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SXSW 2017: Our Favorite Surprises And Most Disappointing Music Performances

Austin’s South by Southwest may be over, but we’re still processing everything we saw that wild week. To help explain to those who couldn’t attend a feeling of what SXSW shows are like, we offer this small taste.
Photos by: Abigail Slider

Best Performance: The Roots & Friends

Part of what establishes The Roots as so foundational to contemporary music is their subtle, wide-open ears. They can flip between backing Hov and Hamilton and not lose any of their essential flavor. When you read the lineup of who the Roots considers musical Friends—a sampling: Rae Sremmurd, Shakey Graves, Brandy, Cloves—it doesn’t really make sense at first sight. Heard in context with the Roots, you simply shut up and listen. (For full list and experience: check here.)

Favorite Show: Francis And The Lights

I’m kind of outing myself as a Francis head, but so has your favorite: Chance, Kanye, Bon Iver, Drake. His music feels both intimately vulnerable and oddly protective as a listener. He really goes for it, and willing to try anything—like when Francis climbed the paneling of his stage, danced from the highest peak (a good 15-20 feet tall), making me think I would witness death, then jumped down to stage level, clutching the microphone and crushing the hook of the song he was performing. It was just pure exhilaration.

Best I-Didn’t-Think-I’d-Ever-See-Him-Perform Performance: Jay Electronica

I won’t repeat myself too much after writing a full recap here. But for a week filled with surreal moments, Jay Electronica was the one performance I couldn’t stop questioning, “Is this really happening right now?”

Most Disappointing: Taylor Bennett

Some necessary caveats: Taylor Bennett does not receive his proper credit because he happens to be Chance the Rapper’s little brother. Restoration Of An American Idol is one of 2017’s more underrated hip hop projects. “Neon Lights” should be an underground summer jam, but probably won’t. You can see I’m supporter of Taylor’s music, which might explain the crushing disappointment to watch him rely so heavily on his backing track while rapping. I won’t accuse him of lip-syncing, but his performance didn’t connect in the way it should. It was strange, too, that he rapped a verse a cappella mid-show and sounded great. The whole show would’ve probably been better that way.

Best Surprise: Rag’n’Bone Man

Some friends told me to meet them at YouTube House to watch Rag’n’Bone Man. They’d heard him the night before and, with little else happening that afternoon, wanted to see him again. On the flip side, I didn’t know there was an artist even named Rag’n’Bone Man. First impression as he walked on stage: he’s a big, bearded fellow, a bit soft-spoken, shy even, a dark rum drink in hand. Then he opened his mouth to sing. His voice is so full, ragged (get it?) in a world-worn way; it hits you in the gut like a bowling bowl to an empty stomach. Two nights later I saw him again. The venue was St. David’s Church, which I couldn’t resist even though it was 1 a.m. and had been drinking. Apparently the performance was an emotional experience because a woman in the pew ahead of mine, turned around then clutched my knee, a pitying-yet-understanding look on her face. She didn’t need to explain the gesture.

Most Hype: Denzel Curry

This is a man who cannot be contained. Dissatisfied with the crowd’s energy, Denzel Curry jumped down the stage and started moshing fans while rapping his ass off. This happened multiple times and not once did his syllables falter, even as he pushed fans wildly flailing into him away. This all happened before he went “Super Saiyan II.” Best to keep that moment a secret, though.


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