It was the Austin, Texas, version of West Side Story.
On one side of town was Prince, the ageless, purple-suited funk-pop legend, playing a Samsung bash. And on the other side of the tracks was the fresh prince of pop, Justin Timberlake, doing his “suit & tie shit” at a fete sponsored by Myspace and Chevy.
The last night of the 2013 edition of SXSW presented fans lucky enough to gain access to these shows—and there were precious few—a veritable Sophie’s Choice. And the 800-capacity Timberlake show, which this writer was lucky enough to attend, was a fitting swan song for the corporate-infused musical mélange that is SXSW.
Timberlake has been ubiquitous these past few weeks, building up anticipation for the March 15 release of his third studio album, The 20/20 Experience—his first LP in seven years. He hosted arguably this season’s best episode of Saturday Night Live, lording over the star-studded affair as both host and performer, and served as the musical guest for an entire week on the NBC talk show Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, in what the show’s band member Questlove dubbed #Timberweek on Twitter.
And his performance, which took place at the Coppertank events center in downtown Austin, only helped his promotional cause.
After an opening DJ set by his Fallon co-conspirator Questlove, Timberlake sauntered out onstage a few minutes past midnight. Sporting a fedora, blazer, and a tuxedo T-shirt—a decidedly loose interpretation of “suit & tie shit” —he opened his set with an acoustic guitar version of “Like I Love You,” off his 2002 solo debut Justified. The 32-year-old’s guitar strumming was amplified by his backing band the Tennessee Kids, named after the singer’s home state. Then, he performed a rousing rendition of his dance hit “My Love,” before leading the crowd in a clap-along of Juicy J’s strip club rap anthem “Bandz a Make Her Dance,” that segued into his Britney Spears dis track, “Cry Me A River.” During the final chorus, he squeezed in a few bars of the Jay-Z/Kanye West stomper “Niggas in Paris.”
“Can I do some new shit?” he then announced to the game crowd of inebriated festivalgoers.
The first new ditty was “Pusher Love Girl,” a sensuous number that sounds like Al Green in falsetto, and a Stevie Wonder-y version of “Señorita,” that saw JT twinkle the ivories. “It feels like somethin’s heatin’ up, can I leave witchu?” the crowd sang along.
Some of the new croonables off The 20/20 Experience, like “That Girl,” are a bit uninspired and de rigueur—feeble attempts at capturing a Rat Pack-ish vibe, while others, like the aforementioned “Pusher Love Girl,” makes one contemplate whether Timberlake is indeed a more pop-oriented Sinatra, with his triple-threat status.
Toward the latter end of his set, the entertainer went off on a rambling interlude about getting chocolate-chip ice cream at a local spot called Amy’s, before announcing to the befuddled crowd, “Sorry … I’m on drugs.”
A fantastic acoustic version of “What Goes Around … Comes Around” followed, with Timberlake once again caressing the guitar strings, which exploded into a high-octane “FutureSex/LoveSound,” that saw the exhausted crowd—it’s the last night of a marathon music festival, natch—shaking whatever was left of their shit.
Timberlake then threw a bit of a curveball, performing a cover version of the catchy INXS tune “I Need You Tonight”—their frontman, Michael Hutchence, is a big influence of his—that should, if there’s any justice in the world, be released as a B-side. The blazer was tossed aside and, clad in just his tuxedo T-shirt, he performed his recent hit single, “Suit & Tie.”
“Is it St. Patty’s Day yet?” he asked following the number, before cheers-ing the crowd with a pint of Guinness, and then exhibiting some throwback ‘N Sync dance moves for “SexyBack,” in which he spewed the Trinidad Jame$ line, “Popped a molly, I’m sweatin’, woo!”
When audience members began clearing out of the venue, there was still a huge crowd of JT-crazy onlookers mulling about, their faces pressed against a dividing fence.
It was this writer’s first time covering SXSW. And yes, there is plenty of fun to be had for the masses, but for the blue-chip late-night parties that see marquee-headlining acts performing in sub-1,000 capacity venues, only members of the media, employees of the sponsorship companies, and contest winners are usually afforded entry.
And Prince, apparently, performed a three-hour set replete with six encores, all while donning a “spirit animal” ski hat.
If you were one of the select few who was lucky enough to attend, perhaps we can engage in a douche-y brag-off.
And for everyone who wasn’t able to attend the Timberlake show, the concert will be available to view on Myspace.