SXSW 2014: Upbeat turns from Hannibal Buress and Far East Movement

AUSTIN, Texas — This year’s South by Southwest festival has a pall over it. No matter how great any band plays, or how tasty the breakfast tacos, there’s just something weighing down the crowds after the early Thursday morning tragedy.

There’s no solution to this. Everyone’s trying their best, but the mood is markedly somber, as it should be. 

Perhaps the premiere of a new special from one the best (and most music-savvy) comedians working today could offer some levity, though.

SXSW 2014: The scene

Hannibal Buress is a longtime favorite in the indie/rap/comedy crossover scenes — he’s played the Fonda with Eric Andre, and has some of the most hilariously cutting riffs on hip-hop I’ve ever heard. He’s a former writer for “30 Rock” and has a fantastically dry recurring role in the new Comedy Central series “Broad City.”

“Hannibal Buress: Live from Chicago” is his new special that debuted on Friday at the Ritz (an Alamo Drafthouse venue, which L.A. needs). It collects a bunch of his best recent bits from the last two years, many of which touch on music, like his impressions of what hard-acting rappers would actually be like after taking their recent euphoric drug-of-choice (“I’ve been dancing by myself against this wall for 45 minutes! I’m on that molly!”). His meta-impression of the rapper RiFF RaFF — barely talking into the mic while Buress' own prerecorded jokes played on the PA — would have probably been well-received by its target.  

One reason so many bands dig Buress is that he writes about the inanities and vices of touring life in recognizable ways. The new special has a long re-enactment of a time he got thrown out of a Subway in London for being too wasted; there’s the fallout from an unexpected post-gig threesome in Minneapolis where the hotel maid cleaned everything except a leftover bump of cocaine on the dresser (“That’s how you get good Yelp reviews.”).

SXSW 2014: The scene

None of it is played for shock value, just as tales from the life of a really observant and self-aware 30-year-old guy with a growing public profile. He’s still got his awkward nerdball streak, like when he recounts meeting Scarlett Johansson after learning she’s a fan (His inner dialogue: “I am a fan of ... pictures of you”). The special closes — like his 2012 special “Hannibal Buress: Animal Furnace” — with a long riff on racism that’s funny and a bit piercing.

But in today’s seamless blending of weirdo music and comedy, few comics seem as attuned to the intrigues of the road-warrior life. That’s why he’s so welcome at festivals like this, and likely to broaden that audience considerably in years to come.

Speaking of party nihilism and sly takes on modern racism, the Koreatown group Far East Movement closed out the night on the Doritos stage (alongside a surprise set from RiFF RaFF that we sorely missed).

The Asian American rap group became inescapable on L.A. radio after their fantastic single “Like a G6” debuted in 2010. It’s been a few years since that breakout, but songs from their forthcoming EP “KTown Riot” sounded pretty great, especially the squelchy single “The Illest.”

That song’s been gathering steam on Power 106, and its built on blasted-out funk synths and quick turns into dreamy trance builds and liquor-swilling kick-drum drops. It’s hard to feel total abandon when surrounded by that much corporate marketing, but FEM did their level best, and we’re glad to have them back.  


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