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SXSW: Detroit, Lou Reed Live It Up, and more...

Of the Oakland Press

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On an overcast but warm Thursday (March 13) afternoon, Michigan's SXSW music contingent mostly found its way to a club called Darwin's Pub, where Ann Arbor's Quack Media held a party that featured performances by the Hard Lessons, Great Lakes Myth Society and Child Bite.

Members of expatriates Natives of the New Dawn, Bump and the Bloids were among those who showed up to catch the sets, including typically raucous workouts by Child Bite and the Hard Lessons - whose frontman, Augie, sported lifeguard-style attire as he played as much off the club's small stage as he did on it.

A few days in Austin was much-needed for the Hard Lessons, according to Augie. ''We've were sick for about nine days after we left'' Detroit on March 1, he said at the party. The tour, he added, has also been ''complete hell,'' with opening bands canceling and rugged weather, including 10-foot snow drifts in Madison, Wisc. But, he said, ''Texas has been fun. By the time we got to Forth Worth and had a Sonic burger, it was warm and we felt better. And to spend a few days her (in Austin) has just recharged us, totally.

Augie proudly showed off a photo of himself diving head first into the crowd at the band's Wednesday night (March 12) showcase, likening it to early black-and-white photos of Nirvana. He was also pleased that the band would be playing at Friday's (March 14) Spin magazine party; last year Blanche, which performed there, borrowed The Anvil's drum kit for the gig.

''This year the actual band will get to play, not just our drum kit,'' Augie noted.

Down the street at the Thirsty Ear, Ann Arbor's Tally Hall played at an afternoon party for the web site nodessertforyou.com. The quintet re-releases its first album, ''Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum,'' on the national Atlantic Records label.

Thursday was also Lou Reed day in Austin. A day after premiering his new film, the Julian Schnaebel-directed documentary ''Lou Reed's Berlin,'' the New York rock icon sat for a keynote interview with acclaimed music producer and friend Hal Wilner. Typically caustic and dry-witted, Reed spent some of the session lashing out at new modes of audio technology, lamenting that ''here's our song reduced to a pindrop...our movie reduced to the size of a postage stamp...It's like technology is taking us backwards. It's making it easier to make things worse.'' He added that ''people have got to demand a higher standard than the current MP3 format.

Reed also said that he planned to take the ''Berlin'' show, in which he re-created his entire 1973 album with a 30-piece orchestra and band and a 12-voice choir, on tour again this year in Europe, but not in the U.S.

Later in the day Reed showed up at a tribute concert to him to perform ''Walk on the Wild Side'' with Moby and his rock band, the Little Death. The show also included performances of Reed and Velvet Underground songs by My Morning Jacket, Yo La Tengo, Joseph Arthur, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Philadelphia's Dr. Dog, one of the bands Reed said he liked during the keynote session. Reed basked in the tribute, raising his hands after his performance and declaring ''I love punk rock. And I was the first one!''

One of the most poignant moments of SXSW came Thursday night, when Tom Morello, Serj Tankian, Ben Harper, Billy Bragg and others celebrated the premiere of ''Body of War,'' the documentary about paralyzed Iraq war veteran Tomas Young, who's become a leading anti-war advocate. The show was marked by protest songs and pontifications -- as well as memorable, rabble-rousing performances.

Harper and Morello joined forces for the former's ''Gather 'Round the Stone,'' and Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave guitarist Morello morphed into his acoustic guitar-wielding alter ego the Nightwatchman for a charged set that ended with him bringing the others on stage for a rendition of Woody Guthrie's ''This Land is Your Land,'' which included the censored final verse and had the field full of fans at Stubb's bouncing up and down for the final choruses.

Unfortunately, a much quieter three-song set by Kimya Dawson -- the former Moldy Peaches singer best known as the musical voice of the film ''Juno'' -- was lost in that wake. ''I don't know how I ended up playing after the all-star band,'' noted Dawson, who demurred when asked to join the ''This Land...'' singalong.

Young curated a companion album for the film, which features songs contributed by most of Thursday's artists as well as Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Bright Eyes and others. The album comes out Tuesday (March 18) with proceeds going to the non-profit Iraq Veterans Against the War.

If you're going to have a hot and sticky party, it may as well be sponsored by Playboy, right? That was the case in the wee hours of Friday (March 14) as late-night revelers trooped to a downtown Austin warehouse for the Rock the Rabbit 2008 bash, one of the most in-demand invites of the festival.

Playmates wearing bunny ears, cotton tails and not much else strolled through the crowd and even got on stage during a pounding set by the British soul-rock band The Heavy -- whose singer, not surprisingly, proclaimed several times that ''I love my job!'' There were also, for unexplained reasons, people walking through the party dressed as owls, a sweltering job over the course of the five-hour affair.

Brooklyn rockers MGMT also turned in a solid set that featured a 3-D showing of their latest video, ''Time to Pretend,'' which is also available on www.whoismgmt.com, while Moby and Justice kept the crowd dancing with DJ sets.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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