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SXSW: Thursday night recap: The Strokes, B.o.B., Janelle Monáe, Wiz Khalifa

Posted by Michael Brodeur  March 18, 2011 11:24 AM

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strokesjackplunkett.jpg

AP Photo/Jack Plunkett

The Strokes perform at Auditorium Shores Stage at SXSW.

“Who are the headliners at South-by?”

People have been asking me the same question for three weeks, and when they are (inevitably) dissatisfied with my answer – a stammering “Uh, well, it doesn't really work like that...” I bring up the Strokes, the rockers who gave SXSW a major jolt earlier in the month when they announced a free concert tonight at Auditorium Shores Stage. Festival-goers didn't disappoint: an estimated 40,000 people trekked across the Lady Bird Lake reservoir for the show.

Outside of an “SNL” appearance and a Vegas gig earlier this week, Julian Casablancas and crew had never performed any of the songs from their upcoming album “Angles,” out Tuesday. While there was space in the 75-minute set for a handful of new tracks – “Life is Simple In the Moonlight” and first single “Under Cover of Darkness" sounded particularly well-honed – the group ultimately relied on fan favorites from “Is This It” and “Room On Fire.”

Clad in his standard black leather jacket ensemble, Casablancas gave an inspired frontman performance, his hair blowing in the breeze like some indie-fied L'Oréal commercial. He's grown as a singer, nimbly shifting between lounge croon, arena-rock bombast and unhinged howl. Things reached a fever pitch in the encore, as a cascade of fireworks illuminated the skies over Lady Bird Lake, the last clanging notes of “Last Nite” reverberating across the water and onto downtown Austin.

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photo by Rahav Segev

Wiz Khalifa performs at SXSW 2011.


A few hours later, a chaotic game of musical chairs was at play: with Lupe Fiasco losing his voice and Cee-Lo unable to make it to Austin, the Rolling Stone/Atlantic Records party roped in new headliners B.o.B. and Janelle Monáe to perform alongside Wiz Khalifa. The replacements filled in admirably, even if the crowd at La Zona Rosa seemed a tad disappointed to not be singing along to Cee-Lo's obscenities.


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photo by Rahav Segev

B.o.B performs at SXSW 2011.


B.o.B, who in the space of a year has gone from “the guy who did that song with the Paramore chick” to a prolific hip-hop hit-maker, brought a lot of elements to the stage: he sang, rapped, played guitar, and energized the crowd with the help of his high-octane live band. He sped through his radio singles, like the Rivers Cuomo collaboration “Magic,” the Bruno Mars-assisted “Nothin' On You,” and, of course, “Airplanes,” while also playing deeper cuts like “Voltage,” which interpolates the funky clavinet riff from Led Zeppelin's “Trampled Underfoot.”


monae_segev.jpg

photo by Rahav Segev

Janelle Monáe performs at SXSW 2011.


Janelle Monáe, meanwhile, exhibited an immaculate degree of showmanship that had been lacking all night. Her rubber-band-tight eight-piece band was decked out in white dress shirts, black bowties and top-hats – an ode to the past that seemed oddly apt in its jarring opposition to Monáe's theatrical, futuristic R&B. While the bass and guitar frequently threatened to overtake her vocals, she proved a transfixing presence on stage as she switched outfits, threw on masks, experimented with different cadences and jump-roped from genre to genre.

[A previous version of this post erroneously referred to the Strokes as "British rockers." Haircuts aside, they are not.]

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Sarah Rodman is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.

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