ChicagoVerseUniteD: Chicago Scene Salvation

SXSW Live Review: Kanye West & Friends @ Seaholm Power

Kanye West
Seaholm Power, Austin, TX
Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kanye West
No one man should have all that power plant.

As a festival, SXSW is no stranger to secret or delayed announcement shows from big name acts. Foo Fighters performed a hush-hush concert at Stubbs this year, for example. But such an event seems commonplace next to the fantastic announcement that Kanye West would be performing at a decommissioned power plant at the conclusion of this year’s festival. Not surprisingly, Mr. West had to one up the entire week’s worth of music, with an event featuring a night of both once in a lifetime performances and unbelievably amateur hour execution.

Starting Off & Getting In

When word went out that The Louis Vuitton Don would be closing out SXSW 2011 at Seaholm Power, a once functional power plant, the question of how to gain entry become at the forefront of conversation. A production of the VEVO music video company, the event was obviously going to be in high demand. To handle announcements and the distrubtion of information, the company launched the Yo VEVO! Twitter account, which soon kicked off a text-for-entry campaign that during its course brought about no shortage of confusion and frustration. The service specialized in delivering a series of “Text now for entry!” type messages only to follow up seconds later with taunting texts essentially declaring “Too slow! Locked out!” Also revealed was entry for the first thousand SXSW badge-holders. With the text winners notified and the badge holder hopefuls aware of the numbers game, determined attempted attendees began lining up hours in advance of, if not the night before, the big event.

The Day Of

The majority of of the day Saturday, little instruction or information came to those standing in line. Some were told their text confirmations granted them a plus one, others were told otherwise. Most guessed-at information came via hired event security, as opposed to official VEVO staff or representatives. By late evening, the ever-growing line was restless and still almost entirely in the dark about the official count of who would gain entry and how. Around 11 p.m., instruction came to line up for entry, but no one on the official side seemed sure how to actually handle letting the assembly inside the property gates. Hired hands carried gate pieces back and forth in a meaningless busy work exercises, while perplexed and stressed looking suits and higher ups huddled up for a meeting visible from the line, as the clock ticked down towards the supposed 11:59 event start time. When one event official possibly suffering from a strained voice tried addressing the crowd and stating that he didn’t spend four months of his life on the event not to let people in, it came as a pitying admittance before an increasingly tense and restless crowd. To the would-be attendees credit, no riot broke out, though the stress in the air was palpable. Finally, organizers began the entry process, initially and amazingly checking each phone for confirmation texts, in perhaps the slowest and most non-efficient method possible for mass admittance. Meanwhile, a portion of the barrier was lifted to allow those with badges in, in no paticular order, as organizers ignoring the line all day had allowed it to morph into what can best be described as a civil but on edge collective more than any sort of single file separations. Those who made it inside then graduated to another group of separate lines, for VIPs, text winners, and badge holders, respectively. To the right of the line, behind a chain link fence, confused wanderers continuously reached the gated grounds and tried hopping over onto venue grounds. As this journalist entered the gates, I asked a worker at the badges line how the event was proceeding so far. Without ever meeting my gaze, she continuously scanned the area around her before simply whispering, “Chaos.”

But What About Inside?

As a venue, Seaholm Power is unique and massive. It’s essentially a long and wide hallway with a stage at the back and stories-high ceilings, not unlike a hanger. On one side of the building are the remnants of its days as a working power plant, all staircases and piping, like an industrial themed nightclub, but with the actual history behind it. Just before 1 a.m., as those allowed in made their way towards the front of the venue, the event official who earlier addressed the crowd outside took to the stage to deliver a lengthy string of thanks to those who made the event possible like some sort of misguided acceptance speech before oddly reiterating that the event cost him four months of his life. Throughout the statements, the official’s mic continually cut out. It wouldn’t be the last technical error of the night.

I Fantasized About This Back In Chicago

At 2:30 a.m., following opening performances from Mos Def and Kid Cudi, Kanye West took the stage, kicking off his set with “Dark Fantasy.” It proved a fitting selection, as much of the evening’s set would stem from the Chicago rapper’s late 2010 effort My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. What made Saturday night’s set unique, in addition to the venue, was that West was joined by a grouping of his Twisted Fantasy collaborators, including, but not limited to, Pusha T, John Legend, and even Jay-Z. The impressive guest roster helped lock in that this actually was an important show, whereas so many other hyped showcases are regular sets that just happen to take place during SXSW. It also allowed West to deliver many of Twisted Fantasy‘s better and more cameo-laden cuts in ways closer or nearly identical to their recorded incarnations.

Throughout the late night event, blocks of songs were often grouped together around the evening’s various guests. John Legend’s soulful croon both aided “Christian Dior Denim Flow” and enhanced “Blame Game,” with his chorus vocals and keys boosting the latter before West delivered the track’s spoken interlude awash in violet light. Similarly emotive was Twisted Fantasy‘s epic offering “Runaway,” which featured Pusha T coming out to deliver his verse in advance of the song’s choruses becoming increasingly vulnerable and vocoded. Though West’s words became consistently more distorted as the song went on, the pained message expressed was unmistakably decipherable.

