“Kanye West Live from the Chicago Theatre” on Fuse TV won’t impress anyone who has ever been to a Kanye West show, where you can get the real thing. It might not be fair to compare the experience of seeing him live with watching the TV version, but when you consider how much spectacle there is in pretty much everything that West puts together, an affair like this one doesn’t really do him justice. The fact that the whole thing was packaged for basic cable could explain why there seems to be something missing here – with a running time of 60 minutes plus commercials, all it does is make you wonder where the magic went.
You’ve got to admit, though, West’s heart was in the right place. He worked with a program called Students Helping Our World (SHOW) to entertain an audience of high-school students, all in the name of preventing kids from dropping out. As a matter of fact, the Kanye West Foundation, which also lent a hand in setting all of this up, is itself devoted to children’s education, which makes sense – his late mother was an educator, and West says programs like these help to support her cause.
Although it’s nice that West is being charitable, it’s kind of irritating to be reminded every couple of minutes by seeing interviews with the concert organizers and some of the students. Even though nobody here has all that much to say, the music repeatedly stops to give them a chance to talk about why it’s important to stay in school. That’s not something most viewers need to hear anyway, but listening to it over and over again might make even some of West’s biggest fans change the channel. That it’s at the expense of the music doesn’t help.
Of course, what little music is left is excellent. “Hey Mama” will probably get the biggest response, as it’s the most dramatic point in the performance. It wouldn’t be fair to say that it’s maudlin, though – the performance is driven by West’s sincerity, and the fact that he wrote it before his mother’s death makes the performance more poignant than the album version.
The high point here, though, is probably “Through the Wire,” which feels like some kind of intimate spectacular. Sure, West recorded bigger hits during his career, but it’s still nice to see him perform a fan favorite.
It’s certainly better than seeing him do “Heartless,” which is as dull live as it is on the radio. In fact, West doesn’t sing it as much as he shouts it, which makes it sound even worse than the studio cut. It’s a shame that it’s one of his signature tunes, but it’s rare for West to do a song that’s this uninteresting. Let’s hope the same is true for TV specials like this.