SXSW Saturday was a battle between the hordes of coastal out-of-towners (and their local counterparts) frantically fighting through lines and exhaustion to guarantee a successful conclusion to the festival — and the green polo-shirted hordes of St. Patrick’s Day revelers who were to Sixth Street what snakes were to Ireland before the beatified patron of the Shamrock Shake chased them out of the country.
In the end, though, none of that matters: There was plenty enough fun to be had for everyone.
For roughly 2,700 people, that fun took place at ACL Live — as so many of the marquee events at SXSW 2012 did. This time, no Amex card membership or lottery drawings were required to see the headliners: only a badge or wristband, and a willingness to stand in a long, but steadily-moving, line. For their trouble, they got the steadily-blowing-up Sleigh Bells and a 20th anniversary performance of Illmatic from Nas.
Sleigh Bells’ set seemed to delight the crowd of youngsters. (That’s a thing a person types when he does not understand the appeal of a band that 2,700 other people seemed super into.) Frontwoman Alexis Krauss performs with a ton of energy, rushing into the crowd and bounding across the stage, and the band made the most of their limited stage time (about 35 minutes, which seemed short for a band that inspired so many people to crowd one of the festival’s largest venues).
It’s possible that those people had come to see Nas, of course, who headlined the showcase — but if so, they didn’t stick around for most of his set, which is a shame. From the opening drop of the irrepressible bassline to “NY State Of Mind” through to the conclusion of “Made Ya Look,” the Queens MC was in rare form. The set was rough and sloppy, a scattershot offering that is Nas’ trademark. Where Jay-Z is precise and in charge, Nas (who will be forever entwined with Jay since their 2001 beef) is all emotion and raw energy, even twenty years on in his career. Sure, he gets mush-mouthed at times, and he doesn’t have as deep a catalog of hits to draw from, but he’s always been the passion guy in that duo, and he left it all on stage at ACL Live.
Nikka Costa, who played the downstairs-on-5th Buca Lounge at midnight, left everything onstage, too. Her star has fallen considerably since the 2002 release of her debut, Everybody Got Their Something (now maybe best known as the album that introduced superproducer Mark Ronson to the world), but she still packed a wallop as a performer, with funky bass and synth lines and a note-perfect trombone complementing her white-woman-as-James-Brown performance style.
You could be forgiven if you skipped the final hour of SXSW entirely if that was the last show you caught — from the biggest stages in Austin to the smallest basements, SXSW had plenty to offer on Saturday.