DETROIT – Kanye West was met with thousands of fans for his Sunday Service at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre on Friday.
What I understood, based on social media videos from previous stops in Cody, Wyoming, Atlanta and multiple California performances, the intimate concert series couples the rapper with a choir to create gospel renditions of his songs.
However, I was instead met with an hour and a half of gospel tunes with West essentially taking a back seat, spending more time watching his two eldest children, North and Saint, than on the microphone.
After securing a ticket to the free event, which was a tiring whirlwind that included a false start Thursday morning and then some coercion on my part, I was initially excited to finally see West in person and to be transcended during the choir's angelic "Jesus Walks" cover, and maybe even a surprise celebrity appearance. West is known for his unpredictable behavior after all, so I was open to whatever he had in store.
I was ready to raise my hands and sing my praises for Yeezus.
Instead, I think I just went to church. The service was complete with a sermon from the Rev. Adam Tyson of Los Angeles who encouraged the crowd to reconfigure their perceptions of God and prompts from choir director Jason White to lift our hands up and say: "Jesus is the light."
"Maybe you're here today and you've thought of God as an old man, you might think of God as a grandpa — someone who is out of time and out of power," Tyson said, his voice reverberating through the theater's sound system. "I'm here to remind you: God is the same today as he was yesterday as he will be forever."
The only West tracks sung during the service were "Father Stretch My Hands" and "Ultralight Beam" from "The Life of Pablo." West hopped on the microphone during "Father Stretch My Hands," quickly enough that it seemed as though I imagined it, before returning to his seated position in the center, his smile distinguishable even when shadowed by the hood that remained firmly fixed on his head throughout the service.
The choir, a mix of local singers and West's travel ensemble, was full of life and talent and so obviously having the time of their lives while singing lines like "Your word is water giving life" and "His love is life" that the crowd couldn't resist dancing along.
The crowd was composed of teen boppers in $65 Saint Pablo tour merchandise who silently stood with their phones outstretched standing alongside older fans swaying along with the occasional baby-laden car seat.
The highlight of the afternoon came when West stood behind a set of turntables to spin Cajmere's "Brighter Days." That was the moment everything came together; this moment is what I imagined my Sunday Service experience to be: West in his wheelhouse with the accompaniment of a symphony of voices and an electric dancing crowd. Too bad it lasted like five minutes.
Overall, Detroit's Sunday Service was perhaps the most spiritual — again, based on what I've seen of the other performances online. The magnificence of the choir, coupled with the brightness of the white-top theater, then add a striking river serving as the background led to an amazing setting perfect for glorifying the majesty of God. The simplicity of this afternoon's service, compared to West's previous Sunday Service performances which have featured startling, pulsing lights in California and eerie vibes that inspired Teletubbies comparisons at Coachella, made it that much more holy.
Previously, West prioritized his artistry, but in Detroit, West let God take the spotlight.
West will be at the Fox Theatre in Detroit tonight for the premiere of Jesus Is King: A Kanye West Experience.