The headliner was a rock orchestra from Brooklyn, N.Y. The openers included a burgeoning pop star from Belgium (with 6.5 million likes on his Facebook page), a pugnacious songwriter from Australia, an androgynous R&B/pop singer from Las Vegas and a rapper from Compton, Calif.
That summarizes National Public Radio’s showcase at South by Southwest on Wednesday night, which drew a nearly full house to Stubb’s BBQ, a venue that can hold more than 2,000 people.
The opener was the rapper Boogie, who unleashed a torrent of profane and provocative hip-hop that most faithful listeners would not identify with NPR and its typical music menu.
Shamir Bailey, a 20-year-old R&B/pop singer from Las Vegas (who goes by Shamir), followed Boogie. If you closed your eyes and listened, you’d probably assume Shamir was a female, given his silky, high-register singing voice (which he says is natural and not falsetto) and other vocal mannerisms.
His music is catchy and groovy, an appealing mix of pop, R&B and soul. His set featured tracks from his upcoming debut CD, including “In for the Kill,” “Head in the Clouds,” and “On the Regular,” which you can see/hear on this YouTube video.
Courtney Barnett followed Shamir and took the show in an entirely different direction. Barnett is a singer/songwriter from Melbourne, Australia, who sets her wry and witty lyrics to songs that swing from pop to hard and grungy indie rock. Her style evokes comparisons to Chrissie Hynde, Joan Jett and Liz Phair. Like Shamir, she is promoting a record that has yet to be released. Her set list featured every song from “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit,” which will come out next week.
She will perform at the Uptown Theater on June 18, opening for Belle and Sebastian.
The show took another precipitous turn when Stromae took the stage. A 30-year-old singer/songwriter from Brussels, Belgium, he is a theatrical performer who uses his long, spindly build to exaggerate his evocative poses and dance moves. He and his four-piece band took the stage dressed in matching school-boy garb, including bow ties, and delivered a set of songs with roots in pop, hip-hop and ’90s dance music. The language difference was no barrier: He ignited the mood instantly and kept the big crowd engaged throughout.
Stromae has to be a hard act for anyone to follow, but TV on the Radio didn’t flinch.
The Brooklyn band kept the mood percolating during a set that stretched into Thursday morning, delivering a set that included a mix of new and older songs, including “Young Liars,” “Lazzeray,” “Winter,” “Trouble” and the ferocious “Wolf Like Me,” one of several highlights.
Their music plumbs various wavelengths of rock, taking it to fresh and unexpected places by fusing rock, punk, jazz, R&B and soul and other styles. They are unique. You can hear them Saturday night, when TV on the Radio headline a show at the Midland theater. Like much of the music in this showcase, theirs is invigorating and memorable.