NEW YORK — Kanye West opened and closed his headlining set at the Governors Ball Music Festival on Sunday night (June 9) with the high-octane Yeezus track “Black Skinhead,” and in between that he delivered everything from classics like “All Falls Down,” to three brand-new tracks from his upcoming sixth solo LP.
While Mr. West is known for his elaborate stage shows, which he displayed during performances of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy last year, the tone of this set was much darker and more intense than usual. During “Black Skinhead,” the large stage screens flashed with images of ferocious barking dogs, “not for sale” signs and even menacing figures in black masks resembling KKK garb, as Kanye emerged in a studded black leather jacket and his all-red Air Yeezy 2’s, wailing into the microphone and head banging through the song.
“New Slaves” followed with the same level of intensity but then things lightened up considerably with “Mercy.” Since he had no guests in tow, Kanye simply delivered his own verse, before continuing to “Cold” and then performing a brand new song from Yeezus being billed as “On Site” which has a very heavy electronic influence.
After playing an extended version of “Power” and taking a short break from the stage, the crowd took a pause from their “Yeezus” chants to sing happy birthday to Kanye instead, as he’d celebrated his 36th birthday the previous night (in the company of Nas and Jay-Z). When he returned to the spotlight, he relocated to another stage in the middle of the crowd, where he would perform another new Yeezus cut “I Am God,” spitting ferociously, “Until the day I get struck by lightning I am a god.”
As he continued with “Jesus Walks,” “Flashing Lights” and “Heartless” (which turned out to be the crowd’s favorite sing-a-long of the night) it seemed possible that Kanye might actually perform a full set without slipping in one of his signature rants (see: “I Ain’t No Mother —-ing Celebrity”) but there’s no way he was going to let that happen. “This is the part of the show where I start complaining about sh– and justifying sh—,” he told the crowd laughing, after delivering his verse on “Clique.” But this time he noted that he was simply happy to be performing.
Though his much anticipated album Yeezus is due on June 18, Kanye has not officially released a single from the album or done any corporate promotion around it, and apparently that’s just what he wanted. “We ain’t drop no single to radio. We ain’t got no big NBA campaign or nothing like that–Sh– we ain’t even got no cover,” he told the crowd, referring to the very minimal cover art for Yeezus. “We just made some real music.”
He recalled earlier days in his career when the label would force him to hold an album until the “right moment” in order to generate the most sales and radio play, but for ’Ye, those days are long gone, along with any desire to make hits just for the airwaves. “When I listen to radio, that ain’t where I wanna be no more,” he declared. “And honestly, at this point I can give a f— about selling a million records, as long as I put out an album y’all can rock to all summer.” This bit was met with cheers, and maybe to balance out the strong words, his next choice was “Good Life,” before launching into yet another new song, which sounded more like house than hip-hop, asking the crowd, “Ya’ll f— with that new music?”
Ye’s final numbers of the night included his full verse on Rihanna’s “Diamonds (remix)” and “Runaway,” before he closed the show with an encore performance of “Black Skinhead.”