It was only night one of SXSW music, but Warner Music Group cranked the volume to eleven Tuesday with this year's Warner Sound showcase sponsored by Nikon. Hopeful attendants -- credentialed and non, local and fresh-from-the-airport -- wrapped the block around The Belmont on West 6th St. for a bill that included one of the hottest rap acts in the country in Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and pop It-girls of the moment, Icona Pop.
The Swedish duo of Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo were statuesque and a study in contrasts Hjelt with flowing red hair and a sparkly long-sleeved white top, and Jawo clad in all black with a short black bob. As Icona Pop they've been climbing up the charts in countries all around the world with their breakout hit single "I Love It," and the crowd eventually shed all semblance of cool as the group cranked out track after track of throbbing electro-pop. Charli XCX, the 20-year-old rising star from London who played the role of pop-diva-in-training on stage earlier in the evening, bounced back out for the highlight performance of "I Love It," a song for which she shares a writing credit and contributed background vocals.
It was all hip-hop from there on out. Three of rap's leading lights left their stamp on the stage one after the other, beginning with the latest signee to Rick Ross's Maybach Music imprint, the 21-year-old Chicago native, Rockie Fresh. Fresh had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand as he ran through tracks from his most recent mixtape Electric Highway. In a short amount of time, he's become adept at straddling the line between crossover-ready melodic hip-hop and the heavier trap music for which his boss is famous.
Queens emcee Action Bronson was next and showed off the vintage brand of high-energy, verbally dexterous rap for which he has become famous. The bearded, ruddy rapper could not be contained by the stage, which he quickly left behind in favor of rapping from directly within the crowd, on the stairs to the balcony and while reclined on a sofa behind a velvet rope in VIP.
All throughout the night, giddy murmurs overheard in the open-roof stage area of The Belmont made clear who the evening's most anticipated performer was. And when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis entered the stage, the two may as well have been a pair of priests standing before a choir.
The converted hung on Macklemore's every word and hyper, air-jabbing gesticulation. The Seattle rapper and his DJ partner responded by feeding the crowd their biggest hits early on in the night the anti-homophobia anthem "Same Love" and the former Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 "Thrift Shop." A string of guest performers joined the affair to rap or sing their contributions to Macklemore's debut album "The Heist," which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 last October. Mary Lambert guested on Same Love, Wanz on Thrift Shop, and Talib Kweli made a surprise cameo for set-closer Victory Lap.
An arguably overzealous fan overheard outside the venue embodied the crowd's response to the jam-packed evening with an excited announcement to a friend. "I think at one point I got punched in the face," she said, breathless. "It was awesome!"