LIVE ACTION: James Blake — Commodore Ballroom, April 25, 2013

22 Oct

James Blake live at Electronic Beats Festival Cologne 2013

Watching James Blake at the Commodore Ballroom was like eating at a gourmet restaurant of sound. Each oaky word, textured piano note, and effervescent synth riff was deployed with deceptive minimalism, so individual sounds could be distinctly enjoyed before melting into a song.

Humbly acknowledging the crowd with a simple, “How ya doin?” Blake launched into “Air & Lack Thereof,” his first single from 2009, and one that creeps up with some seriously heavy bass. This was complimented by the rat-a-tat-tat snare and impressive cymbal crashing of drummer Ben Assiter, to great effect.

As we heard Blake’s tenor chime the first a capella notes of “I never Learnt to Share,” the crowd went mad. Using the incredible vocal control, he sang over loops of his two-line, bluesy melody and layered those over lush keys and Rob McAndrews’ soulful guitar. Add the unique bass drop at the song’s climax, and you’ve got even the most aloof concertgoers dropping low.

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Blake delivered more treats from his 2011 self-titled debut, and created an intimate atmosphere with “Lindisfarne I” and “Lindisfarne II,” a pair of goosebump-inducing songs that were like a warm, enveloping blanket live. His popular cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love” had audience members singing along as the 24-year-old’s silhouette was bathed in a sensual red glow.

Next came some new songs from Blake’s recent release, Overgrown. “To the Last,” with its minimal melody and fat bass synths, kept the mood mellow. Not one for stagnant emotions, Blake took things up several notches with the frenetic pace of Voyeur. Synthesized cowbells mixed with live drums and the simple phrase “I don’t mind, it was all me” created a tense, almost catastrophic atmosphere that could only be dissipated through dance.

My favourite track of the night (besides “I Never Learnt to Share,” I can’t get enough of that bass drop) was CMYK. Because I only have Blake’s two studio albums, I hadn’t heard this amazing electro-R&B gem from his 2010 EP CMYK. A densely woven fusion of Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” and Kelis’s “Caught Out There,” paired with Blake’s trademark post-dubstep sensibilities, created an insta fave.

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Capping off his encore with “A Case of You,” a Joni Mitchell cover, Blake crooned, “I drew a map of Canada / Oh Canada / With your face sketched on it twice / Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine,” his stunning vocals emulating Michell’s cascading style. In an interview with Collective Concerts, Blake said, “”Joni embodies the things I’m talking about. She was the spark that led to [Overgrown].” His rendition of Joni’s song was so rich, so beautiful, that it created a proud Canadian moment for all of us.

Considering his otherworldly talents, James Blake is a very understated live performer. His unassuming nature paired with deeply introspective vocals and forward-thinking production is reminiscent of a child prodigy. As I left the Commodore I felt satisfied in the way one would after having indulged in a high quality meal. Flavours lingered in my memory, but not on my palate, and I was surprised to find my ears weren’t ringing. In fact, it was hard not to feel like a sound connoisseur, because his concert showcased some of the best fidelity I’d ever heard. If this Pitchfork-crowned “post-dubstep whiz kid” is just starting to mature, I can’t wait for what he’ll serve up next.

Photos courtesy of electronicbeats.net, smallworld.com and www.idealizela.com.

Mending my soul in NYC

17 Apr

I am heading to New York in a couple of hours.

New York!!!!!!!

I could not be more excited. I have never been, but I have been planning this adventure in my mind for years.

I turned 30 at the beginning of the month, so this trip is a big “grab the world by its ass” sorta experience. My intention is to launch myself into my third decade on this planet — head first! And with impeccable style.

This trip also feels particularly poignant because my grandma passed away on Sunday. She was a beautiful woman; a gentle, humerous, kind soul. She was a strong person, but she cloaked it behind a veil of modesty and genuine servitude for those she loved. She always told me to wait before settling down. She had wonderful style. She was from Indonesia. She loved Hawaiian music. She called my grandpa her “silver fox.” I think I inherited my coyness from her.

Unfortunately I will have to miss her funeral in California because I will be on the other side of the continent in New York celebrating my 30th birthday.

Is this self-indulgent?

Maybe.

