Playback – JMBLYA 2017: Trapper’s Delight

JMBLYA garners the third largest concert audience in Austin's 2017


Chance the Rapper (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Spring bacchanal of trap, hip-hop, and electronica now in the rearview mirror, JMBLYA saw its youthful music promoters ScoreMore successfully stage Austin's third largest concert of 2017. Last Saturday's festival, held in a parking lot peripheral to Circuit of the Americas, sold out a jaw-dropping 25,000 tickets in advance. Only ACL Fest and Justin Timberlake's upcoming F1 appearance at the same site will host larger audiences. Garth Brooks' free South by Southwest concert in March capped at around 15,000.

It didn't hurt that the fifth-year event's midday act recently topped Billboard's album chart. Sharp-dressed Atlanta trap kinfolk Migos sparked up recent smash LP Culture with staccato Southern chants of "Get Right Witcha," faring better than melodic material like "Kelly Price." While the trio's big-stage showing came off decidedly nonchalant compared to their wild outing at Vulcan Gas Company last spring, Migos boasted an arsenal of hits to slay large crowds. JMBLYA's faithful, a young, racially diverse mix of guys in basketball jerseys and girls in cutoff jorts, went nuts for older cuts like "Fight Night" and "Hannah Montana," which flexed Migos' knack for turning improbable lyrics into triumphant hooks, then nearly hyperventilated for "Bad and Boujee," their mega-collabo with fellow JMBLYAian Lil Uzi Vert.

Or was it the heat?

"If you hot, say 'Bitch I'm hot!'" Migos' Quavo instructed the crowd.

Steamy days in early May spell trouble for Austinites not yet prepared to slather sunscreen and chug H20, evident in the late afternoon as "Playback" witnessed heat-baked kids fainting and throwing up in alarming numbers. No doubt, Saturday's unshaded parking lot – a staple of JMBLYA's presentation thanks to the financial feasibility of avoiding expensive postshow turf repairs – amplified the mercury, which lingered in the mid-80s and compounded when the bars ran out of water around 9pm.

"Austin, I'm gonna make a crazy Snapchat story with you," Steve Aoki promised a sea of cell phones with humans attached. Rife with gimmicks, including two video shoots and his infamous sheet cake-hurling segment, and surrounded by stunning visualizers, the superstar DJ effectively distracted attention away from his music, a playlist of joyously poppy EDM and remixes of artists like Blink-182 and Kid Cudi. Anyone would seem like a geek preceding Gucci Mane.

The prolific Atlanta trap phenom required no gimmicks on Saturday, strutting the stage with a winsome presence and millionaire material. One hook, "I don't usually do this unless I'm drunk or I'm high, but I'm both right now," arrived as a serendipitous soundtrack for widespread make-out sessions by collegiate twentysomethings. The antidote for Aoki's YOLO vibes, Guwop's gangster juices overflowed: a three-card Monte hustle broke out in VIP before H-Town rap royal Bun B manifested for a show-stopping rendition of "Get Throwed," a crowd favorite second only to viral sensation "Black Beatles."

When Chance the Rapper cruised onstage riding a minibike and launched into the church-worthy "Blessings," JMBLYA's social vibe instantly transformed. Spiritual counterpoint to a day's worth of rhymes about flipping drugs and beating up pussies, the wholesome Grammy collector now stood as the saint among sinners. Beyond saving souls, the 24-year-old Chicagoan's horizontally efficient dance moves, commanding microphone presence, and sensational Social Experiment band made his predecessors appear scrappy and artistically amateur by comparison.

Though the lion's share of his arena-ready set drank from the fountain of latest mixtape Coloring Book, Chance elicited huge moments with Acid Rap's "Pusha Man" and "Sunday Candy" off the Social Experiment's Surf mixtape. Punctuating his 90 minutes with signature holler "oohwooh," which translates to "give me more," Chance fiercely detonated "No Problem" before finding wings with the choir-spiked "Finish Line/Drown," each track a visceral, increasingly profound outgrowth of its original recorded form.

Chance returns to Austin in October as a headliner for ACL Fest. The fall gathering trumpeted out an incomplete lineup Thursday morning to lukewarm reaction before reinserting flip-flopping co-headliner Jay Z onto the bill. Tickets are moving slow compared to last year's 24-hour Weekend One sellout, perhaps because 25,000 Texans just got a fix of the fest's most relevant headliner.

