Kanye West / Kendrick Lamar Air Canada Centre, Toronto ON, December 22

Kanye West / Kendrick Lamar Air Canada Centre, Toronto ON, December 22
Photo: Kevin Jones
Kanye West's much talked about, high-concept Yeezus tour finally rolled into Toronto for the first of two dates last night (December 22) over a month delayed, owing to a transport accident that damaged key components of the stage setup. In that time the outspoken musician, in an apparent effort to explain his creative genius and lay out exactly why he deserves a seat at the table of high culture, has let his often disconnected rationale and petulant displays wear many supporters thin and distract them from the genius that — were he more reserved — might be more readily accepted. But even Kanye's most ardent naysayers must begrudgingly admit that there's a reason the superstar rapper and producer is at the top of the heap, and the massive Yeezus stage show offered all of the proof you could possibly need.

With the recent heaps of Yeezy talk, you might forget that the tour's opening act was no less than fellow rapper-of-the-year candidate Kendrick Lamar, who likely caught many attendees off-guard by starting his set promptly at 7:45pm to the still nearly half-empty Air Canada Centre. Supported this time out by a full band (perhaps the one thing missing from his statement-making Toronto showing back in August), K-Dot lit into tracks from last year's flawless Good Kid, m.A.A.d City at a feverish clip, as background visuals added even greater depth to the album's rich story. Monster cuts "Swimming Pools," "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe" and lone non-album hit "Fuckin' Problems" earned the biggest response, with crowd energy evenly matching the wailing guitars, dry ice explosions and pyrotechnic flares on stage. But the strict time constraints of his opening slot meant that Kendrick had to plow through his set-list at a noticeably pushed pace, and the decision to stick almost exclusively to songs from his one official LP meant that, though focused, the showcase missed out on many of the deep catalogue moments that made Lamar's August date so memorable.

After a short teardown and floaty sonic intermission, Kanye kicked off what would soon reveal itself to be an all-encompassing dramatic piece, opening the show aggressively with lead Yeezus song "On Sight" as females in white gowns — their faces obscured by skin-toned stockings — walked up the platform of the giant stone mountain that would serve as the show's centerpiece. Though photos of the masked rapper, that mountain and the tour's Christ imagery that have been floating around online, they've failed to convey just how theatrical the show truly is, from the choreographed interaction of those mysterious female figures and Kanye's own staggering movements on stage to the five thematic segments that held the set's overarching story of human faults, frailties, angst and inevitable self-discovery together. With the rawness of "Cold," "I Don't Like" and "Can't Tell Me Nothing," through broken man anthem "Hold My Liquor" (in which Ye self-censored his Red October line in a nod to his current beef with Nike) and the sombre "Coldest Winter," each tune was well placed to fit the night's thematic arc.

The show was rife with memorable moments: a religious procession carrying an MPC to centre stage so that West could bang out "Runaway"; a red-eyed monster lurking the stage to the opening of Ye's eponymous smash; and the Christ figure that finally eased the rapper's spirit, removing his mask and leaving him decidedly unbound to celebrate with a slew of crowd-rocking classics beginning with "Jesus Walks." The expected mid-set "rant" many of us had heard so much about was more a 20-minute, half-sung, comical, and relatively humble diatribe about striving for excellence, an admission that not everything Kanye has to say is on point or useful to everybody and (of course) that the unapologetic rapper will be proven right about everything a decade from now.

When all was said and done, only one new classic remained, and Yeezy wrapped things up fittingly under the blue sky of the stage's massive hovering circular screen with "Bound 2" before bidding the crowd farewell with Christ's ascension to the top of the mountain. Say what you want about Kanye's attitude and, at times, rather twisted standards for success and recognition, but his remarkable artistic vision and the grandiose ambitions from which it is spawned simply can't be denied. The Yeezus tour makes that clearer than ever.