Kanye West & Pharrell at Marlay Park, Dublin – Review
A double header of the two biggest male stars of modern music took the stage at Dublin’s Marlay Park on Wednesday as hip-Hop’s most infamous egomaniac, Kanye West, and pop’s most prolific producer, Pharrell Williams joined forces for the must-see urban music show this year.
To me, it seemed like an odd pairing. Pharrell and Kanye may do similar jobs with vastly different results. Pharrell breezes easily between fashion, film and music. He runs successful clothing ranges, produces Oscar nominated film scores and writes hits for everyone from Jay-Z to Paloma Faith. Kanye struggles through his art; he declares his genius more often than he truly shows it. Yet even when plagued by criticism, he remains one of modern music’s largest and most creative stars.
In Marlay Park, Pharrell worked his way through one of the most impressive hit-heavy setlists I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. He opts for just a handful of tunes from his own solo record GIRL, instead preferring to highlight his own phenomenal songwriting and production credits.
Bang on time at 7.30, he opens with ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’, an oft over-looked cut from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, which is a perfect mid-tempo groove to get the relatively subdued audience going. Over his bitterly short set he treats us to hits he’s produced for Snoop Dogg (‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’), Nelly (‘Hot in Herre’) and Gwen Stefani (‘Hollaback Girl’). His material with on-again off-again band N*E*R*D gets some of the best crowd reactions of the night thanks to their infectious chants – “well you can have this lap dance here for free!”
He gave a welcome shout-out to his “Irish girls” as he launched in to his 2003 hit ‘Frontin’’. Later in the set he’s bemoaning the gender pay-gap and our visions for the future, but ham-fisted feminism can’t besmirch one of the best opening sets anyone could ask for.
His closing triumvirate of ‘Get Lucky’, ‘Blurred Lines’, and ‘Happy’ hammers home just how much this one man has shaped the modern Top 40. As over-played as the songs may be by this point, they are still phenomenal pop cuts and are perfect sing-along tunes to ready any crowd.
If Pharrell gave the audience exactly what they wanted, Kanye veered in a very different direction. Williams went for warm, open and crowd-pleasing. West aimed for cool, aloof and detached.
Tonight’s impressive and artistic set from Yeezy was somewhat let down by ineffective set-design, a heavy focus on new material and its own perfectionist show man.
Shortly after 9pm, Kanye emerges on stage in a bejeweled facemask courtesy of Margiela. The masks actually work well in the context of Yeezus. Kanye appears disjoined – the ultimate celebrity icon with an unreadable expression. It also provides an impressive showpiece as the tour lights bounce off the mask’s studs and the crowds vie even harder for an elusive glimpse of their idol.
The show’s first half is suitably dark and brooding; peppered with cuts from his challenging latest release Yeezus – ‘On Sight’, ‘New Slaves’ and the fist-pumping opener ‘Black Skinhead’.
However, these songs didn’t resonate as powerfully as they could. The crowd wants to chant along, but they must wait through ten songs before they are treated to a chart hit. When the ‘big’ songs finally do land, they hit hard. The crowd quickly re-energizes and belt along verse for verse. But sooner, rather than later, we come back to West’s vision.
There’s a full seven-minute rendition of ‘Runaway’; it’s auto tuned wails far out staying their welcome. At one point it actually felt uncomfortable as thousands stood listening to Kanye’s vocoder-ed crying.
On the flipside of this, genuine rap classics like ‘All falls Down’ and ‘Jesus Walks’ are pared down, appearing only as mere snippets – teasers of just how strong this setlist might have been. West, of course, is well aware of this. He knows that every 30 seconds of genuine crowd-pleasing madness awards him three minutes more artistic indulgence.
His reputation as a perfectionist is reinforced by tonight’s performance. On several occasions we get four bars in to a song when Kanye decides he wants to start-over. It’s frustrating for him, I’m sure, but far worse for us. Ireland’s Yeezus show is also let-down by its outdoor setting. Tonight is obviously intended to feel dark and nightmarish, but beneath a bright 10pm sky its punch is softened. The flashing red lights fall flaccid and a feeble amount of smoke billows across the stage and out in to the open-air.
All is not lost of course. Kanye is an energetic and committed performer. When he hits his stride it feels fiery and animalistic. Anthems like ‘All of the Lights’, ‘Good Life’ and show-closer ‘Bound 2’ keep the crowd bouncing well into the set’s 23rd song.
Tonight, this was the Yeezus Tour. It was about Kanye and no one else – his vision and not ours. What we saw in Marlay Park was a phenomenal talent who has composed some of the most engaging, yet challenging, urban music of the past decade. West is completely committed to his ingenuity and his performance – it doesn’t matter to him that the fans wanted something completely different.
Review by Damien Ryan