Don't Fear the Kiefer

Gruene Hall goes Hollywood this weekend as two stars of the silver screen showcase their music projects. Dennis Quaid & the Sharks hit the historic New Braunfels venue on Saturday before Kiefer Sutherland sings the following night. The latter 24 star also plays Austin's 3ten ACL Live on Saturday.

The actor-first, musician-second path is littered with garbage, from Scarlett Johansson's album of fifth-rate Tom Waits covers and Bruce "Bruno" Willis' blues posturing, to any project involving Johnny Depp holding a guitar while dressed like Keith Richards' bath salts dealer – except for his P collaboration with Butthole Surfers' singer Gibby Haynes, which debuted at the Austin Music Awards in 1993. Austin's crowds are so blinded by celebrity that they generally welcome wannabes like Russell Crowe's 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, which once packed out three nights at Stubb's while the Oscar winner recorded at Arlyn Studios or, more recently, Jeff Bridges doing bullshit sets of Stephen Bruton covers. There's just one actor named Jeff performing decent roots music and he played Harry in Dumb & Dumber.

On the spectrum of actor-musicians, with Corey Feldman on one side and Tenacious D on the other, both Quaid and Sutherland land in the middle. The 63-year-old Quaid, a onetime Austinite who lip-synched Jerry Lee Lewis songs in Great Balls of Fire, boasts journeyman guitar and piano chops, and a novice but impassioned voice, in his rock & roll outfit, in action since 2000. As demonstrated at the Continental Club in January, his best quality remains his endearingly happy and humble stage presence.

Meanwhile, Sutherland's suddenly giving the musician schtick a real go with last year's debut album Down in a Hole and bookings at music festivals. The record, co-written by musician Jude Cole, showcases Sutherland's smoky troubadour voice and stylistically passable arrangements, but suffers from baseline, cliched writing. In other words, it's primed for country radio.

Half Notes

Pushermania gets weird: Continuing his mission to unite Texas rappers from different cities, veteran hip-hop scene builder Matt Sonzala stacks an incredible lineup of Lone Star talent inside at Mohawk on Saturday. An extension of Weird City's outside show with Cupcakke and Austin's Magna Carda, Swishahouse founder Michael Watts presides over a bill featuring Houston rap day-one-er K-Rino, Dallas breakout T.Y.E., San Antonio favorites Milli Mars, Worldwide, and Bamsworth Belli, plus Austin's Wallaby & Bobbes and Black DaVinci. "All the people on this show are thought-provoking and lyrical," says Sonzala.

David Elliott Rosen received a 10-year prison sentence on investment fraud charges last week. The Austin-based concert promoter took nearly $2 million from investors in 2009 and 2010 with the promise of booking shows featuring Justin Bieber and the Eagles, then used the money to cover personal expenses, according to the Texas State Securities Board.

Alex Cohen, NYC transplant of late, made a triumphant return to Austin on Friday, delivering a powerful performance with Alex Napping at Cheer Up Charlies. The quartet burned through the contemplative material on fresh sophomore LP Mise en Place, showcasing beat-heavy indie-pop spiked with Cohen's breathy, yet richly melodic vocals that resemble Björk channeling Angel Olsen.

Two Butthole Surfers members announced June releases. USA/Mexico, drummer King Coffey's trio with Craig Clouse and Nate Cross, unleashes a glorious melee of downtuned, static-addled, experimental noise punk called Laredo on June 30 for 12XU and June 2 on overseas imprint Riot Season. That same day, bassist Jeff Pinkus' psychedelic country rock mongrels Pure Luck – featuring Moistboyz, Ween, and Hickoids members – debut with a disc on Heavy Feathers.

The Austin Music Office has begun a round of stakeholder meetings soliciting feedback on prospective Agent of Change policy and creating an entertainment license for music venues. Discussion continues at forthcoming city commission meetings. View the schedule at www.atxmusic.org.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

JMBLYA 2017, Chance the Rapper, Gucci Mane, ScoreMore, Migos, Dennis Quaid, Kiefer Sutherland, Pushermania, Butthole Surfers, USA / Mexico, Pure Luck, Alex Cohen

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