Before most bands rolled out of bed Thursday morning, Lou Reed delivered his SXSW keynote speech. Though Reed doesn't always strive to be a crowd-pleaser, he was in a surprisingly sharing mood, earning laughs with lines like "I have a B.A. in dope, but a Ph. D in soul," and by explaining how The Bourne Ultimatum is one of his favorite movies. In addition to discussing Berlin ("It's about jealousy, and in that sense, it's romantic") and Julian Schnabel's live document of the album, Reed ripped into the rise of MP3s — "Here's your song reduced to a pin-drop," "You have a lot available and it all sounds bad." He also gave an impromptu spoken-word performance of "Rock Minuet," praised the music of Dr. Dog and Holy Fuck, and left the door open for the possibility of full performances of Magic and Loss and Street Hassle, although he called the Berlin shows "not an audition" for playing other albums live.
A few hours later in the afternoon, scads of Vampire Weekend fans lined up outside the Parish three hours before were scheduled to play, and those who got into the venue early had the pleasure of seeing Yeasayer — whose tweaked, psychedelic take on art-funk made us wish we had a blunt to blaze. The NPR party eventually wrapped with that anticipated Vampire Weekend performance, a loose-limbed take on their usual set, including "M79," "A-Punk" and "Blake's Got A New Face" among its finer moments. Kings of Leon's Nathan Followill was in the house for much of the event, noting the physical similarities between VW's Rostam Batmanglij and American Idol's adorable David Archuleta. (Look again. They could be cousins.)
It was worth getting to the Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar/Dead Oceans showcase at the Mohawk early and sticking around until the last strains of Black Mountain's ear-warping set wrapped at 2:15 a.m. The Vancouver five-piece looked and sounded like the best of the Seventies, kicking off with the Zep-esque riffage of "Stormy High," the first track from their latest LP In the Future. Singer Amber Webber slammed a maraca against a tambourine and contributed brilliant, ghostly vocals to the several stretched-out jams the band could cram in before the show reached curfew (guitarist-singer Stephen McBean was especially on point). A distinctly different crowd had packed in an hour earlier for Jens Lekman's lounge-pop set. The Swedish singer-guitarist-keyboardist, decked out in pointy white shoes and backed by an all-girl band (save for the guy working the sampler), gleefully bopped and dared to play air-xylophone to songs including "Black Cab" that recalled Belle and Sebastian's pretty melodies and cleanly orchestrated arrangements. Earlier came a low-key set from Bon Iver, a band-backed singer-songwriter whose soulful, often falsetto vocals explored the art of subtlety, even at their most impassioned. The crowd sang along as expected on "The Wolves (Act 1 & II)" and their increasingly urgent chants of "It might have been lost" as the music swelled recalled Death Cab for Cutie's "Transatlanticism." Before that, Oklahoma rockers the Evangelicals impressed with tightly thrashy songs that showcased singer Josh Jones' epic vocals — which augmented with tons of reverb, showed flashes of Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew's stellar pipes.
Thursday was also about pleasant surprises: Roky Erickson played at his usual ice-cream social at Threadgill's, and this year, he was joined by ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, who came onstage for five songs including the 13th Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me." Checking out British dance-rock band the Whip at Club DeVille was also a happy accident. They revved up the crowd into a sweaty dance party, with songs that sounded equal parts Daft Punk, New Order and old school house. They need to learn how to write a bridge, and lyrics such as "I wanna be trash(ed)" hint that they ought to tighten their songwriting, but the beats and samples were funky the same way that LCD Soundsystem's are. We also heard one track by the lovely and amazing Imani Coppola side-project Little Jackie that was the best song the Black Eyed Peas never wrote: A retro-styled R&B rave-up about avoiding a relationship so you can continue to be self-centered. It could be a hit, if anyone gets to hear it. Coppola has amazing stage presence and a powerhouse soul voice that she applies as well with Little Jackie as on her solo material.
As the night wore on, things got weirder. Har Mar Superstar stripped to his underwear — natch! — onstage at Esther's Follies just before 1:30 a.m. Since the stage was by the window, Har Mar availed himself of every possible opportunity to press his belly against the glass and incite similar behavior from dudes trolling Sixth Street. (Note to dudes on Sixth Street: Just because Har Mar can get away with letting his beer belly hang out, doesn't mean you should try it. He is, after all, a rock star. You, after all, are not.)
And apart from Motorhead's gloriously rumbling buzzsaw of a set at Stubb's ("Ace of Spades," "Overkill," "Stay Clean," all the classics) in the afternoon, the real heavy metal thunder Thursday came from North Carolina's Between the Buried and Me. The death-metal-gone-prog act played the majority of last year's Colors, which features thrashing and bashing aplenty, but also showcases a Mr. Bungle-esque dash of eclecticism and a proficiency that could be described as "tasteful wankery." "Ants of the Sky" jumped from soaring guitar solos to a saloon hoedown with banjo before diving right back into the metal grind, while set closer "Mordecai" demonstrated the kind of epic melodic finale that most metal bands fear they can only attain by going harder and faster.