SXSW: A Reporter's Diary - Day Two

Friday started with a visit to the convention center. After dropping by a number of booths in the trade show area, I heard some smokin' acoustic guitar coming from the area of the Day Stage.
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Friday, March 14

My Friday startedwith a visit to the convention center. After dropping by a number ofbooths in the trade show area, I heard some smokin' acoustic guitarcoming from the area of the Day Stage. I walked over there to find animpressive young guitarist named Kaki King doing two-handed tapping on anOvation 6-string. King played original, jazz-tinged compositions thatshowed off her considerable virtuosity on both acoustic and electricguitars.

Later, I attended a panel onActivism in Music. With the war on the horizon, and the incident inwhich Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines dissed George Bush having justoccurred, it was a pretty timely discussion. The panel included, amongothers, R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, and perennial Yippie, Wavy Gravy.Wavy (or should I call him Mr. Gravy?) wore his usual clown nose andinjected humorous comments throughout an otherwise seriousdiscussion.

Next up was a party sponsored by Jambase, the jam-band Web site, at a6th Street venue called The Vibe, which features an outdooraudience area in back with a covered stage. There I heard PsychedelicBreakfast, who played an impressive set of funky, jam rock.

I then walked backto the Convention Center, where I heard that the Vancouver-based bandHot HotHeat, was about to perform at a party sponsored by Spinmagazine at Stubb's. There are always several bands at SXSW thatgenerate a big critical buzz, and Hot Hot Heat was one of them thisyear. So I hurried over to Stubb's (which is not only a barbecuerestaurant, but also a major outdoor venue), and found the party to bein full swing. There was a line down the block to get in, but it movedquickly. A very large crowd was gathered inside, and Hot Hot Heat hadjust gone on when I arrived. The band, played an energetic brand ofpunk-influenced pop rock, and lead-singer Steve Bays pranced around thestage in Jagger-like fashion. Personally, I didn't think they reallylived up to the hype, but the crowd seemed to love it.

I then made thelong walk across town to La Zona Rosa, where AMP Energy Drink washaving its annual showcase. Headlining this show was Taking BackSunday, an up-and-coming emo band that records on VictoryRecords. It was an all-ages show, and the crowd appeared to bepredominantly teenagers. I arrived just before the band started, andwhen they did, the crowd cheered, flashed the "rock-on" sign, andimmediately began stage-diving and moshing. As the set wore on, TakingBack Sunday's high-energy punk grooves cranked the chaotic crowd uphigher and higher.

In the evening, I headed for aninvitation-only showcase put on by Columbia Records, that featuredMatthew Sweet's new band, TheThorns. The event was held in the ballroom of the elegantDriskill Hotel on Brazos Street, just off of 6th. Theopening act was a singer named Alice Peacock, who demonstrated a strongvoice and excellent songs.

Next up were the Thorns, who consist of Sweet, Pete Droge, and ShawnMullins. The group is all acoustic, with Mullins and Droge playingguitar, and Sweet playing both guitar and Appalachian dulcimer. Thethick acoustic-guitar backing blended nicely with their lush three-partharmonies, which were reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young,and the Byrds. Although a bit on the mellow side, the Thorns wereextremely impressive and quite polished. I look forward to hearingtheir CD.

After leaving theDriskill, I headed over to Antone's (there almost always seems to besomebody good playing there) where I saw an amazing group called Those LegendaryShack Shakers. Hailing from Nashville, Tennessee, they played amix of rockabilly, blues, and rock that they called "Hillbilly Rock."Shirtless lead singer/harmonica player "Colonel" J.D. Wilkes led theband (which also included an upright bassist, archtop electricguitarist, and drummer) through a stirring set that featured acrobaticstage antics, some really skanky grooves, and a good dose of humor fromWilkes.

Following next was The Black Keys from Akron, Ohio, ablues-influenced rock act that consisted only of a lead-singingguitarist and a drummer. Considering they had just two pieces, and nobass, they got a surprisingly full sound.

I then headed to theAustin Music Hall, to catch the last two acts, LucindaWilliams and Willie Nelson. Unfortunately for me, a lot ofother people had the same idea, and there was a line out the door thatstretched the better part of a block. As a result, I wasn't able to getin to the show, but from all reports it was quite a good one. Williamsset included material from her upcoming CD, World Without Tears,and during Willie's set Ben Harper made a guest appearance. Earlierthat evening, Harper had played a surprise acoustic gig at the Loungeat the Spaghetti Warehouse.

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