Monday, August 21, 2006

diamonds in the sky

i've been ridiculously busy over the past several days. in addition to receiving my first freelance editing work (technically my second assignmment; i got my first assignment a month ago, though due to various problems, including a death in the author's family, i have yet to receive any turnover for that book), virago is moving to a new apartment, and there's a lot of furniture moving going on at my parents' house as well. but last night, virago & i took some time to go to the state fair (our second visit this year) to see kanye west.

historically, the big concerts at the state fair have all been hillbilly: big n rich, travis tritt, garth brooks... all country acts with the occasional washed-up rock band. this year, the state fair wanted to improve its image a bit by booking more diverse shows. for one thing, they booked the american idol tour (a sure hit, yet not at all country), and then to really show they were serious, they booked grammy-winning hip-hopper kanye west. from what i understand, nobody expected the kanye west show to be a huge seller (and it wasn't); booking the show was as much a symbolic statement that the fair, which hadn't had a hip-hop show since big daddy kane played in 1990, was trying to be more hip.

none of the promotional materials for the show said anything about an opening act, so we weren't sure there would be one, but luckily there was: rhymefest, who lives in indy but is originally from chicago, started off the night with a short set. i'd been hoping rhymefest would appear—he and kanye go way back, and rhymefest won a grammy for co-writing "jesus walks". i suspect that a significant portion of the crowd didn't realize who he was at first, but when he began to play the song "stick", which has gotten some airplay on 96.3, the crowd picked up in intensity. another highlight of the set was when rhymefest offered a freestyle, jumping into the crowd for inspiration, before ending up back onstage and concluding with the line "i'll give 'em my right foot". he emphasized this line with a dramatic kick, and humorously, his shoe flew off into the audience. but fest took it in stride, removing his other shoe, signing it, and tossing it as well into the crowd.

kanye west's live entourage featured two backup singers (one male, one female), a 7-piece string section, and the obligatory dj. the dj, dj reflex, as dave lindquist notes, was not kanye's usual dj and made several noticeable mistakes. david searle has a less-than-flattering description of the dj difficulties in his review on imn:

[dj reflex was...] a DJ whose job seemed to consist of hitting the play button on his iTunes.

Apparently, hitting play was a little too much responsibility for the DJ. Kanye cut off several miscued songs prematurely and even went as far as to ask the audience if there was a DJ in the house.

in fairness to dj reflex, i'm believe he was using a setup like final scratch, where the music is played off a computer, but the dj is able to remix it live and add scratching via turntables that are attached to the computer. there were definitely turntables on stage (next to the mac laptop), and i'm pretty sure i saw him scratching at one point during the show.

technical difficulties aside, kanye put on a strong show. he exuded confidence and stage presence, and his between-song banter was witty and charming. the crowd wasn't as large as promoters had hoped, but the people who were there were rocked hard.

one unusual aspect of the show was that kanye seemed reluctant to perform entire songs. most songs would be cut off by the end of the second verse if not the first 16–32 bars. these endings felt natural enough, but it was obvious even to us casual fans that the songs were not being performed to their original conclusion. perhaps this was so kanye didn't need to bring many guest rappers with him, or maybe it was so he could squeeze in as many tracks as possible. indeed, one portion of the show was little more than kanye showing off some of the tracks he'd produced for other artists: "i bet you didn't know i produced this!" he'd say, and then perform 16 bars from the hook of something like "stand up" by ludacris. whatever the reason, this approach seemed to work.

i didn't remember to bring my camera, but the indy star has an embarrassingly unprofessional photo gallery attached to its review of the show. danese kenon's photographs themselves are pretty good: the composition, color, and all that stuff is well done. but whoever processed these photos and posted them online did a horrible job, overcompressing them by a huge margin so that the photos are marred by compression artifacts. seriously: photo #1 isn't too bad, but look at the rest. this one (#4/10) is particularly bad. ugly ugly ugly.

overall, it was a little weird, and tickets were probably overpriced—cheaper tickets could have resulted in better attendance. but it was a good show and the crowd really enjoyed it. i only hope it was successful enough for the state fair to continue being adventurous when booking concerts for next year.

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