WINNIPEG - Hip-hop innovator Kanye West -- the very definition of a Type A personality -- has already risen to the top of the music biz, the fashion world, and that rarified realm reserved for folks who can turn their own names into marketable commodities.
Well, after crash-landing his Glow in the Dark Tour onto the MTS Centre stage last night, rap's reigning enfant terrible can now cross "outer space" off his to-do list of conquests.
The Glow in the Dark show, a flashy sci-fi space odyssey characterized by trippy visuals, an elaborately rendered sloping stage setup, and a concept that casts West as a Wagner-esque hero trying to find his way back home, should be enough to silence those critics who claim he lacks the talent to back up all that bluster and braggadocio.
It also proves his commitment to helping position hip-hop as a bonafide art form -- one whose proponents aren't afraid to break free of genre limitations, touching the sky and whatever lies beyond in their quest to challenge both audiences and themselves.
We all know Kanye is his own biggest fan, so it wasn't surprising to find him alone onstage for most of his set, retro-fitting hits like Through the Wire, Flashing Lights, Stronger, and yes, Touch the Sky to match the narrative of an astronaut stranded on a strange planet.
With a live orchestra to accompany him, and a computerized pal named Jane to spar with, West opted to forego much audience interaction, turning the show into even more of a performance piece than his concert here last fall.
But while West's set may have been strictly a one-man operation, the rest of the tour's lineup relied more heavily on strength in numbers.
Up-and-comer Lupe Fiasco, saddled with the unenviable 7 p.m. slot, at first faced a vast expanse of empty seats. But the Chicago native, who sets himself apart from his hip-hop brethren by abstaining from drink, drugs and even dirty words, quickly transcended a sparse stage and minimal accompaniment, wringing emotional highs from tracks like Streets on Fire, Superstar and Day Dreamin', while deftly weaving his rhymes with the harmonies provided by male and female singers flanking him onstage.
Rap-rock outfit N.E.R.D. -- aka production duo The Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo), plus friend Shay Haley -- spun their funky iconoclasm into a similarly engaging spectacle.
Armed with two drummers, two guitarists, and a small cadre of hype men, the N.E.R.D. crew made short work of club bangers like Brain, Rock Star, Spaz and She Wants to Move, eventually inviting a bevy of babes onstage to bust out some sexy dance moves with them.
And speaking of which, let's not forget about Rihanna, the Barbados-born R&B beauty whose polished dance-pop served as the warm-up for West's space-age soliloquies. Clad in a gathered black bustle-skirt (which she quickly tore off to reveal a leather catsuit and stilettos), Rihanna gave her sultry pipes a workout on truncated versions of SOS, Pon de Replay, Unfaithful and Don't Stop the Music.
And just when it seemed she was going to give the half-assed treatment to her biggest hit Umbrella, an influx of soaring synths shifted the song into high gear, while helping launch West's entire Glow in the Dark extravaganza straight into the stratosphere.
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