In an age of mundane miracles — computers on our wrists, self-driving cars, buying something and never touching physical currency — fostering a sense of genuine wonder is, increasingly, a rare feat.
Leave it to human lightning rod Kanye West to find a way to restore awe to the arena concert, delivering a visceral, poignant spectacle that also manages to outpace just about every other artist working similar-size (or even larger) rooms.
West’s “Saint Pablo” tour is, simply, a marvel of modern concert engineering.
Repeatedly Thursday, during a packed, raucous, nearly two-hour performance at American Airlines Center (West’s first North Texas gig in three years), he facilitated searing visual moments, painting with light and darkness, movement and speech to create a near-hallucinatory experience.
Suspended above the arena floor on a stage capable of traversing the width and breadth of the space, the 39-year-old West took the concept of satellite stages and turned it inside out. Rather than a fixed performance area, West literally brought the show to the audience, which erupted in a roiling sea of thrashing limbs, flying objects (clothing went sailing through the air often) and pinpricks of lights, smartphones straining to snap yet another ’chat.
The energy was sustained and intense — West seemed to alternately feed off and attempt to mollify the seething, cheering masses who drifted in the stage’s wake, like iron filings behind a particularly strong magnet — and it rippled out into the crowd.
Not that it was easy to see much of the larger room: West deployed a thick, ceaseless fog that had the effect of making an enormous space feel eerily intimate and giving the entire performance a fuzzy, dreamlike sensation (until the skull-rattling bass kicked in, of course).
Touring behind his “living album project,” The Life of Pablo, West extended the idea of a work in continual progress to his performance.
Itself a fixed yet fluid thing — art in literal motion — the evening rarely felt finished so much as captured, a moment snatched out of time, an artist pausing to revel in adoration even as he’s already ahead, chasing whatever is next.
The set list was effectively bracketed by Pablo tracks, opening with the Father Stretch My Hands diptych and closing with Fade and Ultralight Beam.
In between, West crammed the night full of his building-shaking hits: Mercy, All Day, Can’t Tell Me Nothing, Power, Flashing Lights, All of the Lights and Stronger sent shockwaves through the floor.
Late in the set, having performed the bleak, beautiful Runaway, West indulged in what has become a staple of his live performances, a soliloquy with shades of self-empowerment and self-awareness.
“It’s about not being scared to say something,” he began. “That’s how they control your aspirations — you’re scared to dream; you’re scared to fail. There’s a perception you’re a loser if you fail.
“I’ll keep failing — that happens sometimes when you try new [expletive], you fail. I know I’m going to keep failing because I’m going to keep trying.”
The brief monologue — partly spoken, partly sung — was a starkly human moment from a person who is all too often cast as society and pop culture’s foil, someone who is simply pushing his own agenda and enriching himself. But over the last decade, West has transformed himself, seizing upon fame as simply another tool with which to shape his art and his life.
He pushes himself into places most of us dare not venture, trying — and, yes, occasionally failing — to shatter conventions, to bring something daring and different into the mainstream.
It is easy to be complacent and accept that the incredible is just part of everyday life.
It is quite something else to behold someone who manifests such wonder in a way that leaves you, in gloomy twilight, a crowd’s roar filling your ears, faintly stunned, understanding that you have witnessed a true miracle.