Non-Concert of the Life: Inside Kanye West's Doomed Webster Hall Experiment

Inside 'Webster Hall,' where thousands of people surrounded for the Kanye West pop-up show.

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Image via Complex Original
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By any measure, the venue is dead. Maybe 20 people are in the immediate room, a third of whom are crowded around the door. They're taking in the scene outside, where an estimated 4,000 people have packed the street. Those people want to get inside. As I take a peek for myself, shortly before 2 a.m. on Monday, a bouncer turns to me to offer his assessment: "It’s like a zombie apocalypse out there."

The venue is Webster Hall, where Kanye West had planned to throw a pop-up concert after his Governor’s Ball set was the most prominent casualty of some foul weather that deaded the festival’s final day. All three days of the festival sold out, just like last year when 150,000 people showed up. And yet, somehow, a performance from one of the 10 most recognizable musicians in the world was deemed feasible for a venue that holds 1,500 people.

Pusha T is here. So is Big Sean. And Desiigner. And Virgil Abloh, Ibn Jasper, Mike Dean, and Luka Sabbat. In a few minutes A$AP Rocky will show up. With all the star power and the thousands of stans crammed into 11th Street tighter than Kanye’s jeans, you think it’d be lit like a Red Giant. In reality, post-church lunches are more exciting. Virgil briefly tries to find an aux cord to play god with, propagating the idea that a stupidly exclusive party is about to erupt, regardless of whether or not Kanye shows. He gives up after five minutes. We would all desert, if only security or police would let us out. The president of G.O.O.D. Music and I, a news editor and the least qualified person to be here on behalf of Complex, are one in the same tonight: hostages of the hype that surrounds Kanye West, a force capable of crippling city blocks with a single tweet.

My bro @VicMensa went krazy last night ! 🙏🏾 everyone get "there's a lot going on " now !

The night began with a rain-check concert from Vic Mensa, whose Governor’s Ball set was also scrapped. Aside from Summer Jam’s Stadium Stage, this was the most logical place for a Kanye West appearance—at least when you consider Kanye’s creative process, which involves in large part attempting to will what seems to be impossible into existence by sheer force of personality. Ditto for Chance the Rapper, whose Summer Jam Festival Stage performance also couldn’t stand the rain. Unable to resist the tremendous upside, I hollered at a coworker, who hollered at a Roc Nation contact, who was able to secure me a ticket. Then I lined up outside the venue at 6:30 p.m. with my friends so they could score their own tickets. At some point during that 150-minute wait, I downed a slice of pizza and half of an Adderall, the only substance I’d have for the rest of the night. Later, Chance the Rapper showed up and was escorted through the front door, seemingly validating the logic of me and hundreds of other waiting fans and prompting a question that’d help shape the night’s mild chaos: How is it possible that Webster Hall doesn’t have a back door?

We made it inside three hours later, joined by another media friend. Every time the green room door opened beside the Marlin Room Stage, Chance the Rapper’s face stoked the excitement of the crowd. And just two songs into Vic’s set, a bunch of rude motherfuckers started chanting Chance’s name. Undeterred, Vic delivered a boisterous set punctuated by a moving "16 Shots" performance and raucous run-through of "U Mad." Ty Dolla $ign popped out to perform "Blasé," but Chance never made it to the stage. And Kanye never made it to the building. Fans lingered post-set, refusing to believe it was over. WHAT ABOUT THE LOGIC? The bartenders weren’t being cheeky when they said Chance was already gone: He ducked out behind the bar before Vic left the stage.

Security waited about half an hour before kicking everyone out. No one at the venue would confirm anything, but my media friend, now the only one left with me, got the word from coworkers to stick around for a Kanye set at 2 a.m. Because he’s far more connected than my lowly ass, he was given the name of a Webster employee who’d apparently cleared him to stay. At no point was I brought up in these third- and fourth-party conversations, but I managed to stay inside because proximity. We posted up at the Sports Bar, chatting and waiting as each bouncer took their turn approaching to say or just suggest, with body language and what not, that we needed to leave. Then they would leave us alone after one of us dropped the employee’s name that also belongs to a former NFL tight end. Calls were apparently made to bring down Mr. Tight End, but he never showed up to confirm or deny our permission to lurk.

We stayed glued to our seats until shortly before 2 a.m. for fear that moving would undo our status as furniture in the room. Slowly, the room we were grandfathered into became both the VIP entrance and VIP section. We knew there was a Kanye show planned, but we didn’t know know until Mike Dean, Virgil, and Ibn all showed up. The leftover Kanye merch from Gov Ball poured in by the box. Equipment was lugged upstairs to the Grand Ballroom. With my phone on airplane mode to spare battery life for obnoxious but obligatory Instagram flexing, I was unaware of the 2 Chainz snap or Kanye West tweet. I was blind to the masses crammed onto the street, sidewalk, stoops, trees, car roofs—anywhere they’d fit in for the small chance of seeing the show. No one who came in mentioned it. Webster Hall was a bubble with just a few people waiting for the concert.

Until we weren’t.

Mike Dean came down from upstairs around 1:30 a.m. and said the gig wasn’t happening. Big Sean arrived 15 minutes later and immediately heard the bad news. “Oh man,” he said, sounding just as defeated as my friends when they learned earlier in the day that Governor’s Ball was canceled. After another five minutes, I made it to the window to see what let Big Sean down. A sea of Kanye disciples extended beyond the sightline. And until the cops got around to parting it, we weren’t allowed to leave.

Realizing that we couldn’t be kicked out if no one could get out, my friend and I wandered around the first floor freely. But that half-liberation wasn’t as exciting as you’d expect. Desiigner stood there being tall. Rocky breezed past the merch booth and out of sight quicker than you could say, "That dude has an aura." Push chatted idly with Upscale Vandal and obliged my shameless photo request. Lukka wished out loud that he could go outside for a cigarette. Big Sean… Wait, where did Big Sean go? We all vacillated between sitting down, standing up, and walking aimless laps around the first floor. Kanye West couldn’t get in, and we couldn’t get out.

A scroll through Twitter would later reveal that Kanye showed up, stood on a car, tried to get Mayor Bill de Blasio to approve an impromptu block party hours before good people had to begin the work week. Finally he accepted that a concert would not be happening in or around Webster Hall. It may as well have been a different world, as his appearance hardly registered inside.

Our reality was this: At 2:45 a.m. we were allowed to walk out the doors and away from captivity. 11th Street was chillingly barren between 4th Avenue and 3rd, save for the police. The newest rumblings of the outside world, of which we were now a part again, had Kanye showing up at S.O.B.'s. And then Trump SoHo. Only a Kim Kardashian snap from bed could temper the hype-nado that ripped its way across lower Manhattan. But as certain as the morning commute, the storm will be back sometime, somewhere.

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