5 takeaways from Kanye West's elevated, eye-popping statement of purpose at Xcel

Kanye West floats above St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center on Oct. 10, 2016.

Kanye West floats above St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center on Oct. 10, 2016. Mike Madison

Music megastar Kanye West hadn't visited the Twin Cities in eight years, but that changed Monday. Here are five takeaways from his Saint Pablo Tour stop at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center. 

The Rant Ravers

Kanye West’s small elevated stage, hovering maybe 20 feet over the general admission crowd, glides its way across the quaking, packed arena. He begins the song “Famous” out of a choppy transition from the rousing opening couplet of “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2.”

Rihanna's silky, syrupy voice appears a few awkward moments after the end of “Pt. 2,” and then cuts out mid-word. The crowd sings right through the apparent technical lapse; everyone is in sync when the music returns, but Kanye brings the action to a halt by calmly repeating “hold up.” Kanye has something to say.

The moment he stops things, everyone cheers. Kanye waits for the applause to settle down, the billowing smoke machines manifesting his meticulous, mercurial genius as the wisps curl around each rant-ready fan.

“How crazy is it that this tour is actually named after this city? In Spanish?” Kanye asks. “Welcome to Saint Pablo."

“Moments like this show you that even today you can be a real artist and still make it to the top," he continues. "That you don't have to get politically correct, to change all your lyrics up and shit to make people happy. You can just say how the fuck you really feel. Let's run this back.”

He says this, hardly moving at all, looking down at a sea of his supporters, but we won't get a classic Kanye rant tonight. The show will maintain this calm, capable tone.

Like beginning a trip through space with black Han Solo, Kanye casually stands on the tilted stage while a dull safety siren blares, as if he's docking his trusty space ship. The lights are out, presenting barely more than a silhouette of Kanye as the stage elevates. Blastoff. 

Gospel Gratitude

Kanye performs the majority of his nearly two-hour show under dim lighting. The best-lit people at Xcel are the fans under the elevated, free-roaming stage. The jumbotron screens are rarely on, and when they are, the footage is purposely distorted and grainy. It's not about Kanye anymore -- it's about a stadium full of fans who know every word concentrating on their good time.

The stage roves about, up and down, front to back, tilted and straight. Kanye stands stationary while the spoken-word interlude of "Lowlights" describes God reaching out. Kanye reaches out his arms, his lone physical gesture outside of the occasional cracked smile and a handful of jerky dance moves. Mostly, we get his deep, astonished stares into the crowd. Just as he has conquered the pop-culture landscape, Kanye has lost interest in fighting, winning, and then lording. He is a content new father and he is grateful.

West's eighth and latest album, February's The Life of Pablo, is gospel gratitude. He has nothing else to prove and he knows it. TLOP is a victory lap, and the Saint Pablo Tour is the flag he drapes on his shoulders. He's like an Olympian whose great accomplishments are for her entire country, or like a new father who now has selflessness baked into his bones. After that early "Famous" hiccup, the show steers away from TLOP and showcases favorites from his celebrated archive going back as far as "Jesus Walks" from 2004's The College Dropout.

He rattles off features on "Pop Style" and "THat Part" before veering back to TLOP, keeping it hype with "Facts" until more technical difficulties occur. The instrumentation for the second verse plays as Kanye sings the first verse of "Fades." He powers through.

Ye spits his "Don't Like" verse, a verse from "All Day" sans Twin Cities star Allan Kingdom. We're reminded of the bygone passion of Yeezus with "Black Skinhead," and then the entirety of "Niggas in Paris" (including Jay’s recorded verse) and ‘Can't Tell Me Nothing.” This leads into "Power," featuring Kanye at his most animated. Then a light show begins.

May the Ye Be with Ye

The elevated stage is accompanied by a long panel of moving lights that beam down in sections of TLOP-themed oranges and reds. Kanye is in complete darkness as the lights flicker over what sounds like the film score of a vintage deep-space movie. The night's story appears to be about Kanye, the lonely traveler. He has made a stop on a new planet. His business is done here, he has seen this place. It is time to ready the ship for departure.

