AUSTIN, Tex. — Kanye West likes having the last word, and he likes it big. That was clear on Saturday night when Mr. West and corporate sponsors staged a gargantuan late-night event, which for most was the final show of South by Southwest. (Emo’s and Emo’s Jr., two parts of the same club, scheduled SXSW shows Sunday.)
Vevo, the online video streaming site, booked a huge former power station and put its logo in lights on the smokestacks; invitations went out to an overbooked crowd, of necessity flaunting its privilege before those left outside. The corporate sponsor’s cars were spotlighted near the entrance. Drinks were provided. And shortly after 1 a.m., the bass started to boom and barely paused for the next three hours.
For opening acts, performers on Mr. West’s label, G.O.O.D. Music, took the stage, nearly all of them in black leather jackets, and all of them backed with deep-bottomed bombast. (After four days of walking around Austin, the subwoofers provided a nice foot massage.)
Lest anyone forget the branding, the stage backdrop was two stories of letters spelling GOOD MUSIC, with musicians tucked in around them. Mos Def paid homage to hip-hop history, gliding in and out of reggae-like singsong. CyHi Da Prynce (backed by a violinist) and Pusha T shouted about drug dealing, Big Sean about conspicuous consumption. Fonzworth Bentley rapped while doing an athletic dance routine, and was breathing heavily after his one song. Kid Cudi crooned, moodily, about seizing the moment. Mr. Hudson (a frequent backup singer in Mr. West’s productions) belted Alphaville’s “Forever Young,” as he had for the Jay-Z song “Young Forever.”
They were all just delaying the appearance of Mr. West, who got the bass cranked up even more when he took the stage just before 2:30 a.m. Mr. West has perfected a sound for stadium rap, slow and quasi-orchestral, more fanfare and victory procession than dance beat. (A uniformed marching band, twirling its cymbals and swinging its horns, added even more heft to “All of the Lights.”) Mr. West used that pomp as he declaimed the songs from his 2010 album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”: tales of bad behavior and unapologetic arrogance, pre-emptively acknowledging his faults before escalating them, knowing that a man people love to hate is still one they watch.
The bass thud paused for John Legend to play piano and offer some full-throated singing after the barrage of monotone rhymes. Unannounced but widely anticipated, Jay-Z arrived, a cheerful overdog who boasts without Mr. West’s guilt-tinged psychodrama. The beat disappeared again when Justin Vernon, a k a the introspective indie-rocker Bon Iver, sang his “Woods” — a song Mr. West used for his own “Lost in the World” — accompanied only by its electronic harmonies. Then Mr. West and his stable were back onstage, affirming the entrepreneurial sentiment “I go for mine/I got to shine” amid a deep, mighty rumble.
In its overbearing sound and corporate triumphalism, the show was the opposite of the human-scaled, do-it-yourself mentality that SXSW has implicitly encouraged. It was also just plain too long. But as consumers get their music free, corporations are becoming pop’s new patrons, a fact of life that SXSW can’t ignore.
Via NY Times.
Footage Courtesy of Bossip