SXSW review: Kanye West, Jay Z defend the throne at Austin Music Hall
By Ramon Ramirez
Editor’s note: This article was originally published March 13, 2014
Kanye West and Jay Z revisited 2011’s ambitious and highly stylized “Watch The Throne” tour Wednesday night at Austin Music Hall. Save for a revised setlist that factored in recent hits, the Samsung Galaxy South By Southwest coup was an intimate, 36-song version of the massive arena tour. That is to say it was a chemistry-fueled, loose, celebratory game of legacy one-upsmanship.
Outside, of course, logistics turned sour. Lines wrapped from the Music Hall at 3rd and Nueces, down Nueces to Cesar Chavez, and flushed west. Routinely, wristband-outfitted fans were assured by Music Hall staff via megaphone that, yes, your wristband guaranteed entry. That was flatly proved wrong when the Fire Marshall reportedly closed the doors around 10:45 p.m.
The line itself was beefed up by star-crossed, non-wristband hopefuls committed to waiting it out. As such, attendants arriving at 8:30 p.m. for a 9:00 p.m. doors cattle call waited until well after 11:00 p.m. to find out that the venue was at capacity.
Inside, Diddy and a tightly knit entourage took prime real estate next to the front of house-stationed sound man around 11:12 p.m. Three minutes later, Jay Z and Kanye West appeared on individual, opposite-facing, industrial-sized cubes, and launched into “H.A.M.”
With little surprise, recent singles (“Tom Ford,” “Drunk In Love,” “Sanctified”) went over like mosh pit kickstarters. Ditto “Watch The Throne” tracks — an enduring album that features a big four of adored hits, “No Church In The Wild,” “(Expletive) in Paris,” “Otis,” and “Who Gon Stop Me.”
Onstage, outfitted in black T-shirts (and, yes, Kanye’s bold and forward-thinking leather skirt) Jay and ‘Ye were buddy cop comedy tight, finishing each other’s sentences, playing hype man on an ad hoc basis, trading microphones when one gave out on Kanye before a pivotal verse. At one point, Kanye and Jay Z locked eyes, had an inside joke moment, and Kanye completely cracked up after a line about Bill Bellamy delivered in his stoic and aggressive meter, but undone by Jay’s big brother eye roll. Kanye lost his place a few times, and Jay’s instinctive familiarity quickly got the pair back on track.
“Run This Town,” from 2009’s surprisingly influential “The Blueprint III,” is recorded with two Jay Z verses and a closing verse from Kanye. Here, both rappers awkwardly stepped on each other’s lines by jumping in simultaneously at verse two. Kanye finished.
Jay Z is undoubtedly the better rapper (this isn’t close — Kanye is brilliant but entirely transparent about his penchant for stand-in ghostwriters) but Kanye has 10 years of more recent hits on the guy. In the smaller space, even buried by lasers and cube projections of sharks, Jay had his share of Oscar-loser close-up facials when, say, “Clique,” was met decidedly more favorably than 2003’s “99 Problems.”
During Jay’s Neptunes-produced club banger from 2000, “Give It To Me,” a nearby woman exhaled, “Oh my god, this was my senior year of college.”
The duo opted for no guests, though it could have added flavorful cameos from guys in town like Rick Ross and Pusha T (Beyonce is in Dublin and almost surely more expensive to book than Jay Z given her post-Super Bowl pedigree).
That would have offset the focus of the two-man excursion through the two most substantive and meaty discographies in hip-hop history.