A weird sense of trepidation surrounds Kanye West’s headlining set.
On Friday afternoon, when the lead singer of Catfish and the Bottlemen tells the audience at the Other stage he hopes they enjoy Kanye, the sentiment is greeted with boos. Among his fans, there’s a feeling that no one knows quite how his performance is going to pan out: in the past, he’s certainly been great live, but equally, YouTube is full of cameraphone footage of audiences expressing their vocal disapproval of his decision to stop playing music and instead treating them to a lengthy, extempore monologue on his misunderstood genius. As he takes the stage, the question of which way it’s going to go hangs in the air.
Initially, it’s spectacularly thrilling. When Jay Z headlined Glastonbury, he went out of his way to win the crowd over at the start of his set: opening by making a joke of Noel Gallagher’s complaints about his presence on the bill by performing a cover of Wonderwall, turning on the charm.
West doesn’t bother. He doesn’t address the crowd. He performs alone on the stage, with only a vast ceiling of glaring white lights for company which, depending on your perspective smacks either of unbelievable bravery or incredible hubris. Initially, the lights hover dramatically low over his head, an aesthetic decision he appears to swiftly rue: “If I wanna jump on this song,” he protests to a technician, “I might hit my fucking head.”
But there’s a potent ferocity about his opening performance of Stronger: for all the talk of petitions against his appearance at Glastonbury, the crowd seem entirely won over, yelling along. You can see why. He tears compellingly through an opening brace of tracks: not even a stage invader during Black Skinhead seems to dull the track’s edge.
But then he lets the energy level dramatically dip: the set moves into a protracted and meandering series of Auto-Tuned ballads, with a lengthy guest appearance from Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (“one of the baddest white boys on the planet”), a monologue about the songwriting processes behind Afterlife, from his 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and a lot of shots on the huge stageside screens of West looking sad and pensive. He cuts a strangely remote and unengaging figure. It feels incredibly self-indulgent: the excitement dissapates.
Just when it feels like he’s lost the audience, he pulls it back: No Church in the Wild and Jesus Walks sound great. He takes to a cherry picker to perform Touch the Sky and All the Lights, but there’s a huge gap before and after: the stage is silent and dark. It’s bizarrely disjointed: high points punctuated by longueurs, big crowd-pleasing hits cut short, not least Gold Digger, and a weird cover version of the opening minutes of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
Before he performs All Falls Down, he tells the crowd that they’re watching “the greatest living rock star on the planet”, which is the kind of thing that Kanye West is famous for saying. It’s a claim that’s not entirely born out by the show he’s put on, which offers bright flickers of greatness, rather than a blaze of glory.
This article was written by Alexis Petridis, for theguardian.com on Sunday 28th June 2015 01.23 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010