Opener skater-MC Lupe Fiasco's set relied heavily on his solid, new effort, The Cool. But ticket order seemed to have been determined by spectacle rather than artistry, and Lupe didn't have much of a "stage show" to speak of. The Neptunes' rap-rock group N.E.R.D. was next, amping up the crowd considerably more with hits like "Rock Star" and "She Wants to Move," as well as tracks from their forthcoming Seeing Sounds. But pop sensation Rihanna, with her slew of backup dancers and costume changes, moved the concert closer to its stadium feel, giving the crowd what it wanted with the irrepressible "Umbrella" (during which, a sea of umbrellas could be seen throughout the pavilion). But all that proved merely a warm-up for the main event.
Alone onstage for the show's duration (his band played in the darkened wings), West led the audience through a Vegas-style theme concert about the adventures of he and his spaceship, Jane, as they explore the galaxy in search of new forms of creativity, or something. Equal parts inspired and - I think - tongue-in-cheek cheesy (the whole thing wasn't far from Tracy Morgan's Astronaut Jones sketches), the show employed insane visuals, care of killer lights/smoke/a huge screen of spacey backgrounds.
But what sustained the performance was Ye's endurance, energetically spitting rhymes from his considerable array of hits while running around the spaceship (planet?) and sometimes, badly dancing. If you're going to spend 90 minutes alone on stage, you better be able to justify it - and he did, wildly entertaining the giddy crowd.
Standouts included club banger "Gold Digger," - accompanied by gyrating, gold female androids on screen - powerhouse "Jesus Walks," and, of course, encore opener "Stronger," the culmination of the show's retro-futuristic theme. But the night's most tender moment, by far, came when West ended his first set with a particularly poignant, emotional "Hey Mama," serving as a stark reminder that while the rapper's ego fuels much of his persona (having crash-landed, Jane finds her way back to Earth via the pure power of Kanye, telling him, "You're the brightest star in the universe"), it's his vulnerability and innovation that make him truly compelling.