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SXSW Day 1: Lily Rails, Detroit Rocks

Of the Oakland Press

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AUSTIN, Texas -- Step off the plane here at any point during the annual South By Southwest Music + Media Conference and the music hits you full in the face. Almost literally, since bands are playing at the airport as you head towards baggage claim

Thousands of music professionals and fans have converged on Texas' capitol city for what's fondly called "the music industry's spring break." SXSW continues to grow in size, with 71 stages, hundreds of bands from all over the world, an estimated 11,000 full-conference registrants and 12,000 people who purchased wrist bands that allow them access to the nightly showcases.

DirectTV has also joined the party, hosting live performances from a stage in the Austin Convention Center for its subscribers.

It is, as always, a swirl of sound and activity. Here's some of what went on Wednesday (March 14th), the festival's first day...

* Hot new British singer Lily Allen bit the hand that was feeding her at a showcases sponsored by Britain's New Musical Express. Cigarette in one hand, beer bottle in another, Allen told the capacity crowd at the outdoor venue Stubb's that "if I knew this was an NME thing, I wouldn't have played it," aiming a few profane invectives at the publication. Later in the set she wanted "to make it clear one more time how much I hate the NME. I'm happy to be here with you,but I hate being under their name. Spineless punks." Allen's 25-minute set included her current hit, "Smile."

* The Hard Lessons' Augie "Gin" Visocchi and Korin "Ko Ko Louise" Cox got shut out of the showcase for fellow Detroit rockers Thunderbirds Are Now!, but neither was particularly bothered. "This is good news," Visocchi noted, smiling as he looked at the long line of people still hoping to get into the Red Eyed Fly even as TAN! was well into its typically off-the-hook set.

Visocchi reported an eventful trip for the Hard Lessons on their way down to SXSW, which is part of a national tour that wraps up on April 21st back home in Detroit. He recalled an incident on the way from Nashville to Memphis when a police car spun out of control in front of the band's van as it turned to chase a speeding car going in the opposite direction.

"We all (soiled) ourselves," Visocchi said. "I've never been so scared. We had to pull over and (calm down). The good news is I was starting to fall asleep a little bit, but after that I was wide awake for the rest of the ride."

One of the coolest gigs so far, he added, was in Fairhope, Ala., where the owner of the Ravenite Pizzeria, a Hard Lessons fan, had a stage built to host the band. "There weren't many people there when we started," Visocchi noted, "so he got on the phone and called ever single person in town; 'You gotta come down here. I got this band from Detroit...' We just kept playing; we played ever song we knew, and some twice. It was a blast."

The Hard Lessons' SXSW showcase is on Friday night (March 16th).

* SXSW's Canadian contingent was out in full force for a Canadian Blast afternoon showcase and barbecue. There were fine performances by the likes of the Cliks, Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, young galaxy and more, but a colleague rightly noted that "you'd expect a band with a name like Holy F***" to be a little different" than the grooving electronic music it was playing.

* Favorite band names from Wednesday's showcases -- Busty Duck (Belgium), Fatal Flying Guillotines (Houston), Tacks, The Boy Disaster (Austin), Onion Creek Crawdaddies (Austin) and To Live and Die in LA -- who are from Portland, Ore. Go figure.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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