BY ANDERS SMITH LINDALL
For the Sun-Times
AUSTIN, Texas -- Most rumored celebrity sightings at South by Southwest don't pan out, but this time was different: Pop R&B superstar Usher really did join veteran indie rock quartet the Afghan Whigs onstage Friday evening at Fader Fort, a non-SXSW-sanctioned outdoor venue located just east of downtown Austin.
A few songs into the Whigs' set, the band began playing Usher's "Climax." Wearing a hat and a heavy, glimmering chain around his neck, the star himself emerged and started to sing. "Surprise, surprise," he deadpanned. The crowd roared.
Next came a duet between Afghan Whigs front man Greg Dulli and Usher on the long-running band's slinky "Somethin' Hot." Then Usher took the spotlight, leading the Whigs through his hit "OMG."
To call the pairing unexpected would be putting it mildly, but Afghan Whigs have a longstanding affinity for R&B. This night they covered Grammy winner's Frank Ocean's "Lovecrimes."
Earlier, word had spread that the Whigs would welcome a "special guest," said by some to be Usher. A line nearly a block long formed outside the venue, and shortly before the anticipated set began, organizers took the unusual step of shutting down the entrance entirely. Dozens of fans crowded outside an exit, listening and straining to glimpse the stage. Moment before Usher appeared, the shoe manufacturer that co-sponsored the event announced the cameo via Twitter.
Anders Smith Lindall is a Chicago music critic.