The mountain came to Kanye West on Sunday morning (April 21) of Coachella’s second weekend.
Backed by guests Chance the Rapper, Teyana Taylor and DMX, West took to the top of several purpose-built hills on the festival site in Indio, Calif. for a big-budget version of his Sunday Service.
It wouldn’t feel accurate to call it a show as it was more of a happening, Kanye’s “God dream” come to life in the California desert. Watched by his wife Kim Kardashian, and their three kids, it turned out to be a hugely impressive spectacle -- one that suffered for technical issues and sloppiness in execution, but was far outweighed by transcendent surges of gospel-powered energy.
It began with a false start, with the choir solemnly taking their positions on top of the mountain. Technical snafus meant they went back from whence they came shortly afterwards, leaving the band to play mild Kool and the Gang and Gap Band covers before going through the whole process again. At that point, you had to wonder if the thousands in attendance were getting punked.
Eventually, the reset lead to sublime versions of “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and shortened excerpts of “POWER,” Stevie Wonder’s “As,” and Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life,” all given an additional punch by the choir and the pulverizing sound system which even featured speakers embedded into the grass.
A satellite group of singers and dancers moved around the crowd watching on surrounding mountains, and at one point, West came down to gleefully dance with them and causeda minor scrum. It was a remarkable peak of energy that appeared to overwhelm some choir members and create a moment that genuinely matched the anticipation. Shortly after, West took proceedings down a notch to debut “Water." The minimal and ghostly-sounding track feels unfinished, but is clearly steeped in the gospel tradition that Sunday Service is embodying.
With Chance the Rapper in the house, everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before he helped shoot “Ultralight Beam” across the crowd, while DMX’s final prayer was delivered with so much emotion and verve it reduced West to tears. With these two moments alone, Sunday Service probably did more to sell the rewards of spirituality to the assembled fans than a year of Bible studies.
It would be easy to think of this as the redemption of West, but it’s really his fans who needed saving. After more than two years of his erratic behavior, unfortunate photo opportunities and willfully ignorant statements, being a Kanye West fan has become increasingly untenable for many. Though far from imperfect, this was a moment that showed there might be some light at the end of West’s journey to the dark side.