Kanye West‘s viral, living floating stage is the breakout live performer of 2016. It is an industrial, imperial hoverboard that recalls Alien 3 for its fatalist, orange-tinged vision of a chained future. But the gimmick is also responsible for the best arena tour in the history of hip-hop.
With all due respect to West’s previous tours, or Jay Z‘s Hard Knock Life treaty, or Dr. Dre’s experiential Up In Smoke spectacle in 2000, or that time N.W.A. was arrested in Detroit after performing “Fuck the Police” in 1989, the Saint Pablo tour’s floating stage has forged a runway forward for live rap music.
“Literally, my stomach felt like I had, like, internal bleeding because of how much it was shaking and how loud it was,” Chance the Rapper told L.A.’s Power 106.
I believe it. Wednesday night in Austin, Texas, the Saint Pablo tour passed through the Frank Erwin Center—and my ears are still ringing.
The stage is a platform that, for two hours, hovers from one end of the arena to the other. West is on it, of course, chained to it for safety and aesthetic dramatics. Backup singers like perennial accomplice Tony Williams are perched offstage, in the back. From the floor, fans mostly see the floating stage’s more than 50 lights. Under the floating stage, security guards flank its paths like the dolphins from The Life Aquatic. When it’s over, following “Ultralight Beam,” the floating stage lands and West walks off.
For fans on the floor, it’s the most interactive and liberating concert experience a rap tour has ever planned.
Whereas previous arena spectacles from West were designed with an eye toward theater—marching bands, ballet dancers, Kanye stranded on a lost planet like Astronaut Jones, a giant iceberg, sharks, Jesus Christ—the Saint Pablo tour is a minimalist affair that uses its floating stage to start riots.
The stage is the star and we are the stage—we’re not intended to simply watch the hero sweat.
West is more famous than his music and likely boasts more detractors than fans. Here, he preys upon America’s celebrity culture and fuses its post-Beatles urge to flock the centerpiece with the primal togetherness of a punk rock pit.
Not long ago—recall Drake’s dazzling prom at the Summer ’16 tour—a mainstream rap concert was about gawking in your most fresh attire. You had your seat and your airport-priced Jack and coke. Participating was awkward and grazing elbows with strangers a sin.
West’s floating stage provokes a reaction—and leaves you enough space to dance like an idiot. Or do a somersault. Or gather directly under the floating stage’s spotlights and jump. Or point and rap at and with diverse fans in attendance.
Saint Pablo has more than 20 dates left and runs in the U.S. through November. If you’re going, arrive by 9pm. Camping out is pointless because the floating stage traverses most of the floor. And, spoiler, he likely won’t perform “Gold Digger”—but no one will notice.