Kanye West played the foot of City Hall in downtown Los Angeles -- there’s something you don’t see every day. Especially while wearing a high-art chain mail mask that covered his entire head, making him look like Daft Punk’s arch-nemesis.
Closing out the first Los Angeles installment of the Made in America festival on Sunday night with a full set of his increasingly formidable stack of classics, West was precise, focused and solid. The Chicago-raised producer, rapper and iconoclast didn’t ramble, didn’t go on any tirades.
Aside from a direct, serious explanation on his artistic intentions in the shadow of obsessive tabloid attention, he let his work do the explaining with a set that doubled the number of tracks he did the night before in Philadelphia.
“For 10 years now I’ve had a clique,” said West, introducing his “Clique” while a helicopter buzzed overhead. “Everybody that ever supported me, everybody that ever defended me, everybody in the audience right now. [Huge cheers.] And I know that. I know that there’s more people that love me than hate me [huger cheers], and that’s why I can stay me.”
Count this writer in the “love” demographic. West was ferocious on Sunday. With his voice echoing throughout downtown, the masterful lyricist, rapper and producer snapped syllables and punched his lines like they were part of a massive drum kit. He phrased lines like he was thumping congas. Decrying the commercialism for name-brand, enslaved desire in “New Slaves,” West was unflinching: “I throw these Maybach keys / I wear my heart on the sleeve / I know that we the new slaves / I see the blood on the leaves.”
During the Daft Punk-sampled jam “Stronger,” which predicted and/or steered the course of hip-hop and commercial pop music through his expert harnessing of dance music, the artist revealed his wit: “You know how long I’ve been on you? Since Prince was on Appolonia -- since OJ had Isotoners."
One thing West didn’t do is tease any new music, even though he recently acknowledged progress on it. That was fine, though. We’re used to surprises from him. It’s part of his allure. On the night before Labor Day, the artist only had one thing on his mind: work. And by the end of the night -- and after a second performance of “Blood on the Leaves” -- West earned the right to take his Monday off.
Here’s his set list:
“I Don’t Like” (Chief Keef cover)
“Clique” (Kanye West, Jay-Z & Big Sean cover)
“Can’t Tell Me Nothing”
“Blood on the Leaves”
“Run This Town” (Jay-Z cover)
“Diamonds From Sierra Leone”
“All Falls Down”
“Touch the Sky”
“All of the Lights”
“Blood on the Leaves”
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit