SXSW entered its third day on a somber note, as news of the wee-hour fatal car rampage came more to light. A few day parties near the sight of the incident were canceled. Organizers of the music conference quickly set up a fundraiser effort for the victims. They and police kept festival goers and Austinites informed. By mid-afternoon, though, things were mostly back to usual, with the occasional moment of silence being asked for at gigs – Houston’s Wild Moccasins even made their moment a full minute of silence. Here’s more of what we took in Thursday:
BEST OF THE DAY: As was forecast in my SXSW bands-to-watch preview, psychedelic Japanese punk band Bo Ningen provided a riotous kick to the fest with an intensity not seen elsewhere at SXSW besides the few metal showcases. The wild-eyed quartet (now based in London) kicked off its first showcase of the week on the east side of I-35 at the Vegas Hotel’s patio -- a booking just begging for noise complaints.
By the second song, “Haken,” the band was furiously bouncing around the stage in unison to its roller-coastery waves of reverberating guitar noise and pulsating rhythms. Singer/bassist Taigen Kawabe led the charge with a manic, sometimes cackle-like vocal style and dramatic, wild-eyed gestures that included a tear through the middle of the crowd near the end of the set, .
BIGGEST LETDOWN: In terms of the venue, Thursday’s second of two big SXSW gigs by Blur frontman Damon Albarn was through the roof. No really: The gig was the first in three nights of “Guitar Center Sessions” TV tapings atop a five-story parking garage in downtown Austin. The city’s skyline – rife with new condo towers and construction cranes nowadays – provided an impressive backdrop for the session, although Albarn seemed to take umbrage with one major entity looming across the street.
“We’re gonna perform for you tonight under the benign presence of Chase Manhattan,” he wryly joked of a neighboring office tower with the baking giant logo on top.
Unfortunately, Albarn himself never rose to the occasion. Playing songs from his new solo album, “Everyday Robots,” he and his otherwise terrific band stayed in a mid-tempo rut for most of the shows. Too many of the songs limply plodded along, including the title track, while “Heavy Sea of Love” boasted an awkwardly tuned sound. Even the older tune “Tomorrow Comes Today” lacked the funky zest of the original, by Albarn’s other group, Gorillaz.
The other, more minor letdown Thursday was the late-night set by New Jeresey quartet Real Estate, which seems poised to become a top-tier indie-rock act this year with the release of its third album, “Atlas.” As lovely as the new songs are on record, though, with their Luna/VU-style hazy-sun guitar interludes, the band still lacks luster on stage.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: It probably shouldn’t have come as a shock having seen her conquer Twin Cities audiences over the past year, but Lizzo’s official SXSW showcase at the North Door was an eye-opening moment. Playing to a nearly full crowd inside one of the bigger venues east of the Interstate, the Minneapolis rapper sparked a rowdy dance party with “Batches & Cookies” and other songs from last year’s “Lizzobangers” album. The high-profile gig proved her buzz is catching on elsewhere. Granted, about 80 percent of all the Twin Cities musicians in Austin for SXSW were at the gig, which was part of the Totally Gross National Product showcase (also featuring Marijuana Deathsquads, Har Mar Superstar, the Cloak Ox and Pony Bwoy). But the Minnesotans were just a small part of the overall crowd -- and in true Minnesota fasion they weren’t the ones dancing the wildest.
BEST ‘HOW DID I GET HERE?’ MOMENT: Playing the role of Young New Guy with all the humility he can muster (which is a lot), Jeremy Messersmith sat in on a noontime SXSW panel at the Austin convention center alongside indie-rock big-wigs Bob Mould, Britt Daniel (Spoon), Matthew Caws (Nada Surf) and Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate). The title of the discussion was “Warehouse: Songs & Stories,” named after the last record by Mould’s band Hüsker Dü, and true to the ad the guys all offered songs and stories. Mould played a touching new one called “The War.” Messersmith delivered “Steve” after explaining it was inspired by a homophobic blog post that read, “God didn’t make Adam and Steve” (Mould visibly enjoyed both the song and the story).
Given the chance to ask his more experienced co-panelists a question at the end, Messersmith asked if they approach songwriting as a “disciplined, everyday thing.” Mould answered in the affirmative: “You should be very grateful that this is what you get to do with your life, and you don’t want to let it rust.”
See a full photo gallery from Tuesday at startribune.com/sxsw.