I feel an odd mixture of elation and deep sadness, but I believe she would have wanted it this way. I will think of her a lot during my trip because it’s a celebration of my life, but I’m realizing it’s also a celebration of her life too. I plan to have a moment of silence in a church somewhere in NYC to honour her on Friday.

Rest in peace, grandma.

You inspire me.

Pieces of you are in every woman.

For further inspiration, I’d like to share some of my favourite New York women captured on The Sartorialist. They embody a sort of elegant lightness and depth of style that could only possibly come from within.

Enjoy.

The Sartorialist, On the Street, Doyer Street, New York

I love everything about this photo. The complexity. I am channeling it.

The Sartorialist, On the Street, Ninth Street, New York

I want to drink the light up here. And the drapery. This looks like one of my grandma’s batiks!

The Sartorialist, On the Street, Mulberry Street, New York

She is adorable. I am inspired by her casual style and upbeat demeanour. Plus she’s been shopping, and she is obviously quite happy about it.

The Sartorialist, On the Street, Rivington, New York

Love the combination of masculine, old-world style, pretty hair, and splatter paint. Also desperately want that dictionary backpack.

The Sartorialist, On the Street, Greene Street, New York

Ahh, BFFs. Adored. I will see mine in a few short hours as we board the plane for what is sure to be the trip of a lifetime. With this trip I am also celebrating her, for our friendship has fed my soul immeasurably. Without her in my life, I would be a different person.

I don’t mean to punctuate our trip on such a sombre note. There are soooo many fun things we have planned this week, it’s unbelievable!

Live music, fashion, art, theatre, sightseeing, photography, people-watching, tea in our little garden escape in Brooklyn — it’ll be insane!

We will have so much fun.

Because, of course, to please our grandmas — we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Serpents in my mind. Are playing video games.

18 Mar

Serpents. Video Games.  These words are connected right now inside my head.

Maybe it’s because as words they sound kinda cool together.

Or maybe it’s because they form the titles of two new songs, both put out by artists with similar-sounding vocal styles, and by women with similar sounding names.

Or maybe it’s because as two women in music, Sharon Van Etten and Lana Del Rey couldn’t be any more different.

And it struck me.

When I first heard Del Ray’s Video Games on a live YouTube clip, I was transfixed — captivated by her nearly perfect beauty, her throaty Nancy Sinatra-esque voice, her ghetto fab earrings, her quivering sexuality. I felt like she had emerged from a 1960s women’s magazine, slapped on some acrylic nails, fake lashes and a gold chain, and picked up the mic to sing as an anachronism in the most natural way.

I found this especially captivating because, as we all know, time travel is most unnatural.

After falling asleep that night I also dreamed of being in his favourite sun dress, watching me get undressed, take that body downtown. Ah. To feel sexy in one’s own sleep through song. Magnificent!

But the more I listened to Video Games, the less I realized I could identify with the lyrics. I could not attach myself at all to the meaning or the message. It’s just so bloody submissive. Case and point:

“It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you
Everything I do
I tell you all the time
Heaven is a place on earth with you

Tell me all the things you want to do
I heard that you like the bad girls
Honey, is that true? “

Oh, I see.

It’s you. It’s you. It’s all for you?
Everything I do?

Hm. I don’t think that’s true.

Needless to say, months after first hearing this song on YouTube I am still reacting to Lana Del Rey’s ridiculous songwriting inside my head. She’s just so… dormant. Bah. It irritates me.

As Pitchfork reviewer Lindsay Zoladz so articulately wrote,

“… the sexual politics of Born to Die are troubling too: You’d be hard pressed to find any song on which Del Rey reveals an interiority or figures herself as anything more complex than an ice-cream-cone-licking object of male desire.”

Too perfect.

Sharon Van Etten, on the other hand, my god what a magnificent woman.

She is so deep and fragile and strong. She exhibits a simple, pared-down beauty, with her face partly hidden by a curtain of dark chin-length hair. Apparently, Van Etten’s college boyfriend in Tennessee “told her she was shit, hid her guitar, and shoved her back home to New Jersey,” so a great many songs off her previous albums were written in reaction to this toxic relationship. But on her latest album Tramp I can really feel her strength and confidence emerging.

It grows like a sprout throughout my headphones.

Or rather, it’s like Van Etten’s an abused animal gingerly reaching out for love. Because she finally realizes the next blow just isn’t coming.

She’s found her voice and it sounds incredible.

