Review | Kanye’s ‘Sunday Service’ creates more authentic festival experience

Kanye West’s Easter service took place April 21 in Indio, California during the popular Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. IMDb

On April 21, I stood in the warm, beaming, morning sunlight. It was 7 a.m. at the campgrounds in Indio, California. The day began and crowds gathered, surrounding a vibrant grassy hill in eager anticipation.

I’ve scrolled through videos of Kanye West leading a chanting gospel choir in a field somewhere unknown. West has conducted these private services frequently since January. Slumped on my couch, I wished so badly to zap through to the other side of the screen.

March 31, Coachella’s Twitter account tweeted, “Kanye West’s Sunday Service on Easter, Weekend 2.”

After 20 minutes of the 15-person band jamming out on that vibrant grassy hill, West walked to the center of the gathering. Were we still at Coachella? Swapping the chunky, black stage and high-quality visual and light systems for a stumpy grass hill behind the RV camping section helped create a scene of authenticity, as the power of West’s backing choir’s pure vocals were the focus of the show.

Each choir member wore long, tattered, dusty purple clothing that billowed in the warm morning breeze. The choir created layered circles around the band, all jamming to light jazz music, or as the shaggy-hair man behind me called it, “lit elevator music.”

As the show progressed, the intensity increased and slowly built up as the audience members’ hands began to lift. People pointed toward the clouds, fingertips trembling as they took in the powerful energy of the gospel choirs’ dominant, harmonizing tones.

“‘Ultralight Beam’ is coming,” I said excitedly. But it wasn’t another hour until Chance the Rapper emerged and powerfully chanted his verse from “Ultralight Beam,” his clenched fist in the sky. It was a peak of the performance to hear Chance’s loud, clear voice radiating through the grassy meadow. The song felt so powerful in this moment, and the bellowing choir that accompanied him was bold and authentic.

Though often criticized for being selfish, West’s egotistical tendencies were left at the door during his performance. He shifted the focus toward the performance of the gospel choir. He was almost removed; the creator more than the star. But as the group covered song after song of West’s, I wished he had regained some of his selfishness and taken over the show. Hearing his songs covered live with him listening and not contributing was almost painful, despite the beauty and grace of the talented choir.

But West didn’t leave us hanging. A juxtaposition of old and new melted upon the crowd, as he rapped to “All Falls Down,” a 2004 song from his “The College Dropout” album. He also introduced a new track fitting of the service called “Water.”

Embracing the reflections of gratitude and recognizing the beauty of our world, the service wasn’t religious. It didn’t feel forced. The crowd was connected by the music that energized us when we were younger. Concerts are common, but an Easter service conducted by Kanye West himself, open to the public, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.