Kanye West
June 2015
Live Review

Boo Hiss! here he comes! the man they love to hate.

The self styled ‘greatest living rock star on the planet’ as he terms himself when he finally leaves the stage with this merry quip is not the kind of person to turn on a charm offensive.

Perhaps a better producer with his stunning soundscapes on his albums than performer Kanye West, after a bizarre set that staggered between moments of pop brilliance and acres of sludgy ballads with occasional gaps and glitches that left the lovers and the haters with plenty of ammunition for the entrenched arguments the jury is still out arguing away on the internet.

Being a very rich man who people treat like a god doesn’t stop fellow Glastonbury performer the Dali Lama being feted but he might be nicer to people than the world’s number one rapper.

The man in the middle of the debate entered the stage on his own with no fancy stage show and armed with a mic took the battle to the frontline in a show that was either armed with balls of steel or armour plated with his famous huge ego. Kanye West has no such human twitches and foibles like doubt embedded into his gold plated psyche and brimmed the kind of self belief that doesn’t sit easy in the UK.

Kanye West had arrived on stage at the world’s biggest festival to a shit storm of controversy and ferocious online debate about whether he should be there at all. Frankly this all seemed totally bizarre – no-one buys a ticket for the headline act to this festival- they are announced after its sold out and at an event with 30 plus stages and most people more excited about partying all night at the Shangri La field there is endless options and choices to escape from a headliner you don’t like.

It’s becoming an annual ritual now- this idea that ‘our Glastonbury’ should be booking sturdy indie chaps with their guitars held aloft. Jay Z and Metallica both took flack in recent years and both went down a storm when they finally got on the stage.

People say that Glastonbury is not what it was.

This is true.

It was once a pretty small festival with no pressure of being a national treasure on its shoulders. The current broad booking policy that has been accelerated by the woderful Emily Eavis is one of the great things about the festival now – surely Elvis Costello couldn’t have ben expected to headline for ever to 20 000 people.

From Burt Bacharach to Lemmy to Slaves to Fat White Family to the naughty Kanye and his whale sized onstage and offstage monster ego this is the festival where you get to see stuff you would normally not have time to catch. There is even still great swathes of the former counter culture lurking around if you want it and it is somehow fitting to have this and the Kanye West soap opera all in the same damp fields of Merrie England at the same time.

This Kanye moment has turned into the most controversial pop music brawl since the Sex Pistols popped on the Bill Grundy show all those centuries ago. Middle England is gnashing its teeth at the rapper playing Glastonbury with a long list of reasons why he should not be gracing the holy stage and staining the name of ‘proper music’ whatever that is.

West himself is either so lost in his helicopter world that he has either not noticed all this or is revelling in the hatred.

He doesn’t make things easy for himself, whilst highly talented he is hardly loveable but that has hardly ever been a prerequisite for liking someone’s music. Nice people generally make dull music and some of the greatest music has been made by all manner of rude and bloated characters who believe that they are god and are not that pleasant to be around – like John Lennon or quite possibly Mozart.

Whilst not quite as mobbed as the Rolling Stones iconic appearence on the same stage two years ago there is still a huge crowd here in the field as the rapper, who put the word ego into ego, takes the stage on his own and delivers a set that is part patchy and part pop genius with the seat of the pants edge of someone staring into the eye of the hurriciane.

On the twitter-sphere the battle raged on it but in the hazy warmth of the evening he is well supported with many fans willing him on and the reactions to his moments of magic really working.

Those flashes of brilliance are thrilling moments of pop perfection with the multilayered ideas and sounds that grab the audience back from the brink like on No Church in the Wild or Jesus Walks which really deliver as does the neo tribal glam rock stomp of the superb Black Skinhead from the Yeezus album where a stage invader doesn’t even put him of his stride. His voice is great, spitting out the tumbling word flow with a rhythmic sneering brilliance. Or the stark No Church In the Wild with its addictive and brilliantly addictive dark lolloping groove- the stuff of genius or the fantastic soundscape of Jesus Walks that is a brilliant piece of visionary music.

