Friday night at Moody Theater was an unforgettable evening for live music. Season 41 of Austin City Limits has brought a mix of artists that aren’t typically spotlighted on this show, and it has brought in a wave of tremendous talent. Kendrick Lamar has become one of the top names in the rap game this past year with his album To Pimp A Butterfly. In attempts to create a more intimate concert experience on his current tour, Lamar is playing smaller venues in each city versus the typical arena setup. The venue was full to capacity, and the crowd was beyond ready for Lamar.
Lamar’s backing band took the stage and kicked off with an Earth, Wind and Fire intro as the audience began to chant “Kendrick.” Dressed in black from his beanie to his boots, Lamar came out with a half-smile and jumped into “For Free?,” a spoken word piece that touches on the history of black oppression. This jazz, fast rap song created a feverish energy throughout the room. His ability to transition from the poetic rapper to hip-hop royalty jumping from side to side on the stage was admirable. Everyone, including myself, were at his total control and he took us through the magic of To Pimp A Butterfly while fitting in songs from 2012’s Good Kidd/M.a.a.d City. Songs like “Backseat Freestyle,” and “Swimming Pool (Drank)” were not exactly the kind of songs PBS can air on public television, so thankfully Lamar left it up to his fans to sing the more R-rated words as a call and response action.
After a technical difficulty interrupted the show for a quick break, Lamar came back out to continue playing “Can’t Hide Love,” which transitioned into “m.A.A.d city,” the best song to turn the crowd all the way up. Aside from his infectious stage presence, Lamar had a lot to share with the crowd on how he felt about To Pimp A Butterfly, his fans and his music, in general. Throughout the 15-song set, he continuously thanked everyone watching for allowing him to write this album. He expressed that it was a form of therapy for him to write To Pimp A Butterfly. That makes sense considering all of the feelings and thoughts that this album makes the listener experience from start to finish. As the band finished the tune “The Blacker The Berry,” a woman that standing on the floor began to chant, “we gon’ be alright.” The popular line comes from “Alright,” which has become a popular song used during protests this year, especially protests against police brutality. It was impossible not to get fired up as we got louder and Lamar yelled back “tell ’em!” It was the perfect ending to a spectacular show.
The people that usually attend ACL tapings were not the faces in the crowd that night, and it was truly pleasing to see such a diverse group of people that love Kendrick’s music, rooting him on from the floor, mezzanine and balcony. Make sure to catch this episode next spring when season 41 of “Austin City Limits” premieres.
* Live photos courtesy of KLRU. All photos below by Scott Newton.