“You enjoy sucking on dreams
so I will fall asleep with someone other than you
I had a thought you would take me seriously
And listen on

Serpents in my mind
I am searching for your crimes
Everything changes
In time”

In terms of imagery, this piece of writing is stunning. It’s active, incongruent, disorienting, like a dream that feels disturbingly close to reality. Or like a living nightmare.

As a piece of psychoanalysis, it’s dark, honest and aware. Her song is about herself.

It’s also about a man, yes, but it’s not about becoming everything a man wants. She is so so so much more than that.

Add a dose of incredible drumming by Matt Barrick of The Walkmen (love) and what you get is a raw, vividly emotive track barbed with bitter lyrics, passionate vocals and heavy-handed guitar — plus the accompaniment of drums dripping with male focus in an almost desperate attempt at simplicity and forward momentum.

I love it. I love it. I love it.

I’ve listened to it dozens of times on my iPhone and I find more in it each and every time. I’m going to see her play with War on Drugs at The Biltmore on March 24 and I could not be more excited. I can’t wait to close my eyes and let Van Etten’s serpents invade my mind.

Maybe she will find some of my crimes?

In conclusion I will leave you with the lyrics for Serpents, which I think are just as brilliant as Van Etten’s voice sounds as it’s crooning out:

It was a close call
Sitting in the back of the room
with a bowl you had owned,
But they didn’t know.
Close in on my black eye.
I feel safe at times.
Certain emblems
Tell me it’s time

Serpents in my mind
Looking for your crimes
Everything changes
I don’t want mine to this time

You enjoy sucking on dreams
so I will fall asleep with someone other than you
I had a thought you would take me seriously
And listen on

Serpents in my mind
I am searching for your crimes
Everything changes
In time

You’ll stay frozen in time
Collaging girls,
Controlling minds.
You hold the mirror well
To everybody else

Serpents in my mind
Trying to forgive your crimes
Everyone changes in time.
I hope he changes this time.

BRILLIANT EDGY PIXIE: Grimes @ Fortune Sound Club — Feb. 18, 2012

22 Feb

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be from Vancouver this week. It all started with a message:

“Anyone wanna see Grimes with me on Feb. 18 @ Fortune? She’s this wicked dreamy synthpop chick who opened for Lykke Li on her last tour, and she’s from here! Tix are only $13. Think about it! — L”

I rallied the troops to catch this rising star — born and bred of the same mountain air, sandy beaches, underground hippie culture and leagues of outdoor space as myself.

Because this was the first sold-out performance of her Visions tour, which is her first release after signing to epic indie label 4AD (home of so many favourite bands… oh the anticipation!), Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, was quite obviously a very nervous creature.

Plus this gig was in her hometown.

The tiny 23-year-old hopped onstage to face a packed crowd that was already showing signs of restlessness. I missed openers Born Gold so I wasn’t riled up yet, but the tone of people’s conversations was getting growly. Grimes was dressed in a simple v-neck longsleeved, her hair piled in a giant ponytail at the top of her head. Her eyes were awash with enough pink shadow to make Bowie proud. When she took the mic, she flopped her hair to cover one side of her face and said in a trademark, high-pitched register,

“H-h-hey!

…Uh, I’m Grimes.

Hehheh. Thanks. Thanks for coming to my show!”

So awkward! She was like a nervous teen asking for a first date. Adorable. Then she started up the synths and all cuteness evaporated into the ether.

This chick can lay down a beat. She started out with a more experimental sound, stopping at times to ask for more of this, or less of that, from the sound people.

She was joined by the two members of Born Gold who hit up the synths/keys/drum machines behind her as she would “coo,” or “goo,” or “gaa,” or “check” to test the sound at random intervals, which sounded strange — like a baby backed by a synthesizer and a lot of amps.

But what an unhappy baby that would be! Her bass was fucking loud. And her hits were immediately recognizable to the crowd. The chunky beats of Oblivion morphed into the speeding momentum of Vanessa, which melted into the warm and fuzzy haloes of Genesis. And all were matched with throaty catcalls and flailing limbs. The crowd ate her up completely.

The song Be a Body. Oh my god. What a GREAT track! And she absolutely KILLED it live! There was not a body there without arms in the air and feet stomping along to a deliberately simple electropop beat that masks some impressive experimental vocals. You can really hear how she’s inspired by Mariah Carey on this one.

