Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey

"I'm not concerned by what the latest do," Anderson .Paak sings towards the end of "The Bird." "I choose to follow what the greatest do." It's a line that isn't on the recorded song, but it pins down what makes .Paak so unique. Since his appearance on Dr. Dre's 2015 release, Compton, he's been an emergent force in popular music. He's a magpie across the timeline of greatness, picking the bits that suit his voice with little heed to current trends.

Before his eighth song at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, Anderson .Paak remembered where he was in years prior. "We came here a couple times and we've actually drove a couple times. And we ran out of gas. And we slept on floors, and whatnot," he said. "A couple years ago, nobody gave a f--- about us, and this year we're getting to play in front of great big crowds ... I feel really blessed to be here in front of you guys at this historic event." He then proceeded to demonstrate exactly why things have changed for him and his band.

"You're all sexy," Anderson .Paak assures the audience, "so don't be afraid to groove." He and The Free Nationals certainly aren't. Halfway through "Miss Right," .Paak once again takes the drums for a lengthy instrumental breakdown. For minutes — from guitar solo to drum solo and back again — the group loses themselves in the groove without once losing their way.

Set List

"Come Down" is a straight banger, and Anderson .Paak knows how to flaunt it. He leaps off the stage and presses up against the front of the packed crowd, leaning over as they reach toward him. Hyping over a bassline that finds its groove somewhere between P-Funk and G-Funk, .Paak turns tight circles on the stage while a chorus of voices chant "You might not ever come down."

Set List

"Am I Wrong" is a tour-de-force. In four-and-a-half minutes, it scans across Anderson .Paak's capacious set of influences: Club music, disco and West Coast rap meld into an unstoppable groove. The performance emphasizes the ingenious flexibility of The Free National's stage set. Callum Conner can call to mind any genre he likes behind his laptop, while bassist Kelsey Gonzalez and guitarist Jose Rios keep the soul influence front-and-center. At the end of "Am I Wrong," Rios uses octaves and funk voicings to push the song into disco territory.

On the Motown-tinged "Put Me Thru," Anderson .Paak does double-duty on the drums and vocals. The song gives ample opportunity for his band, The Free Nationals, to shine: Guitarist Jose Rios alternates between punchy chords and tasteful shredding, while bassist Kelsey Gonzalez plays gatekeeper to the song's ebb-and-flow groove.

Set List

When Anderson .Paak leaps behind the drums midway through "The Season/Carry Me," he doesn't miss a beat. Instead, his vocals lock in and it becomes clear that everything he does — from drumming, to dancing, to rapping, to capitalizing on his buzz — is meticulously on beat. His band is right there with him; they nail the first single off Malibu, turning around the song during the transition and then setting it straight again for the pulse-pounding finish.

Set List

On the second song of his SXSW set, Anderson .Paak ran through "The Waters." It's one of the more traditional hip-hop songs on Malibu, and it showcases .Paak's confident flow.

Set List

It was fitting that Anderson .Paak started his SXSW set by singing an older song from backstage. When "Green Light" was released last year on an EP by collaborator Jonwayne, .Paak's gripping voice had yet to take center stage and Malibu — the LP that established him as one of the most buzzworthy acts of this festival — was months away from release. Without his bassist and guitarist, .Paak filled the whole stage with Power Rangers references, audience call-outs and effortless dance moves.

Set List

  • "Green Light"

At midnight on Friday night, Mt. Wolf brought us a legitimate lullaby for our South X Lullaby series. Singing its single "Hex" while sprawled across the bed in Bob Boilen's hotel room, the British band made the otherwise anonymous space intimately personal. Sebastian Fox's delicate falsetto rests on a lush and light arrangement of chiming 12-string guitar, harmonies and brushwork. It's emotionally intense — but, as with any lullaby, never past the threshold where the neighbors come knocking.

On a flight of mottled concrete steps by Waller Creek in Austin, Maren Morris flipped the break-up song on its head. Born in Texas, she moved to Nashville to be a songwriter, and her southern roots and songwriter's sensibility shone brightly, even in the dimming Austin night. "I Wish I Was" holds within it a pop songwriting trifecta — a powerful, identity-based thematic hook, a catchy chorus and an easy, soulful voice to deliver it all. Morris sings as the heartbreaker, letting her lover down as easily as she can and feeling regret not of a missing love but of missed expectations.

On Sunday, Holly Macve played her first show in the United States. Two nights later, behind the bustling Austin event space Palm Door on Sabine, the 20-year-old songwriter from County Galway in Ireland sang us a lullaby. Her song "Sycamore Tree" ponders the future while longing for the past: "One day when I'm old with my past behind me / I want to lay down in the shade of the same old sycamore tree," she sings. With the sound of a restaurant fan wheeling in the background, she drove us gently through the humid night toward whatever big things may await her.

At 10:00 p.m. on a wooden bridge over Waller Creek in Austin, Texas, two shocks of orange hair lit up the night. The musicians in Lucius gathered to perform our first South X Lullaby. Clad in matching blue onesies and jackets, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig sang "Dusty Trails," the closing song off their brand new record Good Grief, backed by Dan Molad, Andrew Burri and Peter Lalish. It's a song about finding your way in life, and growing older without losing hope. It is reassuring in its fortitude, and ceaseless in its hope.

On the fourth of July in 2005, Sufjan Stevens released Illinois, a record that made him a household name, at least among a particular set of indie rock fans and music critics.

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