Midway through Friday night’s Kanye West/Jay-Z concert at the Tacoma Dome, Kanye accidentally repeated a song’s first verse, instead of reintroducing Jay-Z with its second. Kanye realized the flub and stopped the music. He looked over at Jay-Z, who had momentarily tried to pick up where Kanye left off before the pair just stopped and smiled. It was about the only thing that went wrong during the duo’s set.
Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne Tour is less a concert tour than a victory lap for the hip-hop titans. The pair is celebrating its decadent release “Watch the Throne,” which itself celebrates — and sometimes bemoans — the duo’s lot in life after a combined 20+ years in the the spotlight. Kanye West, the suburbanite-turned-rap visionary, is celebrating the long odds he’s overcome en route to five seminal solo albums — and counting. Jay-Z, meanwhile, is celebrating the fact that he’s, well, Jay-Z — towering so far above his contemporaries that he long ago locked up the the title of “Biggest Rapper Ever.”
There’s much to celebrate, and the two rappers spent every minute of the two-and-a-half-hour set doing just that.
The show opened with the rappers tackling “H.A.M.” on platforms — one at the stage itself, the second at the other end of the arena. In a scene rife with symbolism, the platforms rose 20 feet off the ground, forming giant cubes on which videos of great white sharks were projected. Jay-Z and Kanye literally started the show towering above the audience, facing each other as if to say “We own this arena tonight.”
Two songs later, the duo found themselves on stage together for the first time, posing under a giant American flag as Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” gave way to the “Watch the Throne” hit — and a personal favorite — “Otis.” It was a powerful image to see the icons united on stage. They knew it, and the 20,000 in attendance knew it.
Jay-Z and Kanye spent much of the next two hours performing hit after hit after hit from their own catalogs, as well as most of the cuts from their 2011 collaboration, “Watch the Throne.”
The concert was a study in contrasts. The rappers would spell each other for a few tracks before teaming up for collaborative performances throughout the night. Kanye was the more theatrical of the performers, dropping to his knees for a verse from “Jesus Walks” and stopping “All of the Lights” — twice! — to implore the stage hands to turn on all of the Tacoma Dome’s lights after the song’s intro. He turned “The Good Life” — from which this blog derives its name — into a 20,000-strong sing-along, and he brought out the pain of “Heartless” alone and atop one of the cubes, flanked only in a deep red light. It was a heartbreaking number, one that showcased the nakedly emotional nature that’s made West such a compelling figure in pop culture.
Jay-Z, meanwhile, displayed all the natural cool and confidence that’s made him such a superstar as he slunk around the stage, happy to soak in the cheers of an adoring audience. He didn’t connect with the crowd on the same level Kanye did, but his songs did most of the heavy lifting. Besides, theatrics aren’t wholly necessary with sing-alongs like “Hard Knock Life,” bangers like “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” and anthems like “Empire State of Mind.” Those songs spoke volumes on their own.
The rappers were at their best when sharing the stage. They clearly enjoyed the spectacle and the chance to take the stage with each other — how could they not? They were having fun, giving high-fives to the front rows and bobbing their heads along when the other was rapping. The connection between the two made the show that much more enjoyable and exciting. The highlight in a night full of them came late during a three-song stretch that saw Jay-Z run through a wildly energetic rendition of “Big Pimpin’,” Jay-Z guest-star on Kanye’s “Gold Digger,” and the pair team up to swap lines on “99 Problems.”
The pair’s “Watch the Throne” performances were no less magnetic. They set the tone early with the menacing “Welcome to the Jungle” and, later on, swapped hopes and dreams during “Made in America” and “New Day.” The latter, by the way, saw Jay-Z and Kanye rapping while sitting at the center of the stage, the video screens draped behind them catching every smile and wince. It was a touching change of pace from the lions, leopards, tigers, and falcons that had dominated the video screen for much of the night.
Whereas each performer’s solo tracks dominated much of the set, the final half-hour belonged to their “Watch the Throne” triumph. Following a disturbing video interlude that juxtaposed the likes of hurricane damage and toddlers in Ku Klux Klan gear with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” the pair teamed up for the dark and paranoid “No Church in the Wild.”
Then it was time for the set’s closing track, “Ni**as in Paris,” complete with a beat that simultaneously punches you in the gut and gets your body moving. The crowd was rapping along, hanging on every word, and the duo soaked in the cheers. The adoration was well-deserved.
In keeping with the opulence and celebration that was the night’s calling card, they proceeded to run through the song another four times. Each rendition was more energetic than the last, the crowd getting crazier and crazier with every passing lyric. It was ridiculous, over-the-top, engaging, and wild. Everything you could want from two of the biggest names in music — and then some.