I must say though, Grimes’ voice was obscured by frequent mic feedback and throbbing bass, so her  R&B-influenced soprano did get a bit lost.

And yes, her voice did come across as inconsistent at times, but I expected it to, because that’s how it sounds on the record. It doesn’t matter. Her voice is interesting, and her beats are wickedawesome. Like, The Knife-style wickedawesome. (If you’re a fan of me or my blog, you will know I have a permanent love-on for The Knife — I even wrote them a poem.)

Take a gander at Grimes’ latest video for Vanessa:

Regardless of any criticism of her musical ability, Grimes comes across as real during her performance. And that’s all I really wanted.

This is a tough feat I’d say, given the incredible amount of hype this girl is getting: New York Times, the National Post, the Sun, the Province, the Georgia Straight, Pitchfork, Exclaim!, Spinner, Discorder, etc. are all taking note.

And living in Vancouver myself (I grew up in Metro Van), it’s hard not to notice her popping up everywhere here. The sky’s the limit for this Vancouver girl, though now she calls Montreal home.

So what does it mean to be from Vancouver?

Let’s ask some notables:

“The sea has now changed from it’s natural, to river coloured water, the probable consequence of some streams falling into the bay, or into the ocean to the north of it, through the low land. To describe the beauties of this region will, on some future occasion, be a very grateful task to the pen of a skilled panegyrist.”

–George Vancouver

“It’s a foodie town, a chef town, a multicultural city. A proverbial melting pot where the elements don’t melt too much and lose distinct flavours.”

–Anthony Bourdain

Hm. If you asked me what it meant for an artist to be from New York, or Tokyo, or Paris, or even Cleveland, I’d definitely have a picture in my mind; at least some distinctive imagery to describe the artist’s influence.

So what of Grimes?

I think her music — with its airy melodies and deep pop hooks; tingly synths and jagged beats — shows that being from Vancouver means we’re all a little raw.

You know. Edgy. Unfinished. Beautiful, but hauntingly vague. Like the rain we must endure for so many waking months, we can’t be pinned down.

People are really transient here. Friends come and go. Summer lovers get washed away with the seasons. The perpetually grey sky can make us desperate for light. We don’t talk to each other enough in public places. We’re inside our heads a lot of the time.

As Grimes herself said to the Vancouver Sun, “I don’t have a phone. Everyone I know is always on their fucking phone on the Internet all the time. I just wanted to write a song about being alive in the real world — ‘be a body.’”

With her edgy, experimental beats and enough artistic talent to rival seasoned pop divas like Robyn and La Roux, Grimes is coming out of her head and into yours.

So you better check her while you can.

First photo courtesy of the New York Times; second photo courtesy of Arbutus Records; third photo courtesy of Pitchfork.

HIGH ROTATION 2011 – My best o’ the year mix

5 Feb

It’s 2012! Time to take stock of the past year and determine which artists and bands contributed most to my love of music and my optimism for future tunes. Though 2012 is upon us, I’m still tying up loose ends from 2011. I managed to get my High Rotation done in time for Christmas but I’m a bit late with posting it online. I actually had two versions this year, which I try never to do, but I ran out of listening time and made V1 too quickly. Of course then I end up regretting taking specific tracks off, and putting other tracks on, but that’s another story.

It always happens this way. In December I’m met with a deluge of tracks/albums/mixtapes to sift through because all the “Best of” lists come out and I don’t want to miss anything important. But I always do. Case and point: Pretty Lights and Phantogram had great albums in 2010 and I didn’t know till recently! Gah!

Nevermind. It irritates me when other people are full of regrets so I won’t indulge in this too much. Suffice it to say that I’m happy to know what I know when I know about it.

For those who aren’t aware, my High Rotation is a tracklist containing a selection of my highest-played songs that squeaks in just under 80 mins. Keep in mind these are my fave tracks of the year. For fave albums, see below “Top Ten Albums of 2011.”

I like to make this mix each year for two reasons: 1.) I can’t stand when people say there’s no new, good music anymore. There is! So much more than you or I will ever know. 2.) I love to listen to and talk about music, so if I spread this love via the Internet or CD, then we will have even more to bond over!

So let’s get started.

Here are the Top Ten Albums of 2011 – According to me:

(And yes, they are in a specific order)

Note: The Artists’ name links to their web page; the album name links to their album on iTunes, if available.

