“I wish I had a clone to see all the shows I’m missing.” That’s a sentiment often echoed out here in Austin, Texas during the music portion of the SXSW festival. There are so many top-tier talents performing concurrently that it’s an embarrassment of riches for those roaming the downtown streets with green badges around their necks, which serve as a VIP card of sorts for concert entry.
Even if you plan accordingly, as I did yesterday, accepting the fact that flushing your itinerary down the shitter due to sudden changes of plan and other supposed guest star visits—more on that later—is key to avoiding the no clone blues. My planned itinerary included the indie band Fun., angst vixen Fiona Apple, a motley crew of hip-hop and R&B’s new talents at SOB’ 30th Anniversary party, and a not-so-secret performance by the (original) Boss Bruce Springsteen.
And so Wednesday began at La Zona Rosa with an afternoon show from breakout trio Fun. The New York band, currently sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with “We Are Young,” ran through a brilliant if abbreviated set. “What the fuck is up, Austin?” asked lead singer Nate Reuss. Apparently, a good-ass time was. (And not just because—as Nate informed the crowd—he was wearing no underpants under his shorts.) When Fun. launched into their anthemic hit, the audience had no issue with singing along a cappella. “So let’s set the night on fire!” they roared. It’s amazing what a crowd of beer-soaked, mostly talentless fans can accomplish when singing together. Somehow the moment was glorious.
Sadly, Fiona’s gig was filled to capacity by the time I made it over her way (hopefully, I’ll catch her later this week). Next stop was The Belmont for a rap and R&B showcase celebrating the 30th anniversary of the iconic New York City venue SOB’s, boasting sets from California crooner Miguel, Georgia rhymer 2 Chainz, and Ohio’s own Machine Gun Kelly—among others. The evening show started late. Miguel was the first star to touch the stage, sporting an, uhh, interesting wavy and sloped haircut, a black blazer with a matching tee and red suspenders underneath. Machine Gun Kelly followed with his own unique brand of high-energy rap.
I opted to go Boss hunting instead. Alas, the much-whispered Bruce Springsteen show was simply a guest appearance at the tail end of Alejandro Escovedo's set at the 30th annual Austin Music Awards. But what I did fall into after my failed mission was a day-maker: Lionel Richie! The former Commodores front man and 80s pop behemoth performed a midnight set at ACL Live for the Billboard magazine party. And he was amazing. At age 62, Richie looks half his age physically. Dressed in black from tee to sneakers, it didn’t take long for him to reach into his bag of classics. “Easy” came first. Then “Dancing on the Ceiling.” He even brought out the O.G. Kenny Rogers to do a duet of Roger’s smash hit “Lady,” which was written by Richie. These two showed the youngsters how to do it properly. Meanwhile at the VH1 Rock Docs party next door at the W Hotel , 21-year-old UK rapper/singer Ed Sheeran was a one-man army, working his acoustic guitar, foot-pedal effects boxes, and two microphones like a true master.
Then in true SXSW fashion, a new rumor of a surprise appearance made its way to my ears. According to a reliable source (thanks, @Kozza) Kanye West was supposed to be popping up at the SOB’s show, which was still in progress. It was a tough decision—leave a legend’s show to possibly catch ‘Ye blocks away. I took one more glance at Richie’s full head of curls and peaced out, jetting with some other writers to make it back to The Belmont. Just as we reached the venue, 2 Chainz was performing his street banger “Spend It.” Then he brought out brought out Detroit spitter Big Sean, who delighted the crowd with his booty jam “Dance (A$$).” Kanye, looking like he was still is Paris fashion week mode, quietly eased to the front of the stage wearing a blazer, tee, and several gold bracelets.
“I just came out here to enjoy some new music from all the new niggas, like my man 2 Chainz and Big Sean,” Kanye said as he grabbed the mic. But he was obviously up for a little more that that. When Sean’s "Marvin & Chardonnay" rang off, West rapped his verse on the cut. Then he performed his own hit, "Can't Tell Me Nothing."
The show’s headlining act, the hip-hop collective Slaughterhouse, made a solid showing. But even their smash hit “Hammer Dance,” with a random surprise showing from MC Hammer himself, seemed a little bit anticlimactic, considering Kanye and co. had just sucked the air out of the room.
Had things gone according to plan on Wednesday, I likely would have gone to see Apple and Springsteen, then to bed. Thankfully, a charged smartphone and quick feet got me to Richie and Kanye. I slept well with those shows under my belt.
Written by Brad Wete (@BradWete)