SXSW 2017: Around the World in 5 days: Tuesday, March 14

For the next week, it will be possible to go on a global musical journey without leaving Austin. We teamed with Michael Crockett, host of “Horizontes” on KUTX (7 to 10 p.m. Sundays), to put together a selection of Latin and World music picks at South by Southwest. Explore more world music picks here and follow live fest coverage on this blog and at

Listen to a playlist of our favorite world music acts on Spotify.

Matzka (Taitung, Taiwan) Reggae/rock singer Matzka is a descendent of the aboriginal peoples of Taiwan, which is now 98 percent Chinese. He sings in Mandarin as well as his native Paiwanese. (10 p.m. at Elysium) — Michael Crockett

RELATED: Contrabanned: #MusicUnites presents musicians from countries targeted by travel ban 

Gina Chavez performs at the Austin Music Awards at SXSW on Wednesday March 18, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Gina Chavez (Austin, USA) Although homegrown in Austin, the Gina Chavez band sound embraces the Americas. The band’s pan-Latin grooves have taken them around the world as cultural ambassadors for the U.S. State Department. (9:20 p.m. at Maggie Mae’s) — Nancy Flores

I-Taweh (Kingston, Jamaica) Jamaican roots-reggae singer/guitarist started as a session player, eventually leading Sugar Minott’s band. He began a solo career in 2009 and has a hit on reggae radio called “Not Far Away.” (11 p.m. at Flamingo Cantina) — M.C.

Mora Lucay (Valparaíso, Chile) Chile’s pop music scene continues to flourish with bands like Mora Lucay. The indie pop quartet infuses their whimsical, danceable music with Latin American rhythms such as bolero and cumbia. (8 p.m. at Friends) — N.F.

Cilantro Boombox (Austin, USA) The band has just released their new album “Shine,” which is an explosive bilingual mix of Latin salsa, Afrobeat, funk and hip-hop. (1:10 a.m. at Maggie Mae’s) — M.C.

Bastrop gets ‘Just East of Weird’ with help from Arlyn’s Freddy Fletcher

Brothers Joe and Danny Oviedo with Freddy Fletcher at Viejo's in Bastrop. Contributed/Terry Hagerty
Brothers Joe and Danny Oviedo with Freddy Fletcher at Viejo’s in Bastrop. Contributed/Terry Hagerty

By Terry Hagerty
Special to the American-Statesman

While Bastrop certainly has some gifted homegrown musicians, a local resident who is a musician and producer prominent in Texas music wants to take Bastrop a step further — by pairing local acts with some of the state’s best known performers. Freddy Fletcher, a nephew of Willie Nelson and a founder and partner in Austin venue ACL Live and recording studio Arlyn, is kicking off a monthly music series at Viejo’s Tacos Y Tequila on Main Street on Friday, March 3.

“A show a month is our goal,” Fletcher said during an interview at Viejo’s with brothers and owners/managers Danny and Joe Oviedo III in attendance. Fletcher, a Bastrop resident, said the monthly series will bring “consistency” to the town’s live musical offerings.

The series’ nametag, Just East of Weird Live, is a snappy logo previously created by Bastrop blues guitarist Larry Wilson to capture’s the town’s eclectic environs, with a nod to Austin. The March 3 show ( 8 p.m., $10) will feature the Peterson Brothers, Bastrop’s well-known ‘blues brothers’ who play regularly at Austin’s famed Continental Club, followed by Jimmy T & the Teardrops, a seasoned band performing classic blues, R&B, soul and gospel music.

Fletcher said the monthly series “will be a chance to showcase local talent” and to “get them in front of more people than they might normally have.” Fletcher mentioned Dale Watson and Micky & the Motorcars as other well-known Texas performers who might be part of the series in the future.

“With Freddy Fletcher involved, you know the quality of it will be good,” said SiriusXM satellite radio personality Dallas Wayne, a singer-songwriter who’s  also a Bastrop resident. “The marriage of touring acts with local acts will help strengthen the Bastrop music community.”