Significantly harder were West’s collaborations with none other than Shawn Carter, aka Jay-Z. The pair joined forces for a searing version of their recent collaborative single “H.A.M.” that proved to be nothing short of a slaughter. It also set the tone for the mentor and protégé teaming up for the vicious version of “Monster,” with HOV ripping into his contributions to the track. By comparison, Jay contributing to Fantasy track ”So Appalled” felt less essential, though performances of the rapper’s solo cuts “Public Service Announcement” and the especially celebrated “Big Pimpin’” more than made up for it.

The evening’s most remarkable performances would end up coming later in the set. One such instance was Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon passionately delivering digitized soul to “Lost In The World,” as beat-heavy breakdowns played out behind his and West’s vocals. Easily the most transcendent moment of the event, however, came in a full marching band joining West onstage for Fantasy standout “All Of The Lights.” Adding a tremendous live instrumentation element and emphasizing the song’s inherent power and emotion, the additional musicians elevated an already exceptional track to nothing less than an awe-inspiring live performance.

Outside of special guest collaborations and cameos, it was clear that the evening belonged to Kanye West. From smiling before “Gorgeous” to writhing on the edge of the stage and screaming at the crowd to put their hands up over the machine gun beat of “Hell Of A Life,” West’s moods and mannerisms were at the forefront of the evening’s selections. The Chicago MC even hammed for fan cameras off to the side of the stage during the otherwise mean and sneering “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.” Between breaks in his set, West alternated outfits, switching from a black shades and leather jacket dominated look to all red attire and back again.

The show encountered a few bumps throughout, like the artist needing to restart “Gorgeous,” and tracks playing over each other at the start of recent hit “Power,” prompting the rapper to leave the stage for a moment before returning to deliver the hard hitting single. Yet despite production flubs at such a high profile event, West remained in high spirits throughout the set, playing to the crowd and devoting the entirety of his energy to his performance. It was a testament to not letting the obstacles of the event-and there were many-get in the way of fully embracing an evening of legitimately rare live collaborations and impassioned performances. In a night where the show’s organizers did their best to come off across as amateurs, Kanye West reaffirmed that he’s anything but.

-Jaime Black

SXSW 2011 – The Chicagoverse Connection: In Tall Buildings!

For this month’s ChicagoVerseUniteD cover story, every day in March will feature SXSW coverage relating to a Chicago artist, label, venue, website, or event. Today: In Tall Buildings!

In Tall Buildings
(Photo via Elise Bergman)

Chicago’s In Tall Buildings, the full band venture headed up by local musician Erik Hall, have been making big moves in recent months, including kicking off the Sustainable Sound series at Metroplaying a set for JBTV, a spot on the Tomorrow Never Knows festival, and more. Which might explain why the emerging act is official showcase talent at this year’s SXSW. Find the group’s upcoming dates for Austin and Chicago below, directly following a download link to the aptly-titled “Warm Rock,” one half of In Tall Buildings’ upcoming Record Store Day release, set to drop on April 16th.

In Tall Buildings – “Warm Rock”

In Tall Buildings @ SXSW
03/16 @ Maggie Mae’s
03/17 - JBTV’s SXCHI Music Festival @ The Trophy Room
03/19 @ Speakeasy
In Tall Buildings In Chicago
04/16 @ Saki (In-store)
04/19 @ Lincoln Hall

SXSW 2011 – The Chicagoverse Connection/Come To The Show: Tonight, Saturday March 12th @ Bottom Lounge/Local 101 Audio Archive: California Wives!

For this month’s ChicagoVerseUniteD cover story, every day in March will feature SXSW coverage relating to a Chicago artist, label, venue, website, or event. Today: California Wives!

California Wives
(Photo via Laura Gray)

Starting 2011 with a Daytrotter Session and a slot on this year’s Tomorrow Never Knows festival, California Wives have seen its profile increase exponentially in the last few months. Which might be part of the reason why new wave-framed group is headlining tonight at the Bottom Lounge. The show serves as a send-off to the act’s impressive slew of forthcoming SXSW dates. Find those below, followed by this past weekend’s Local 101 interview with the band’s Joe O’Connor, as well as a download of the group’s ambient new single “Tokyo.”

03/17 – Schuba’s Unofficial SXSW Day Party @ Yard Dog (12:15 PM)
03/17 – Township Records SXSW Day Party @ Teddy’s (2:30 PM)
03/17 – Official Showcase @ Buffalo Billiards (8:00 PM)
03/18 – Yelp! Unofficial SXSW Day Party @ Betsy’s Bar/District 301 (Connected) (2:45 PM)
03/18 – BMI “Acoustic” Set @Cedar Door (4:30 PM)
03/19 – Bottom Lounge Unofficial @ Long Branch Inn (1:35 PM)

California Wives – “Tokyo”