What was that?
It was a concert.
It was Kanye West.
It was a Thursday night at Verizon Center that felt like a hallucination. Or a miracle. Or a shouting match between a rapper and the universe, and the rapper won.
It was our most imaginative contemporary pop star at his peak — quite literally appearing atop an artificial glacier during the seething reveries of “Power,” rhyming about the perks of invincibility.
It was an alternate universe temporarily housed in a downtown sports arena, with most of the action unfolding in the shadow of that alien iceberg, which spit out gobs of pixelated lava, a few genuine fireballs, a squadron of masked dancers who alternated between flowing white robes and flesh-toned body suits, and a beardo dressed as Jesus of Nazareth.
It was, obviously, a spectacle.
It was “Monday Night Raw” at the Vatican.
It was Vanessa Beecroft marching her models into Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.
It was Stanley Kubrick shooting a porno on Broadway.
It was every bit as magical as Pink Floyd’s flying pig, Daft Punk’s pyramid or Parliament-Funkadelic’s Mothership.
It was every bit as Afro-futuristic as Sun Ra’s interplanetary jazz, Rammellzee’s cosmic boom-bap or Parliament-Funkadelic’s “Mothership Connection.”
It was a lot of things all at once.
It was an assault — a high-budget, high-decibel incursion that threatened to drown out West’s charisma but never came close.
It was a dystopian Halloween party, with the 36-year-old hiding his face behind an array of luxury masks that made him look like a Mexican luchador. Or Damien Hirst’s bling-skull. Or a millionaire bank robber just doing it for fun.
It was a heist, with West getting something out of us that no other artist seems currently capable of extracting: an impossible blend of admiration and tolerance.
It was a hit parade. And a frog march. Those ecstatic singles — “Through the Wire,” “Good Life,” “Flashing Lights” — had to elbow their way onto a set list dominated by selections from West’s furious new album, “Yeezus,” often getting bruised up in the process.
It was an exorcism. Pushing his voice toward something feral, West moved to these detonative rhythms as if trying to escape his body.
It was an act of autoerotic voyeurism, the rapper writhing around on the ground during “Guilt Trip,” admiring himself on the giant, circular video screen rotating overhead. “Make the screen spin faster,” he demanded.
It was a pro athlete relishing the Jumbotron replay.
It was Jimmy Stewart in “Vertigo,” falling to his subconscious doom in a psychedelic nightmare.
It was a dream that felt deceptively coherent. The kind that makes perfect sense when it’s unraveling in your brain but abuses logic when you try to explain it in the morning.
It was like nothing else that West’s peers are dreaming up today.
It was a demand that we expand our notions of pop greatness. The Beatles and Marvin Gaye heroically built their empires with bricks of love, but West’s raw material is “awesomeness,” the word he’s been using a lot lately to describe music’s mystery and magnetism and ability to nourish unknown appetites.
It was his most complete iteration of “awesomeness” yet.
It was — for 12 minutes or so — an extemporaneous airing of grievances, sung or screamed. “Ain’t never been a rapper to have problems with two presidents,” he gripe-bragged. And later, “The CEO of Nike, Mark Parker, wouldn’t get on the phone with Kanye West for eight months!”
It was another punch at another glass ceiling, followed by some rolling around in the shards.
It was YouTube chum — a screed that made West sound awful, even though he was arguing for freedom and possibility. “They’ll tell you I’m insane,” he said. “That’s because they’re scared of their own dreams.”
It was, somehow, proof of his sanity.
It was dark thoughts and good times.
It was a recitation from West’s glossary of sins followed by a come-to-pretend-Jesus moment. After snarling for 100 straight minutes, the rapper peeled off his mask for “Jesus Walks” and smiled a brilliant smile at the man he had paid to dress up as his Lord and Savior.
It was a fresh reconciliation of the high, the low, the real, the surreal, the sacred and the profane.
It was psychotic.
It was a blast.
And then it was over.