Virgil Abloh needed an AUX cord. At around 1:30 a.m. this morning, the fashion designer and Kanye West adviser was walking through a nearly empty room inside New York's Webster Hall, trying to see if he could get some music going while a half-dozen artists and VIPs including Pusha T and Desiigner milled around, waiting for a secret 2 a.m. Kanye show to begin. No music came; for that matter, neither did Kanye. Well before the clock struck two, it was clear to everyone inside the venue that his makeup show for the canceled third day of the Governors Ball Festival was not going to happen. When Big Sean arrived through a side entrance around 1:45 a.m. only to hear that it was a no-go, he looked like a kid being told that the ice cream store just closed 15 minutes ago. Outside on East 11th Street, thousands of onlookers continued praying in vain for the show that wasn't.
There had already been a rap show at Webster Hall that night — not by Kanye, but one of his many offspring. Earlier in the day, Chicago's Vic Mensa announced his own Gov Ball makeup show, offering tickets to the first 150 people in line. It was a kind gesture from a rising star who would be celebrating his birthday with Jay Z and Beyoncé by the end of the night.
Many have given Chance the Rapper the mantle of the New Kanye for everyone who misses the Old Kanye. Vic Mensa has chosen instead to embrace elements of Kanye's latter-day style — he’s a rapper by trade, but an unmistakable rock star in persona. Even if he didn’t don a guitar last night — sadly, there was no acoustic “Codeine Crazy” cover — Mensa's performance of the heavily distorted “16 Shots," backed with skull-faced police cutouts, felt closer to nu metal than rap’s been in well over a decade. That, along with his 2015 anthem "U Mad," were the highlights of a set where the crowd, which had been primed for an outdoor festival, turned raucous with every beat drop. When Mensa tried to show off more of his stylistic range, though — playing an EDM collaboration with Flume or going back to his first mixtape with "Holy Holy" — the energy in the room felt flatter.
Through a door at the side of the stage, fans watching closely could spy that Ty Dolla $ign and Chance the Rapper were both in the building. Ty came out for a brief cameo midway through the set. But while some in the crowd chanted loudly for Chance — whose Summer Jam performance was also rained out — he didn't touch the stage. This was Vic's show.
By 11:30 p.m., with his set over, Vic Mensa and his team ducked behind a backstage bar and disappeared. The building started to clear out, but anyone who'd seen the rumors on Twitter or via a text from an in-the-know friend knew better than to leave yet. Members of the venue staff could be heard whispering in hushed voices. When Kanye's constant collaborator Mike Dean appeared, wandering around near the bar, there was little question who was due to arrive.
Next came a lot of waiting. Fashion wunderkind Luka Sabbat couldn’t go outside to smoke a cigarette, because the crowd on the streets was pressed up against the glass of the nearest exit from the bar. Even in that confined space, though, the mood stayed jovial — just a bunch of friends, overworked staff, and loose bartenders intermingling while a friend and I hung out to see if the man of the hour would materialize. A little after 1:30 a.m., Mike Dean got the news that the show was off, which quickly spread throughout the room. Now another waiting game started: All available exits led to the thousands of disappointed Kanye fans mobbed outside, so the simple act of opening a door was a high-risk option. Everyone hung out awkwardly inside the venue, like teens in detention. It was a good time to make a friend and, of course, discover he’s somehow part of Desiigner’s camp.
After a couple of hours, a peek through the venue's wide windows showed that the crowd outside had finally given up and started to make their way to trains, cabs, or Ubers. Time for one last Twitter check: The latest rumors suggested that Kanye's now-mythic show was back on, about a mile downtown at the SoHo nightclub SOB's. A small group of VIPs beelined to the new venue around 3 a.m. Once there, we found that SOB's was surge-pricing tickets: The people running the door said that entry to whatever was happening there would cost $60. There was still no sign of Kanye. Looking around, we could see that Desiigner and Pusha T were making their way away from the venue. If Desiigner, a literal human ball of energy, was done, we knew the night was a wrap.
Since Kanye reinstated his G.O.O.D. Friday music series back in January, we've been in the throes of a Yeezy Season like no other. The Life of Pablo dropped, only to undergo constant revisions; pop-up shops came and went with ever-changing merch. A headlining performance at Gov Ball might have given us the concert experience we needed to tie all those loose threads together. Instead, Kanye's fans were left in a frenzied scrum outside of a club, while those inside wondered if and when they’d ever be allowed out. As absurd as the night was, though, it made a strange kind of sense. Maybe it's more fun for the meaning of Kanye West's 2016 to remain an elusive, unanswered question.