Great pop stars force their audiences to share their obsessions. For Kanye West, that means making people care about Kanye West as much as Kanye West does.
That might seem like an impossible task for an artist as deeply preoccupied with his own tribulations as the famously self-involved Chicago rapper and producer. But on Saturday at the Susquehanna Bank Center (the Camden amphitheater formerly known as the Tweeter), West pretty much accomplished his mission with his Glow in the Dark tour, which featured a stellar undercard of Rihanna, N.E.R.D. and Lupe Fiasco.
While performing a highly energetic hour-and-a-half set of hits, West also largely succeeded in remaking the pop concert spectacle in, naturally, his own image. Rather than appear on stage with a band, or a DJ, or a posse of sycophants, West cast himself as the sole star in an intergalactic hip-hop-era, a space traveler stranded alone on a stage designed to look like a barren planet in a far-off solar system.
Other than a visitation by a buoyant bunch of Japanese anime shooting stars, who arrived to tell him what he already knows - "You are the brightest star in the universe" - West was all by his lonesome, accompanied only by his
2001: A Space Odyssey
-style talking spaceship, Jane. A man alone with his GPS system, trying to get home to Earth which, without him, has "lost all creativity."
A high - and highly goofy - concept to be sure, but one that allowed West to string together a winning array of self-obsessing, soul-searching songs such as "Jesus Walks," "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," and "Can't Tell Me Nothing" from his higher-ed-themed album trilogy,
The College Dropout
Dripping with sweat and wearing an outfit that seemed more appropriate for a cricket match than space travel, West wasn't entirely unassisted.
A full-size band played in a pit below the stage, reshuffling beats and aiding a fiercely focused West as he breathed fresh life into tunes such as the ebullient Michael Jackson-sampling "Good Life," and "Heard 'Em Say" in which he showed that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is not the only Chicagoan with a bully pulpit rapping that "the government administers AIDS."
Like many an ambitious auteur before him, West is a critic's darling who motivates himself by imagining a world full of "haters" out to get him.
In his closing remarks, he complained of being made to "seem like such a monster in the press," and freestyled for his people: "This is my struggle, my struggle / My hustle, my hustle / 'Cause I was you, I was you." Maybe before he strapped rocket launchers onto his boots and took off into space like a Nietzschean hip-hop superman, that is.
Fellow Chi-town rapper Fiasco opened the show with a stripped-down approach. "Daydreamin' " was an appropriately lively finale, but it was the only song I caught. The Susquehanna has a new name, but the same old traffic snafus.
N.E.R.D., fronted by Pharrell Williams, followed. It's a hip-hop rock-band sideline for the R&B/hip-hop producer of the Neptunes (which includes his partner, Chad Hugo, and rapper Shay). The band numbered a dozen strong, with two drummers and two lead guitarists. The songs, some from the album
, due next month, expressed uncomplicated ideas such as "spaz if you want to" with propulsive beat-savvy riff-rock that made remaining motionless highly difficult.
Rihanna followed with an impressively professional set of pop-diva moves, albeit one whose black-leather naughtiness was dressed up in Madonna hand-me-downs. She was not shy about filling out her show with snippets of others' hits, including M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" and Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" before unifying the Kanye crowd under her own "Umbrella."