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  • John Akers

Kanye West's Saint Pablo Tour and the Democratization of Arena Concerts

Kyle Gustafson / The Washington Post

Although this advertised notion of universal general admission for the Saint Pablo tour is rather unrealistic considering Kanye’s status and the types of venues he booked, the manifestation of Kanye’s idea to equalize the performance experience for everyone created the best arena concert I’ve ever been to.

Kanye isn’t the first person to employ a moving stage, but I’m pretty sure no one else has done so to the extent he has for this tour. Normally, I loathe arena/large concerts; the few experiences I’ve had with them have been extremely underwhelming. Yet given that I missed a prime opportunity to see what would become two of my favorite artists back in 2013 when Ye and Kendrick played the Palace of Aurburn Hills, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to see Kanye. Also, given that Van Andel is a relatively small arena, I figured this would factor into making it a more enjoyable show. Yet Mr. West managed to bring me even closer to the stage in a much unexpected way, without dramatically decreasing the concert experience for those with the true general admissions floor tickets.

As the concert began and the stage slowly moved from one end of the arena to the other, floating over the dancing crowd, all of the sudden, those at the front of the crowd found themselves illuminated by the lights under the stage, and then at the back of the crowd, chasing the stage to get back to the front. Of course I was watching all this excitement from the restrictions of the seated upper level, however this made the performance so much more enjoyable for me, and surely those even closer than I was. Instead of merely standing with a fixed vantage point to watch an hour and a half performance, Kanye kept things interesting by changing who at the concert has the best perspective. At moments, it wasn’t the people closest to him/the stage. Often the people on the floor were dancing in the lights underneath the stage, completely unable to see what was happening on stage. I think this is because the stage isn’t meant to be the focus of this tour.

While most people berate Kanye for being egotistical, and might point to the lack of an opener as a pompous move on Kanye’s part, this performance was incredibly non-Yeezus-centered. For the first few songs, the fog was so thick and lighting so minimal that Kanye was incredibly hard to see on the stage. He wore simple, non-flashy, clothing and only had one dim orange spotlight on the stage, which he spent more time out of than in. Most of the illuminating lights were shining down off of the stage, on the floor crowd, shifting the focus of people in the rest of the sections (like me) from the ghostly figure on stage to the fanatic fans bouncing around chasing the moving stage. This all leads me to one conclusion: Kanye wanted the focus of the performance to be on the experience of the fans, of how they would react to a truly one of a kind performance. The show wasn’t about watching a single person perform songs on a stage, it was about the experience of everyone dancing to their favorite songs, of simply experiencing being in the presence of the person they came to see and knowing that he’s singing his heart out on that stage, whether you can see him illuminated by many bright lights or just a few.

We all know that Kanye knows how to put himself in the spotlight when he wants to. But if you’re at a Kanye concert, he’s already at the center of everyone’s attention. So he does the unpredictable; he created a minimalist performance which enhanced the interactivity of a lot of people who most likely expected to just stand in front of their seat or at the back of the crowd and watch Kanye West perform from across the arena. Lucky for them, this was not the case. I was uneasy about going to an arena show to begin with, and now I don’t think I’ll ever go to another arena concert, unless I know for sure that it will be a crazier experience than seeing Yeezy float around Van Andel arena above a crowd of frantic dancers.

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