Kanye West’s headlining set at Bonnaroo this year was proceeded by some weighty expectations — the least of which being that he would show up late, as when the rapper headlined the festival back in 2008 he infamously didn’t take the stage until after 4:30 a.m. and only stayed for half an hour before storming off in frustration. That resulted in frustrated festival-goers spray painting “fuck Kanye” on Bonnaroo’s wooden fences and general, understandable frustration from those who’d waited all day and all night to see one of the most acclaimed musicians of the last decade.
Flash forward to 2014, a year after the release of the Rick Rubin-produced Yeezus, which topped a litany of ‘best of 2013′ lists and has been hailed by many as Kanye’s best record yet. Yeezy was invited to play Bonnaroo again. Whether the invitation was a chance for him to redeem himself to the crowd at the summer festival that vies with Coachella for the title of ‘Best in America’ or an acknowledgement on the part of the event’s organizers that Kanye is the act to book of the year regardless of his behavior the last time, it depends on your point of view. Unfortunately, though he appeared onstage right on time Friday night, Kanye’s set was not exactly well-received by the Bonnaroovians, who again had painted “fuck Kanye” all over the fences by the time the weekend was over.
Kanye’s performance was great — when he was rapping. He played cuts from Yeezus including “New Slave,” “Bound 2,” and closed with the breathtaking “Blood on the Leaves,” and played some hits like “Stronger” and “Turn Out the Lights.” But between songs the rapper would launch into bizarre, long rants that left audience members frustrated; and leaving the What Stage in droves even though as per usual for the festival’s headliners no other performances were scheduled during his set.
There was much self-praise, as is to be expected with a man whose ego is probably the biggest in the industry, and he reminded the audience several times that he’s “the number one motherfucking rock star on the planet.” He also compared himself to great entrepreneurs like Walt Disney, Henry Ford, and Elon Musk during one of the very long, autotuned rants that he went on during the set. Just so everyone knows — he wants to be this generation’s Shakespeare.
He also took the time to try to explain what happened back in 2008, an explanation that ended in him berating the media. “I did Bonnaroo six months after my mama passed. Pearl Jam went three hours late. Fuckin’ daylight was coming on, they said I was running late. They blamed my motherfuckin’ tanks, with all my pyro. They wrote Fuck Kanye on that shit. Y’all wrote that shit in the press. Where the press at? Is y’all gonna write about all these motherfuckers puttin’ their hands up right now? Where the press at? Where the press at? Where the press at?” For the rest of the weekend, Bonnaroovians joked at Kanye’s expense by randomly yelling, “Where the press at?”
Several moments when he would start playing a song, getting the energy back up in a crowd that really did want to hear his music, he’d yell for the track to be stopped and begin ranting again, which was a pretty big buzz kill for a crowd that really just wanted to hear some music. People leaving grumbled about how he was ruining the songs and generally being annoying, and several times when Kanye inexplicably left the stage, chants of “gay fish” started in the audience, a phrase in reference to a famous episode of South Park skewering the rapper.
Writing this article feels like fulfilling Kanye’s own complaints about the media, but the festival-goers at Bonnaroo were not impressed with his show, which some are saying is one of the most poorly received headlining sets Bonnaroo has ever seen. When one of Kanye’s rants would hit an upswing — “I’m so grateful to be playing to 90,000 people here at Bonnaroo … It humbles me, at 37, to be playing for 90,000″ — it just felt kind of sad. Given that the droves of people making a beeline for the exit from the What Stage area hadn’t let up since he ended the killer opening of “Black Skinhead” and started talking about himself rather than performing, there were most definitely not 90,000 people there watching one of the most talented rappers or rock stars or whatever you want to call him on the planet, because he wouldn’t shut up and rap.
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