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Best of SXSW 2012, Thursday: Bruce Springsteen, Kendrick Lamar, Girls

Bruce! / Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Can’t blame the guy for being a little reflective of late about the entirety of pop music and his place within it. A week ago, Bruce Springsteen played his first show with the newly retooled E Street Band at Harlem’s hallowed Apollo Theater, paying tribute to the soul legends who’d graced that stage before him. And now, just hours after telling the keynote audience at this year’s SXSW that the implosion of boundaries across genres is as inevitable as it is welcome, Springsteen bookended his show at the Austin City Limits/Moody Theater with tributes to Woody Guthrie, backing Jimmy Cliff for three songs, and teaming with Eric Burdon of the Animals. All this interspersed into a nearly three-hour set that drew heavily from Wrecking Ball, itself a blend of arena-rock anthemry, folk traditionalism, gospel, and hip-hop. (Michelle Moore came out to do her verse on the upcoming single “Rocky Ground”). And even during the cameo-laden “This Land Is Your Land” finale, during which there were seemingly as many people onstage as in the mezzanine (including Joe Ely, Garland Jeffreys, Tom Morello, and Arcade Fire’s Win Butler in a Pittsburgh Pirates cap) representing nothing less than a cross-section of the last 40 years of contemporary music, it was impossible to keep eyes off the man in the middle, holding it all together. STEVE KANDELL

Howler: Converse’s Chief Marketing Officer Geoff Cottrill has said the company’s no-cost, no-strings-attached Rubber Tracks studio is aimed at “celebrating young artists,” and they don’t get much younger than shaggy Minneapolis punks Howler, who played the Filter and Converse Rubber Tracks Showcase at Bar 96. Frontman Jordan Gatesmith is but 19 years old, presumably a contemporary of the other two members of the quintet with short-cropped haircuts and pale arms. Together they bashed out a delightful, surfy racket. Gatesmith aired out his limber falsetto, bassist France Camp showed off his fantastic bald eagle tee, and guitarist Ian Nygaard displayed his legs (in shorts!) as the band galloped through punchy tunes like “America” and “Told You Once” from their debut, America Give Up. The good news is the band never did. CARYN GANZ

Kendrick Lamar: Lamar, babyfaced, wispy goatee, modestly togged in denim, eyes alive and darting, spitting couplets with dizzyingly exact diction, exuded a particular wattage of starpower during his Black Hippy collective’s Thursday showcase at Clive Bar. It wasn’t the I-made-it-ma glee or f-you-money hauteur so common in young performers. It was a controlled flicker that made you think he’d be singularly unsatisfied by simply seeing his name in lights — soon a reality after his crew’s recent signing with Dr. Dre’s suddenly revived Aftermath/Interscope imprint. Lamar, perhaps more than any other currently prominent rapper, has shit to say, a restless need to address the wider world. His opener, “Fuck Your Ethnicity” (from 2011’s Section.80 mixtape), is a tolerance anthem with no time to waste: Unity’s a cool point of order, but we got decades of other issues, so hurry your ass up and heed the program. Lamar doesn’t shy from sing-along hooks, and has a winking ease with songs about “pussy and Patron,” etc., but it’s all in the context of a daily struggle that’s tinged with an obvious ’60s soul-fire. The subtly incendiary grain in his voice immediately ties him to movement-era voices like the Last Poets, Watts Prophets, and the then LeRoi Jones, but there’s no 10-Point Plan to Overthrow Oppression, if that’s what you’re thinking. In fact, on his best song, “A.D.H.D.,” he’s deliriously trippin’ off every drug imaginable, musing on his generation’s dilemma, caught up in romantic drama. In other words, he’s a regular dude with an irregular gift. Listen up. CHARLES AARON

Girls: What a great live act Girls have become. When Christopher Owens took the heartbreakingly guileless, perfectly constructed guitar-pop songs of his band’s debut out on the road a couple years back, he seemed nervous on-stage and completely at a loss as to how to carry himself in front of an audience. Now, Girls are monsters. With a huge assist from lead guitarist John Anderson, the band’s mid-afternoon set at a cavernous warehouse (the show was part of the non-SXSW affiliated Mess With Texas festival), encompassed just about everything you’d want in a classicist rock ‘n’ roll show. Taken almost exclusively from last year’s gorgeously moving Father, Son, Holy Ghost, the six-piece band aired crisp Beatles-y bouncers (“Honey Bunny”), gently narcotized mid-tempo numbers (“Alex”), and expansive epics (“Vomit,” on which the two women singing back-up absolutely wailed). Best of all, though, was how on-it the mercurial Owens was. He hopped with joy. He strummed with passion. He danced in his charmingly goofy way. He’s comfortable now. Great, too. DAVID MARCHESE

Purling Hiss: Yesterday’s lineup of guitar-driven bands was a tale of three tones. There was the Alabama Shakes at Stubbs, a band whose seismic soul comes by way of wholesome, golden, impossibly warm guitar lickery, (a.k.a., the kind of thing you expect to hear). At Emo’s East last night Japandroids’ Bryan King gifted the Polyvinyl party that brown, Clinton-era crunch so thick it could leave your stomach feeling a bit like taffy. Neither, though, equaled the sheer energy of Purling Hiss, a Philadelphian power trio whose main man Mike Polizze did terrible, wonderful things to his guitar in the dank, ill-lit splendor of Beerland yesterday afternoon. He shredded and shuddered and shoulder-charged his way through a 15-minute set of similarly indigestive, J. Mascis-indebted bruisers with such fire, you couldn’t help but leave the room buzzed. Whether you were a few beers deep or not.DAVID BEVAN

Shining: At a glance, Shining seem improbable, if not absurd — a Norwegian jazz band that evolved into a black-metal jazz band with keyboard flourishes that bring to mind nothing less than the most harrowing parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But Shining are, in fact, as furiously entertaining a bunch of eccentric musicians as you’ll ever encounter. During their set at the Dirty Dog, an “extreme” sports bar in the heart of 6th Street’s debauched zone, the neatly groomed doom crew enthusiastically and methodically educated us in their improbably absurd ways. Frontman Jørgen Munkeby grinned, leaned into the crowd, and growled, “Wharrrrrrrgggh arrgggggh youuuu, Agggggghhhhhhstiiiiihn?!” (translation: “Where are you, Austin?!”), and then the band tore off into the epic churn, rumble, and swirl of “Madness and the Damage Done” (from last year’s mind-boggling Blackjazz album). Later, he high-fived the front row after ripping off a ferocious free-jazz saxophone solo, only to quip: “So, did you come here to hear jazz music? Okay, here’s a jazz tune for you boys and girls.” What followed was a frantic, nonstop death-honk that morphed into a Motörhead biker jam reduced (or elevated) into theatrically existential confetti. With keyboard lasers, of course. Respect. CA