Fletcher, who worked with Guy Clark and Billy Joe Shaver and recorded B.W. Stevenson’s final album, says he was drawn to Bastrop’s storied past. “I love the history of this town,” he said, including the vintage and adjoining Kesselus and Kleinert buildings which house Viejos’ restaurant and its adjoining bar/music room.

Fletcher said the buildings “remind me of Gruene Hall,” the historic venue near New Braunfels. “Not many people know the real history of Bastrop; it’s one of the oldest communities in Texas,” he added. Now it will have a promising new live music series.

Terry Allen casts Lubbock and Juarez in full color at the Paramount

01.28.13 -- Terry Allen performs at at Waterloo Records, his son, Bukka Allen joined him with accordion. Allen, 69, is a musician who comes to his craft completely through the channel of art. He is a sculptor, a painter, a visual artist, a writer . . . he's a Texan, from Lubbock, who now lives in Santa Fe. Alberto Martfnez AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Terry Allen, right, with his son Bukka at Waterloo Records in 2013. Allen performed Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre. Alberto Martinez/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

By John T. Davis
Special to the American-Statesman

Lubbock ain’t never gonna be cool.

Not going to happen. The conservative, inelegant, sand-scrubbed little city marooned in the flat and formidable vastness of the Great South Plains won’t ever be overrun with hipster cachet a la Marfa. The art mob will not flock. The cognoscenti will not congregate.

That being said, the ongoing paradox of the place is how much art, specifically music, can arise from such humble and inauspicious origins. From Bob Wills and Buddy Holly back in the day to the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines and singer-songwriter-fiddler Amanda Shires today, the Texas Panhandle has been an unlikely wellspring of ferocious creativity.

As a songwriter, performer, artist, sculptor and author, Terry Allen has spent his lifetime exploring that chasm between art and origins. Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre, he revisited two of his seminal explorations into the abiding strangeness of the borderland, the American West in general and West Texas in particular: his 1975 debut song suite “Juarez” and the 1979 double-LP tour de force “Lubbock (on everything).”

Allen has performed songs from both works for decades, but this show was a studied look back scheduled to coincide with the re-release of both albums in elaborately annotated editions on the Paradise of Bachelors label. The idea was to perform both albums nearly in full sequence over two sets, a design that helped put the songs in focus and in context to one another.

Performing with his Panhandle Mystery Band, an extended family of longtime amigos spearheaded by guitarist and producer Lloyd Maines and including his sons Bale and Bukka, Allen eschewed fanfare and launched straight into “The Juarez Device” (a.k.a. “Texican Badman”), the introductory salvo to “Juarez.” Imagine an hourlong borderland corrido scripted by Cormac McCarthy and you have some idea of the scope of Allen’s 42-year old masterpiece. Borrowing from the familiar trope of beautiful outlaws on the run across the West (“I leave a few people dead/ But I got open road ahead”), Allen takes a deep dive into the idea of borders and limits and dislocation and love, and what it means to be looking at each of them from one side versus the other.

Joined by guests Ryan Bingham and Charlie Sexton, the band gave wings to songs that, on the “Juarez” album, were performed mostly as solo pieces. From the percussive gospel groove of “Border Palace” to the sprightly Tex-Mex waltz of “Cantina Carlotta” and the furious bluegrass-styled breakdown of “There Oughta Be a Law Against Sunny Southern California,” which was juxtaposed against the lovely, lilting Mexican processional “La Despedida (The Parting),” Allen and company put a Technicolor glow on a noir Western vision.

The second half of the show, consisting of most of the tunes from “Lubbock (on everything),” was more specific in place and lighter in tone. At times the Paramount resembled less a hoity-toity theater than a West Texas honky-tonk, as folks cheered and sang along with the tale of a football golden boy turned bad (“The Great Joe Bob [A Regional Tragedy]”), a cafe waitress as lovely and enigmatic as a Panhandle Mona Lisa (“The Beautiful Waitress”), highballing trains bound for God-knows-where (“New Delhi Freight Train”), and the ceaseless allure of open roads and beckoning horizons (“Amarillo Highway”). The band, along with guest Joe Ely and backup vocalists Terri Hendrix and Savannah Welch, dug into the songs like it was all-you-can-eat night at Stubb’s Barbecue.

