SXSW Day Four: Nas Goes Old School
By Chris Thompson
Another year, another SXSW conference. The wrap of SXSW today will see a mass exodus of music junkies, easily identified by their bleary-eyed stare and well-worn wristbands. (Mine say “R&R Hotel Shuttle” and “Bruce Springsteen, Balcony.”)
Many of us saw more music in five days than we’ll see in the next five weeks. More music, in fact, than most normal people see in five months. (And on less sleep than most normal people get during a single weekend.)
Like the previous four nights, my last evening of SXSW music was all over the map.
There was the pure spectacle of Nas stepping up out of an eerily lit subway entrance sunk into the stage. The hip-hop artist's set consisted of songs from his classic debut album, 1994's Illmatic, as well as his new single, "The Don." Nas was joined by special guests AZ, DJ Premier (who is one of the DJs featured in Re:Generation) and Pete Rock, who helped rock the beats.
There was the discovery of Clock Opera (sample Clock Opera), a new British post-punk band whose artful energy suggested undercurrents of early U2 and Peter Gabriel.
And there was the brilliance of Chris Stamey, who in the previous four nights had logged six shows with the reunited '80s power-pop group the dB’s, as well as joining with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and the Posies' Ken Stringfellow, among others, for a concert on Thursday honoring '70s rock band Big Star. On Saturday night, Stamey delivered a stunningly beautiful set of chamber-pop originals, accompanied by two women from the Tosca String Quartet on cello and viola.
While the trio had never played together before — they began rehearsing at 6 for the 8 o’clock set — the sheet music was the only giveaway that this wasn’t a long-standing collaboration. The eight-song set was evenly divided between old and new songs, the latter coming from Stamey’s forthcoming Lovesick Blues album as well as the dB's Falling Off The Sky, which will be their first album featuring original members Stamey, Peter Holsapple, Gene Holder, and Will Rigby in nearly 30 years.
Of course, SXSW came with some drawbacks, including that scary drunk guy hanging out at the otherwise life-sustaining taco stand. Or the lines around the block filled with badge-holders who can’t face the fact that they’ll never make it through the door.
Such is the prices of success. And while it’s true that SXSW isn’t what it used to be, neither is Austin. Or, for that matter, the rest of the world. Still, I’m thinking this is about as good as it gets.