Coverage of Kanye West‘s first two performances at the London leg of Wireless focused almost solely on his lengthy rants, which resulted in booing from the crowd. As such, there was some noticeable trepidation in the air at Perry Park in Birmingham as Yeezus launched into Runaway – the piano driven track from fifth album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – which had resulted in the previous two ‘rants’.
It initially seemed like Kanye had decided against a third rant, but instead he proceeded to address the elephant in the room and spoke about the media reaction to those two performances – his only two dates in London this year. “The media wrote that people booed. And you know what. I’m not going to lie, I’m not invincible,” he said. “It hurt me a little bit because I knew how much of a good time that everyone had.”
Unsurprisingly, there were a few murmurs and shouts from audience members desperate not to hear Kanye rally against all those who have wronged him for another 15 minutes. But, then again, what exactly did these dissenters expect when they purchased a ticket to see him? Anyone who has followed his career since he released his debut album, 2004’s The College Dropout, should hardly be surprised by the rapper voicing his opinions.
He does so on a regular basis. In fact, it is one of the many things that make him so unique. Either you take the whole package or not. Yet Kanye was more than justified in taking issue with the media’s portrayal of his first two Wireless gigs, especially if his performance in Birmingham was anything to go by. Complete with his now signature bejeweled mask, the set was littered with most of the biggest tunes from his 10-year career.
Opening up with the ferocious Black Skinhead – with only a giant flashing red tower behind him – Kanye did seem stung by the criticism he had received at the beginning of the set. However, as he got warmed up with a cover of Chief Keef‘s I Don’t Like and a couple of GOOD Music tracks, he became more comfortable with the crowd and delivered versions of Can’t Tell Me Nothing and New Slaves with the sort of passion and vigour that could sway any doubters.
While Birmingham probably got the best deal when it came to the Runaway ‘rant’ – it only lasted around five minutes – it still had the effect of bringing the set to a shuddering halt. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for Kanye to get back to business, quickly reeling off a cover of Run This Town, followed by breathless versions of classics Diamonds From Sierra Leone and Stronger.
From there on in, Kanye West was at the peak of his powers. Heartless – from the most divisive of his six albums, 808s & Heartbreak – conjured up one of the biggest sing-a-longs of the set, as the thousands in attendance belted out the catchy chorus: “In the night/ I hear them talk the coldest story ever told/ somewhere far along this road, he lost his soul/ to a woman so heartless.”
It began a run of songs that demonstrated exactly why so many continue to persist with Kanye as an artist – even if they find him somewhat obnoxious as an individual. Jesus Walks, arguably his best and most dramatic song, sounds as fresh now as it did when it was released, while All Falls Down and Touch The Sky were an entertaining reminder of his more playful side, and rightly received some of the loudest ovations of the night.
Another Graduation favourite, Good Life, continued the party atmosphere as the main set drew to a close, before the joyous Bound 2 sent the crowd into raptures with its memorable chorus. As true to his word – and despite airing it earlier in the set – Yeezy returned for an encore of Blood On The Leaves, but by then he had everyone under his spell. It was a phenomenal end to a crazy show, one that will ensure that the first Wireless in Birmingham will be remembered for one man. Just the way he likes it.