AUSTIN — It's fitting that we began SXSW music coverage declaring that the legendary, decades-old Iggy and The Stooges' performance would serve as a measuring stick for all live acts to follow. Justin Timberlake, who closed SXSW Saturday night, measured up.
If you had any doubt in his authenticity and staying power, Timberlake, not one you might peg as a protege to Iggy Pop, further solidified his position as a consummate performer who will also be taking the stage well into his twilight years.
Rumors of Timberlake's appearance, the closing event to Myspace's Secret Show series sponsored by Chevrolet, leaked and were confirmed by the Austin Police Department a week before his arrival. As a co-owner of Myspace, Timberlake served to re-ignite interest in the social property by requiring anyone who RSVP'd to join (or in many cases, re-join) the website to gain entrance.
So, according to the premise of admission, the crowd was not your typical SXSW crowd; rather it was packed with "OMGs" and "This is, like, the biggest fantasy of my life." And you know what? Those sentiments were proved for good reason as Timberlake opened the show with a guitar-driven performance of "Like I Love You," backed by a roaring 10-piece band called The Tennessee Kids.
Chugging a beer between dancing spontaneously across stage and alternating from guitar to piano, Timberlake gave lucky attendees an intimate glimpse into his personality and sense of humor.
In a tuxedo-printed T-shirt, jacket, jeans and fedora, the man who has been trained since childhood as a performer wowed the packed, small venue on Fifth Street.
Chugging a beer between dancing spontaneously across stage and alternating from guitar to piano, Timberlake gave lucky attendees an intimate glimpse into his personality and sense of humor. At one point, revealing that he was high before regaling a tale of a trip to Amy's Ice Cream earlier in the day (how did that outing not get blown up on Twitter?), you were reminded that a superstar is, after all, a human too.
If you paid attention, a juggling of two distinct personas happened throughout the night, by way of old hits versus new songs. Judging by the instrumentation, the lyrics and the vibe, the "old" Justin Timberlake comes off as harsh, sex-fueled and bitter in hits like "Cry Me A River" and "Sexy Back," compared to the "new" '60s, soul-infused Timberlake who, instead of being angry at the behest of a woman, is a goon in love.
"Pusher Love Girl" paints him addicted to a girl (and allowed room for his sharp falsetto), the band swelling up and down mirroring the emotions of falling in lust, whereas the closing "Sexy Back" was peppered with lewd gestures and expletives. It would seem Sir Timberlake is in a, er, more settled place now.
Whichever persona he donned for the moment, Timberlake captivated the crowd with his confident swagger — so much so, it was often hard to see through the whordes of raised camera phones.
While many criticized Timbelake's SXSW appearance as stealing the thunder from other showcasing artists around town, it's a safe bet that the majority of this crowd wouldn't have attended much of anything that veered off of the mainstream.
However, it does give ammunition to the argument that SXSW has grown into more of a money-making machine than discovery tool. But either way you slice it on any given night of SXSW, epic performances are taking place around town, each fit for a different demographic.
If the new Myspace can be as convincing as Timberlake's performance, we'll all be leaving Facebook in droves.