SXSW 2012: Jay-Z & American Express Bring Brooklyn to Texas

The iconic rapper performed a free hour-long show in downtown Austin after the company offered tickets to cardholders as an introduction to their new Twitter-based discount service.
Brandon Fuller

Befitting his stature as one of hip-hop's great luminaries, lines wound around the W Hotel and down Lavaca street in downtown Austin Monday evening as American Express cardholders eagerly awaited entry to Jay-Z's free show at Austin City Limits Live. Despite the tendency for attendees of the South by Southwest film festival to treat any event as a competition to see who can wear the cleverest t-shirt, folks were respectfully dressed up for the event, perhaps befitting the prestige access afforded to the lucky few who got inside.

Jay stepped on stage almost 40 minutes late for the Amex Sync Show, a concert mounted by the credit card company to showcase an interactive new service that allows users to unlock coupons and other goodies via Twitter at a variety of national merchants. Despite the delay, Jay-Z looked relaxed (maybe he was taking a nap beforehand?) as he stood in front of a capacity crowd and performed many of his biggest hits, while the performance was broadcast live on Youtube as well as the Vevo mobile and tablet platform.

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Wearing a blue shirt, black cargo pants and a mint pair of Nike Air Yeezy 2s, which were designed by his Watch the Throne collaborator Kanye West and are set for national distribution later this year, Jay easily commanded the stage, sending the crowd into a frenzy each time he delivered the first few lines of songs like "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "99 Problems," "Big Pimpin'," and "Izzo (HOV)." Unflappable even when he flubbed a few lines from "Jigga What, Jigga Who," the rapper exuded cool authority; in comparison to the epic concerts he’s given in the past – including a record 12 performances in a row of "N*ggas in Paris" at one show -- the hourlong set was probably little more than a temporary distraction from time with wife Beyonce and their newborn, Blue Ivy.

Nevertheless, he expressed his appreciation for the crowd's enthusiasm, and started over a couple of times specifically so he could get all of the lyrics right. Listening to him throttle through abbreviated versions of "Ain’t No Love," "Girls, Girls, Girls," "Excuse Me Miss" and "On To the Next One," it’s remarkable how many hits Jay-Z has had during his career, but he interspersed album cuts in the set as well, performing "PSA" and "Allure" (both from The Black Album) with vigor equal to the other songs.

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After performing "Glory," his recently-recorded tribute to Blue Ivy, Jay-Z asked crowd members if they were from various cities, laughing when someone actually cheered as he said, "anyone here from Nova Scotia?" After a shaky first verse of "Empire State of Mind," he actually started over, crowd-sourcing and all, and got it perfect the second time around. Enlisting the crowd to sing the chorus, Jay admired the legion of fans at his command as logos for The New York Post, New York Times, and New Yorker flashed behind him on small digital screens.

Whether or not he was actually supposed to perform another song, he did, and sent attendees into the Austin streets on a high note after blasting them with a terrific version of "Encore." Many stuck around to see if he’d play a real encore, but the lights came up a few minutes later, signaling that both his performance and the online broadcast was finished.
Those who were unable to attend will be able to check out the broadcast on-demand from March 13 to March 19 via American Express' Twitter account, the company’s Youtube channel and on Xbox Live.

Twitter: @THRMusic

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