Even before this year’s SXSW Festival started, NPR’s showcase was already one of the It shows. Boasting an ambitious lineup –to call the lineup diverse would be an understatement – the showcase seemed meant to illustrate the varied demographic of the NPR audience. Located in the gravel lot of Stubb’s BBQ, which felt in many ways like someone’s large backyard, the evening started off with a snarl with the very buzzed-about Perfect Pussy.
Following Clark, after nearly an hour’s delay transitioning stage gear, Damon Albarn took the stage an hour later than scheduled, around 1:20am. After the success of Blur, Albarn has been something of a pop star happy to do his work in the shadows – as producer of the immensely successful supergroups Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad, And The Queen and with his excellent record imprint Honest Jon’s, not to mention numerous other pet projects, including a recent trip to Africa with Brian Eno. Tonight’s show pulled primarily from his forthcoming album Everyday Robots but then took a turn through a great part through his illustrious, varied 25 year music career. From Gorillaz, he included “Tomorrow Comes Today.” He performed “Kingdom of Doom” from The Good, The Bad, And The Queen as well as “On Melancholy Hill” from Plastic Beach. Everyone wondered if he’d pull from the very fine and very varied Blur catalog. He did, but with restraint. “All Your Life” is a far cry from hits like “Song 2” or even “Beetlebum” - in fact, it was the B-side to the latter song’s single. All in all, rather than act as a tour through his career, the songs seemed selected to work with his new solo material, and they did. The set’s closer was “Mr. Tembo,” from Everyday Robots. If it wasn’t the epic finale that a song like “Tender” might’ve offered, it seemed appropriate on this evening where artists and crowd alike had to roll with it.
Text: Alexis Georgopoulos