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SXSW Thursday: R.E.M. and more...

Of the Oakland Press

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Austin, Texas -- Sights and sounds from the South By Southwest Music + Media Conference...

Veteran rockers R.E.M. joined the ranks of those with something to sell this year, rocking the outdoor venue Stubbs with a 95-minute showcase performance in the wee hours of Thursday (March 13) to hawk its forthcoming album, ''Accelerate.''

The group offered up a 10-song sampling from hard-rocking the set, which comes out April 1, starting with the album's opening couplet -- ''Living Well's the Best Revenge'' and ''Mansized Wreath'' -- and winning friends for other songs such as ''Mr. Richards,'' ''Horse to Water,'' ''I'm Gonna D.J.'' and the title track. Hits were in short supply (''Drive,'' ''Fall on Me,'' ''Man on the Moon'') but the group delighted older fans with rarely played material such as ''Second Guessing'' and ''Animal,'' while ''The Great Beyond'' was pulled out even though frontman Michael Stipe said R.E.M. hadn't rehearsed it in two years. He also dedicated the new ''Until the Day is Done'' to the late actor Heath Ledger, who Stipe said had heard and liked the song before his death.

It was also a politically charged show, broadcast live on NPR.org. The outspoken Stipe praised Austin for its support of Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign, noted that the new song ''Houston'' was inspired by former First Lady Barbara Bush's caustic comments of Hurricane Katrina refugees fleeing to Texas and announced that he's ''sick to death of politicians telling me what I should be scared of and what I should fear.''

R.E.M. plans to tape an episode of PBS' ''Austin City Limits'' on Thursday (March 13) before heading over to Europe to promote ''Accelerate.'' The group is expected to play the Detroit area in the fall.

R.E.M. hand-picked its undercard on Wednesday night (March 12), which, given its Athens, Ga., roots, was heavy with southern flavor such as Papercranes and Summerbirds in the Cellar from Florida, along with British expatriate Jonathan Rice, who's on the same record label. Dead Confederates, another group from Athens that immediately preceded R.E.M., drew chuckles when it reminded the crowd that ''There's another band after us, so don't leave when we're done...''

Members of Ann Arbor's the Bloids were among those attending R.E.M.'s SXSW show in preparation for their performance at a Blender magazine-sponsored after-hours party on Friday (March 14). Handing out Bloids CDs, the group's Bob Jones said that coming to SXSW ''reminds me that there's a music industry out there. In Michigan, we get kind of isolated, but it's all down here. That makes me feel good...And there's so much great music, too.''

Some of that truly great music could be heard that Bismeaux party on Wednesday (March 12) afternoon at Austin's legendary club Antone's. Thrown by Western swing disciples Asleep at the Wheel ostensibly to promote their record label but really, according to leader Ray Benson, ''just to have a party,'' the affair found the group kicking through an energetic set with some guests, including Austin R&B singer Tim Curry, ''Sittin' On Top of the World,'' and 13-year-old fiddle prodity Ruby Jane Smith from Mississippi. While attendees dined on some of the area's best barbecue and chocolates, Austin's Carolyn Wonderland finished the party with a set of blistering blues-rock.

A packed Pangea, which was hosting an after-party for a screening of ''Lou Reed's Berlin,'' a documentary by Academy Award-winning director Julian Schnaebel, was literally ''Waiting For the Man'' on Wednesday. Despite heavy rumors, Reed -- who's delivering this year's SXSW keynote interview -- didn't show, at least not to play. Instead the party goers took in sets by the Raveonettes (who were picked by Reed himself), MC Rut and others. Reed will be playing at another tribute, to be held Thursday at the Fader Fort.

The Raveonettes, Danish natives whose members now reside in New York and Los Angeles, are among SXSW's hardest working bands at his year's festival. The group has 13 shows, according to guitarist-songwriter Sune Rose Wagner, including an array of private parties.

''We just figured since we have a new album ('Lust Lust Lust'), we might as well just promote as humanly possible,'' says Wagner. ''We're excited about playing these days, and we're in pretty good shape. I think it's gonna be OK.''

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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