Kanye West – review

Hammersmith Apollo, London

These days, Kanye West brings his own weather. Outside the Apollo, a few snowflakes dither to the ground; inside, there's a full-on artificial blizzard. At its centre stands the rapper-producer, in an all-white ensemble that includes a straitjacket and an ornate feathered mask reminiscent of a Thundercats villain, crooning the Auto-Tuned mope Say You Will. It's the most compellingly ridiculous set piece in what may prove to be the strangest concert of the year.

Over the past decade, West's artistic ambition, celebrity, ego and neurosis have all increased exponentially, turning him into perhaps the most bizarre pop star since Michael Jackson. During last year's Watch the Throne shows he was anchored by his unflappable partner Jay-Z, but tonight he seems thoroughly estranged, stalking the stage alone while his band members toil in the wings, dressed like nuclear technicians in a Bond villain's Arctic base. On screens above, below and behind him, wraparound images of mountains, storm clouds and ice floes conspire to make him look even more isolated.

The music matches the imagery for sheer scale. For the first hour, his restlessly innovative hits are delivered at the volume of an Imax disaster movie, giving stadium-rock stompers such as Power titanic heft, albeit rendering some of his more ambitious productions cacophonous to an almost avant garde degree. The energy only flags when he becomes introspective with a version of Runaway so long that some of the ice shelves floating by on the screens have probably melted by the time it's over. He says he feels good, but it's hard to tell when his face is fixed in the expression of someone in a hairshirt pushing a boulder up a hill.

If Jay-Z is hip-hop's No Drama Obama, then West is its sweaty, paranoid Richard Nixon. The whole night is bombastic, hubristic and absurd, but it's also riveting and unique: a vivid illustration of the disorienting effects of modern celebrity (West had a sense of humour once) and a reminder of the days when rock stars seemed distant and otherworldly. Having treated the previous night's audience to a long, embattled, Nixonian rant, he barely speaks at all tonight and performs most of Runaway, his most personal song, with his face obscured by an unwittingly metaphorical diamond-studded hood. He ends this curiously unforgettable show without once thanking the crowd. You suspect he thinks we should be thanking him.

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Dorian Lynskey

The GuardianTramp

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