“Lubbock,” said Terry’s wife, playwright and actress Jo Harvey Allen, by way of introducing the second set, “is always in the rear view mirror right in front of our face.” In other words, no matter how resolutely uncool the Hub City (home of the Red Raiders, white bread and blue northers) remains, the unchanging vastness of space, land and sky harbors a deep reservoir full of art and wonder.

Or, as one of Allen’s character sings, “The closest I’ll ever get to heaven is makin’ speed up ol’ 87/ Of that hard-ass Amarillo Highway.”

Review: Shearwater shows growth, power at 3Ten performance

Shearwater Artist Photo
Sarah Cass

By Chad Swiatecki/Special to the American-Statesman

Sometimes you run into a band at exactly the wrong time.

Consider summer 2008, when Austin art rockers Shearwater were in the middle of their Island Arc trilogy of albums (2007’s “Palo Santo”, 2008’s “Rook” and 2010’s “The Golden Archipelago”) that found the band crafting crystalline wisps of songs so delicate and intricate that it seemed they’d crumble and drift away in a stiff breeze.

That kind of music was very much not what this writer was looking for at that time of life, having just relocated to Austin and carrying an ear for bands with a lot more volume and forward velocity. So after a listen or two to the much-praised “Rook,” a “not for me” judgement was rendered and not much further mind was paid to the work of band honcho Jonathan Meiburg and the often shifting lineup of musicians around him.

Fast forward to December 2015, when a throbbing synth-y Bowie-esque tune called “Quiet Americans” appears on local radio. The realization that – beginning in 2010 or so – Shearwater had gradually soundshifted into a band with more menace and heft necessitated a reevaluation, and the possibility that January’s “Jet Plane And Oxbow” could be one of the year’s best albums.

The months since have seen the band on the road for five tour cycles across the U.S. and Europe, with Saturday’s show at 3Ten marking the first in Austin since a February tour kickoff.

That live workload and Meiburg’s 16 years at the wheel of Shearwater provide the confidence needed to shift from occasional flashes of older material, where Meiburg gets more chance to utilize a dramatic falsetto vocal, to the newer, aggressive songs that pulse and twist, punctuated by three- and four-note keyboard patterns provided live by Emily Lee.

A note needs to be made about Meiburg’s good-natured and professional demeanor after chipping a front tooth on his microphone two songs into the night, having a laugh about never suffering such a mishap in 15 years of touring and then soldiering on.

Meiburg’s penchant for painting lyrical landscape and wildlife tableaus for much of his career made “Jet Plane And Oxbow” noteworthy for another reason since its songs are opaquely political throughout.

Introducing “Quiet Americans” – key lyric, “Our dull silence/Our disconnected lives/Pull out the lightning dust, at the mention of his name” – Meiburg said the song that was written as the Donald Trump presidential campaign was gaining steam at first had an “extremely obscure” meaning that has now become open and apparent.

The accusatory snarl in those lyrics and elsewhere on the newer “Pale Kings,” and 2012’s “You As You Were” helped provide contrast during the roughly 90 minute set, with Meiburg alternating from his reed-y alto vocals to both operatic and menacing personas at needed turns.

By the time the quintet was joined by opening band Cross Record for a celebratory encore run through David Bowie’s “Scary Monsters” and “Look Back In Anger” – the second captured on this year’s “Shearwater Plays Lodger” album – it was crystal clear that Shearwater has grown and evolved. It’s a band with songs that can stand statue still, or rumble like a tank as needed.

Set list:



A Long Time Away


Quiet Americans

You As You Were

Wildlife In America

Seventy Four, Seventy Five

Landscape At Speed

Pale Kings


Radio Silence

Stay Light At Clouds Hills


Scary Monsters

Look Back In Anger

Austin musicians celebrate SIMS, help define local scene with personal stories

Charlie Sexton walks through the crowd Saturday at Emo's while sharing stories about working with David Bowie. Sexton was among the speakers and performers at the SIMS' Foundation's Heart of the City fundraising event.  Dave Pedley/Contributed
Charlie Sexton walks through the crowd Saturday at Emo’s while sharing stories about working with David Bowie. Sexton was among the speakers and performers at the SIMS’ Foundation’s Heart of the City fundraising event. Dave Pedley/Contributed

By Chad Swiatecki, special to the American-Statesman

An important but underrated ingredient for reputable music cities is great stories of the people and places who make up the fabric of a music scene.