1.) Austra Feel it Break (Deluxe Edition)

In a word: Supernatural

Perfect for: Transcending time and space inside your head. Elevating life’s simple doldrums to the ranks of gods and superheroes. Lightning bolts! Thunder clouds! Crashing waves! Life cannot be boring set to this otherworldly, epic score.  The Deluxe Version includes the most beautiful rendition of Roy Orbison’s Crying that I’ve ever heard, and this is coming from a huge fan of Mullholland Drive. Best of the year for sure.

2.) M83 Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

In a word: Creative

Perfect for: Coming up with new ideas. Put this on while making things and you’ll be quite surprised at what you turn out. Listen to Raconte-moi une histoire and try not to create something new and interesting. I dare you! The entire album vibrates with a high, fevered emotional pitch. Oh, and Midnight City is the best song of 2011 — full stop.

3.) SBTRKT – SBTRKT

In a word: Party

Perfect for: Shakin’ alla whatcha got. I went to Burning Man in 2011 and was totally overwhelmed by the massive amount of electronic music I took in all day, every day, for seven days straight. I would get on and off the various art cars, grinning from ear to ear, but still wishing for something a little different in terms of music. If SBTRKT had an art car there, I would’ve never gotten off.

4.) Pretty Lights I Know the Truth (single)

In a word: Confident

Perfect for: Getting. Shit. Done. Whether it’s asking for something you want, telling some crazy bitch to eff off, sticking up for yourself at work, or thoughtfully articulating your boundaries to a friend — put this track on and you will have no fear. Or better yet, “no mercy.”

5.) Kurt Vile Smoke Ring for my Halo

In a word: Affection

Perfect for: Sitting alone, thinking about the people you love and why you love them: their idiosyncratic tics; the way their eyes crinkle at the corners when they smile; their pitch of their voice that is totally distinctive; the way they look when the sun hits their face. Put this on and think about who you love, and why. Then tell them.

6.) Bon Iver Bon Iver

In a word: Relaxation

Perfect for: Clearing the cobwebs outta your brain, or visiting the spa inside your mind. It feels like recumbent relaxation with cucumbers on your eyes while a lovely person gives you a foot massage. Self-pampering at it’s finest.

7.) Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues

In two words: Growth and reflection

Perfect for: Pondering your unique place in the world. Reaching a new level of self-awareness. Getting older and realizing this eternal struggle comes with the priceless gift of inner wisdom. Ah!

8.) The Weeknd – House of Balloons

In a word: Sensual

Perfect for: Seeking out sensory pleasures when you know they’re bad for you. Sort of like a random hook-up with an ex, or staying out too late when you know you have stuff to do the next day. You’ll pay, but dammit it was fun at the time.

9.) Elite Gymnastics Ruin

In a word: Daydream

Perfect for: Zoning out on cars or buses, watching the world whiz by while your thoughts float back and forth. Or dancing by yourself at 4 am after everybody’s left the party, staring at your sparkly toenail polish and wondering how it all got to be so complicated.

10.) Mexicans with Guns Ceremony

In a word: Progress

Perfect for: Taking disparate things and meshing them together to create something new and brilliant. Also perfect for reneging on past statements like, “I don’t listen to dubstep.” When I say something like this out loud I usually end up taking it back soon after. Thank goodness!

Also check out this guy’s crazy/disturbing videos based on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. Some seriously twisted stuff.

In four words: GO BUY THESE PLEEZ!

To conclude, here’s mixtape of Smalltown DJs’ best tracks of 2011. Suuuper good beats up in herr, and a host of new songs for me to obsess over! I’m loving Don’t Move by Phantogram.

Also, this nguzunguzu mix tape is soooooooooooo goooood:

It’s gonna be a good year.

First two photos taken by Kate Semrau; second photo edited by me, featuring Steph Bowen.

RESOLUTION SONG: I was kind to myself in 2011

2 Jan

So 2011 has come to a close. This past year was fun, and a pretty pivotal one for me.

Perhaps it’s because I’m about to turn 30.

According to this astrologist:

“Time, responsibility, age, and reality, are all associated with one planet in astrology and that planet is Saturn. The transit of Saturn around the birth chart is a very reliable indicator of where we are in our maturation process because it completes a cycle every 29-and-a-half years, splitting our lives into three stages of growth: childhood, adulthood, and the elder years. With each cycle building upon what was learned in the previous one.”

