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In a sort of one-off re-launch of their Watch the Throne tour, rap titans Jay Z and Kanye West teamed up again last night for a celebratory – if not revelatory – SXSW show at the Austin Music Hall, filling the small-for-them 4600-seater to the point of nearly popping. Unsurprisingly for the veteran duo, they proceeded to basically make it pop, over the course of a two-hour-plus take-no-prisoners show that astonishingly didn’t once mention sponsors Samsung, who ostensibly footed the bill to promote their new music service, Milk.
Instead, Jigga and Yeezus blasted through the night almost without stop, emerging atop two towering mini-stages (as they did on their Throne tour), playing both together and in separate standalone sets (as they did on that tour), all the while backed by a crack three piece band (as they did on their… do you sense a pattern?). In fact, the only key difference here is that since that collaborative effort each has released a blockbuster album, meaning Kanye performed cuts from his Pazz-&-Jop-topping effort Yeezus (“Black Skinhead;” “New Slaves”), while Jay Z attacked key cuts from Magna Carta Holy Grail, including “Tom Ford” and “Beach Is Better.”
What’s always set each of these men apart from their hip-hop peers is their unfailing confidence and a demeanor both inviting and better-than, and that was no different on this night; from the beginning, Jay Z swaggered and West simmered, looking at each other across the audience gulf that separated them (about that gulf: in some ways, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house, as everyone got face time with the duo in some way or another: the two tower stages were eye level with the balcony, and the main stage up close against the audience. But it also meant no seat has a perfect view, either).
There’ve been rumors about a sequel to the wholly collaborative Watch the Throne album, and judging from the clear camaraderie between the two, it seems like the bromance is full-force enough that it could happen, egos be damned. In fact, those egos seemed to be at least slightly restrained on this night: both West and Jay Z were mostly in shadows, lighting-wise, bathed in lasers and ambient light but no spotlights, even during the home stretch, wherein the duo tore into one hit after another.
And about those: during each of their solo outings, thanks to increased production, each hit can seem more poignant than they did on this night, but that’s no matter when you’re machine-gunning a barrage of chart-toppers. That’s exactly what they did: the latter half of the show was essentially ubiquitous smash after ubiquitous smash: “Good Life;” “IZZO (H.O.V.A.),” “Empire State of Mind…”
The pair’s obviously having fun on stage together again, so hopes for a future follow-up bodes high, although they’ve done away with one of that show’s more unusual traditions: on that tour, they’d close with “N***as In Paris” and play it again and again and again until the audience was sick of it.
Tonight, it seemed as if people were never going to get sick of it: the contest winners, VIPS, industry and others in attendance kept cheering, but tonight, the twosome only played it three times: hopefully there will be a chance for more sometime soon.
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