Common and Kanye in Austin. Photo by Dorothy Hong, The FADER .
Though I generally avoid the hipster-heavy corporate-sponsored parties at SXSW--what's the point with so many extraordinary showcases as part of the music fest proper?--the closing act at the Levi's Fader Fort--a shopping mall-like venue specially constructed in an industrial no man's land on the east side of Austin and sponsored by the jeans company and the Fader magazine--was just too enticing to pass up.
This celebration of the roster of G.O.O.D. Music did indeed draw the rumored special guest, none other than... well, here's how the label's founder announced himself: "Rockin' the [South by] Southwest... Kanye West!"
Dressing down for the occasion in shades, a white T-shirt and a denim vest trumpeting G.O.O.D. ("Getting Out Our Dreams") Music in the style of the Hells Angels' logo, the Louis Vuitton Don served as the host during a relentlessly high-energy, two-hour hip-hop celebration that found him performing a generous sampling of his own songs in between hyping his up-and-coming artists, including English soul singer Mr. Hudson and rappers Consequence (from Queens, N.Y.), Kid Cudi (Cleveland), Tony Williams (West's cousin) and fellow Chicagoans Leonard "GLC" Harris and Really Doe.
Though each of these artists only performed a song or two on their own, many showed promise, and West either yielded the stage to them or played a supporting role in backing them up. But he owned the night nonetheless, whether performing older hits such as "We Major" and "Crack Music" or songs from last year's "808s & Heartbreak."
On that album, recorded in a burst of cathartic energy after the death of his mother and the end of his engagement, songs such as "Heartless," "Love Lockdown" and "Amazing" are dark, brooding and introspective. But on an outdoor stage in Texas, with no hint of his infamous ego and or the sort of diva tantrum he threw at the Bonnaroo Festival last June, West drew on the energy of the crowd, the backing voices of proteges and the powerful grooves of a live band to turn the sad songs into celebratory anthems.
Even "Pinocchio Story," a heart-wrenching freestyle on the album, became an empowering mantra onstage. "I ask you tonight: What does it feel like to live a real life," West intoned. But the joy in his delivery had already answered the question.
Taking things even higher during the final third of the set, West was joined by two more superstars: neo-soul great Erykah Badu and Chicago hip-hop legend Common, whose next album West said he is producing.
That's good news indeed, given that Common's eighth studio release "Universal Mind Control" was the biggest artistic disappointment of his career. But in the uplifting setting of this evening, paired with a joyous version of "The Light" featuring Badu on the familiar vocal chorus, even the title track of Common's 2008 stinker sounded wonderful.
How good was the G.O.O.D. music experience? Frankly, it would have been impossible to end SXSW 2009 with a better one.