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Kanye West's Bonnaroo performance long on hits, short on controversy

Rapper Kanye West made his return to Bonnaroo for a headlining performance that was, thankfully, short on controversy and long on hits.
Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Just call Friday night at Bonnaroo 2014 festival glasnost. It marks the day that the long cold war between Kanye West and the Bonnaroo fan base was finally put to rest. Six years after his disastrous 2008 set, where he didn’t take the stage until 4:30 in the morning, West seemed ready to move on, more or less, and the majority of fans in attendance, many of whom were not even festival age in 2008, appeared ready to do the same.

The set began with a subtle but humorous jab at the controversy, with Pink Floyd’s “Time” ringing through the festival grounds at exactly 10:00 p.m., West’s allotted start time. From there, Kanye delivered a 90 minute set packed full of hits from the breadth of his career, closing out with his epic “Blood on the Leaves.”

Perhaps learning a lesson from 2008’s technical complications, West’s stage show was a stripped down version of his “Yeezus” tour set, keeping some masks and a few other elements but losing the mountain and the actor playing Jesus.

But don’t mistake a willingness to move on for contrition. While Kanye commented a couple of times that the huge Bonnaroo crowd, “humbles me,” he still had a couple of signature Kanye rants about the 2008 situation. The bulk of Kanye West’s ire about 2008 now seems to reside with the press, who he feels has fueled the controversy for money. At one point, West yelled out to the audience “Where the press at?” a dozen or so times before launching into another song. Still, the rants were mild by Kanye West standards and, while there were scattered boos when he began, most fans seemed ready to forgive and forget.

The show was as good as Bonnaroo and Kanye West’s camp could have realistically hoped for. It wasn’t the kind of mind-changing set Jay-Z delivered in 2010 or Metallica delivered in 2008, but it didn’t add any significant fuel to the fire. People who went into his set as fans of his music likely walked away happy at the broad set list. People who don’t care for Kanye, whether that be musically or personally, likely felt much the same way about West as they did walking in, which puts his show on par with most headlining performances at Bonnaroo.

Whether Kanye West ever makes another appearance at Bonnaroo and how his set will be viewed against Bonnaroo’s 13 year history of headliners remains to be debated. But the mere fact that the debate is about the show and not a controversy makes this a strong win for both camps.

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