The annual South by Southwest conference in Austin won’t begin its official music panels and showcases until Wednesday, but it’s been scooped by Samsung yet again. Two years ago, SXSW’s fever-pitch appearance was a Samsung-sanctioned Prince performance. In 2014, Jay Z and Kanye West packed an arena’s worth of Watch the Throne pyrotechnics into a music hall equipped for ’90s nostalgia touring rock bands. Sunday at the pop-up Samsung Studio, mythical kraken D’Angelo crept upstairs and jammed.
It was the ultimate marketing troll move: Camp out next to the convention center and open up shop with something all of those badge-donning suckers can’t get into. The event was billed as the Samsung Supper Club, and it played out like an American wedding with about 100 guests. By posting up an intensely high-profile performer that is literally critics’ most beloved artist—and eventually parlaying the performance into a streaming exclusive—Samsung goes home with a treasure trove of style points.
Mary J. Blige is slated to turn out the same space Tuesday. Samsung promised another camp-out-for-wristbands concert announcement early this week.
It helps that Samsung at some point embraced and actively catered to its African-American and minority audience with its mobile marketing. The event’s populace was aggressively diverse, and as a brown dude, I can’t shy away from how welcoming and loose the thing played out. Apple is an urban and millennial experience with glass-store products that last 15 months. You buy Samsung phones in the kiosk outside the Apple Store, and there’s an urgent spirit to these functional boxes.
Legacy brands are here to engage and offer the latest in buzzwords, and this global product synonymous with expensive soccer jerseys is evoking the nostalgic sympathy of a groom on game day: “Hi, how do you know Samsung?”
Mick Boogie and Questlove of the Roots spun records that are secretly the best songs ever, like T.I.’s “What You Know.” He rocked an ironic shirt that added plain English to the sleazy nature of the SXSW game and read “no head no D’Angelo ticket.” Invites were reportedly dished out to local wanderers, too. A tall and inebriated stranger gave me a passing bear hug because, yo, we made it.
Oh right. D’Angelo and his four-piece band strolled through a brutally brief, five-song set that lasted maybe 30 minutes. He is the only man on Earth bold enough to rock an aqua fedora while singing a transfixing set of “Betray My Heart,” “Spanish Joint,” “Really Love,” “Send It On,” and “Brown Sugar.”
Welsh 57-year-old session legend Pino Palladino handled bass, having contributed dirty lines to 2014’s Black Messiah, and his pace on the fretboard needs a warning label. The clap-along breakdown of “Brown Sugar” could have lasted an hour and didn’t stop until the whitest people in the room were barking “I want some of your brown sugar” in unison.
It was a vulnerable space filled with peers in the business and Chef Paul Qui’s Berkshire pork shoulder. But the subtle range of his almost-mumbled lyrics dialed in the house. We ate out of his hands.
Photo via Getty/Samsung