The most shocking aspect of Kanye West’s spectacular concert Tuesday night at the Sprint Center wasn’t another suspect remark from the brash rapper. The meager attendance of less than 4,500 seemed inconceivably small for one of the most vital artists in popular music.
West almost certainly could have filled the Sprint Center five years ago. Tuesday’s poor attendance indicates how his scandalous love life, frequent impolite pronouncements and his gradual shift away from conventional hip-hop have alienated many of his fans.
The thin turnout didn’t deter West from fully investing himself in a visually extravagant and musical rewarding production. A ramped mountain dominated the set. Occasionally peopled by a red-eyed monster and a dozen enigmatic dancers, the imposing structure evoked H.P. Lovecraft’s horrific “At the Mountains of Madness” more than the Space Mountain attraction at Disneyland.
The mountain exploded, cleaved in half and overflowed with lava during the awe-inspiring production. Balls of fire, lasers, artificial snow and the trappings of a Catholic mass also complemented the 27 songs West performed. A triangle-shaped platform extended into the crowd. West rode it like a surfboard as it bounced during “Mercy” and stood at its elevated tip during the defiant “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.”
West spent much of the two-hour concert prowling about the expansive set like a bloodied but unbowed mixed martial arts fighter eager to take on all comers. His set list focused on material from “Yeezus,” the Chicagoan’s abrasive sixth album. Dancers held him aloft as he unleashed primal screams during “I Am a God,” one of the project’s most confrontational selections. Three supplemental musicians added pleasing accents to prerecorded backing tracks.
West seemed repentant during an engaging eight-minute monologue.
“I don’t always say the right things at the right time,” West said. “I’m better at saying the wrong things at the wrong time.”
Kendrick Lamar didn’t need to make any apologies during his explosive 45-minute opening set. The Californian is one of the few rappers who rival West’s verbal dexterity and keen wit. Backed by four musicians and a guest appearance by Kansas City’s Tech N9ne, Lamar was far more assured than at his headlining appearance at the Midland theater last year.
A transcendent moment occurred at the conclusion of West’s “Jesus Walks.” At the appearance of a costumed person West referred to as “white Jesus,” West kneeled as he removed one of the masks he’d worn thoughout the concert. In a performance filled with bombast, the simple gesture seemed profoundly humble.