The best of those tales wind up becoming legend – think of all the characters and craziness that helped make the ‘70s New York punk scene such a cultural phenomenon – as they’re passed down through generations.

Time will tell if any of the stories shared on Saturday night at the SIMS Foundation’s latest Heart of The City fundraiser at Emo’s make their way into the larger cultural lexicon, but a night of looking back at Austin music moments was a great way to raise money for one of Austin’s most beloved nonprofits.

WATCH: Celebrate the holidays, 1995-style, with Charlie Sexton and friends

It wasn’t all story time, with a smorgasbord of Austin musicians performing short tributes to musical heroes throughout the night, but the occasionally shaggy and meandering stories from local music personalities provided some of the most colorful moments.

Among them:

• Charlie Sexton wandering through the capacity crowd while unspooling a memory of his interactions with departed rock hero David Bowie. The highlight there saw Sexton recounting a writing session based around famous Texas sayings such as “(expletive) fire, and save the matches.”

• Concert promoter Graham Williams recounting the many ways the last owner of the downtown incarnation of Emo’s “stretched” various building codes and other regulations to add to the club’s bottom line. Highlight: hearing about an open-mouthed concertgoer who got a taste from leaky sewage pipe that had been rerouted over the venue’s ceiling.

Louis Black of the Austin Chronicle, and one of the co-founders of South by Southwest, shares the first story Saturday at the SIMS' Foundation's Heart of the City fundraising event. Musicians and others connected to Austin's music scene helped raise money for SIMS programs, which help musicians get access to mental health care. Dave Pedley/Contributed
Louis Black of the Austin Chronicle, and one of the co-founders of South by Southwest, shares the first story Saturday at the SIMS’ Foundation’s Heart of the City fundraising event. Musicians and others connected to Austin’s music scene helped raise money for SIMS programs, which help musicians get access to mental health care. Dave Pedley/Contributed

• DJ and writer Andy Langer comparing the marijuana supplies of Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg, after being cajoled into smoking with each on separate interactions. Highlight: falling into a “weed coma” thanks to Snoop’s stash and standing off West Sixth Street and staring at the Star Bar neon sign for six hours.

• Austin Chronicle and South By Southwest co-founder Louis Black sharing tales of beloved and mentally troubled Austin indie rock hero Daniel Johnston. Highlight: recalling a delusional Johnston making a public spectacle while standing in a fountain on the University of Texas campus that led to a standoff with local police, which led to him being admitted into a mental hospital.

That story, which was the first of the night, framed the event most effectively because it stressed the need for mental health services for musicians offered by the SIMS Foundation since its founding in 1995. Johnston was lucky that he eventually got help and his family and fans formed a needed support network to keep him safe and get him the medical help he needed.

With nights like Saturday helping to finance the Sims Foundation and its gradually expanding client base, Black said Austin’s music community is doing its part to make sure mental health issues don’t run rampant in the artist community.

“We live in a blessed community,” Black said near the end of his story time. “Now we know where to go for help with these problems. Because we have SIMS, we are blessed.”

Sound on Sound: Dillinger Escape Plan says goodbye to Austin fans with one of fest’s best sets

Dillinger Escape Plan performs at the Keep Stage at Sound On Sound Festival on November, 5 2016. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Dillinger Escape Plan performs at the Keep Stage at Sound On Sound Festival on November, 5 2016. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

By Andy O’Connor, special to the Statesman

If you’re a Dillinger Escape Plan fan in Austin, Saturday  night was it.

The members of the experimental metal quintet are on their final tour, and they closed off Saturday night at Sound on Sound Fest like they’ve been doing since the late ‘90s: going ballistic.

