Kanye West rules on Saturday Night Live, October 1, 2005

Posted by Al Barger on October 02, 2005 04:27 AM (See all posts by Al Barger)

Kanye West came striding out across studio 8H during the season premiere of Saturday Night Live like he owned the joint. Tonight he surely did, dominating the proceedings like no other musical act in probably a couple of years now. U2 might have seemed more powerful, but that was at least as much as anything the pure weight of their legend. Kanye West, however, is only emerging, and thus this was a pure function of his musical presence tonight.

For a bonus, they cast his introduction with a fairly short and excellent little sketch as he's making his grand entrance, showing him loaded for bear. Lorne Michaels sends a black member of the cast (Finesse Mitchell) into Kanye's dressing room to talk some sense into him before he goes on, hoping to keep him from talking any crazy radical stuff on the air.

This naturally has him highly steamed, striding through the studio- where he runs into Michael Myers who is trying to forget their last meeting on the infamous Katrina telethon. The FBI is tapping Myers phone, and they've taken away his American citizenship.

OK, that foolishness was all well and good, but Kanye West was here to make music, and that's exactly what he did in a big and impressive manner. He continued striding right on out to the stage, and rolled out the #1 single in the land, "Gold Digger."

Only he did it with some interesting change ups. You might expect for this big SNL show he'd break out Jamie Foxx to do his Ray Charles bit, but no. He played it for music rather than lyrics, reducing the Ray Charles riff to a mere sample, best I can tell. Indeed, he essentially downplayed the lyrics per se, emphasizing it as music and melody.

The real surprise feature was a couple dozen or so piece orchestra that rocked the bells. They were definitely getting me some hardcore jollies. They were playing some sharp runs. I'm not sure how to break it down, exactly. Their arrangements seemed to follow something like classical style, but with the drummer and an exceptionally sharp DJ at the turntables to play against it was something else. This swung like a bitch. Ray Charles himself would have been impressed with them swinging strings.

He cut directly from the hit to a quick "Touch the Sky" in which he sung about being "top of the world." The orhcestration was so rich as to stand up as an interesting musical statement on its own, but the flow of those words seemed almost like a jazz solo.

After that big throwdown in the first half, he comes back with that orhcestra for some "Heard 'Em Say." He started out sitting down, gently emphasizing the first few lines of the words "And I know that the governments administer aids" as per the album before the full swing of the orchestra and rhythms take over. That statement is objectively worse than any silly thing he had said about Bush. However, in the proper setting of a rolling vocal solo with the orchestra and the hip hop living happily as one in an interesting musical and emotional flow, I predict he doesn't get near as much grief. But seriously, does this guy really believe that Reagan was directing the CIA to give AIDS to black people, or some such scenario?

But he moves rapidly from that malicious paranoia into some kind of flowing jazz sounding yearning for redemption. Thus the strain of schizophrenic paranoia acts musically as the setup for something of a gospel song. He makes a pretty effective musical strategy of it. He specifically invokes the name of Jesus, in a serious manner as he always does. This whole presentation was a compelling musical event.

By the way, the rest of the show was actually quite good. The opening Bush press conference just killed me. It was really funny how much they slapped Bush around, yet kept him essentially sympathetic. Geez, he's having to answer to the press for acts of God and everybody else's stupid scandals. That ain't right. What's he supposed to say?

The cast is largely intact from last season, with a couple of joyous individual notes. Tina Fey is on maternity leave, apparently with a three week old child Also, Maya Rudolph is apparently about eight months pregnant, but doing full duties on the show.

Also, host Steve Carell was especially effective as Bob Bummer, a true romance for Rachel Dratch's recurring Debbie Downer. Imagine that pillow talk.

All and all though, this was Kanye West's show. He came out looking like a real musician, not just some "hippity-hoppity nonsense." Right now, it's Kanye's moment. He's top of the world.


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Kanye West

Music Sustains the Soul

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