There is a nod to stadium flash with a bizarre segment where he clambers into a cherry picker to deliver Touch the Sky and All the Lights followed by a long gap where the stage lights are out and it feels like there has been some kind of power failure.

Maybe when you think you are the greatest stuff like showmanship, crowd acknowledgement and all that showbiz stuff seem quaint and boring and even his big hits like Gold Digger can feel tossed away and other parts of the set see weird half finished tossed out versions of Bohemian Rhapsody – genius, madness or helium pumped ego – it’s all hard to tell.

I guess it’s a welcome to my world kind of show. A world where there is no such thing as doubt and gigantic plate tectonic egos and famous being famous nobody partners like a Kardashian wallpaper the cracks.

One one level it is totally laughable but it is made up for when he finally kicks in with those nuggets of pop perfection that are perfect enscapulations of the sophistication and brilliance of modern pop music in the digital age.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Big own goal by Eavis. Awful ‘performance’ by an overrated artist trying to cover up his lack of original talent by peppering the show with the ‘n’ word. Grow up & don’t come back even when you have.

  2. Good review- tells a lot about how the music sounded. There must have been a good atmosphere at the festival itself; I was willing him to be good, because the complaints about him seemed unfair. On the TV coverage he seemed charmless and didn’t seem to sing that well. Mind you, I thought The Stones were terrible too. Maybe that’s why I don’t go to see bands at festivals!

  3. Let’s not lose sight that Glastonbury hosts over 2000 acts on 100 stages in the space of 5 days, Kanye was one “headline” act. No, he’s not to everyones taste, mine included, but for those that have layed into him for “not being Glasto enough” are missing the point that’s what it’s all about, the freedom to go from one stage to the next, variation, non eletisim, unity, etc etc…. Will next years event sellout before any acts are announced, certainly! Will the controversy over one or more headline act rear it’s head again, undoubtably! Are other festivals available, Of course!
    For me, Slaves and Sleaford Mods gave everything to
    their performances!!

  4. Meh – someone who uses autotune for a festival performance doesn’t deserve a headline spot for me.

    Stilted and frankly ludicrous at times, including the set up stage invader just made it a pastiche of a performance.

  5. Has this really got to Grundy-level proportions? Surely not.

    Dislikeable as he is, though (and I’m no particular fan of what I’ve heard of his tunes, either) anyone who has a problem with hip-hop at Glastonbury is a small minded fool.

    Same with the Metallica naysayers from last year…

  6. Kanye appears to be a massive toolbag and his life is a soap opera but his show on Saturday night was tremendous [ok, there were some low points – the vocoder duet being one]. It was everything I imagine [I watched on TV] a festival audience wants, hype, controversy, ego, talent, noise, light & excitement. The opening few songs delivered in the confinement of low slung lighting rig gave the impression of a man caged, the revolving lights and shadow between them providing the cell bars. He played the gig with minimal support, no fancy dancing or big name pals just West and the audience. He seemed to be facing the critics and the doubters head on with no theatrical devices to hide behind. For me it was brave & captivating performance. On the BBC prior to the show they interviewed some punters: “it’s not right, it’s not English rock, it’s not Glastonbury”. Well Kanye in those first few songs pissed all over Kasabian, Muse, Coldplay, Oasis, etc, etc. Regardless of the criticism aimed at the organisers, booking West was a triumph. I doubt if anyone requested a refund.

  7. I thought it was pretty good. I think the staging was a mistake – it would have worked for a 30min set, less so for the whole hour and a half. Definitely some thrilling moments, but you get the feeling he needs to loosen up a bit more to make it more of a spectacle. (That said, Run The Jewels did a better rap set). But from where I was watching (at home on iplayer) the crowd seemed to love it too.


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