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SXSW Day 2 report: Grizzly Bear, Red Red Meat, Handsome Furs and more

March 20, 2009 |  8:39 am

Night two at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, began with a whimper, and ended with a snarl. The experimental folk rock of Brooklyn's Grizzly Bear was where my night started, and it wrapped with the electro-punk of Canadian husband/wife duo the Handsome Furs. All told, I crammed 11 bands into six hours, wandering in and out clubs on Austin's 6th Street.

With a full day of industry panels and shows set to begin within about seven hours of this post being written, here's a look at some of the memorable performances of the night:

The performance that stopped me from club-hopping: The Handsome Furs at the Sub Pop showcase.

The duo of Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry married sharp guitar riffs -- punk rock tones lifted equally from early Clash and the sewer -- with excitedly cherry electronic club sounds. Boeckner wailed his guitar around the stage, and nearly popped out the veins in his neck each time he took to the microphone. Meanwhile, the barefoot Perry attacked her snyths as if she were a gymnast, kicking her legs into midair to emphasize the beat. Songs such as "Talking Hotel Arbat Blues" were finely distilled rock 'n' roll -- two-and-a-half minutes that seemed rescued from a 1950s garage rock compilation.

Best comeback: Chicago's Red Red Meat, also at the Sub Pop showcase.

I didn't catch the full set, but for a band that has been largely missing in action for about a decade, Red Red Meat's bluesy alt-rock felt surprisingly fresh. The rhythmic duo of Brian Deck and Ben Massarella tried to keep the songs on pace, but guitars would soon veer the tunes off course. But it was never abrasive -- just a bit reckless, with singer/guitarist Tim Hurley letting his vocals get lost in the mix, and cutting through it with a slide-guitar riff. Sub Pop has reissued the band's 1995 album "Bunny Gets Paid."

Most perfectly acceptable performance that had a line down the block: Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear's forthcoming "Veckatimist" is being buzzed about as an early album of the year contender, and the band said it last played SXSW four years ago. The wait to get into the band's performance at the Central Presbyterian Church pushed more than an hour, and the show was briefly delayed until the venue could get the green light from the fire marshal. Those who made it in saw a four-piece that's continuing to strengthen its vocal interplay and harmonies. There's plenty of headphone-worthy flourishes in the band's low-to-mid-tempo rock, with guitars that are just a bit rough around the edges, and electronic touches keep things from veering too folksy. But there's still one problem: For all the noodling and poking around, nothing ever really happens in Grizzly Bear's songs. It's the perfect music to daydream to.

Best competing bill in the same venue: Los Angeles' Foreign Born and South Africa's BLK JKS.

The BLK JKS' set was only three songs, and from talking to people after the performance, it seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it type act. I was on the positive end of the spectrum, and am curious to hear the band's upcoming full-length on Secretly Canadian. The band's biggest strength is in its rhythm section, and where the act's world music trappings are most present. A bit jazzy at times, the BLK JKS came off as a psychedelic jam band, letting high-pitched guitar notes bounce off a rambunctious rhythm one moment, and then riding it out into an extended dubby groove the next.

Meanwhile, on the club's inside stage, L.A.'s Foreign Born showed off songs from its forthcoming June set, "Person to Person." Nuanced but not overly arty, the sometimes woozy vocals of Matt Popieluch are used as another instrument, sliding under the upper-register guitar notes. The band has an adventurous streak -- songs can shift genres and rhythms over the course of its verses -- but there's something quite lived-in and comfortable in the way the songs gradually build.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Handsome Furs. Credit: Liam Maloney