Listen to Austin 360 Radio

SXSW: Unlikely heartthrob Cuco is basically un-hateable

Eric Pulsifer, special to the American-Statesman
Cuco, a 19-year old self-produced Chicano solo artist from California, was in Austin for the Austin City Limits Music Fest in October. [Erika Rich for American-Statesman]

Cuco seemed at home in front of the SXSW 2019 crowd Wednesday night at Stubb’s. “We started playing in backyards and now we’re here,” he said to cheers. Wherever he goes next, Cuco is clearly going up. It was announced this week he signed a seven-figure deal with Interscope.

In glasses and baseball cap, Cuco seems to fully embrace his average young dudeness. He’s a bilingual ballader and a refreshing rarity: a musician seemingly free of pretenses and completely comfortable with himself and his feelings. His banter was made up of well-wishing friendly hip-hop slang, painting a picture of a happy former band kid from California who likes love. He seems an unlikely heartthrob because he seems so ... normal.

Going in, I suspected all the above would be positive. What I feared that Cuco's sometimes sleepy bedroom-pop/kind of rap love songs would translate to a guy-and-laptop live experience. Fortunately, Cuco rolls with a five-piece band that boosts his post-internet yacht rock serenades with Mac DeMarco slacker guitar, meaty slabs of slap bass, and chillwave beats fleshed out on live drums.

Kids made out, they filmed entire songs on phones, they screamed, they lit joints, and they moshed per Cuco’s request: “I know this isn't the biggest crowd, but can y'all turn up?” A wild throng of bodies responded with a resounding “yes,” twisting and tossing each other about with abandon to “Lucy,” a sort of bland but obviously effective angry, druggy rap track that broke from the set of otherwise sway-inducing tunes.

He sang a ballad entirely in Spanish. He took breaks from crooning to play the trumpet. He admits he doesn’t dig the sound of his own voice, but he didn’t pull punches going for it all the same as he sang along with soaring synths. Even the skeptical or those of the mind that his massive, rabid young fanbase is proof youth have questionable taste in music, would likely leave finding Cuco impossible to hate.

 Cuco plays again at midnight Thursday at Lustre Pearl.