Sure, the band’s craziest days are behind them, as none of them injured themselves onstage, but they were still far more chaotic than anything else on the bill. Any one part of their live show — the reliance on strobe lights, their turbulent technicality, guitarist Ben Weinman wielding his axe almost as if he wants to lose control, and the fact that any one of them could jump into the crowd at any second — would be overwhelming for most. Taken all together, it’s exhilarating, but you also understand why they’re calling it quits.

While none of them showed any slack, these performances are clearly hard on them, and most musicians cannot even begin to approach that level of physicality. Weinman is the only remaining original member, and bassist Liam Wilson and vocalist Greg Puciato have abused themselves for nearly as long, since 2000 and 2001 respectively. Most of their set leaned toward the mathcore that led to their rise, but there was also a heavy representation of their softer side, influenced by Faith No More’s oddball take on mainstream rock. (FNM vocalist Mike Patton sang on the band’s 2002 EP “Irony is a Dead Scene.”) “One of Us Is the Killer” is one of the few songs where there could be a sing-a-long from the crowd, and “Black Bubblegum”’s snarling melodic edge really came alive on Saturday at Sherwood Forest Faire.

Dillinger Escape Plan performs at the Keep Stage at Sound On Sound Festival on November, 5 2016. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Dillinger Escape Plan performs at the Keep Stage at Sound On Sound Festival on November, 5 2016. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Although Puciato does not have Patton’s range, they do share an oft-kilter, creepily seductive croon. Dillinger ended with “43% Burnt,” where they emptied out the rest of their arsenal for an explosive conclusion. It was complimented by a loop of the infamous head explosion scene from “Scanners,” which is a natural reaction to hearing that song. Those screeching rhythms and abrupt changes haven’t lost any of their power since “Calculating Infinity” came out in 1999, and where Dillinger succeeded was in making such dissonance moshable.

If you missed it, there’s no going back. Unless they decide to reunite a decade a down the line at whatever SOS will be in that time. You never know — Margin Walker loves a reunion! As far as metal performances at SOS go, this was one of the best, and it was a fine goodbye to their Austin fans

Sound on Sound: The 10 best Tim Heidecker jokes

(File photo) Tim Heidecker in "The Comedy."
(File photo) Tim Heidecker in “The Comedy.”
By Ramon Ramirez, special to the American-Statesman
Forty-year-old Allentown, Pennsylvania funnyman Tim Heidecker was punctual and hilarious Saturday evening at Sound on Sound’s comedy stage. Even if it came at the expense of the poor stage hand.
The “Bridesmaids” actor played a meta, hack comic who projects his insecurities and takes it out on the sound guy. It’s Trump-age vitriol for grumpy porches, perfectly channeled.
He’ll do gigs where the whole set is him falling over a microphone stand, or addressing hecklers. His 2016 Laurel Canyon-inspired rock album “In Glendale” is everyman soul for people too hungover to make it into the office.
He had lots of zingers, too. Here are the day’s best:
  • Riffing on Austin’s confusingly named festivals: “It’s great to be here at Sound by Southwest.”
  • Riffing on the festival setting: “Can we turn the music off in the back?”
  • And later: “Give it up for Paul Simon, on the main stage.”
  • And then taking his anger out on the staff, mocking diva talent: “Can we lose 10 percent of me on the monitor, now please?”
  • When Heidecker played charades with the crowd, only to spell out the phrase, “When are we going to address domestic violence?”
  • Riffing on the presidential election: “Don’t blame me, I wanted Mike Huckabee.”
  • Complaining about the audience: “Dallas last night, standing ovation. … I know you don’t care about nuance.”
  • More straight-faced bile hurled at organizers: “They gotta tent this off, you can’t have leaves coming onstage.”
  • Peddling his wife’s pretend business like an Amway salesman who invites you over to dinner with ulterior motives: “It’s called”
  • Turning infomercial televangelist, and preaching the virtues of Keurig, only to misspell “Keurig”: “It’s like living in ‘Star Wars’ … How many people would buy this today, if they could?”

