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SXSW: Bands Roll In For First Day

Of the Oakland Press

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AUSTIN, Texas -- The sun was out, the temperature was hot and grateful northerners slipped their pasty whites into shorts Wednesday (March 18) for the first day of the South By Southwest Music & Media Conference.

More than 2,000 bands from around the world will perform over the next five days for music industry and media attendees looking to launch careers and jump-start new projects. It's not limited to up-and-comers, either: Metallica rolls into town Friday to promote its edition of the Guitar Hero video game; Kanye West will slip in Saturday for a performance; Neil Young is in Austin hawking music and film projects; and Jane's Addiction will warm up for its upcoming tour with nine inch nails by headlining the a Playboy-magazine party on Thursday (May 19).

Some glimpses from SXSW's first day...

* Detroit's Von Bondies rocked out in front of a packed house at the club Vice while, ironically, the Pistons were playing the Houston Rockets on the bar's TVs. Fortunately the group finished before the team's overtime loss.

* Though he isn't part of the official program...yet, Neil Young was spotted in the Four Seasons hotel lobby and tooling around town in Lincvolt, his environmentally ''green'' Lincoln Continental. Young has plenty to do here; ''Neil Young's Trunk Show,'' a new Young concert documentary by Jonathan Demme -- who also directed the 2006 Young concert film ''Heart of Gold'' -- is premiering Saturday (March 21) at SXSW; and a panel discussion on Young's long-awaited ''Archives'' collection is slated for the same afternoon at the Austin Convention Center. ''Trunk Show,'' which is still being edited, was filmed during two performances at Philadelphia's Tower Theater in December 2007 -- where fans were advised it was a film project called ''Chrome Dreams.'' Young has not been confirmed to participate in either event. Young releases his next album, ''Fork in the Road,'' on April 7.

* A chatty Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls played an afternoon solo show at the Paste magazine party. Working without a set list, she solicited fan requests during her five-song set; she laughed off calls for Lynyrd Skynyrd and Slayer songs but did close with a cover of Radiohead's ''Creep.'' During the same party, Oklahoma singer-songwriter Samantha Crain introduced a song ''about a creature'' who drowned;'' ''You can laugh,'' she told the hesitant crowd. ''It's South By Southwest.''

* Grammy Award-nominated R&B songstress Janelle Monae gave fans a taste of her next album during an evening performance at Stubb's. She closed her 35-minute set with ''Tightrope,'' a slamming track from ''Metropolis Suite II & III: The Arcandroid and the Great Divide,'' during which she leapt from the stage and crowd-surfed while her accompanists -- a live guitarist and drummer -- played on. The album is expected out this summer and follows the 2007 EP ''Metropolis Suite I of IV: The Chase.'' The rest of Monae's energetic SXSW set ''Violent Stars Happy Hunting,'' ''Sincerely, Jane,'' the Grammy-nominated ''Many Moons'' and her version of Charlie Chaplin's ''Smile.''

* Roots music fans were treated to a hot live ''mash-up'' between Nasvhille bluegrass troupe the Travelin' McCourys (fronted by the sons of legend Del McCroury, and the soulful Florida sacred steel troupe the Lee Boys. The two acts each played their own set before joining forces for an electrifying nine-piece jam that included the Lee Boys originals ''Let's Celebrate,'' ''Celebrate Your Life'' and ''Midnight Rider,'' the bluegrass standard ''Walking in Jerusalem'' and the gospel favorite ''Lord Help Me to Hold Out.'' The two acts plan to tour this fall, including a don't-miss stop at the Ark in Ann Arbor.

* The buzz-worthy School of Seven Bells -- a New York troupe led by former Secret Machines guitarist Benjamin Curtis that's signed to Ann Arbor's Ghostly International -- dazzled a packed house at Buffalo Billiards with a set of airy, spectral songs featuring the sibling harmonies of twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza.

* San Diego's Wavves, a duo with its own, punk-flavored take on the guitar-and-drums format, celebrated this week's release of its second album, ''Wavves'' by playing three day parties within four hours.

* Malaysian singer-songwriter Zee Avi, a new signing to Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records label, caught a bit of a break at another artist's expense on Wednesday. When Norwegian rocker Ida Maria had to miss her headlining Wednesday showcase slot because of visa problems, Avi was tapped to take her place for a set that showcased songs from her forthcoming album, due out May 18. Avi was discovered on YouTube by Raconteurs/Greenhornes drummer Patrick Keeler, who brought her to the attention of Ian Montone (also the White Stripes manager), who in turn struck up the deal with the Brushfire team. Her ''No Christmas For Me'' was featured on the label's 2008 Christmas compilation ''This Warm December.''

* Maria wasn't the only SXSW participant to have travel problems Wednesday. Superdrag missed its scheduled performance at Paste magazine's Wednesday afternoon day party when its flight from Nashville was delayed. The Heartless Bastards and Black Joe Lewis stepped up to fill the slot with extended sets.

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