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Concert Reviews:
Kanye West offers a troubled climb up the mountain at The Palace
 

By GARY GRAFF
21st Century Media/Digital First Media, @GraffonMu

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AUBURN HILLS -- "Say something positive. Surprise me," Kanye West challenged during a long, anti-media rant on Thursday night, Dec. 19, at The Palace.

So here goes: The guy is brilliant. A gifted MC. A rapper with advanced songwriting and compositional sensibilities. A visionary producer and a bona fide artist brimming with next-level ideas. Much of that was on display on Thursday.

But so was the other, less flattering side of that equation.

West's super-sized, 29-song, two-hour and twenty-minute concert certainly gave the Palace crowd of about 12,000 quite a bit to chew on -- eye-catching scenery, choreographed set pieces, judiciously used pyrotechnics and laser effects, and a large circular overhead video screen. What it lacked, however, was flow; with so much going on the show was ultimately bogged down by the same ambitions that made it so intriguing.

Following a confident opening set by Kendrick Lamar, West wasted no time in establishing that the Yeezus Tour show -- named after his latest album and delayed for more than five weeks due a truck accident that damaged some of the set -- would certainly be an original exposition. A dozen female "apostles" paraded to the portion of the stage that jutted into the audience before West, sporting one of a half-dozen outfits -- including a mask that would obscure his face for the first 90 or so minutes of the show -- made his entrance with the "Yeezus" album's opening track, "On Sight." Three songs later, he had his shirt off and sang "Power" from a hydraulic lift that positioned him above the cliff-like structure that was the focal point of the stage (Yeezus on the Mount, if you will), while "Cold" and a cover of Chief Keef's "I Don't Like" found him back at the front, bouncing on the stage tip like a springboard.

West, who offered a couple of shout-outs to Detroit rapper Big Sean -- who's signed to his G.O.O.D. Music label -- had help from other characters throughout the concert, including a "Star Wars" meets "The Lion King" creature that prowled around the set at one point, and a barefoot Jesus, who joined the proceedings for, appropriately, "Jesus Walks" and the show's finale. But while performances of "Black Skinhead," "Can't Tell Me Nothing" and "Coldest Winter" were strong, a ponderous section that included "Hold My Liquor," "I'm In It," "Guilt Trip" and an extended "Blood on the Leaves" slowed things to a crawl. And his lengthy, self-congratulating sermon during "Runaway" -- talking about everything from his recent round of radio and TV interviews, his decision to switch from Nike to Adidas for his trademark athletic shoes and his future ambitions ("I'm not really a rapper. I'm an artist.") -- brought the show to a dead halt.

The payoff, however, was a closing blitz of greatest hits, with a finally unmasked West powering through "Stronger," "Jesus Walks," "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," "Flashing Lights," "All of the Lights," "Good Time," "Homecoming" and "Bound 2" with the kind of aggressive abandon he needed to deploy more frequently throughout the night. When it wasn't there, West's brilliance was severely, and undeservedly, tarnished.

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