Sure, SXSW is supposed to be about up-and-coming artists, but when you're watching two of the most relevant, consistent rappers performing in a venue usually occupied by artists with one-fifth of Jay or 'Ye's fame, you can't help but let your jaw drop and stay open for the full two-hour set.
Even in the intimate space, Kanye and Jay managed a few theatrical surprises. Instead of taking the stage the ol' fashioned way, Jay and Kanye emerged from two metallic boxes at opposite ends of the venue. So while Kanye emerged facing the audience, Jay began the show atop a platform that was actually behind the ground-level fans—but right in front of the balcony crowd. Balcony-bound fans who had consigned themselves to witnessing the show from afar were suddenly confronted with Hova at a five-foot distance. Naturally, they freaked.
A flurry of cell phone shots and shrieks accompanied the duo as they went HAM on "H-A-M" and "Who Gon Stop Me." Then Jay descended back into his metal cube and the the two took the main stage together for "Otis" and "Welcome to the Jungle," all delivered emphatically and without backing vocal tracks as a crutch.
It's hard to pin down the highlight of a show that covers everything from "Big Pimpin'" to "Tom Ford" and "Jesus Walks" to "Sanctified" (Yeezus' song on Rick Ross' Mastermind). But watching Kanye bust out a rare smile as he handled the police officer lines in "99 Problems" was a great reminder that aside from being hip hop heavyweights, these two are also fans of each other's work. Hell, even Yeezus gets giddy during "99 Problems"!
Later in the show, Kanye materialized out of the box at the back of the venue and treated the balcony crowd to an up-close-and-personal rendition of "Runaway," which he delivered in a plaid kilt with silver studs (a costume change from the Givenchy leather kilt he rocked earlier in the show). If high-end kilts are a bit too bourgeoisie for your tastes, Kanye offered a fashion olive branch to Middle America by breaking out his t-shirt featuring the gigantic face of a ferocious Rottweiler (which looks like you could buy it at any highway truck stop, even though it's Givenchy, too). Sadly, Jay did not change into a Versace shirt depicting a bald eagle carrying the American flag at any point.
The pair wrapped their SXSW 2014 set with three consecutive versions of "N****s in Paris," a buoyant banger that somehow defies the law of diminishing returns. With that encore and the show itself, Jay and Kanye proved that sometimes, more of the same is actually very welcome.
Kanye West & Jay Z Setlist, March 12 @ SXSW
Welcome to the Jungle
Gotta Have It
Beach Is Better
Drunk In Love
I Don't Like
Diamonds from Sierra Leone
Public Service Announcement
You Don't Know
Run This Town
Empire State of Mind
On to the Next One
Dirt Off Your Shoulder
I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)
All of the Lights
No Church in the Wild
N****s in Paris