Music Best in showcase

Jolie Holland (above), Joe Henry, and Lady Sovereign will be among the most intriguing performers at SXSW.

Searching for obscure treasures at this year’s SXSW

Ah, South By Southwest! That long weekend during which Austin becomes a satellite outpost of the Los Angeles record industry, albeit one in which you can find a chicken-fried steak at lunchtime. Something like a thousand bands will play between Wednesday and Saturday in more than 60 clubs, with nearly as many sets taking place at unofficial showcases, day parties, and super-secret, VIP-only bashes. The official lineup is at, while homemade sites like attempt to corral data on unsanctioned events (you could easily see your fill of music without buying a wristband); the highlights below merely scratch the surface.

One of the coolest attractions over the last few years doesn’t involve live performance at all. “Flatstock,” located in Exhibit Hall #4 of the Convention Center (Trinity & Fourth Street), is an exhibition of poster art by some of the most inspired graphic artists working today. A wide variety of styles are represented, from oblique modern to gonzo cartoon art — and almost everything is for sale. The event is free and open to everyone, 1 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. (Another quirky exhibit during the fest occurs at the brand-new Museum of Ephemerata at 1808 Singleton Avenue in East Austin. See for details.)

Joe Henry

Most SXSWers are intent on hearing as much live music as possible, but those who have registered for the conference itself can choose from a few exciting Inside the Actor’s Studio-style interviews. Highlights include: the Beastie Boys on Wednesday, in town to promote their new concert documentary; Neil Young talking to Jonathan Demme on Thursday, discussing their film Heart of Gold; and Billy Bragg on Friday, just in time for a new box set that pairs his first few albums with a ton of unreleased material. Other interviewees with records to promote include Kinks founder Ray Davies, k.d. lang, the Pretenders, and (gasp!) Morrissey; peppering the schedule are veterans Kris Kristofferson, Judy Collins, and soul man Sam Moore.

Enough about all that. What about the music?

As usual, some blast-from-the-past stars will grace the fest. The aforementioned Morrissey will, strangely, play smack in the middle of Thursday’s lineup at the Austin Music Hall. Echo & the Bunnymen share a stage with Spoon the same night, performing outdoors at Auditorium Shores and reminding everyone of their recent reunion album. The Pretenders, who have never been has-beens, will play on closing night at Stubb’s, inexplicably following Lyle Lovett. More niche retro faves include the Plimsouls and World Party, playing back-to-back at Paste Magazine’s showcase; late-’80s Austin stars Glass Eye will perform together, and singer Kathy McCarty will get a set to herself as well.

Oldies meet the nation’s recently renewed love of Louisiana on Saturday at Auditorium Shores, as the great Allen Toussaint joins a bayou-centric lineup including the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, BeauSoleil, Buckwheat Zydeco, and Sam Moore (who lives in the unCajun desert of Scottsdale Arizona). The Ponderosa Stomp showcase, Friday at the Continental, is also heavy on Louisiana acts, many of whom go back a ways — take DJ Fontana, for instance, who used to beat the skins for Elvis Presley. Elvis’ old touring partner Wanda Jackson will be at the Continental the next night.

Lady Sovereign

The pop place to be on opening night is the sure-to-be-packed Stubb’s, where both Belle & Sebastian and the New Porno-graphers will perform alongside Mogwai. Former B&S chanteuse Isobel Campbell plays elsewhere at the fest, as does singing Pornographer Neko Case. Straight from the Austin Powers soundtrack, Matthew Sweet will team with Bangle Susannah Hoffs at The Drink, previewing a disc of vintage pop covers they’ve made together.

Speaking of intriguing collaborations, the Anti label has put together a Hootenanny at the Central Presbyterian Church (SXSW organizers have clearly scoured town for new venues) in which folks like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Billy Bragg, acoustic-friendly singers who seem suited for such a campfire format, will be joined by Joe Henry, whose densely produced style makes a stripped-down set something of a novelty. (Sadly, Henry isn’t scheduled for a slot all his own, but with former client Bettye LaVette playing Friday at La Zona, we can always hope for an appearance there.) Also slated for the Hootenanny are Jolie Holland and “special guests,” which given Anti’s roster could be pretty exciting.

Trying to list appearances by current buzz bands would be futile, but hip-hop fans will note that, while SXSW isn’t always strong in that arena, Run the Road standout Lady Sovereign will play La Zona Rosa — although you’ll have to go elsewhere if you want an all-hip-hop showcase.

As always with South by Southwest, the music lover’s fondest hope is to discover his next favorite band, an unknown group not listed in preview articles, accidentally overheard while walking to or waiting for somebody else’s set. Best wishes on that front to all readers making the drive north this week.

By John DeFore