SXSW: August Greene Light Up the Night with Powerful, Eclectic Set

Common & Karriem Riggins of August Greene
 Sean Mathis/Getty Images for SXSW

Common and Karriem Riggins of August Greene during SXSW at Austin Convention Center on March 14, 2018 in Austin, Texas. 

All-star band featuring Common, Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins rocked NPR Music's showcase.

August Greene hasn’t become a prolific live entity yet. But in the wee hours of Thursday morning (March 15), the all-star hip-hop troupe proved to be abundantly potent in its appearance at South By Southwest.

Playing just its second full concert, the collaboration between Common, keyboardist Robert Glasper and drummer Karriem Riggins closed out NPR Music’s characteristically eclectic showcase at Stubb’s. Over the course of 10 songs and 50 minutes, August Greene offered what Common called a exhibition of “the black people of genius,” deftly blending rap and jazz, and a bit of funk, in a manner both fresh but also familiar to each members’ body of work.

Though it tapped some of Common’s catalog for favorites such as “The People,” “Thelonious” and “The Light,” August Greene mostly highlighted its self-titled debut album, which came out earlier this month. Common flowed over a bed of sound created by Glasper’s bright chordings and Riggins’ busy, muscular patterns, along with bass and turntables. Samora Pinderhugh provided the vocal hook heavy lifting, while Maimouna Youssef joined the troupe for a rousing verse on “Practice” – which, along with “The Light,” Common dedicated to women in the age of #metoo.

With “Black Kennedy” August Greene offered a provocative statement of African-American self-image, while Common positioned “Let Go” and “Fly Away” as more personal statements, the latter featuring a playful freestyle that touched on racial unity, his bandmates, his home town of Chicago, Showtime’s The Chi and the menu at Stubb’s. “No Apologies,” meanwhile, gave Glasper and Riggins room to stretch out on a furious, extended jam.

Finishing after the allotted 2 a.m. end time gave August Greene little time for goodbyes, but the group clearly needed no apologies for a powerful performance that will hopefully be repeated more, and more frequently, in the near future.

As for the rest of the NPR bill, New Orleans’ Tank and the Bangas lit up a field that was filled specifically for its genre-defying brand of hip-hop soul, while the British techno-pop act Superorganism offered a spirited, cheeky performance that had the feel of a discovery. Okkervil River also scored by previewing several tracks from its upcoming album The Rainbow Rain”(April 27), while Mt. Joy and Hembree were among the highlights in Stubbs’ inside room dedicated to NPR’s Slingshot campaign for emerging acts.

Festivals 2018