What does a half-million dollars get you these days?
It bought three of the biggest and most innovative hop-hop acts around to McKale Center, along with two huge high-definition screens, the loudest and clearest sound system I've ever witnessed, a space robot designed by the legendary Jim Henson's Creature Shop, LED screens galore, extraordinary theatrical lighting, a stage transformed into an apocalyptic planet-scape, a break-dancing Darth Vader festooned with gold chains, two ridiculously hot hologram ladies bathed in gold (created by director Hype Williams to accompany West's monster hit "Gold Digger," natch) and one Connect Four set (de rigueur on West's tour rider). It all resulted in one of the most incredible spectacles in arena-tour history, a feast for the eyes and ears.
The best performance came from Lupe Fiasco, who hit the stage first. Fiasco's brand of witty nerd-hop is refreshing, and his boundless enthusiasm intoxicated the stadium. Fiasco performed an equal number of songs from his two albums, the highlight being "Daydreamin'," a robot fantasy/indictment of bland hip-hop that swelled into a majestic hip-hop mini opera, directed by Fiasco. The choice to bring folk singer Matthew Santos on stage to provide his sweet and heartfelt vocals to several songs illustrates Fiasco's continued refusal to be tied down into any pre-existing definition of what hip-hop can and can't be.
The Best Energy of the Night Award went to N.E.R.D., chiefly due to lead MC Pharrell Williams' incredible charisma. Spurred on by two drummers with monster sets, N.E.R.D. provided the hardest, most-rocking set of the evening. When the club banger "She Wants to Move" segued seamlessly into the baseline of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," it just felt so ... right.
West's performance was driven by an odd and incredibly self-aggrandizing narrative which reminded fellow concert-goer Stephen Seigel of Tracy Morgan's Saturday Night Live Astronaut Jones skit: West crashes his spaceship on a strange and lonely planet; West loses faith; West communes with aliens; West realizes that he is indeed the "brightest star in the universe" and that Earth needs him; West blasts back to Earth, propelled by the sheer force of his own ego.
Despite the self-importance, the stunning visuals and Kanye's undeniably great arsenal of songs kept the crowd on its feet the entire time, yelling every word along with West.