Kanye West's Bonnaroo Return: Minimal 'Yeezus,' Maximum Media Hate
Even with a minimalist set design, the Friday night headlining show was as visually stunning as expected from West's performances.
"Where the press at? F— the press!"
This sudden outburst about halfway through Kanye West's Friday night headline performance at Bonnaroo — during the peaceful, slow-moving outro of "Heartless," no less — certainly grabbed the attention of this particular member of "the press."
Apparently, Kanye West still has beef with the Bonnaroo crowd from 2008, and everyone who documented it. The last time he played at the Tennessee festival, West showed up hours late, at roughly 4:30 in the morning, and later blamed the festival organizers as well as Pearl Jam for running long with their preceding set. And apparently, the crowd still has beef with West: at least a half-dozen South Park signs were dotted throughout the crowd and all parodying the headliner via the "Fishsticks" episode, with one featuring a full-sized cutout of Ye and his animated Aquaman suit.
STORY: Kanye West Delays Australia Tour to Complete New Album
Kanye's Bonnaroo grudge from 2008 is still alive and well, but that speech was actually one of the only instances of viciousness during the show. Otherwise, West's set was filled with the inspiring positivity that often graces the grounds of Bonnaroo, the be-yourself message matching the tone of the eclectic festival as a whole.
"I want y'all to know that anytime I'm in the studio, make a record, make a t-shirt, I give it everything I got," West delivered in a powerful sermon-style monologue suitably following "Power." "And when I talk that shit, it's so you can talk that shit. If you're a fan of me, you're a fan of your motherf---in' self. You can go out and do anything." These were humble words for the man, who contradicted the tone of this speech by ending it with: "I am the number one muthaf---in' rock star on the planet, at Bonnaroo!"
West seems to be transitioning out of his Yeezus phase: the evening's set list was roughly the same as his multi-stadium U.S.-tour and he still wore a face-obscuring mask, but the set itself didn't contain the tour's trademark ice mountain and circular video screen. Instead, both sides of the stage were decked in white sheets, with the back wall featuring one massive video screen that stretched ceiling to floor, creating a giant cube that the audience peered into. During "New Slaves," the screen was backlit red to give the appearance that Ye was rapping from inside a giant mouth, and during "Runaway," the screen showed a giant waterfall as the fog machines at the bottom gave off the illusion of mist. Even with this minimalistic approach to the set design, the show was just as visually stunning as we've come to expect from West's performances at this point.
If the toned-down set design were to represent his descent from Mt. Yeezus, lines delivered during the long outro of "Runaway" could be characterized as West taking a rare departure from his usual aggressive stance to one of modesty. "The fact that there are so many people here tonight, it humbles me," he said. "It humbles me in a way it gives me strength. I know I set my goals very high. What I promise you as I stand here tonight, 37 years old, this is only the beginning."
Kanye West is so upfront and in-your-face about what he expects of himself that it makes people feel threatened. "I ain't going after nobody on the radio," he continues in his "Runaway" outro. "I'm goin' after Shakespeare. Walt Disney. Mozart. Henry Ford. Howard Hughes. David Stern. Elon Musk. You can only achieve as high as your dreams."
Dreams of grandeur are commonplace, but saying outright that you wish to stand alongside the greatest icons in modern history is, for some reason, only something done by Kanye West. He can cross one thing off his bucket list: the U.S. festival that reviled him for a half-decade has embraced him once again.
Here is Kanye West's Bonnaroo 2014 set list:
"I Don't Like (Remix)"
"Can't Tell Me Nothin'"
"Say You Will"
"Run This Town"
"Diamonds of Sierra Leone"
"All Falls Down"
"Touch the Sky"
"All of the Lights"
"Blood on the Leaves"
This article first appeared on Billboard.com.