If diversity remains one of South By Southwest's credos, you didn't have to look further than the second night of the Warner Music Group's The Warner Sound residency on Wednesday at La Zona Rosa.
Recalling old-school SXSW showcases, the seven-act affair hopped through a hodgepodge of styles and genres, leaping from blues to bluegrass and pop of varying shades. Heck, British songwriter Ed Sheeran did that all in one song, his show-closing epic "You Need Me, I Don't Need You," during which he nearly overheated his samplers and broke four strings on his guitar - without losing momentum. It was a veritable party in a single package.
It's hard to beat a legend, though, and it was clear Dr. John was in fine form, headhunting from the moment he swaggered onstage with his ornamented walking stick and kicked off his set with his biggest commercial hit, "Right Place, Wrong Time." Supported by a crack band that included fellow New Orleans keyboardist Jon Cleary, the Night Tripper's nine-song set previewed five songs -- "Revolution," "Ice Age," "Big Shot," "Locked Down" (on which he played guitar) and "You Lie" -- from his politically charged forthcoming album "Locked Down," which was produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach. But John also ventured into "oldie but moldy" territory with hot renditions of "Loup Garou," an extended "Walk on Gilded Splinters" and a buoyant "Big Chief," clearly throwing down a kind of gauntlet to the younger talent that surrounded him on the bill.
Chief among those was Gary Clark, Jr., an Austin hometown favorite with a nimble and flashy guitar playing style that was more substantial than his songs, though an aching "My Baby's Gone" and a gritty crank through is signature "Bright Lights, Big City" ended the evening on a high note - and Clark cut a particularly dashing figure with his black leather jacket and dark fedora. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., meanwhile, celebrated its final show at this year's SXSW with an energetic set that included a bubble machine, fluorescent jackets and covers of Gil Scot-Heron's "We Almost Lost Detroit" and Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)."
The Punch Brothers lived up to their usual sublime standards, exploring new directions of acoustic string band music with songs from their new "Who's Feeling Young Now?," including the Radiohead-like "Movement and Location" and the instrumental "Flippin' ." LP, meanwhile, offered up an energetic set of ukulele-driven, cabaret-flavored pop that ranged from the bombastic to lighthearted, while New Zealand's Kimbra gave the crowd Katy Perry by way of Karen O, mingling forth with an idiosyncratic, occasionally jagged edge.