During a later space light show, a line of red lasers blasts from behind Kanye as he moves through the beams. He's walking the horizon of a strange planet as its red moon sets on his way back to the ship. Kanye takes the crowd on a measured, smart, well-executed and edited emotional journey. His next creative forays should include a black space odyssey.

Eric Is All of Us

At the end of an elongated and intimate version of "Runaway," Kanye looks up and actually calls out a technician by name -- “Eric" -- and gives him a few quick lighting instructions. The piano of "Runaway" melts into Paul McCartney's keys on "Only One," during which Kanye reminds Eric to turn off a light. Kanye caps his ode to his daughter and late mother by saluting singer Tony Williams.

The only time clear light shines on anyone is when Williams and a small group of people are illuminated for the end of "Only One." They're stationed at one end of the stadium, though; the stage remains Kanye's sanctum throughout. Ye then lightens the mood by following the tenderness of "Only One" with the sarcastic self-centeredness of a cappella song "I Love Kanye" before getting back to jumping around with "Waves."

The hype continues into a quick and turnt transition into "Touch the Sky," but Kanye has to stop the show again to chat one-on-one with Eric. 

“Eric, turn the lights low,” Kanye says as the lights bounce up and down. “Lower, lower, lower."

Kanye coolly coaches Eric and then explains to the crowd, “That shit was too crazy the way that shit started off, I had to see that shit again.”

“When the beat goes on, Eric, I want you to, like, take the stage up and back and turn the lights on,” Kanye says as the crowd swoons. 

“There are four hi-hats here,” Kanye finishes up with Eric. “Be prepared. Mike Dean, let's run it back.”

There is a time and a Ye in which it's hard to see Kanye allowing Eric to keep his head, let alone his job. Daddy Ye is different.

The Portrait of the Black Artists as Grown Man

There are no more technical problems, no more mentions of poor Eric.

There is one last spaceship light show before Kanye goes into his last song, "Ultralightbeam." As the song plays, a single white beam appears in the middle of the arena. Kanye’s stage approaches it, and then glides straight through it. The song ends, and Kanye walks off the stage and out of the arena. He simply walks away, and the house lights go up.

He is walking artistic affect, a creative powerhouse who hits you with the greatest light show you've ever seen, then subtly punctuates it with just Ye. Being in the presence of a genius, little is needed to accompany an entrance or exit. It is felt, known, cheered, and then mourned. God bless Kanye West, God bless America.

Critic’s bias: Kanye is a treasure. He should be voted king-god of America, world, life.

The crowd: Young and stylish. Late high-school to early college average, a few adult-adults sprinkled in the crowd. Plenty of junior high kids. The theme seemed to be -- Ye Day: Fuck school tomorrow.

There was little of anything distinctly from his fashion line, though the color motif of muted olive greens and beiges was abundant. A few KimYe couple sightings -- a beautiful young woman dressed in an elegant and form-fitting dress standing next to a guy in a lon- sleeve tee and the hat all dads/uncles/grandpas wore picking up kids from soccer practice in the '90s.

Many of the women at the show bought into the look Kanye has himself or that he outfits his male models in -- the baggy, long-sleeve tee, boots, and hat, making for the Kanye Cool Girl.

Overheard in the crowd: “Nobody opens for Kanye.”

Random notebook dump: The smoke from the smoke machines curls all the way out to the stadium doors -- Kanye’s presence causes a cloud of fog to form in any building he's in. Evidently Kanye cannot hide. Also, a fire could be anywhere.


Father Stretch my Hands Pt 1
Pt 2
Pop Style verse
THat Part verse
Dont Like verse
All Day
Black Skinhead
Niggas in Paris
Cant tell me nothing

Spaceship sounds light show

Blood on the leaves
Freestyle 4
Jesus Walks
Flashing Lights

Light show

Only One
I Love Kanye
Touch the Sky
All of the Lights
Good Life

Spaceship sounds light show