Musically, round two of SXSW was much stronger for me, with the highlights starting during the day in the convention center with a group called Mumiy Troll, a long-running Russian rock band formed in Vladivostok in 1983 by the insanely animated vocalist and songwriter Ilia Lagutenko.
The SXSW Web site had reported that the quartet had canceled its festival appearance and a short U.S. tour after Laguteno underwent an emergency appendectomy earlier this month. But there he was on stage, bounding about like a madman as the group churned out rollicking New Wave grooves behind him, bringing to mind a looser, more joyful version of early Public Image, Ltd. crossed with Devo.
Apparently, after years of surviving bans and persecution by the local Communist party, a burst appendix was nothing. (You can hear a sample of Mumiy Troll's joyful noise here.)
My evening started out back at Stubb's, which once again proved to be the wrong venue for the sublime Canadian rockers the Besnard Lakes, though the group fared slightly better in conveying the lush subtleties of its sound in that big dirt bowl than Broken Bells did on Wednesday.
The Besnard Lakes
Led by the husband-and-wife team of guitarist-vocalist Jace Lasek and bassist-vocalist Olga Goreas, the band has crafted one of the most winning albums so far this year in the stunning "Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night." As they delivered its gorgeous harmonies and haunting melodies while enveloped in clouds of stage fog, I couldn't help but think how incredible the group will sound when it performs a free show in Millennium Park on May 24.
The Soft Pack
Next up at Stubb's was the San Diego indie-rock quartet the Soft Pack, formerly the controversially named Muslims. The band's deceptively simple but rhythmically driving sound was better suited to the backyard frat party vibe of the venue, but it remains to be seen whether it holds up on record.
From there it was on to a club called Mohawk, where the restrained but powerful post-rock of the Madison quartet All Tiny Creatures evoked Tortoise jamming on Philip Glass. (Listen here.)
All Tiny Creatures
Even better was the enigmatically named jj, which has released two widely acclaimed albums of seductive electronic pop music. On record, jj is the Swedish duo of Joakim Benon and Elin Kastlander, but onstage at SXSW, Kastlander performed alone with digital backing tracks, bringing to mind a more cheerful and more zaftig version of Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico, with a laptop replacing the harmonium.
My final highlight of day two came at a showcase for the stoner-rock record label Small Stone at the club Encore courtesy of the Los Angeles band Sasquatch, which sounds exactly like you would want a band named Sasquatch to sound.
Led by the whiskey-chugging, fire-snorting guitarist and vocalist Keith Gibbs and featuring former Chicagoan Jason Casanova on bass, the group's sound is rooted in classic Grand Funk Railroad, in terms of the arena-rocking melodies, though it's augmented with all manner of twisted psychedelic/metal chaos, from hints of Monster Magnet to touches of Blue Cheer. You can sample it here--and be sure to turn it all the way up for maximum impact.