NPR Music's team in Austin woke up on Thursday, like many around the country did, looking for news about the accident that killed two people and injured 23 more at SXSW on Wednesday night. "It was hard to sort of walk out the door today and know that today was going to be another day at SXSW," Bob Boilen said at the end of what he called a long, very emotional day.
Of course, it wasn't just another day. We walked Austin's streets, found ourselves in familiar venues, ate some tacos and saw plenty of excellent bands, but the day built slowly. By the end of the night, when Bob, Robin Hilton and Stephen Thompson met up to talk about getting back into the SXSW swing, the focus was back on the music. Nearly everyone had moments where the music coming from Austin's stages echoed emotions they were feeling or provided some relief from those feelings. Bob found some catharsis in the big, emotional rock of Portland's Typhoon. Robin started his day with a reflective set by The Autumn Defense. Stephen saw wildly different bands back-to-back, moving from lovely guitar/cello/voice combination at Aisha Burns' set to a short blast of New Orleans Bounce from Big Freedia, then following that up with a set from longtime favorite Haley Bonar at the Central Presbyterian Church.
All three ended up at a set by Future Islands to end the night. The Baltimore band has been making slightly off-kilter dance rock for nearly a decade, but they've recently risen to Internet-meme status thanks to a typically bravura performance on The Late Show With David Letterman. "I thought the show was kind of defiant, almost," Robin said. You could make an entire slide solely out of photos of that band's lead singer/dancer Samuel Herring, or you could just keep pressing play on this slo-mo video of Herring getting into his own band's groove forever.
You can listen to the whole conversation at the audio player on this page and read more highlights from Thursday in Austin below. Follow along with our discoveries in a running playlist of music by the best bands we've heard so far, at the bottom of this page.
Today's schedule has a strong start. At 11 a.m. Central, we'll be presenting live streaming video of this year's SXSW keynote address by Lady Gaga. Watch it here. We'll have more updates throughout the day — you can follow along in real time via Twitter (@nprmusic), Instagram and Facebook.
Thursday SXSW Highlights
- Ann Powers (@annkpowers): "The Houston band Wild Moccasins began its showcase set with a moment of silence for the victims of last night's terrible accident. After the unique experience of standing in a club crowd in total silence for a full minute, the group's New Wave ecstasies were all the more intense and liberating. Zahira Gutierrez danced and sang as if governed by jolts of electricity, bouncing off the angular grooves her bandmates generated. Pure pleasure on a somber day."
- Robin Hilton (@nprobin): "Seattle pianist and singer Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius blindsided me during his late-night set at St. David's Episcopal church when he sang the sweetly somber song "Lookout, Lookout" from his 2010 debut, Learning. With the previous night's tragedy hanging over the day, it sparked an unexpected emotional release in me. A beautiful, tear-filled moment of reflection."
- Bob Boilen (@allsongs): "I loved the songs and the spaciousness of Leif Vollebekk. He had a way with phrasing that was somewhere between Van Morrison and Andrew Bird or Patrick Watson. Poignant, poetic, soulful and thoughtful."
- Felix Contreras (@felixatjazz): "Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux's short but incendiary set featured some tracks from her new album (see this week's First Listen) as well as some crowd favorites from her earlier albums. The crowd treated her like a returning hero."
- Kiana Fitzgerald (@NPRandB): "I finally caught up with one of my favorite up-and-coming hip-hop artists, Denzel Curry. It was short, but so sweet and impactful. His energy was sky high. I found out right before the show that he was heading back to his home state, Florida, ASAP for the funeral of his brother, who was murdered last week. You'd have never known by his set."