Kanye West, O2 Arena, London

O2 arena, London

When you attend a hip-hop gig, you usually do so with some trepidation. Is the artist going to turn up? If they do, how long will they deign to spend on stage? And how much of that time will they spend standing about nodding while various members of their impossibly populous "crew" take centre stage to demonstrate that the only reason they are less famous than their illustrious homie is because they're less talented?

Tonight's sense of trepidation, however, is entirely different. Kanye West has already proved his on-stage abilities by the simple expedient of performing at ghastly events like the Brit awards and last summer's Concert For Diana, and being their solitary saving grace. His current tour is a grand spectacle. It features a string section, elaborate lighting effects, West sporting a coat bedecked with flashing LEDs, a backing singer wearing what appears to be a piece of early 60s brutalist architecture and, alas, a mime artist dressed as a robot. It opens with lengthy credits rolling on the video screens, like a blockbuster film, something even the most ostentatious stadium rocker might consider to be pushing the grandiosity a bit.

West's mother died suddenly about a week ago, but the rapper has insisted his European tour continue. You have to admire his fortitude, but you also have to wonder at his wisdom, particularly if you have seen the harrowing YouTube footage of him attempting to sing Hey Mama at his subsequent Paris show, for once deserted by his famous self-belief. And yet, two days after her funeral, that self-belief seems to be back.

In contrast to his fellow rappers' diffidence, West's performance boasts a startling urgency. There is no breathing space between songs, their relentlessness compounded by the fact that everything West performs sounds like a grand finale: vast, epic choruses pile up at an overwhelming rate. The audience seem to wilt when the mime artist appears, but that is the uniquely disheartening effect of mime for you. West falters only once, perhaps inevitably, during Hey Mama: during the final chorus, his head bows, his shoulders sink and the singing stops. When the gale of applause finally subsides, he mutters, "I got pretty far in that song today," then leaves the stage while his backing singer performs a cover of Journey's Don't Stop Believing. For once, the vapid AOR anthem gains a bit of emotional heft. Then he returns for a roaring, unremitting version of Stronger. You're left to conclude that, in every sense, Kanye West is just making more of an effort than his peers.

· At the Brighton Centre (01273 290131) tonight. Then touring.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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