Thursday, March 14, 2013

SXSW 2013 – Wednesday: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Kendrick Lamar, Youngblood Hawke

Macklemore at Antone's

On Austin’s East Side, well before 7PM, hundreds of people were lined up to get into the Spotify outpost at 1100 Warehouse.  Inside, a sea of Spotify-branded graphics spun around the metal walls, and two stages (the second being a catwalk) were set.
On the non-catwalk stage, the six-piece LA band Youngblood Hawke played.  While two of the band’s members formerly belonged to the oddball indie outfit Iglu & Hartly, Youngblood Hawke seems to have none of that band’s goofy weirdness.  If it’s possible to design yourself to be a band that eventually becomes loved by adult contemporary pop radio, Youngblood Hawke may be poised to do just that. 
Most of the crowd was there to see Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar, who’d created a stir last year with good kid. m.A.A.d. city.  Lamar worked the crowd and the stage – his crew took advantage of the long catwalk, jokingly striking mock fashion poses as they walked to the end.  With his DJ punctuating most of his songs with the classic radio DJ air horn sound, Lamar hit his high notes, including “Backseat Freestyle,” “Poetic Justice,” and “Swimming Pools (Drank).”
Later, across downtown at Antone’s, hip hop duo Dead Prez rapped against traditional schooling, and Stic brought out his 11-year-old son (dubbed “Small X”) to show off his guitar skills.  The crowd all sang along to the guitar line of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  The duo closed with a new song, “Time Travel,” but they also enthusiastically delivered “It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop” and “Mind Sex” (whose lyrics are pretty great).

But the night really belonged to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, whose star has been burning incredibly brightly since the explosion of “Thrift Shop.”  In a set that seemed like part “VH1 Storytellers” (in a good way), Macklemore brought out numerous collaborators from The Heist, including the terrific Seattle soul singer Allen Stone, on “Neon Cathedral,” and the distinctively smooth-voiced Ray Dalton, on “Can’t Hold Us.”  Part of Macklemore’s magnetism is his aggressive positivity and sense of humor.  At the beginning of the set, he explained that earlier in the day he’d energetically performed at Waterloo Records for about a minute and a half before Ryan Lewis informed him that there was no sound and the crowd couldn’t hear him.  “Find it on youtube,” Macklemore said, “there’s some comedy.”  In his mind, he was out there being the “honky Michael Jackson” (his phrase), but to the crowd it just looked like he was miming hip hop motions.  Of course, inside Antone’s he definitely rocked it out, performing “Same Love” with Mary Lambert and “Thrift Shop,” and telling the crowd that it didn’t even feel like a South-by show, but rather a weird basement party.  What more could you ask for?  Cue the air horn sound.  

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