Leave it to Kanye West to make live hip-hop exciting again. On his first live album, released officially only in Europe, West ditches the hypemen and instead enlists the help of an all-female orchestra. Sprinkle in a few guest appearances from the likes of an up-and-coming kid named Lupe Fiasco, who was starting to make a little noise in the industry, and John Legend, whose career already was well past being a session pianist and background singer, and you have a well-balanced live show. Curiously, the orchestra and the DJ, aside from Legend's brief appearance, are the only band on-stage. The rest of the instrumentation was pre-recorded. One of the best performances is from someone who never utters a word. A-Trak, who serves as West's tour DJ, puts together fanciful scratches, one of which perfectly introduces GLC to come on-stage to perform his verse on "Drive Slow" by scratching his "What it do?" line effortlessly. His fingers work even faster when closing out the upbeat "Workout Plan." The material here covers his first two albums, The College Dropout and Late Registration (of which he obviously based the name of this album), with the mixture being just over 50-percent of the latter. On "Jesus Walks," the live orchestra performs at its peak, as there is an extra sense of urgency to the performance. They also add a classy if understated touch to "All Falls Down," one of West's best storytelling tracks. The notes are few, but the effect is big. His choice of "Bring Me Down," for which he repurposed lyrics from an unreleased tune called "Wack Niggaz" which featured Talib Kweli, is a curious one, although it could have been selected to utilize the orchestra. While fans of West's radio material may have clamored for the massive hit "Gold Digger," it wouldn't have fit well with the personnel at hand. Still, a better selection might have been "Roses," a deeply personal account of family bonding during a time when his grandmother was hospitalized and a nurse had the gall to ask for his autograph. As a bonus, we do get a live version of "Gold Digger" from AOL Sessions, but after 40-plus minutes of being backed by an orchestra, the non-orchestrated "Gold Digger" sounds flat.
Filmed at Abbey Road Studios in September 2005 in front of an audience of 300 people, West had performed at larger-capacity venues but, arguably, not a bigger one. Even with a small crowd, West draws a lot of energy from attendees who seemingly know every word, but he gives every bit as much back. For all the flak he's received for his ego, his hunger to give quality performances and music has never been questioned. With Late Orchestration, he proves himself a certified rock star.
[Region 0 DVD was also released in Europe containing the same performance with the four promo videos of singles from Late Registration, as well as an exclusive interview.] ~ Eric Luecking, Rovi