This year’s SXSW in affable Austin, Texas was certainly no sleeper. From tragedy to absolute absurdity, the music and arts festival seemed to smack every note with resounding gusto. Who could forget Seth Rogen’s candid quotes on Watch What Happens Live? Or Lady Gaga being covered in regurgitated green ooze? Sadly, there was also the drunk driver who desolated an entire crowd of bystanders waiting to boogie to Tyler, the Creator, whose now also behind bars for inciting a riot the following night. The bodacious SXSW “best of” list goes on, each moment more illustrious than the last, and as the festival comes to a close on Sunday, it is time to recap the most outrageous ones.
Although the festival is meant to showcase new acts, it notoriously plays hosts to some of the industry’s best and brightest as well. At the Austin Music Hall on Wednesday, fans were part of a rare fusion of rapper royalty when they got to watch both Jay-Z and Kanye West at the same time. The reviews, post ear drum blowing, were unanimous: the duo brought the proverbial house down. As the mega stars played virtually every one of their combined hits, those lucky enough to get in were treated to a proper face melting. While some argued that the dons of hip hop should have incorporated more surprise, most were beyond satisfied just being in the presence of two high kings of modern music.
That same evening, Seth Rogen was after his own headline. As an on location guest of Watch What Happens Live, the Muppet voiced funny man got a lot of interesting tidbits off his chest. First there was his reaffirmation of Justin Bieber being a “piece of s@#t,”which he had professed originally in January on Twitter. The rant went on for a brief yet reverberating moment and included a lovely assortment of derisive adjectives including “obnoxious,” “insincere,”and “ungrateful.” Once he was done sufficiently belittling Bieber, he was ready to out the members of his pothead posse. Names like Paul Rudd, Sarah Silverman, Snoop Dogg, and Jonah Hill were not surprising to anyone really. It got interesting when he mentioned the legendary Barbra Streisand, who had not smoked with Seth but apparently had toked up with the late great Peter Sellers. The most mind-blowing revelation came, however, when he exposed James Franco as a non-toker. Yes, really, James Franco does not smoke pot and that is certainly a SXSW 2014 illustrious moment if ever there was one.
Wednesday was not just the day of glorious A-list appearances, unfortunately, it was also the evening of the drunk driving massacre. Rashad Charjuan Owens put a very sobering smudge on the entire event when he drove his vehicle through a crowd of concert goers awaiting entrance to a Tyler, the Creator show. Killing two, and injuring at least 23 others, the inebriated imbecile is now facing capital murder charges and a lifetime of crushing guilt. As they say, though, the show must go on, and it did in stride.
Thursday brought a brand new day and a whole new lineup. Nothing, however, could compete with the one and only Lady Gaga. Performing at Stubbs BBQ downtown, the demented puppeteer of pop put on a splendid spectacle indeed. Latex bikinis, laser beams, a woman provocatively eating sausages, dreadlocks, dirt, sweat, raunch, and plenty of debauchery, the one hour set had it all. The consummation of the circus came when Millie Brown, a friend and colleague of Gaga’s, sat next to the pop star onstage and regurgitated neon green ooze all over her during her song “Swine,” off of her new album ARTPOP. Doused in warm glowing vomit, Gaga danced across the stage as if she were seizing and convulsing as a result of the acid reflux all over her. A sight that can only be truly understood, and perhaps not even then, if witnessed in person it would seem, and few got the perverse privilege.
Besides the unforgettable moments in detail above, the music is what stood out in the crowd’s swelling minds, and probably always will. Acts like Future, Dum Dum Girls, Sleigh Bells, Willie Nelson, Kelis and so many more rocked their venues in authentic and unrestrained fashion. No two shows were similar in any discernible way and no two guests experienced them likewise. Sunday will in all likelihood be a wind down for the exhilarating and inevitably exhausting affair, although there seems to be a shocking twist round every stage. Whether it was music, an interview, or just plain shenanigans that caught the most eyes this year overall, it was the combination of these most illustrious moments that really made the SXSW 2014 festival a winning and memorable incident in time that will be undoubtedly discussed for weeks, if not months, to come.
Opinion by Brandon Duringer