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Watching the thone: Kanye West and Jay-Z, Gelredome, Arnhem

It was a drizzly evening, and after checking into our rather underwhelming accommodation in Arnhem, we were nevertheless excited to see the duo that shifted Arena Rock to Arena Rap. On a shuttle from Arnhem Station to the Gelredome (het Grootste theatre van Nederland) we overheard a couple of New Yorkers* one of whom remarked “I wonder how Dutch people will feel Jay-Z?”. We wondered how many people going to the concert were actually Dutch. Certainly, it was fairly international – we heard various British accents, Americans, Australians and New Zealanders, some German, as well as plenty of Nederlanders. It would seem that Watch the Throne has fairly broad cross-cultural appeal. Which completely makes sense. When you listen to the album you can see two masters of their art selecting songs and instrumentation (not to mention politics and lyrics) that will hit the mark with as broad an audience as possible, whilst also maintaining a sense of authenticity – whatever that might mean to whoever is listening.

Anyway, apparently Jay-Z and Kanye’s entourage was sufficiently large that they needed their own parking area**, certainly, judging from the impressive rigging of speakers, lights and other paraphernalia, as well as the enormous stage, looming mixing desk and massive screens, we believed it was possible the parking sign referred to the entourage.

We timed our arrival well – we located the purveyors of Heineken (what else?), Vietnamese Food, overpriced t-shirts (€40 is too much for any t-shirt, especially one with only “NIP” in a gothic script). We drifted towards the stage, and then the lights cut out. If you had checked the European setlist on wikipedia before you went to the concert*** then you would not have been surprised at the thumping bass of H.A.M. The crowd promptly went one of two kinds of crazy: either they danced like their lives depended on it, or they took photos on their cameras or phones. We took a photo of people taking photos, because we like the “meta” thing…

We also really like the battle boxes (as I have just dubbed them):

Now, I will admit right now, we did not press ourselves to get to the front. It seemed like the kind of concert where a little space would be more fun. Certainly, you couldn’t really see the two performers. But you could get a sense of their presence – and perhaps make certain judgements of how they see themselves – one might conclude they each have a healthy ego. And, for my part, I laud them for it.

H.A.M broke into Who Gon Stop Me, where light came from the heavens as Jay-Z and Kanye half-cooperated-half-battled for mastery of the stage. Who doesn’t like lasers anyway?

We liked Jay-Z’s Brooklyn Nets cap – I suppose if he can’t wear the cap of the team he part owns, who will? I chuckled though, will he also make a Nets cap more famous than a Net can? Leather (pleather?) t-shirts must be pretty hot though, and the gold chains seemed, well, cliche, and not really in a good way. But hey, I just write a blog, what do I know?

As the concert progressed through a “classic hits” of Mr. West and Mr. Z the crowd got progressively more invigorated. For me though, the sound left quite a lot to be desired. It seemed to me a little like when you are 12, and you realise you can turn the bass up, the treble up, and the volume up, and having everything as high as it can go seems like a good idea. Some people never realise that music often sounds better when you can hear the full range clearly. Still, this is rhythm-driven music, and the murky sound was really loud, and as far as dancing goes (and boy, did we dance!) feeling the bass reverberate throughout your insides does make dancing excellent. I was pretty happy when CIA finally admitted that Power was a great song. It is…and it was also one our our highlights.

Following Kanye’s primacy, it was Jay-Z’s turn, and Empire State of Mind and Izzo did not disappoint. Certainly, the crowd ratcheted up a few notches more and everyone pressed towards the stage. It must be said that none of this appeared conscious. The sing-along elements seemed spontaneous, the enthusiasm without detachment or irony. It’s nice to see a crowd just enjoy themselves (it’s nice to be part of that crowd; perhaps a subsequent post on crowd dynamics and groupthink is necessary).

Next up, a long auto-tuned jam session from Kanye. It’s lucky that 808s and Heartbreak is such a great album. Or, more pertinently, that I think 808’s and Heartbreak is such a great album. Stronger was surprisingly difficult to dance to, but Runaway proved to be quite different.

Stronger merged effortlessly into an explosion of On to the Next One, from which Kanye and Jay started a mighty set of songs which culminated in a cute moment between Gold Digger (another favourite of ours, and of the crowd) as Jay-Z and Kanye discussed what on earth they might play next (do I look like a mindreader sir? I don know…).

No-one was surprised or disappointed to be blown away by a sharp performance of 99 Problems.

As the show rolled on, I was thrilled by No Church in the Wild, the powerful video in the background evoking the protests shaking the cities of the West last year, and to some extent the conflict between excessive exercising of state power everywhere.

The crowd of course, was waiting for Niggas in Paris. And for them, this apogee of the night was reached around the third or fourth time through. I felt I had been transported back to moshpits, so characteristic of concerts from my 90’s youth. It was exciting, and more than a little overwhelming.

We enjoyed the show – but I am not sure we would hurry back to Arnhem. (Can anyone prove us wrong on that? Is there any reason to go back to Arnhem?)


Photos by CIA and PJD, in between dancing, sweating, swaying, nodding, bouncing and yelling.

* Let’s say for artistic reasons they were New Yorkers, even if they were from Michigan, or Iowa, or somewhere else in America.

** It is possible this parking area was intended for people attending the concert

*** I didn’t, CIA did.

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