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While it's always a bit early to tell the tone of the thing on Wednesday alone, the crowds do seem a bit thinner this year, but the volume and variety of artists remain pretty staggering.
SXSW JOURNAL: DAY ONE
Jeff Leven, Our Man in Austin, Soaks in the Atmosphere, Pops a Shiner, Hits Some Shows
Sometimes you just need a little punk rock. While inevitably the strains of KGSR and classic Texas roots rock are always the first things I turn to upon arrival in Austin, often the secret weapon in the evening of the big travel day is a little extra octane earlyish in the night. Tonight U.K. scrappers Gallows completely did the trick, tearing through a raucous set at Emo's complete with a bar roof dive and onstage pleas for an "industry circle pit." An oxymoron, perhaps, but a noble one. In an atmosphere where bands generally would rather cater to than challenge an audience, the call to arms was a welcome dose of energy and rebellion.

Earlier in the day, The Crash Kings got things started with an incendiary set, including their kicking new track "Mountain Man" and a tightly coiled cover of the Buzzcocks classic "What Do I Get?" Given that the last time I saw the Buzzcocks was, in fact, a stunning set at SXSW, there was an elegant symmetry to the experience, as keyboardist Tony Beliveau demonstrated that a well-thrashed clavinet can be pretty punk in its own right. Melodic punk, but it's all in the attitude.

Later in the night, the social hub was the ASCAP showcase, hosting a full complement of A&R types and featuring Death on Two Wheels, who, along with Hockey, Local Natives and Barcelona, seem poised for breakout appearances this year. As usual, the tyranny of distance somewhat hemmed my greater ambitions to see an extra five or six bands, but I still squeezed in a great Miniature Tigers performance, a fun Lissie Trullie performance (she really is the modern Nico), replete with a well-placed Hot Chip cover, a moody, elegant and atmospheric Maserati set, and a great dose of elegant English rock as Rubber Kiss Goodbye finished the night at Nic Harcourt's party. It's always refreshing seeing great British bands in Austin, and undoubtedly one of the undersung virtues of SXSW is the opportunity to see an unusual dose of international bands in one sitting.

While it's always a bit early to tell the tone of the thing on Wednesday alone, the crowds do seem a bit thinner this year, but the volume and variety of artists remain pretty staggering. Where else do you walk by a hotel and hear the Jayhawks' Gary Louris and Mark Olsen, or wander into a day party and see Beach House? The sheer overkill and and sprawl of SXSW refuses to recede, notwithstanding the much-discussed woes of the music business or the economy at large. And that refusal to shrink back to anything less than overdrive is pretty punk, too.

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