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*The blur that was Friday night, condensed:
Older faces. Kelly Willis established that mainstream country can actually sound good. Guided by Voices was the bar band of your dreams. The members of Son Volt couldn't have looked more bored if they had tried. By contrast, Robyn Hitchcock, the only bloke whose show I watched in its entirety, was brilliant. I already knew that, of course, but after seeing dozens of bands distinguished only by the fact that they were indistinguishable from one another, I needed a reminder.

Newer faces. New York's Dragmules weren't a drag. Minneapolis-based Acetylene lit it up. The Adults shouldn't have been released from their Austin garage. Joe Popp, from Tampa, imitated Cheap Trick. And Kevin Burke's Open House presented the best C&W ditty of the weekend, "Oedipus Rex" ("He killed his pa and married his ma/That's a thirty-dollar fine in Arkansas"). That Open House was a Celtic band from Portland made this find all the more pleasant.

*Instead of attending seminars on Saturday, I took a tour of the ranch that was once the home of dead president Lyndon Baines Johnson. Johnson's initials have been borrowed by KLBJ-FM, Austin's modern-rock station, even though his favorite song, a guide informed us, was "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," by B.J. Thomas. Talk about alternative.

*That afternoon, the Electric Lounge hosted another barbecue, this time featuring Denver's Apples, who'd been booted out of their showcase slot for a technical violation of SXSW policy. Their sin was to agree to appear at a non-sanctioned event that SXSW types deemed "too heavily advertised" to ignore. Fortunately, some music-biz insiders stopped schmoozing long enough to hear some of their first-rate set. Others waited outside in the hopes that Tabitha Soren would come by again.

*Along with everyone else in Austin, I wanted to see the Fugees (see page 73), scheduled to gig at 7 p.m. on an outdoor stage. But a brief patch of rain an hour earlier threw the production crew into a panic. After nearly two hours of dicking around by techies, the threesome turned up. But midway through their first song, it started raining again and the music was stopped. Still, the two minutes they played sounded great.

*The blur that was Saturday night, condensed:
Older faces. Don Walser, an old-timey country yodeler, lived up to his Austin legend. Tish Hinojosa blended south-of-the-border influences and Western pop with smooth flair.

Newer faces. Nashville's BR5-49 imparted novelty country. Super Deluxe, out of Portland, spewed smashing pop-punk that didn't owe a thing to Green Day. Chapel Hill's Tweaker was noisy, exciting, fun and scary, all at the same time. No One Is Innocent, from Paris, was like Falco, only worse. New York's Goatboy deserved the horns. And Milwaukee's Mrs. Fun, a two-piece that suggested the Spinanes gone jazzy, was one of SXSW's best sleepers.

*Early Sunday morning, as SXSW ground down, I began to sense my good time being tempered by a certain disenchantment. To me, the conference should be about discovering fresh talent, not marketing commodities already available in your neighborhood disc store. But as SXSW grows, the little guy is being overlooked. A case in point was Ovis, a Los Angeles singer-songwriter who was the last performer I saw before losing consciousness. His act was exceedingly simple: He sat on a stool with his guitar and played songs about romance gone right and gone wrong. And he was good; I especially liked a romantic pop tune in which he declared, "I love you like Morrissey loves Morrissey." But even though he went over big with a decent-sized assemblage, few of those present wore SXSW badges around their necks.

Did anyone from a record company see him? Probably not. And more's the pity.--Michael Roberts

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