This past Monday had to be the worst night of the year for the staff at Madison Square Garden. Gone were the usual weary Knicks fans, replaced by thousands and thousands of certified hypebeasts, or more simply, Kanye West fans. The Saint Pablo tour had come to the arena where its associated album debuted back in February, and it was time to party.
I paid a fairly high price of admission to sit in an extremely high seat, but it was worth it. I was in the building. I was one of the hypebeasts, although I swapped out black skinny jeans and $800 Yeezys for a New York Giants T-shirt and some cheap Nikes.
We rolled in early, because the merchandise stands opened early. There were four of them set up in the MSG lobby, and each became surrounded quickly by a crowd of hungry fans that were in no way organized into a line. Kanye’s overpriced T-shirts were the Pretty Patties, and the overworked staff members behind the tables were playing the role of SpongeBob.
I saw one guy fill four giant bags with merch, running up thousands of dollars over two credit cards as he held up his portion of the queue for almost ten minutes. A story broke Wednesday that Kanye topped the Pope’s MSG record by moving $780,000 worth of merchandise on Monday night alone. Professional re-sellers like this guy likely made up a huge portion of that number.
Doors opened at 7 p.m. for what the arena called a “prompt” 8 p.m. start. This was not the case. We waited for approximately another 80 minutes after the scheduled time as organizers frantically put the finishing touches on Kanye’s latest tour innovation. This time around: a floating rectangular stage, rigged from above to move around the arena floor as hypebeasts created impromptu mosh pits beneath it.
From the 20th row of the upper bowl, the levitating stage was decidedly less spectacular, but it was still a sight to behold. Kanye has always had a flair for the dramatic when designing his arena tours – look at the gigantic pyramid he erected for the Yeezus Tour – and the Saint Pablo Tour set-up was no different. He built a stage that would not be pinned down, to perform an album that refused to be pinned down.
Kanye opened with “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” “Pt. 2” and “Famous,” a rousing early-album stretch from “The Life of Pablo” that brought the crowd to life immediately. Restrained by a safety harness fastened to the back of his jacket, he didn’t have his usual range of motion, but he still brought remarkable physical energy.
What he seemed to lack was knowledge of his own lyrics. Kanye was tripped up by the words to his songs on multiple occasions, especially when performing songs off “Pablo.” He struggled to remember the album’s lyrics during a few summer performances, and seemed to not have studied up during the long summer as the tour approached.
When you own such a deep roster of megahits, however, that doesn’t really matter. Arena anthems such as “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Touch the Sky” received the best response from the capacity crowd, which sang along at every turn. Even the most hardened hypebeasts opened up their lungs to belt out “Heartless.”
A quick skim through online setlists says the lengthy delay caused me to miss some ‘Ye classics, namely “Devil in a New Dress” and “All Falls Down,” but it was a song I’d forgotten about that left the biggest impression. That would be “Only One,” a tribute to Kanye’s daughter North that was released on New Years’ Eve 2014 as a castoff single. Kanye’s performance of that track was the most emotional, heartfelt and personal of the night.
Tracks like those show his softer side, which isn’t immediately evident when he’s belting out tales of egotism or leading raging dance parties to songs like “Fade.” That duality is part of the reason why he has amassed a rabid legion of superfans willing to follow him to the end of the earth, and also why he outsells the Pope. Kanye is an outsized personality, but also one you could imagine yourself sharing a drink with.
As he closed the show with “Ultralight Beam,” MSG security performed one last difficult task and prepared for him to disembark. The stage descended to the ground, Kanye unhooked his safety harness and disappeared into the dark tunnel. The ultralight beam was out for the night. It will be back, as will everyone else who was on it.
Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.