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SXSW: Bands Get Off To Early Start

Of the Oakland Press

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The South By Southwest Music & Media Conference doesn't officially start until Wednesday (March 18th), but a handful of bands got a jump on things the night before.

Music publisher BMI hosted its annual Howdy Texas! party eary in the evening at Stubb's, getting things off to a raucous start with the twangy power pop of the Tennessee quartet Those Darlins before BR5-49's Chuck Mead & His Grassy Noll Boys tore through a five-song sampling of his upcoming solo album, ''Journeyman's Wager.''

Later on, the Decemberists and Gomez, teamed up for an intimate club double-header at Pangea, part of a South By Southwest Film Festival closing party sponsored by the IFC channel. Just 450 people were on hand at the club Pangea -- 300 of whom had gained admission via a public giveaway earlier in the day -- making it one of the hottest tickets of the week.

Gomez used the opportunity to play a selection of new songs from its forthcoming ''A New Tide,'' which hits on March 31. ''We're here to inaugurate South By Southwest,'' the group's Tom Gray told the Pangea crowd, which the British quintet did during an hour-long set that mixed favorites such as ''Detroit Swing 66,'' ''Girl Shaped Love Drug,'' ''How We Operate'' and ''Whippin' Picadilly'' -- which Gray noted Gomez played at its first SXSW show, 11 years ago -- along with new songs such as ''Airstream Driver,'' ''Win Park Slope'' and ''If I Ask You Nicely.''

The Decemberists' 85-minute set, meanwhile, was a fan's dream that started with ''Crane White 1'' and ended with an epic romp through ''The Mariners Revenge,'' sandwiching a set list that included ''The Apology Song,'' ''Record Year For Rainfall,'' ''Billy Liar,'' ''O New England'' and particularly hot renditions of ''The Soldiering Life'' and ''Days of Elaine.'' The Portland quintet honored St. Patrick's Day with the Pogues' ''Sickbed of Cuchulainn'' and also covered the Velvet Underground's ''I'm Sticking With You,'' during which frontman Colin Malloy switched to drums. But the group held back on its new album, ''The Hazards of Love,'' currently No. 1 on iTunes as part of a global pre-sale before its standard March 24 release; instead, Malloy said, the Decemberists plan to play the entire album, front-to-back, during its formal SXSW showcase tonight [cq Wednesday] at Stubb's.

IFC taped both sets and will use portions on the channel and on its web site.

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