Woah! Sure explains a lot. So how am I changing leading up to my 30s? One thing I really tried to cultivate this past year was to exhibit love, care and compassion towards myself. I stopped giving myself a hard time about not being good at things, taking a while to learn things, or deciding once and for all that something’s not for me.

I’d been saving up a little chunk of cash to buy myself something necessary on Boxing Day. I’ve been in need of an external hard drive, an iPod sound dock, and/or practical-yet-lovely black boots. But while doing some last minute Christmas shopping on December 23 I happened to take a peek in Holt Renfrew. They’d already started their Boxing Day sales soooo, what the hey. Let’s just take a look, yeah?

I went in, I browsed, I was tempted. Then, on my way to the door, I fell absolutely in love with these beauties:

Chie Mihara. Oh how I have always wanted you!!

Her designs are the perfect blend of past and present, topped with a muted, whimsical indulgence. There they were on the rack: 50 per cent off, in my exact shoe size of 38.5, which is surprisingly hard to find, and oh what amazing style. I tried them on and instantly felt like I was walking on a cloud. A very sexy cloud. But oh how I could walk! I just felt so strapped in. My feet had never felt so in command.

But then I thought, no, this is silly. What I really need, to be honest with myself, is a good pair of flat black boots. I should look for those. No heels. No. Leave them behind.

So I left, and I wandered around some more, looking. I even bought myself a pair of practical black riding boots, which were beautiful and a good price, but it all came back to the shoes. I went and tried them on again — this time with a lovely salesman who chatted with me about crazies and Chirstmas theft — and I strutted my stuff as best I could toward the mirror. I’ve never felt better in a pair of heels. Ever. They were made for me. On some level in my mind it had already been decided. They would be mine. Oh yes, they would be mine.

So I returned the boots and traipsed home, eager to get these puppies on. my. feet.

But wait!

Early in the morning on the 24th, as I was wrapping all my Christmas gifts, I had a silly little idea. Why not wrap them up all beautiful-like and open them on Christmas Day? With a little “to me, from me, thanks for being beautiful” tag on top. Ha!

It’s not that I need someone telling me I’m beautiful. It was more that I extended the ritual of gift-wrapping and gift-opening toward myself, as a gesture. We all need to make gestures toward ourselves. And though it might seem dumb to spend time wrapping a gift for myself, it felt good. And it was fun!

I made my brother take photos of me opening them:

And here are some self-portraits:

Happy holidays! Now give yourself a hug.

LIVE ACTION: Kanye West and Jay-Z @ Rogers Arena in Vancouver — Sunday, Dec. 18

21 Dec

Last weekend, Kanye West and Jay-Z threw down more than two-hours’ worth of stellar material in a pairing that had each of them dropping solo hits as well as impressive, stadium-filling tracks off this year’s “Watch the Throne.”

I won’t ramble on and on about the album title “Watch the Throne” coming from a basis of insecurity when its real message is to warn away the competition, but suffice it to say I don’t think the title works.

Back to the live event: Obviously it was the perfect occasion to wear gold. So I got all metaled up, headed to my friend’s place in Gastown where I ate delicious vegetarian stew and drank tasty Prosecco. It was lovely, golden and sparkling to match my bling! Yes.


The boys had yet to take the stage when we arrived, so we got a few drinks and chatted as we watched the lights go down. Wee!

To begin the show, the New Yorker (Jay-Z) and the Chicagoan (Kanye) faced off on opposing platforms, trading verses from H.A.M. and Who Gon Stop Me, both new tracks from their latest offering. It was a face-off of sorts, as intimidating images of rottweilers, sharks, bears and cheetahs — all with teeth bared — were splashed across several giant screens. It was an obvious warning to all opponents: do not mess with these dudes. For their hit single Otis, the pair joined forces on the main stage with a gargantuan American flag in the background and fireballs bursting out from either side. Epic.

Then it was ‘Ye’s turn. He threw down some solo hits: Flashing Lights, All Falls Down,  Homecoming, and later on, Stronger and All of the Lights. Kanye’s live sound was larger-than-life. And all his tracks were paired with some of the most incredible laser-work I’ve ever seen. Take a look at my laser photos below, though they don’t really do it justice.

