DISCLAIMER: The Saint Pablo Tour stopped in Montreal on September 2. I had intended to write this little recap within the week but then, you know, life. Our dog died and then, bleh. But it's here now.
"This is a God dream. This is a God dream. This is everything. This is everything."
These words echo through my head even though Ultralight Beam won't be played until the very end (more on that) of the set, because it feels so spot-on.
I'm at the Bell Centre on September 2 for the Montreal stop of the 2016 Saint Pablo Tour. If you recall, on the The Life Of Pablo album cover Kanye West asks his fans and listeners which one, which Pablo he's referring to—and though the man hasn't been sanctified yet, Pablo Picasso is probably the answer.
Because this Saint Pablo Tour is the rapper's latest, and boldest, canvas. It's a rousing success, for one thing. We don't mean financially, though it'll be that too: the 31-date tour is likely to sell out at most, if not all, stops. Kanye West is a business and business, these days, is booming.
But that's not what we mean. The Saint Pablo Tour is a success because it manages to meet and exceed the ever-rising bar that Kanye continues to set for himself.
Much like he has with his album, when he forewent any kind of momentum, promo efforts or release cycle in the lead-up to The Life Of Pablo album earlier this year, and as he has with just about every other album he's ever released, this tour will likely be remembered for reinventing what we thought was possible.
On the Saint Pablo Tour, Kanye West opts for minimalism and simplicity (somewhat, because he's still Kanye). In the little time you're sitting down before the show starts, you soak it all in. Up above, the Jumbotron that's typically hanging from the Bell Centre ceiling is nowhere; on the floor for the general admission area, it's just a mass of people. It's not that everyone's standing up because they chose to; they're standing up because there are no seats. Behind you, beside, and in front of you, the place is packed. But everyone in your section is sitting down, because you're not in GA and the show hasn't started yet.
When will it start too, you're wondering. There are no openers, no one who plays before Kanye because the God doesn't need a warm-up act, so you wait. You still don't see a stage but because you work in music you notice how impressive and thorough the railing on the ceiling of the Bell Centre is. What the hell's about to happen, you think.
Then you hear a bunch of noise on the left side of the arena and see something moving. You think it feels like a stage is being lifted up, because that's exactly what it is; they're lifting up a dang stage at one end of the arena. Then you hear the original sermon of where the God found the sample for Father Stretch My Hands Part 1 and because you've seen what the setlist is for the show, you know: the Saint Pablo Tour's about to start. From Father, Kanye jumps into Part 2, then lets Desiigner's Panda breathe in the same way he has on TLOP, and follows it up with Famous.
You've barely had time to process, or breathe, or understand what's going on, and everyone is standing up, those in front and behind you, everyone in GA who doesn't have a seat to sit on anyway, and Kanye too. (You're sitting down 'cause, like, whatever but it's insane bonkers. Absolutely insane.)
The God too is standing up. This wouldn't be noteworthy at all because only for unplugged and acoustic shows would a star be sitting down when they're performing. But still. Look at that dang stage you heard being lifted up. It turns out, as you can see from the photo, that the God wanted to make a tour where the stage would be suspended from the ceiling and moving. That's what all the railing is for above at the ceiling: it's to hold up and steady the little stage that Kanye's rapping on, about 15 feet from the ground and the herd of fans, and to help it move from one side of the venue to the other above those standing and crowding and mosh pit-ing.
It's truly insane, is what it is. The Saint Pablo Tour, it turns out, is just the God, his mic, his stage, his fans.
His beats too, of course. Kanye plays pretty much every highlight of his catalogue, and just about everything on the TLOP album you love so much: Highlights, Freestyle 4, Real Friends, Waves, Wolves, All Day, Mercy, Power, Black Skinhead, Can't Tell Me Nothing, Blood on the Leaves, Jesus Walks, N****s in Paris, 30 Hours, Stronger, Kanye plays them all. You, along with everyone else at the Bell Centre, are screaming your heart out because holy fuck a show shouldn't be this good. The sound famously sucks here at the venue but, like, who cares when you're toasting to the assholes for Runaway?!
The Saint Pablo Tour is a study in minimalism because when you're this good, and you have this many hits, you don't need much else.
It's fun to look at the Saint Pablo Tour in contrast to what the Glow In The Dark Tour was in 2008. Whereas the former is a study in minimalism, the latter followed a much more classical setup, with a traditional stage and ample production dollars. On the latter, Kanye had such expansive visuals and told a wonderful story; this time it's cut to the bone. On the Glow In The Dark Tour, Kanye was still just finding his voice and his place in the music scene. He was still the same guy who we learned to like at first because he liked "a Boost for breakfast, an Ensure for dessert" and to "sip the sizzurp." The Kanye from 2008 was still the emotionally vulnerable and transparent rapper who wanted to prove at all costs that he belonged at the top with the best, overcompensating in ways that betrayed his true feelings and that were, frankly, pretty cute. The Kanye from 2008 lived and loved the Good Life and liked women who weren't on TV.
Kanye is still all that in 2016, still pouring emotions into every song. But he knows he belongs now. In 2016, Kanye knows he's basically the God of this rapping thing, dominating headlines in ways very few musical icons ever could. After countless tickets and shows, however many Grammys, so many guest verses, seven studio albums, Kanye probably feels like there isn't much left for him to do. He keeps reinventing himself with every new album but at some point, maybe he'll run out of ways? Maybe that's why he says he made Taylor Swift famous, why he says his ex gave him the best years of her life, and so on. Waves don't die, especially not the ones that Kanye are riding.
There isn't much left for Kanye to do, and maybe that's why he says fuck it and 1) thinks of creating the Saint Pablo Tour with a movable stage and 2) then actually pulls off. Maybe that's also why he treated this Tour as a canvas he could complete in real time, be it from bringing back Waves twice instead of once, or asking the production team in Montreal to throw the red lights here or there, or going into one of his famous monologues, or not, depending on which city you see him. On the Saint Pablo Tour, every show differs from the previous and next ones ever so slightly; there is no original, the God just starts the painting over from scratch every time.
Except for the ending. The ending has to be rehearsed over and over, because it's basically perfect. After Kanye plays Ultralight Beam, the God lets the gospel part of the song play on. FAITH! MORE! SAFE! WAR!, over and over. Kanye is sill there on the stage that's moving, but he's not saying anything; there aren't any lights on him anymore either. It's just the chants, the wonderful and powerful and touching chants of the song, and the THUD's of the stage moving to the right end of the Bell Centre. As it nears, and the FAITH! MORE! SAFE! WAR! of the song continues, a group of security dudes walk up to the fans act as human shields, then the stage lowers and Kanye (presumably, because we can't see him) leaves. The music stops. The lights turn on. Silence. God has left the building.
In 2016, Kanye is still the same. He's rapping his heart out, he's all-powerful, and he's the best. Kanye is peerless and he'll let the art and album and tour stand alone all on their own. He's our God.