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Recently in SXSW 2009 Category

The Grammys have their "Big Four" categories each year; Lollapalooza has its "Big Six" headliners, two per night on the opposite ends of Grant Park.

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Las Vegas glam-popsters the Killers and progressive-metal giants Tool have joined the Kings of Leon, the Beastie Boys, Jane's Addiction and Depeche Mode as the year's top acts on Aug. 7 to 9.

This columnist noted a few days ago that Lou Reed, Neko Case and Andrew Bird also are on the bill. The Tribune adds the Decemberists as a likely booking as well. Meanwhile, the Chicago Reader is playing an educated guessing game dropping names such as Girl Talk and Animal Collective, the Consequence of Sound blog adds Atmosphere, Delta Spirit, Friendly Fires, Kaiser Chiefs, the Ravonettes, Paul Green's School of Rock All-Stars and theNewNo2 to the list, and Chicagoist really got the whole ball rolling with this post last month.

As usual, festival organizers are griping about not being able to control the news and all of these annoying Chicago reporters, you know, reporting.

"It's pesky. But you gotta look at it like this: It's kind of exciting these guys care enough to try to dig up what we're doing every year," Lollapalooza corporate figurehead Perry Farrell told MTV News. He then proceeded to do some leaking himself, promising more electronic artists on the roster.

An easy solution for Austin, TX-based promoters C3 Presents: Release the lineup already! (Twice in the past, the full list of acts was released on the first day of the South by Southwest Music & Media Conference.) Keeping it bottled up is just daring Chicago journalists to keep digging... though of course, that means even more stories and free publicity, so maybe that's all part of the master plan. So let me do my part by adding another bombshell...

THE BEATLES WILL BE PLAYING LOLLAPALOOZA! Of course, it will be without John Lennon and George Harrison. Sources say Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr also will be sitting this one out, and the band that takes the stage will not actually be playing any older Fab Four tunes. Also, the group will be masquerading under a name other than the Beatles. Stay tuned for further developments!

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Common and Kanye in Austin. Photo by Dorothy Hong, The FADER .

Though I generally avoid the hipster-heavy corporate-sponsored parties at SXSW--what's the point with so many extraordinary showcases as part of the music fest proper?--the closing act at the Levi's Fader Fort--a shopping mall-like venue specially constructed in an industrial no man's land on the east side of Austin and sponsored by the jeans company and the Fader magazine--was just too enticing to pass up.

This celebration of the roster of G.O.O.D. Music did indeed draw the rumored special guest, none other than... well, here's how the label's founder announced himself: "Rockin' the [South by] Southwest... Kanye West!"

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For devoted followers of Neil Young--and, really, what rock fan with a modicum of taste isn't?--the long-rumored, long, long-anticipated first installment of the singer and songwriter's massive box-set career overview has been something of a Holy Grail--and quite possibly just as mythical.

But it's here. It exists. (I've seen and touched it!) It's a got a firm, no-kidding release date (June 2). And not only is it absolutely amazing, it quite possibly is a model for the only kind of recorded product that independent and chain stores alike will still be selling in the post-CD future.

SXSW 2009: Let's hear it for the ladies in the house

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As it happens, in addition to An Horse and the She Creatures, many of my favorite discoveries at SXSW 2009 have had a strong female presence. Here are some more I've yet to mention.

* Yelle

This French singer, a.k.a. Julie Budet, made her debut in 2007 with the "Pop Up" album (only issued in the U.S. last year), but she's best appreciated live, where the infectious energy of her electronic dance-pop is simply undeniable. Not for nothing is her stage name a feminized version of the acronym for "You Enjoy Life."

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* St. Vincent

In a not dissimilar vein but hailing from Dallas and a bit more cinematic in scope, Annie Clark isn't quite as impressive live as she is on album, including the new "Actor." But this former member of the Polyphonic Spree is nonetheless an indie chanteuse to watch.

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* Suzanna Choffel

Hard-to-pigeonhole singer-songwriters are a dime a dozen in Austin, but Choffel, a big winner at the local music awards Wednesday, impressed me more than any I've heard here with a unique sound equal parts Beat poetry, smoky soul grooves and indie-pop eccentricity. Think Feist meets Erykah Badu, with a hint of Tex-Mex seasoning.

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* The Vivian Girls

This Brooklyn trio's self-titled debut was one of my favorite records of 2008, and if their live show is a bit, um, unpolished, that only makes the aggression and unstoppable D.I.Y. attitude all the more inspiring. The Vivian Girls are one of the most anticipated acts performing at this year's Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park.

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Tinted Windows: Bun E. Carlos, James Iha, Taylor Hanson, Adam Schlesinger.

All of the highlights on my third night of music in Austin came at a venue called Pangea, which is quite clearly an awful dance club when it isn't commandeered by SXSW, and they started with a solo set by Britpop hero Graham Coxon.

Though Coxon will always be best known for his partnership with Damon Albarn, with whom he reportedly is about to reunite for another go-round with Blur, the guitarist has been a prolific solo artist, with the sounds on his seven indie albums ranging from aggressive but melodic punk/garage-rock to introspective and skewed folk music echoing Syd Barrett and Nick Drake.

