AUSTIN, TEXAS – Tuesday night during South by Southwest might be the quietest Austin gets over the course of a week and a half. Which isn’t saying much nowadays. It’s the final night of the SXSW Interactive Conference, which genuinely seems to be where more of the buzz, corporate money and mega-famous rappers are nowadays (see: Jay-Z's concert Monday with American Express’ and Twitter’s backing). Tuesday used to only be the start of the "unofficial" part of the SXSW Music Conference, but there were about 30 venues with official showcases this year. Apparently some of the rappers didn’t know about the earlier start, though. Here’s what I took in for the annual easing-into-it night.
Best showcase in a horrible venue: The temperature must’ve shot up about 30 degrees walking inside Club 606, an awkwardly laid-out and barely workable oven of a venue off 7th Street where Austin’s own Heartless Bastards played. Frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom and her sturdy band -- all SXSW vets -- didn’t seem the least bit fazed and solidly tore through three-quarters of their stellar new album, “Arrow.” The opener “Parted Ways” was a hot starter, but “Simple Feeling” made the sweaty confines jump another 10 or so degrees.
Worst showcase in a decent venue: Big-kahuna music blog Pitchfork hosted its own official, two-stage showcase at Mohawk and the Mohawk patio that drew a far-from-capacity crowd and saw its star attraction, Mr. Mutha***in’ eXquire, either end 20 minutes early or not go on at all (I never found out for sure). That left me watching two very mediocore dance-rock acts: Toronto’s Trust, a sort of gothy acid trance thing (I say “thing” because the stage was so dark I couldn’t tell if it was a band or one guy); and Brooklyn trio Bear in Heaven, which has a pretty hefty SXSW buzz going on and delivered some infectious New Order-style grooves but ultimately suffered from an off-putting, cocky demeanor and limp songwriting.
Worst showcase in a horrible venue: Somebody at SXSW should be fired for putting a hip-hop showcase inside the so-called 1100 Warehouse, actually a metal barn on the east side of I-35. The bass inside boomed off the walls so bad it was hard to tell when songs ended. On top of that, the lineup was all out of order, so that Danny Brown went on early and Kendrick Lamar didn’t go on at all (word is he missed his plane into town). Somehow, Mobb Deep was added in the interim. Bound for the Twin Cities as part of the Soundset lineup (as is Lamar, if he shows), Brown still proved to be quite a character with his punked-out afro hair and raunchy tunes. He went so deep into detail about pleasuring women that it made the men in the crowd more uncomfortable than the women.
Minnesota pride, take 1: Poliça’s first of eight gigs this week (this one at the Bat Bar) had fans crammed near the front of the stage and more of a crowd watching from outside the club’s window on Sixth Street. Perhaps because the typical SXSW time-crunch clock was ticking, the electronic soul-thumping band seemed to speed up its songs just a tad, resulting in extra feisty versions of “Dark Star” and “Leading to Death.”
Best line of the night: When First Avenue general manager Nate Kranz heard that Mobb Deep had substituted for Kendrick Lamar, he couldn’t help but laugh. “Mobb Deep didn’t show up when I booked them, but they’ll show up unannounced for somebody else?” he cracked.
Keep checking back for our SXSW 2012 updates and photo galleries at www.startribune.com/sxsw.