Rumors about high-profile guest stars turned out to be false, but Jay-Z alone hardly disappointed during his first solo SXSW performance Monday night at the freshly revamped Austin City Limits theater. Following a surprise appearance last year during Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music showcase, Hova kicked off SXSW week with a roughly 80-minute set packed with hits like "Big Pimpin'," "Just Wanna Luv U (Give It 2 Me)" and "Hard Knock Life." And, because the whole show was a promotional event for American Express, it's streaming online in its entirety.
Taking the stage to the defiant soul-based strains of The Black Album's "What More Can I Say," wearing all black everything except a gold chain and colorful baseball cap, Jigga struck a kinetic figure all by himself. He shifted between club-ready party tracks and harder-edged narratives, pausing once or twice to restart a track if his delivery wasn't up to his own demanding standards — or if he felt like the reportedly 2,800-strong crowd wasn't giving him his due. Who else could make a bunch of a wristband-wearing SXSW kids — hailing from the East Coast, the West Coast, the Midwest, Texas, and, uh, Nova Scotia, per their responses to his stage banter — scream for Linkin Park?
Watch the whole thing here, and keep an eye out for some of the standout moments, including:
1. Jay-Z interrupts himself on The Blueprint's gritty "You Don't Know": "I don't fuck around with the words to my songs. Y'all came to see a live show, right? Get it right, let's go."
2. "Glory," the ode to daughter Blue Ivy that Jay debuted live last month at Carnegie Hall, gets an emotional reprise. He notes that this is probably the first time he's given a post-song shout-out to "all the parents in the house."
3. "99 Problems," which Hova introduces with an a cappella of the final verse. Check out everyone in the crowd going totally nuts on the chorus.
4. The Blueprint 3's "On to the Next One," which samples a remix of Justice's "D.A.N.C.E.," offers a little fodder for the iPhone-waving SXSWers. You know, the Linkin Park fans.
5. "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" comes second in the set, but it's one of the fieriest performances of the whole show, getting everything off on a dynamic footing.
6. "Empire State of Mind," which lacks an in-person Alicia Keys but doesn't lack for the name of city in the fonts of the New York Times, New Yorker, and New York mag in the main set's final song. "I appreciate all the love this evening," Jay declares. "I had a good time tonight." (Hov comes back out for a perfunctory "Encore.")
7. "If you had a beautiful time like I had a beautiful time..." Jay enthuses to the end evening, "...everybody, scream!" Also: Respect is due to a backing band of two keyboardists, a drummer, and a DJ, who kept the uptempo set moving smoothly.