Sound on Sound: The Dead Milkmen honor Prince, before delivering their hits

Dead Milkmen perform at the Dragon Lair's stage at Sound On Sound Festival on November, 5 2016. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Dead Milkmen perform at the Dragon Lair’s stage at Sound On Sound Festival on November, 5 2016. Dave Creaney/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

By Andy O’Connor, special to the American-Statesman

There had to be a Prince tribute some time during Sound on Sound, but who thought it would be the Dead Milkmen to usher it in? The Philly comedic punks played a version of “Little Red Corvette” that was fairly straight-ahead in sound, but still oozed with their brand of silliness. Guitarist and vocalist Joe Genaro sang with the apprehension of a confused kid, not the sex god that Prince was, spoofing the rather thin vehicular metaphors in the process. Still, it was endearing in a year of profound musical loss. Prince was as much about letting your freak free as much as any hardcore band, maybe more so.

Of course, they then transitioned into “Bitchin’ Camero,” one of their most popular songs. The Milkmen delivered a faithful set that was yet another example of how fest producers Margin Walker Presents puts a premium on college punk nostalgia. They delivered the hits, and with their pop core, that’s a smart plan. “Tacoland” extolled the virtues of the San Antonio club, and as Sound of Sound is a fest born of exile, it almost felt like a jab at Austin, too. Let’s just hope they had time to go Veracruz All Natural, and not just Torchy’s.

Weirdly enough, the greatest hint of vitality was when lead singer and keyboardist Rodney Linderman stumped heavily for punk-industrial duo Youth Code, even sporting their shirt as a sign of commitment. (Youth Code play The Keep stage at 4 p.m. Sunday, and, for those who can make it, at 2 a.m Saturday at the Mohawk.) Maybe it’s not the greatest look to have more passion for someone else’s band than your own. Give them some credit, though — they knew to pass the torch. A lot of punks still have trouble with that, much as they had trouble back in the day accepting that “Dirty Mind” was also a like-minded celebration of erasing norms and celebrating unity.

Update: This post has been updated to clarify what the song “Tacoland” is about.

Sound on Sound: Descendents and Fidlar set the right punk tone on Friday

The Descendents play Friday during day one of Sound on Sound Fest at Sherwood Forest Faire in McDade. Photo contributed by Chad Wadsworth/Sound on Sound
The Descendents play Friday during day one of Sound on Sound Fest at Sherwood Forest Faire in McDade. Photo contributed by Chad Wadsworth/Sound on Sound
By Andy O’Connor, special to the Statesman
Even if you had no idea who was playing Sound on Sound Fest just before walking onto the grounds, you could have guess Descendents were going to make an appearance.
Fest producers, led by booker Graham Williams, do love their punk nostalgia trips. Those bookings are kind of emblematic of Sound on Sound’s programming, which has relied heavily on Fun Fun Fun Fest favorites. Descendents may have a new record out, emboldened by frontman Milo Aukerman finally trading his lab coat for a full-time punk gig, but they’re far from the freshest programming. On the other hand, when you’re launching a new fest in an entirely different town, sticking to what works may not be the worst idea after all. This was true of not only Descendents’ performance, but also that of a younger group of punks, Fidlar.
Descendents played to a far smaller audience than they have in past festival appearances in Austin. That did not deter them, and they played as if they filled the entirety of Auditorium Shores. Aukerman opened the set wishing that, on Nov. 9, he doesn’t hope “Everything Sucks,” blasting into their immortal ode to common cynicism. Soon after, the clash of despair and perseverance in “Hope 13” carried even stronger in this climate. Their music predicted pop-punk with infectious melodies and carefree agression, and it still sounds as vital as when “Milo Goes to College” came out in 1982. We all hope our day will come, or at least just the possibility of more days to come. Stephen Egerton’s guitar went out in the middle of their set, but they kept playing like nothing happened. He even seemed to not notice he was cut out before the rest of his bandmates did. It became a representation of their determination, and the fest’s itself, treading on a new model when the outcome is unknown. If this was the first time someone had seen the Desecendents, and it was their first chance, they would have hailed it as the greatest technical error ever.
Fidlar came roaring on with a cover of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” made into their own garage-y image. Watching their set was like the best night at Hotel Vegas transplanted to a forest, beers and bodies moving at similar quickness to catchy, punky rock ‘n’ roll. And those beers were “Cheap Beer,” their most popular song about excessive consumption at a price you can afford. What’s more American than that? Their youth and flippancy was the flip side to Descendents’ age and experience. Fidlar also share a knack for pop hooks driven by California’s equally sunny days and dark nights, where drugs and heartbreak become fuel for the next great single. It’s no wonder Austin kids eat them up.

