VH1 debuted their Kanye West edition of Storytellers yesterday, and it didn’t disappoint. In a tiny studio with about 100 fans, Kanye tore through a set of 15 songs (nine of which aired on television, and one bonus video available online).
A huge part of the show’s success was Kanye’s band. He’s come a long way from the College Dropout era, when he performed with Don C on turntables and John Legend on piano. The Storytellers setup was an expanded version of his Glow In The Dark tour: Adam Blackstone on bass and synthesizers, DJ Craze on the ones-and-twos, two percussionists, Jeff Bhasker on keyboards, Man-Man on vocoder and synthesizers, and Tony Williams and Joi Starr providing background vocals. Additionally, a string section, which was a staple of Kanye’s Late Registration-era performances, provided a stirring contribution to the fold.
The musical arrangements were loose, musical and intense. “See You In My Nightmares” started with faint violin plucks (Kanye was unafraid to let his weak singing voice dominate the room), and reached a crescendo with the song’s familiar synthesizers and booming timpani drums.
Kanye seemed happy for the first time in recent memory during his performance of “Robocop,” which is strange considering the song’s meaning and bitter lines like “you spoiled little L.A. girl.”
The stories told between songs ranged from egotistical (his post-song rant on “Touch The Sky“), to inspiring (his defense of oft-maligned public figures during “Amazing.” He discussed his mother’s death openly (“Flashing Lights“) and addressed 50 Cent’s implications that Kanye is gay during a stirring 10 minute performance of “Heartless.”
The most disappointing part of the show is what we didn’t see. During the taping of Storytellers, Kanye also performed “Homecoming,” “Go Hard,” “Paranoid,” “Street Lights,” and “Welcome to Heartbreak,” but none of them made the air, and none were even posted to VH1’s web site.
VH1 did give us video of “Love Lockdown,” though, which didn’t air on television. The drastically rearranged performance sounded more like Phil Collins than the studio version of the song.