Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne Tour. By now you’ve probably heard the tales of excess, grandiosity so legendary you’ll be unsurprised to witness it again. The pillars. The heart-stopping bravado. Kanye wearing a kilt.
What you haven’t heard as much about is how it feels to see rap’s two most gigantic giants performing together, equally in sync live as they are on their already-classic team-up album Watch the Throne. And how this tour feels is like the best damned party you’ve ever been to.
At Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, Jay and ‘Ye kicked off their shindig with “H.A.M.,” the perfect bombastic intro to what would become a two-and-a-half hour set for the sold-out New York City crowd.
Both halves of the Throne were visibly having a great time, flashing grins, dancing to their jams and sweating like…well, like they were going H.A.M. for close to three hours. Kanye swaggered the hell out of his kilt and Jigga busted out his patented restrained dance moves — the party host who’s wary of getting overly lost in the fun, but finds himself cutting loose all the same.
Jay-Z & Kanye West — “Otis” at Madison Square Garden
The focus each man demonstrated was as palpable as the crowd’s enjoyment. Marathoning through a setlist that approaches 50 songs is no mean feat for either the 34-year-old Kanye or the 41-year-old Jay-Z. Never mind the fact Kanye could often be found running full-tilt across the stage only to pick up his verse with no loss of breath, or those instances where Jay-Z rapped a cappella, double-time, like he could do it in his sleep.
The song selection was immaculate, leaving no room for disappointment from fans of either hip-hop icon. Performing every Watch the Throne track, save “Murder to Excellence,” Yeezy and Hov also shared the stage to run through almost every one of their individual classics as well as a bunch of their collaborative staples.
Jay brought out “Jigga What, Jigga Who,” “U Don’t Know,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “On to the Next One,” “Big Pimpin” and a slew of verses from his hits in an insane encore. Kanye, partially using the tour as a live coming-out party for his 2010-dominating My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, played every crucial cut from that record— “POWER,” “All of the Lights,” a 10-minute “Runaway” — as well as the culturally-unavoidable smashes like “Gold Digger,” “Stronger,” “Jesus Walks,” a quick verse from “Through the Wire” and “Touch the Sky.” The two teamed for “Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix),” “Run This Town” and “Monster.”
Jay-Z & Kanye West — “N*ggas in Paris” and Goodbyes at Madison Square Garden
But back to that encore. After back-to-back performances of “N*ggas in Paris”—seriously! amazingly!—the guys came back out for a third run on that tune, even more enthralling than the first two. Then came “Numb/Encore,” Jay-Z’s lasting cut from his Linkin Park collaboration. Then it happened: Jay-Z seemed genuinely interested in what time it was, in how long he and Kanye could keep the party going. Running through another half dozen songs, cramming as many as possible into the time they had left, it felt like the party would never end. It felt totally plausible to keep watching Jay-Z and Kanye West as long as they wanted to keep performing, no matter what that length might be.
The sun could be coming up, the next day might be about to start, but as long as the Throne was still rapping, still onstage for the watching, there would be watchers.
Review by Zach Dionne