Kanye West at SXSW: Jay-Z, John Legend, Kid Cudi and more join all-star festival closeout
Maybe it’s true that no one man should have all that power. Or maybe Kanye West just needed his own power station—specifically, the city’s long-dormant nuclear-era Seaholm Power Plant—to host his bold-faced SXSW festival blowout on Saturday night.
The free show, announced via high-production-values promo video by sponsor Vevo only days before, attracted scads of hopefuls livin’ in the 21st century and very much hoping to do something mean to it. Though for nearly two agitated hours, the only aspirants allowed entry were the already-famous: a leather-jacketed Diddy (with three-car convoy), tennis star Andy Roddick and his swimsuit model/actress wife Brooklyn Decker (“YEAH, PETE SAMPRAS!” yelled one witty lineholder), and other assorted sunglasses-at-night types who rolled up in SUVs with full security details, not on foot or via ubiquitous pedicab.
But the the lucky few pass-holders and early arrivers were eventually rewarded, and their disgruntlement turned to giddiness upon entry. A cavernous, eerily-lit space perched above the city’s Town Lake, its retro-futuristic towers glowing in the moonlight, Seaholm’s unique setting seemed to confirm that the night could turn into the kind of South-By story that gets told and retold: already, rumors of Jay-Z’s presence in-house ran rampant, as did a few less likely stabs at viral OMG-osity (Radiohead! Rihanna!).
The stage show that finally began near 1am was very much a G.O.O.D. family celebration: a dapper Mos Def yielding his crisp set to Pusha T, who obliged the crowd with Clipse classics like “Grindin’.” Lesser-known G.O.O.D. associates Big Sean and Cyhi Da Prince earned more muted responses, as did Mr. Hudson, the Brit whose New Romantic croonings, even on his reimagined Alphaville hook for Hova’s “Young Forever,” seemed to leave the room underwhelmed.
Not so Kid Cudi, who, after a Cab Calloway-style (and umbrella-free) fancy-dancing cameo from Fonzworth Bentley, gave the crowd exactly what they wanted after days of long lines and unknown baby bands: The hits. “Day ‘n’ Night” and the underwater wallop “Pursuit of Happiness” primed the room for a surprisingly early (in Eastern Mountain Yeezy time) 2:30am entry for the man of the past-midnight hour.
The unmistakable chords of “Dark Fantasy” led to lights up on a leather-clad ‘Ye, who played it close to the MBDTF bone, dipping only occasionally into outside tracks like the G.O.O.D. Friday favorite “Christian Dior Denim Flow” and 808s and Heartbreak’s “Say You Will,” before Bon Iver’s spare Midwestern folkie Justin Vernon—fresh from a far more coffeehouse-flavored evening set at the Fader Fort—came on to assist on his Fantasy track “Lost in the World.”
John Legend reappeared to perform his 2005 hit “Ordinary People,” a classy mid-set aperitif (and most likely, an opportunity arranged to allow Kanye time to change into his Eddie Murphy-Delirious red leathers), and West recovered nicely when “Power” hit the skids on a technical snafu, restarting (and then killing) the track where once he may have thrown a tantrum, or simply walked off.
But it’s not really a party until the marching band comes in, no? And so they did, making Rihanna’s absence on “All of the Lights” a non-issue with their thunderous, full-brass-and-percussion assist.
The sea of held-aloft camera-phones and even a few iPads (see, it’s just like a Bic lighter! except 5,000 times more breakable and expensive!) went into bananas overdrive when another king joined the throne. Yes, believers, Hova was in the building.
A run through f—in’ ridick-ilous anthems “H.A.M.,” “Monster,” “So Appalled,” and “Big Pimpin'” followed, and one chaotic, everybody-in-the-pool take on “The Good Life,” later, it was all over, bleary-eyed showgoers streaming out into the nearly-morning night for home or, less kindly, the airport that would lead them home.
Exhausting? No doubt. Even my fingernails are tired as I type this. But as every South-By veteran knows, sleep is always secondary to getting that story, one to be embroidered and “I was there”-ed forevermore. And judging by their beatific, energy-drink-addled expressions, this crowd knew they had a whopper.
UPDATE: VEVO reps say you can watch the show, but not yet: “On-demand content will be available on VEVO on April 22 (G.O.O.D. Friday).”