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News:
SXSW Sounds And Sights
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK



Sounds and sights caught at this year's South By Southwest Music + Media Conference...

* Actress Kristen Dunst made the scene on Friday (March 16th) to check out British boyfriend Johnny Borrell's band, Razorlight. The chain-smoking actress ad Borrell tooled around town on a motor bike, stopping in at the Spin magazine party at Stubbs and at Blender magazine's nightly after hours affair.

* Another celeb turning up at the Spin party was the Who's Pete Townshend, this year's SXSW keynote subject who's also been popping up to play at a variety of shows. On Friday he joined upstart Scotland trio the Fratellis -- a widely known "surprise" -- walking on mid-song during the group's own "Got My Nuts From a Hippy" and sticking around for a rendition of the Who's "The Seeker."

* Also making the SXSW scene -- *NSYNC's Chris Kirkpatrick. We don't know why and, frankly, were afraid to ask.

* Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne wasn't playing but was still working at this year's SXSW. He was hired by NBC's "The Tonight Show" to tape what we presume will be comic-minded reports which are slated to air next week

* Stax Records celebrated its 50th anniversary with a revue-style show on Thursday night at the club Antone's. Booker T & the MG's stared the evening with a long set of instrumentals, followed by singers Eddie Floyd, William Bell and Isaac Hayes delivering classics such as "Knock on Wood," "Soul Man," "You Don't Miss Your Water" and a group-sung version of the late Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," on which guitarist Steve Cropper, who finished the song after Redding's death, sang the first verse.

* A potent collection of performers gathered Friday (March 16th) evening to pay -- and play -- a fond farewell to the legendary Austin restaurant Las Manitas, whose building has been sold and will be torn down to make room for a new hotel. For 11 years Las Manitas has hosted an annual SXSW concert in its back porch area, providing a launch pad for projects such as Los Super 7 -- whose very existence was inspired by the first show in 1997 -- and Alejandro Escovedo's acclaimed theater piece "By the Hand of the Father." Escovedo and an all-star cast that included Rick Trevino, Rosie Flores, Ruben Ramos, Chip Taylor, Bob Neuwirth, Augie Meyers, Chuck Prophet and Charlie Sexton played for more than two hours, almost all paying tribute to the venue. The show culminated with the "From the Hands..." track "Rosalie" on which Flores and Trevino recreated their parts from the actual play.

* The Stooges hit town on Friday (March 16th) in anticipation of their headline performance the following night at a showcase sponsored by Esquire magazine. The group played a short afternoon set at Waterloo Records (where frontman Iggy Pop restrained himself for two much damage), then sat for a public interview at the Austin Convention Center where they shared tales about their history, including living together at the Fun House in Ann Arbor where guitarist Ron Asheton would prepare whole-grain waffles. "We were foodies early on," Pop noted. He also noted that the group's punk rock-anticipating sound was not its first creative course; "I had little love beads and a Hindu mustache. I was playing little rock operas about a guy who lived with a little mouse in a bucolic world. These guys were trying to back me up. Nobody would want to listen to that..."

* Rickie Lee Jones, another public interview subject, announced that she was "going to answer everything musically," pulling out an acoustic guitar and responding to Austin radio personality Jody Denberg's questions by singing in order to demonstrate the improvisational process she used in making her latest album "The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard."

* Upstart British R&B singer Amy Winehouse has been a mercurial presence at SXSW, causing a bit of a panic when she canceled some promotional appearances scheduled for Saturday (March 17th) and rumors that she was ditching the festival altogether. She did play three afternoon parties, accompanied only by one of her guitar players, and two showcases. And on Friday night (March 16th) at La Zona Rosa she proved that the hype was justified with a sharp and soulful 11-song set of her paeans to lost romance. Backed by a 10-piece band with three horn players and two backup singers, Winehouse was in a good voice and seemingly good spirits -- "I'm drunk," she noted at one point -- playing British hits such as "Rehab" and "Me and Mr. Jones" and closing with a cover of the Zutons' "Valerie."

* Dallas choral rockers the Polyphonic Spree is using this year's SXSW to debut its new look, shedding its choir robes for military-style uniforms that complement the group's forthcoming album "The Fragile Army." Its shows, however, are still multi-media spectaculars, with plenty of visuals to complement its epic-sounding brand of pop. The album is due out in June.



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