Pretty wow-factor, hey?

During Runaway, Kanye rose up on a cube-shaped stage, completely illuminated in red. He crooned into the mic while throwing down some fancy R&B dance moves, which were impressive, though his auto-tuned voice was a little distracting.


Before the tender beats of the duo’s inspirational new track Made in America rang out, Kanye spoke to the crowd about the importance of putting aside your ego and collaborating with your fellow man to achieve your dreams. Jus’ like ‘Ye and Jay! Hundreds of phone screens lit up in appreciation. Though this may have irked any truly “hard” members of the audience (though why anyone’d ever try to be hard is beyond me), it was really uplifting to see this track performed live. It’s not often a rap/hip-hop star will wax emotional, so this felt pretty special. Also, the song was paired with visuals of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X on the jumbo screens, which really hammered home the song’s themes.

The dudes carried the warm and fuzzy approach forward with a touching rendition of New Day, during which they sat down side-by-side and traded personal verses about fatherhood. This was made even more sentimental by the fact that Jay is expecting. I looked around and saw nothing but grins.

Then, it was Jay’s turn: Dirt off Your Shoulder, Big Pimpin’, 99 Problems… all were delivered with incredible precision, dedication and style. Hova did not miss a single beat. When the first few beats of Empire State of Mind dripped from the speakers, I think I may have gone completely insane. Blissfit! I LOVE this track! As the unofficial anthem for NYC, it was absolutely brilliant to see this performed live. I’m planning to hit NYC for my 30th b-day, so I was extra stoked on this — particularly since Kanye *just* encouraged me to follow my dreams! Anyway, after seeing Jay-Z live tonight for the first time, I can whole-heartedly attest that this guy is at the top of his game.

Moving the set along smoothly, Hova and Yeezy threw down No Church in the Wild. Set against a macabre backdrop of vintage KKK video clips and featuring a slow, ominous bass-line, this track came across with amazing live energy.

Next came Lift Off, though with no surprise appearance by Beyonce (darn!). Unfortunately, the song was cut short to make way for Niggas in Paris. I say “unfortunately” because the bossa nova bit at the end of Lift Off is the best.

As one of the more serious hip-hop-head tracks on “Watch the Throne,” I was definitely expecting to hear Niggas in Paris. I was also expecting to see everyone around me drop it pretty damn low — which they did.

Sweet!

The dudes wrapped up the song and left the stage. When the roar of the crowd brought them back out for the encore, they looked at each other, looked at the audience, and then shouted “AGAIN!”

So we got down to Niggaz in Paris for the second time. Sweet.

And  when it ended, ‘Ye and Jay shouted, “AGAIN!”

Ok… yes… still droppin’ it! Yeah.

And then, four times (“again!”),  five times (“again!”), six times (“again!”), seven times (“again!”), eight times (“again!”)… I should note that there was nothing different about the song each time, it was the exact same beat, same lyrics — over and over again.

Then Kanye started yelling a bunch of crap about setting a “world record for Niggas in Paris,” as though ‘setting a world record for the number of times an artist can play their own song without the audience going berzerk’ is a feat worth bragging about.

Then Jay-Z says, “We set the record at ten times in LA,” and they both shouted, “TEN TIMESSS…!!!… AGAIN!” My friend and I look at each other desperately. “But they’re only at eight!” I cried. “This is ri-DIC-ulous!” So we were subjected to three more renditions of Niggaz in Paris.

Same song, same lyrics — 11 times.

“Well, I’ve certainly never seen an artist do that before,” I said to my friend as a way to justify the last, wasted 35 minutes of our lives. But the more I thought about it, the more pissed I became.

I thought and thought, and I just couldn’t come up with a way for ‘Ye and Jay to justify playing the same song 11 times. Between them, they have a catalogue of several hundred songs. Do you think the audience wanted to hear 11 of those songs? Or Niggas in Paris 11 times in a row?

If you want my honest opinion, (and why else would you be here?) it was the most self-indulgent thing I have ever witnessed at a live performance — ever.

And I hope I never hear that song again — ever.

You know, it’s too bad, because this really overshadowed the rest of an otherwise-great performance. The silverbacks of hip-hop definitely owned tha house on Sunday night. But I wish they’d remembered that their fans were also in the building.


All photos by me.