled to slip even further into Kanye’s utopia, a land in which he is both savior and destroyer.
“Am I the only one that’s not crazy?” he asks during his second evening at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the better of the two shows, the one where the fat from Night One has been trimmed and opener Kendrick Lamar has been replaced by a triumphant reunion from A Tribe Called Quest in which Phife Dawg, Jarobi, and Ali Shaheed Muhammed dress for the true school, and an impossibly buff Q-Tip struts around in his standard issue G.O.O.D. Music leather jogging pants.
Only in the Yeezuniverse do certified hip-hop legends end their careers by opening for you.
Only in the Yeezuniverse do you get to tease a Jay Z guest appearance four times during a rant only to have it never come to fruition, because Kanye West does not give a fuck about your God and his precious Rule of Threes.
Only in the Yeezuniverse do AutoTuned speeches derived from the R. Kelly school of sing-talking automatically become “rants.” In the Yeezuniverse, everyone and everything is like this all the time. And it’s perfect.
To say that there is overt symbolism in a Kanye West live show is like saying that the Bible might carry with some religious connotations, or that a shark tank full of sharks might be a place a good place to find a shark. The stage is effectively divided into two parts: one isosceles triangle protruding into the crowd that bounces like a wrestling mat whenever Kanye jumps on it with enough fervor. At points, lasers will be shone upon it, creating a pyramid.
Is this because Kanye is a Pharoah? Because he wanted to pay tribute to The Louvre? Because he wants to position himself within a greater lineage of fine art throughout the ages? In the Yeezuniverse, the answer to all of these questions is, “Shut up.”
A true disciple of Kanye West knows there are no answers, only understandings. At times, the front of this triangle rises, creating a cliff not unlike the one from The Lion King, from which Kanye projects his rawest emotions, telling the crowd two nights in a row that not too many people know that he wrote “Coldest Winter” when his mother died. Watching him balance himself upon that synthetic fjord, writhing, eyes closed, singing words so raw the human voice unaided cannot handle them, is a spiritual cleanse, like purifying oneself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, or getting fact-checked by The New Yorker.
At the rear of the stage is an actual mountain, jagged, forged of what I can only assume to be frozen carbonite. It is this mountain to which Yeezus retreats in times of need, to restore his powers or swap the bedazzled disco ball strapped to his face out for one of black chainmail that manages to both absorb all light and project it outwards. Before “Jesus Walks” hits, the mountain splits in two and out of it emerges Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, marching slowly but purposefully to Kanye to give him the holiest of daps.
When Yeezus first dropped, it seemed sparse, its core of fortified of molten aggression, lapses into patois, Justin Vernon glossolalia, and not much else. Live, the album proves to be less of an exercise in minimalism and more a beautiful use of negative space (word to Company Flow for that one). Kanye West is an artist who lives in epochs, each of his albums calling for a complete aesthetic rehaul. If a song cannot be reworked to fit his new context it is jettisoned; the ones that remain are beheaded, stripped to a state of abject sparseness. “Stronger” becomes an Emersonian incantation; “Clique” a baroque sledgehammer; “Heartless” a lament worthy of Abraham gazing upon Isaac, prostrated and bound upon the altar, steeling himself to sacrifice his only son to satisfy the arbitrary whims his God. Oh, you wanted “Gold Digger?” “All Falls Down?” That’s his old shit. Buy his old albums.
Both nights in a row, the evening concluded with a performance of “Bound 2,” perhaps the apotheosis of Kanye’s entire career. On Tuesday, the music video for the song debuted on Ellen; it might have cost a thousand dollars to make and finds Kanye and his betrothed Kim Kardashian simulating the physical act of love on a motorcycle. Last night, Kim was in attendance. She left halfway through “Bound 2,” perhaps overcome by raw emotion; perhaps to beat the horrendous post-Yeezus traffic outside of Barclays Center. It’s fine. Kim leaving means nothing. Why watch a performance of a song that when you’re the sole person who can completely and fully internalize its meaning? No one asks for logic or order in the Yeezuniverse, only truth and complete awesomeness at all times.
Drew Millard only took his shirt off three times at the show. He's on Twitter - @drewmillard