A crowd largely made up of competition winners and industry insiders were invited to this relatively small venue opposite the Houses of Parliament to welcome man of the moment, Kanye West, as the latest performer to appear in Vodafone and Sony Ericsson’s ongoing series of one-off gigs around the country.
After waiting over an hour in a queue circling the building, an impatient crowd were kept waiting a further hour before West took to the stage. After a false start, he finally leapt on and began with I Wonder, a track taken from his forthcoming album Graduation. Dressed down in grey tracksuit bottoms, black jacket, shades and white trainers, the stage was more than spruced up by his orchestra of 21 women who looked like they’d been dressed in plastic and coloured in with fluorescent Stabilo Boss highlighters.
As an imposing pipe organ looked down on proceedings, tonight’s set list was a pretty even mix of old and new, with classics All Falls Down, Through the Wire and Diamonds From Sierra Leone getting huge crowd reactions. But the new stuff looks to be just as strong, providing a showcase for talented Australian singer Connie Mitchell, who appears on much of the new album. In particular Champion and a supreme working of Can’t Tell Me Nothing stood out, in which he stretched the opening to an effortless three minutes with a blistering attack on the music industry before reaching the first chorus. An impressive, crowd-pleasing laser show accompanied his Daft Punk-sampling number one single Stronger.
It was a shame that West then decided to perform I Wonder again. He didn’t explain why we needed to hear so much of the track, despite glaring set omissions like Gold Digger and Jesus Walks. Maybe he wasn’t happy with his initial performance in front of swooping cameras, but it slowed things down a bit and some of the magic was lost. The lull continued into Big Brother, a new track which he dedicated to his “big brother” Jay-Z.
Ultimately however, West is a showman, and he had a few tricks up his sleeve. Armed with more than just lasers, he also had ticker tape and a massive silver shower rained down on the audience, helping the funk-infused Touch The Sky close the night.
It’s no surprise that he’s made it to Number 1. West has successfully managed to close the gap between accessible pop hooks and credible hip hop. Tonight showcased that he’s already built up an impressive back catalogue of recognisable tracks. His undeniable talent as a musician and rapper and his desire to connect with and entertain an audience is turning him into an unstoppable force.