“It’s a good year to be a Kanye West fan,” West said near the end of his show at TD Garden on Saturday night. He’d just interrupted his scathing 2010 track “Runaway” to talk to the crowd about self-love and life’s relative brevity — but he stopped himself short before launching into the sort of speech that would get deemed a “rant” by clickbaiting headline writers, shifting his focus back to the music.
It has undoubtedly been an interesting year to be a fan of West’s art. In February he released “The Life Of Pablo” via a globally broadcast runway show for his Yeezy fashion line; that album has wound up becoming Exhibit A in how the digital age allows artists to keep tweaking their work, with West pushing new versions of certain tracks out to streaming services as his whims dictate. He’s collaborated with boldfaced names like Chance The Rapper and Drake; his music videos have turned heads; popup shops featuring pricey “Pablo”-themed merchandise have caused lines to engulf city blocks.
The way in which “Pablo” marries gorgeous motifs borrowed from gospel and jaw-dropping crudeness is a potent reflection of the chaos surrounding 2016, and West is the perfect figure to bring that unholy matrimony to market. Even when “Pablo” sags, it still works as a reflection of the current version of Kanye, who throughout his career has had exceedingly specific artistic visions — and who has rankled quite a few people while executing them, for reasons both justified and not.
The Saint Pablo Tour not only boils “Pablo” down to its biggest beats and most urgent verses, it reframes the arena tour in stunningly simple fashion. West spent the entire show on a platform that appearedto float back and forth above the arena’s floor section. As West exuberantly bounded around the stage to flashing lights and thundering music (and calling out the occasional stage direction), the fans below, many clad in “Pablo” gear, churned along with the heavy beats and followed his lead on every lyric.
West stormed through more than 30 songs during the course of his set, which leaned heavily on “Pablo.” Tracks like the moody “Wolves” thrilled the assembled crowd as much as high-energy offerings like the booming “Power”; high-caliber guests like Rihanna and Desiigner made appearances via tape, a reflection of West’s mogul status. The bass was at what had to have been its absolute upper limit, which muddled some of West’s more intricate productions but intensified the night’s atmosphere — at times, it was so potent that it caused what felt like breezes.
After a late-in-the-show run through some of his biggest crossover hits — the Daft Punk-sampling motivator “Stronger,” the finger-wagging “Gold Digger” — West returned to “Pablo,” with the growling “Fade” rising up as red lights sliced through the arena. “Ultralight Beam,” the hymnlike “Pablo” opener, closed the show, its processional feel mirrored by the way in which West’s stage inched toward a single spotlight. As West became engulfed by Saturday night’s beam, a prayer boomed from the speakers; duly blessed, he then was brought to the back of the arena, where he hopped off the stage and gave a few audience members handshakes and smiles. It was a good night to be a Kanye West fan, and it seemed to be a pretty OK night to be West himself.
At TD Garden, Sept. 3Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.