Did Usher and the Roots turn it up at F1? Yeah!

Usher and The Roots perform during the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman
Usher and The Roots perform during the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

By Kayleigh Hughes, special to the American-Statesman

In a last minute substitution after the Weeknd’s cancellation, Usher and the Roots proved they can be counted on, putting on a stellar, energetic Sunday night set at Circuit of the Americas. The Formula One closing show felt less like a highly choreographed event designed to be flawless and more like the results of over a dozen performers whose level of experience and comfort with their craft beget natural, precision and top-caliber musicianship.

The atmosphere throughout was casual and relaxed. After all, at the end of the three-day event, the races had been won, Taylor Swift had brought the mega-star power the previous night, and everyone was in the mood to loosen up and enjoy themselves one last time before the weekend was over.


The Roots are a surefire hit in the wide-open environment of the Circuit of the Americas Super Stage. The band members, wearing coordinated all-black outfits, strolled onto the stage close to 7 p.m. and immediately made the venue their home, bursting right into a jazzy, celebratory medley of hits and classics, including a playful rendition of “Jungle Boogie.” Lead MC Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, though not the vocalist most in the crowd showed up to see, is a star performer in his own right, and he and the band got the tentative, mellow crowd worked up before the man himself, Usher, strolled onstage and owned it in a white button-down shirt.

Usher and The Roots perform during the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman
Usher and The Roots perform during the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Perhaps considered an “elder statesman” of the R&B and hip-hop world, Usher proved Sunday that he’s a performer who can’t help but be great. The R&B artist is closing in on a career defined by two decades of sensual club hits and full-on radio bangers, and he can make the most stripped-down set look and sound good. But with the energy and skill of the Roots behind him, he put on a show that was able to pull in elements from rock, jazz, soul, hip-hop and even electronica, bringing a joyful, sultry attitude — he was all flirtatious grins and naughty eye contact — to a band that was already having a ball.

Usher danced almost constantly during the show, sliding and strutting up and down the stage through a collection of hits from his entire career, including a warmly received dip into the late-’90s with “U Make Me Wanna …” and “Nice & Slow.” The artist, impossibly smooth at all times, dictated the vibe of each moment with the way in which he inhabited his body, just as much an instrument for him as his voice.

The Roots lent a crackling energy to Usher’s most booming radio hits, such as “U Remind Me,” “Yeah!”— during which he strolled out into the audience — and “OMG,” as well as newer song “Missin U,” which somehow makes a trap-inspired sound out of a Steely Dan sample. During his most slow-burning, seductive songs, such as “U Don’t Have to Call” and the devastating and brilliant “Let It Burn,” the band pulled back, allowing Usher’s emotive voice, still in beautiful form, do the work.


The whole experience was of watching a group of iconic, experienced performers with natural chemistry having a blast: Usher and Black Thought traded verses together, and at one point the Roots’ percussionist Frank Knuckles (who wore a shirt that read “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter”) bounded away from his drum kit and ran in gleeful circles with Usher’s trio of backing vocalists. There were also a number of “jam band” moments, such as when the Roots’ guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas brutalized his guitar in a glorious solo and their touring DJ Jeremy Ellis somehow used glowing white buttons to shred on a sample of “Freeze Frame.”

Still, Usher was the main event, with many in the crowd grasping the air and singing along to every word. He is effortlessly personable and soulful, and his joy kept the night moving (and sometimes thrusting) along. When he left the stage — seemingly to end the show — without playing “Climax,” it was all just a well-done tease for the audience members who were desperately waiting for that final song. The man delivered, and after “Climax” reached its climax, the audience left the venue satisfied and perhaps, as one starry-eyed fan noted, “so pregnant right now.”