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Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, Wireless Festival, review: deserving of boos

Is there anyone more dominant in modern pop than Pharrell Williams? Not only did the US singer and producer provide vocals on the two best-selling songs of 2013, but he is also responsible for 2014’s most popular song to date.

In his support slot for rapper Kanye West on the first day of the Wireless Festival, Williams wheeled out Blurred Lines, Get Lucky and Happy like the one-man karaoke machine he is, to the delight of the sun-drenched hordes in London’s Finsbury Park.

If Williams’ set-list was designed to spread the feel-good factor on a summer’s evening, then headliner West seemed to have other ideas. Perhaps aware of the tabloid circus that has surrounded him and his wife Kim Kardashian since their recent wedding, West played an uncompromising set that eschewed humour to focus on his intense rhyming and inventive songcraft.

Opener Black Skinhead blended the glam stomp of Sweet with warped beats and thrilling blemishes while on tracks like Clique, West had the word-perfect crowd of 40,000-odd people bouncing along with him.

But his intensity went too far. In an attempt to make the show about the songs rather than the spectacle, the big stage-side video screens were switched off for large parts of the performance. This drew the eye to the stage which – assuming people were close enough to see it – would have been fine if there was much going on there. But there wasn’t. The stage set consisted of a vast monolithic lightbox-cum-screen and nothing else. West’s recent US tour to support his extraordinary Yeezus album featured fire, a fake mountain range and the appearance of Jesus Christ himself. You couldn’t help feeling a little short-changed.

And then there was West’s performance. In another attempt to deflect attention from himself, he spent half the show wearing what looked like a chain-mail gimp mask. This novel piece of theatre quickly grew tiring. Perhaps West thought the mask was somehow adding to his mystique. However for this reviewer it simply brought to mind another colossus of the entertainment world: Kendo Nagasaki, the masked wrestler who scared the be-yeezus out of children every Saturday morning in the 1970s on ITV’s World of Sport.

However the mask was the least of the crowd’s worries. Halfway through one of his best songs, 2010’s Runaway, West launched into a self-indulgent rant that lasted around 15 minutes, equivalent to one-sixth of his entire set. I stopped listening after a while, but he mentioned discrimination in the fashion industry. He then said he wore the mask to “save face”. He went on (and on) to say that life is about creating things rather than about being a celebrity. If it hadn’t started to rain at that point, I might have mused how irreconcilable those comments were with the man who forms half of the biggest showbiz couple on the planet. As it was, I wanted to roll up his mask and gently insert it into his mouth.

By the time West eventually got back to singing, many in the crowd were booing. Others had taken his line “run away fast as you can” literally and scarpered.

It was a shame as they missed out on a rousing final 15 minutes that included All of the Lights, Touch the Sky and Bound 2. It’s West’s fault: for much of this gig he made the wrong sort of spectacle of himself.

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Source: The Telegraph

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