SXSW 2013 Saturday review: Justin Timberlake, Questlove, Wild Belle, In the Whale and moreBy Ricardo Baca | March 18th, 2013 | 2 comments
Austin, Texas – My notes for SXSW 2013 on Saturday morning started very simply: â€śSX day 4, THANK GOD.â€ť The festival remains the best place to see music that Iâ€™ve ever experienced, but itâ€™s also a soul-killer. The hangovers and greasy food are tough; The sheer stamina of all that walking and all those hours on your feet and all that loud music is something else entirely.
That said, hell yes Iâ€™ll be back in 2014.
For me, Saturday was more about quality than quantity. And thatâ€™s another way of saying, â€śYes, I waited in line and got into Justin Timberlakeâ€™s intimate show.â€ť
Why see Timberlake at a festival that focuses on artist discovery? Well, we saw plenty of new bands we were psyched about earlier in the fest â€“ see our reviews of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday right here.
JT is at the top of his game, in front of a mammoth record and one of the biggest tours of 2013. When JT (along with tourmate Jay-Z) already has a date planned at the Rose Bowl, capacity 90,000-plus, weâ€™d be crazy to pass on seeing him in a makeshift venue that barely holds 800 people.
And yes, it was that good.
Roots drummer Questlove started the night at Timberlakeâ€™s Myspace Secret Show with an hour-plus DJ set that favored Jay-Z (three times?) and moved deftly from the â€™50s classic â€śShoutâ€ť to the â€™13 classic â€śHarlem Shake.â€ť He bended the pitch during Michael Jacksonâ€™s â€śPYTâ€ť and rocked a beat-heavy version of Tribe Called Questâ€™s â€śI Left My Wallet in El Segundo,â€ť a nod to the nightâ€™s other big, private show, which had Tribe opening for Prince.
JT opened his set with a funked-out â€śLike I Love You,â€ť fitting since it was his first single as a solo artist. A jittery â€śMy Loveâ€ť followed, but he really caught fire when he dropped into a glitchy â€śCry Me a River,â€ť which had him teasing some of the Throneâ€™s â€śNiggas in Paris.â€ť We wondered if that Jay-Z nod meant that we might see Hova when JT played his latest single â€śSuit & Tieâ€ť later on â€¦ But we had to wait to find out. And then JT had some call-and-response fun with the crowd with the â€śdamage is doneâ€ť bridge.
The new â€śPusher Love Girlâ€ť followed, as did the throwback tune â€śSeniorita.â€ť And it was during that Latin-tinged pop jam that I realized that the crowd simply wasnâ€™t into the show.
The majority of the crowd won entrance to the show via the new Myspace. (Timberlake is an investor in the reworked social media platform.) But if youâ€™re a Timberlake fan, seeing him at an intimate festival showcase with an open bar, and he plays an old-school jam with a lively, full band, and he approaches that closing call-and-response section where the guys sing one thing and the ladies sing back with another thing â€¦ youâ€™re going to sing along, right?
Wrong. I couldnâ€™t help but dance and sing and give into the moment, while also remembering those 2002-2003 dance parties with â€śJustifiedâ€ť as their soundtrack.
But when I looked around, I was mostly alone. People craned their necks to see the celebrity. They nodded heads as if they were at a care-less L.A. rock club. They texted, took video, chatted with the strangers next to them. What a waste. But it didnâ€™t stop me (and a few others, mostly in the way front and way back) from dancing.
Another new song followed, â€śThat Girl,â€ť and the album track had JT doing his best Bruno Mars impersonation. (It was meh.) And then Timberlake thanked the crowd and the â€śwonderful, weird city of Austin for having me.â€ť He told stories about hitting Amyâ€™s Ice Cream earlier in the day and ordering a chocolate chip dip:
â€śSorry, Iâ€™m on drugs,â€ť Timberlake said candidly. â€śIâ€™m just being serious.â€ť
After somebody in the crowd pretended to be the Amyâ€™s employee whoâ€™d helped him earlier that day, Timberlake nodded no: â€śIt wasnâ€™t you. Iâ€™m not that high.â€ť
Then he grabbed an acoustic guitar and dropped a subtle but stunning â€śWhat Goes Around â€¦ Comes Around,â€ť cementing his catalog as one of the best for revenge jams. His falsetto is ridiculously powerful, and hearing it from that insane proximity was a powerful musical experience â€“ one that the fans in the house will always remember.
He brought back the funk with â€śFutureSex/LoveSoundâ€ť and his latest single â€śSuit & Tieâ€ť â€“ sans Jay-Z, sadly. And this combo worked for me: Before this set, I wasnâ€™t getting â€śSuit & Tieâ€ť after multiple listens and seeing it on the Grammys and â€śSNL.â€ť But as soon as the band chopped through the slowed-down intro and kicked into the glittering body of the song, it clicked for me. And the dance party started anew.
SXSW Saturday had a few other highlights, but here are two that stuck out for me:
Chicagoâ€™s Wild Belle thoroughly won over a packed room inside the Mohawk earlier that afternoon with a set that curiously straddled the line between indie rock and dub. And while that line is a tough one to navigate (just ask Santigold), brother-sister duo Natalie and Elliot Bergman (and three others) made it happen. Everything about Natalie is stunning, from her comfortable stage presence to her unusual vocal timbre, and we wouldnâ€™t be surprised to see them truly break out to larger audiences in 2013.
Denver band In the Whale has long been a favorite of ours, and their show at our very own showcase at the Dirty Dog was a memorable blast of rock. The two-piece is ferocious â€“ stylistically and apparently in marketing themselves, too. In between songs theyâ€™d shower the healthy-sized crowd with CDs, and to the bandâ€™s credit, the audience actually wanted them â€“ picking them up off the barâ€™s sticky-icky floor. (On SXSW Saturday, it would take the right band for me to pick up a bandâ€™s CD from a bar floor â€“ but In the Whale is one of those bands.)