After fifteen minutes trapped in a train stopped between two stations (all pressed up the glass and sweaty because it snowed yesterday and so I had my coat and boots on and everything, and you can’t move to even unzip your jacket because that’s how many people there are in the damn train and I was going to panic and actually I was panicking but I didn’t show it because I was worried that I would cause a stampede if I freaked out too openly, so I didn’t do that— logic.) I got out and went to school.
Got an essay back— C+, 60 percent. “Strong arguments, but you deviate too much from the source material.” Fuck.
Got a midterm back— B-, 65 percent. “Needs more information, sources, documentation, etc.” Fuck x2.
And now I’m writing an essay which is due tomorrow and I only have five hundred words which is like a quarter because, quite frankly, my mojo is gone, shot, fucking blasted to shit. I don’t care about Jesus Christ and the Korean Woman’s experience, I don’t care about the Iranian Revolution, I don’t care about the Keystone XL pipeline, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. I don’t take failure well.
I just want to feel like a smart kid again. Holla at me if you’ve got some Adderall or something, I guess?
I got my first mp3 player when I was thirteen— it wasn’t an actual iPod, given the relative newness of the device and my father’s vendetta against Apple Products, a ban which was lifted with the advent of the first iPhone. His purse-strings, his purchase, which seems fair to me. The mp3 player was a sad little off-brand machine made of two parts— a USB stick, which was plugged into the computer to upload files; the stick was then plugged into the base, which had a headphone jack, a volume knob, and a tiny display screen to show which song was playing. At maximum capacity, it could hold about 150 songs.
About a week after I bought it, I dropped it on the floor— predictably— and broke the volume knob, so the shitty mp3 player could only play one volume: loud. Earth-shatteringly, ear-piercingly, you’ll-go-deaf-if-you-keep-this-up loud. You could hear every lyric with crystal clarity, even if it was at the bottom of a bag on the other side of the room. This was revelatory.
Partially by virtue of genetics and partially because of my upbringing, I’ve always had a remarkable predisposition towards anxiety. (It’s called WORRY POWER for a reason, right?) Anxiety has been articulately described as “the inescapable sense of impending doom” which is an elegant way of putting it into words— you can’t run from worry, and even if you think about something else, you’re never completely free from it. Traffic and big dogs, uncooked meat and terrorist attacks, ambient noise and garbage, and strangers who corner you in the street to donate to charity… Worries, worries, worries.
I’m getting to Kanye and Jay-Z, relax.
What my astonishingly poorly designed mp3 player proved to me was that, if played at sufficient volume, music had the capacity to temporarily eliminate worry: as so many an ornery aunt has taken to pleading, “I can’t hear myself think!” True. It’s very difficult for worries to shout loudly enough to disrupt a full-volume track (which has its own problems, which is to say— I have come perilously close to walking into traffic on a number of occasions. Montreal sidewalks are narrow.) Without degenerating into the middle-school cliches about how music “is my life,” let it be said that the right song at the right time might not replace a Xanax, but it definitely doesn’t hurt.
However, if the worry-theorem is to hold true, then concerts should be caverns of ultimate solace: they are cathedrals built as offerings to the gods of sound. Even the most mediocre show has the capacity to fully consume your senses, like a cocoon made of bass riffs. Hypothetically, the arena should bring fulfillment and peace to the worry-wart, like it did for the Romans, who heaved sighs of relief when the lions were loosed from their cages. Often, it doesn’t, but last night at the Bell Centre, the lions were loosed and the crowd went wild. Tears on the mausoleum floor/Blood stains the coliseum doors…
I can safely say that there have been few more thrilling moments in my life than watching Jay-Z and Kanye ascend from the floor, rapping on top of giant cubes made of screens— screens which flashed doves, dogs snarling, sharks. Images of animal aggression and animal serenity, perhaps juxtaposed to demonstrate the frailty of life; perhaps Yeezy and Hov just wanted to rap while standing on top of a great white— double entendres! (Also, inexplicably, Kanye preformed the entire show while wearing some sort of leather kilt. Jay-Z dressed more conservatively, and sported his trademark Yankees cap throughout.)
From their isolated outposts on the cubes, the two encouraged we, the Montrealers, to “go H. A. M. tonight” before reconvening front and centre. The show was composed of mini sets of a few songs each— first together, then Jay-Z, then Kanye, then together again.
Side-by-side, the differences in each rapper’s style become all the more apparent: Jay-Z is consistently tighter, slicker, and more personable; Kanye stands as a showman above all else— not lost in his spectacle, but somewhere close. Jay splits the audience to chant during “Jigga What Jigga Who,” while Kanye fell to his knees for “Jesus Walks” and whipped out an auto-tune microphone for his performance of “Runaway.”
While every technical element of the music was performed almost perfectly (though I am no great fan of the auto-tune mic, might I add), the real joy of the show was to watch the interactions between Jay-Z and Kanye. When they both sat down to preform “New Day”— I could have sworn that the Jiggaman had tears in his eyes— you could sense that, underneath all of the bravado, the Hublots and Maybachs and Prada, there really is a genuine love that exists between the two men. You seldom see it in an industry so hardened and aggressive as hip-hop, but it radiated from every riff, every note, every invitation to “throw your diamonds up.” Jay-Z’s measured suaveness bounces off Kanye’s impulsive leaps across the stage and perpetual grunts of “haaaa?” When you put those two together, what you get is magic.
The triad of their greatest songs was punctuated by some of the most obviously scripted, but seamlessly endearing dialogue to take the stage:
“Big Pimpin’” cut to Kanye’s sarcastic lament: You know, I used to listen to that song, all about Big Pimpin’, and you know, I tried to do it too, but I always had to deal with… Which gave way to “Gold Digger,” and at its conclusion, Jay-Z laughed and said boy, a gold digger is the least of my concerns. “99 Problems.” Had they only preformed that fifteen minute set I still would have left beaming.
I noticed upon leaving— after a five-time encore of “Niggas in Paris”— that I felt a strange sense of concern, of worry, of unsettledness, which couldn’t be explained by anything. The show was flawless: what was the issue? It was only this morning, as I sipped my coffee and re-watched the clips which I’d taken on my phone (which I won’t post— all you can hear is me screaming anyway) that I realized what had happened. For the full duration of the show, I had been completely free of worry. Concern had evaporated, whisked away by the magic of what I’d just seen, just heard, just experienced. In the presence of these legends, there was no room for worry: only for wonder, joy, awe. It is an experience unparalleled by any that I can recall.
Simply put— WATCH THE THRONE was an amazing, amazing show, and I’m honoured to have witnessed their Montreal appearance. Barring some traumatic head injury, this will be a night I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Or, to put it another way— it was so good I bought a t-shirt. Those things cost like forty bucks!