Unlike, say, Coachella, South By Southwest isn't a festival of headliners and openers: it's a conference, mostly, of bands the general population hasn't yet heard of, abetted by corporate-sponsored “parties” that range from blogger bashes featuring those same up-and-comers to stadium-sized productions meant as marketing opportunities with the biggest artists in the world.
Any appearance by Kanye West certainly falls into the latter category. The ubiquitously popular rapper-producer-superstar has been something of a South By mainstay the last few years, popping up for surprise appearances at his proteges' shows or hosting an impossible-to-get-into set in the middle of the afternoon. But this year's West-side performance was his biggest yet: at a rolls-off-your-tongue-titled event Vevo presents G.O.O.D Music sponsored by Chevrolet on Saturday night, where West and his posse took over an abandoned Austin power plant, for a show that was equal part rap revue, organizational clusterf--k, tour launch, and mission statement.
West delivered, taking the stage at 2:28am for a production- and guest-heavy set that featured up-and-comers (Chris Martin-esque crooner Mr. Hudson; Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon), disciples (Kid Cudi; Clipse's Pusha T) and one megastar (Jay-Z, who performed a full third of the set with West) along with a slew of famous faces in the audience including Beyonce, Diddy, Jimmy Kimmel and Brooklyn Decker.
With a set list comprised mostly of songs from his hit-laden 2010 release My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West, as always, proved himself an adept rapper and an unquantifiable presence: emerging to stand atop massive, lit letters spelling the name of his label, G.O.O.D. Music, West -- backed by a DJ for most of the set with rotating live musicians throughout -- blasted through "Dark Fantasy," with the few-thousand-person audience chanting with him, “Can we get much higher / So high!” It was the first in a marathon series of singalongs.
West didn't slight on the hits or the collaborations: John Legend
emerged to help with “Blame Game” and then crooned through his own “Ordinary People;” “Runaway” false-started uproariously before becoming a hands-in-the-air celebration; “All of the Lights” saw a full, suited marching band providing percussion and horn abetment to the song's already-busy arrangement. Jay-Z's appearance had been rumored, and in fact Jigga emerged towards the end, blasting through their forthcoming collaboration “H.A.M.” and a new song with the chorus “swag, swag, swag,” mimicking young hip-hop upstarts (and South By breakthrough act) Odd Future
's mantra, as well as his own “Big Pimpin” and West's megahit “Monster.”
Aside from the filler-esque pre-main-event revue with Mos Def and Kid Cudi, among others, the only downside to the night was the extreme mess out front, which found four different kinds of credential holders jockeying for position in a too-small holding cell that could easily have turned from name-calling jostling to near-riotous. Promotors of such massive events have an obligation to ensure the safety not only of the people who make it inside, but the ones trying to figure out how to get in. The near disastrous horde of people out front mixed with the innocent ineptitude of an in-the-dark security force proved that the organizers of this specific event may not agree.