Coxon's SXSW set leaned heavily on the latter style, and while the boomy dance club sometimes swallowed his quiet material, and he lacks the stage presence of his former mate Albarn (or of Pete Doherty, whom he backed on a new solo album called "Grace/Wastelands"), he persevered and delivered several magical moments for anyone willing to listen.

My second night of club-hopping in Austin started strong with a set by Chicago underground rock legends Red Red Meat.

Led by guitarist-vocalist Tim Rutili, the band released a series of indelible albums that always seemed both timeless and way ahead of their time through the early and mid '90s. Sub Pop Records recently reissued the fan favorite "Bunny Gets Paid" (1995), and the band--never officially broken up, though mostly inactive since 1998--has come together for a handful of shows, including two at the Empty Bottle back home Tuesday and Wednesday, and a showcase gig at SXSW at a club called Radio Room Patio tonight.

Though my favorite version of the band will always be the one that recorded "Jimmywine Majestic" (1994) with the twin guitars of Rutili and Glenn Girard, the second best lineup certainly was the one that performed here, with dual drummers Brian Deck and Ben Massarella and still unnaturally tall bassist and backing vocalist Tim Hurley. Like riding a bicycle--albeit a rusty one with dented rims and noisemakers in between the spokes--the group fell right back into its trademark shambling groove, with Rutili alternating sliding wails and feedback drones on guitar and ethereal, dark, slippery but nonetheless beautiful vocal melodies emerging from the bluesy, psychedelic murk.

Best of all: In addition to a gorgeous cover from the first album by Low, the band played a new tune, hinting that in addition to Rutili's many other projects, Red Red Meat may once again become an ongoing force.

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Red Red Meat back in the day: Tim Hurley, Ben Massarella, Tim Rutili and Brian Deck.

The second day of panels at SXSW started for me with a session called "Indie Labels Keep the Faith" featuring representatives from two of Chicago's best: Nan Warshaw, co-owner of Bloodshot Records, and Howard Greynolds, formerly one of the overseers at Touch and Go.

Warshaw said Bloodshot has seven full-time and three part-time employees. Touch and Go, long one of the most respected indie labels in America, recently scaled back from 23 employees to three, Greynolds said, and he was one of those let go.

Though Warshaw, Greynolds and other panelists from Rounder, Wildflower, Barsuk and Kill Rock Stars tried to paint as positive a picture as possible about the work these indies have done and continue to do, one couldn't help but leave the session thinking that the prognosis is dire indeed, with five thousand record stores having closed their doors in the last few years, the CD doomed to extinction within the next few years and the new music industry shaping up to include tiny labels that sell fewer than 5,000 records on vinyl or as a downloads at one end of the spectrum and a handful of majors that sell more than 50,000 albums at the other--eliminating the middle ground where the best indie labels traditionally have thrived.

SXSW 2009: Kanye's coming to Texas

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The big rumor swirling around SXSW Wednesday was that Kanye West would be among the surprise superstars "dropping in" at the festival. Now the Chicago superstar has confirmed to the Associated Press that he'll be performing, though he hasn't said where or when.

Odds are it's at a corporate party venue called the Fader Fort on Saturday night.

As for other big names, a "surprise" gig by Metallica is one of the worst kept secrets here (the band is in town to hype a new edition of the Rock Band video game) and Big Boi, half of the hip-hop duo OutKast, said to be showcasing songs from a forthcoming solo album.

Though SXSW organizers are well aware that the proposed Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger is the biggest music story of the year--if not the biggest to break during the history of the conference--there is nothing on the four-day schedule of panels and seminars at the Austin Convention Center addressing its implications. But that's not for lack of trying.

Panel organizers worked hard to arrange a public interview with Ticketmaster chief Irving Azoff, but Azoff declined. The company also passed on sending any other representatives to speak publicly at SXSW, as did Live Nation.

In their arguments on Capitol Hill, Azoff and Live Nation boss Michael Rapino both repeated that the merger would help up-and-coming artists--indeed, that it was essential for securing their future in these turbulent economic times. SXSW is the largest annual gathering of developing artists in America.

The mega-corporations' lack of a public presence speaks volumes.

SXSW 2009, night one: Roky, An Horse & more

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For the first decade or so of South by Southwest's existence, the full-on assault of showcase gigs didn't begin until the second night of the festival. The only thing to do on Wednesday was to attend the Austin Music Awards, the city's annual bout of self-congratulatory hoo-ha--laudable (Chicago wishes it had something as credible) yet ultimately, like all awards shows, pretty boring (especially to visitors from other cities).

Nevertheless, for years, I attended the awards lured by the promise of an appearance by Austin's psychedelic-rock legend Roky Erickson, who inevitably disappointed by coming onstage for half a song and fumbling the words before shuffling off to return to a hermitage plagued by his infamous battle with mental illness.

Healthier and seemingly happier than he's been in decades, Erickson was a revelation at a handful of Chicago shows in recent years, including appearances with his backing band the Explosives at the Intonation Music Festival and Lollapalooza. But I was excited about seeing him fronting the Black Angels, a wonderfully dense, droning and mind-altering Austin band that I first discovered at SXSW in 2006.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the SXSW 2009 category.

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