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Featuring a live trumpet in lieu of samples, and carefully stirring up a jaded crowd, Macklemore showed that even in a short set in the chaos of all this, you can create an experience.

JEFF LEVEN'S SXSW DISPATCH:
DAY ONE

On the Evolution of Hip-Hop's Presence, a Powerful Jim James Set and Mondo Buzz Bands
As the festival has ultimately expanded to include Tuesday as a full-on official music night (perhaps recognizing the potential for amusing cultural juxtapositions on 6th Street in the waning moments of Interactive), those arriving early have two choices: (1) wade in gradually or (2) hold your nose and jump.  Guess which one I did.

Stepping back for a second, it’s SXSW Standard Storyline #342 that hip-hop has significantly increased its marketshare at a festival that once had relatively paltry offerings. Some of this, of course, is due to the festival’s having gotten more mainstream—thus offering a more useful platform for promoting a Snoop (Lion) or Kanye West release. 

But on a deeper level, the art of live hip-hop performance has evolved by leaps and bounds in recent memory, as acts like Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller have built a live footprint not unlike that of a mid-’90s East Coast college jam band or a buzzing upper-middle-market indie-rock mainstay a big cult that’s all about the shows. 

Young and often focused on releasing their music independently, these acts take the underground essence of A Tribe Called Quest or Digable Planets and fuse it with the antic populism of a Dane Cook or other viral comedians.  And so they TOUR. 

Part of this story is The Agency Group’s Peter Schwartz, who, aside from representing Khalifa and Miller, also works with some of this year’s most notable hip hop entrants Joey Bada$$, Trinidad James and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.   Seemingly, he just has an ear and an instinct, but one distinct from the traditional corridors of rap radio and the warren of bigger ticket production deals.  With Miller’s album going platinum and “Thrift Shop” ensconced at #1 on the pop charts, there’s an amazing proof of concept here. 

And there’s proof further in Macklemore’s shows, including last night’s throwdown at the Main.  Featuring a live trumpet in lieu of samples and carefully stirring up a jaded crowd, Macklemore showed that even in a short set in the chaos of all this, you can create an experience.

Other great experiences last night included a late-starting but utterly inspired solo turn from My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, whose recent solo album, not surprisingly, takes on additional dimensions onstage.  Slashing out runs on his trademark Flying V and singing at every corner of his range, James turned in one of the more powerful SXSW sets I’ve seen in ages. 

Longtime conference goers also know that the venue helps create the mood, and ever since SXSW came up with the inspired idea of using the Central Presbyterian Church for acts of an appropriate mood, it’s been a go-to spot for those in need of musical gravitas.  Last night Gaby Moreno didn’t disappoint, with a jazzy, rolling set that included a guest appearance from Austin luminary David Garza.

On a more orchestral indie tip, Local Natives were the surprise guest at the Pitchfork party at Mohawk, and turned out an impassioned set featuring material from their latest album as well as a few choice cuts from Gorilla Manor.  Following the roiling churn of Cloud Nothings and playing opposite an engaging but surprisingly unassuming set from Icona Pop, Local Natives showed why they launched with such momentum from SXSW several years ago.  

At various other points my night included Atlas Genius, Skaters and the Interactive closing duel of Richard Hawtin vs. Deadmau5.  My bonus music experience for the day was also watching the fabulous Beware of Mr. Baker on the plane ride in.  An extremely entertaining ride through the ungodly talents and horrific compulsions of Ginger Baker, it’s absolutely worth your time if you even remotely like music, drums, polo, abnormal psychology, Africa, jazz, the ’60s or any mix of the above.  

Finally, every year the big list misses a few key things and this year is no exception.  For starters, I didn’t yet know Prince was playing La Zona Rosa! I still have no clue how to get in, but it’s there, so there you have it.  Also, catch Dutch pop sensations K’s Choice at Old School at 4:30pm on Saturday, up-and-coming pop duo He Met Her at Maggie Mae’s on Thursday at 3:50pm on the roof, or an expanded look at the burgeoning roster of Red Bull Records (who continue to kill it with AWOLNATION), featuring Blitz Kids, Five Knives and Heaven’s Basement on Thursday afternoon at Empire Auto.

My wrongs somewhat righted, my mood elevated, my first seven to nine to ten hours of music heard and logged, it’s time for more!        

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WORLDWIDE GROOVE
How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?
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