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Bands signed to majors supplied some enjoyable moments at the conference: I liked the Old 97's, Mojave 3 and some others. But once again, the fringes were the best places to visit. Olivia Tremor Control, part of the Elephant 6 collective that includes the Apples (who guested on one ditty), wowed fans on Thursday at the Electric Lounge with updated psychedelia infused with melody and sprinkled with brass; even without nearly enough microphones to do them justice, the musicians made an indelible impression. The following night, the High Llamas, who travel to the Bluebird Theater on Tuesday, March 31, took an unconscionably long time getting their sound right at the same venue, but the delay was entirely justified: Their beautiful chill-out tones, made up of one part Martin Denny and two parts Brian Wilson, came through with a crystalline clarity unmatched by anyone else in Austin last weekend. And on Saturday, the Waco Brothers, fronted by irrepressible Englishman Jon Langford, practically tore the Copper Tank apart. After thrilling to the band's toxic brew of country, punk and wild abandon, I walked out beaming.

If there were other shows at SXSW '98 as good as these, I couldn't find them; the event has become so sprawling that getting a handle on it is impossible. Size matters, but music matters more.

--Michael Roberts

Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com

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