MARIT LARSEN at the Day Stage Cafe – This cute, little folkie from Norway was my first concert of the day. Her music seemed charming on first listen, though I’ll have to hear it more to see if it has staying power. She has some potential to attract alt-country and bluegrass fans in the U.S. – PHOTOS OF MARIT LARSEN

THE STORYS at the Day Stage Cafe – This band from Wales performed some rather bland acoustic pop music that was too adult contemporary for my tastes. Inoffensive but instantly forgettable. OF THE STORYS

FIONN REGAN at the Day Stage Cafe – Fionn Regan put out a good record last year, one of the import CDs I purchased in my year-end shopping frenzy. He impressed me even more in person than he does on record. His delicate finger-style guitar playing was lovely, and so was his voice, and his pensive, sensitive songs seemed ready for a bigger audience. – PHOTOS OF FIONN REGAN

HEADLIGHTS at Flamingo Cantina day party – I talked with the members of Headlights a couple of years ago for a short article, but to be honest, I don’t remember much about their music from that time. It seemed like good but somewhat typical indie pop. The Champaign band sounded damn good this year at SXSW, perhaps a sign of growth (or maybe I just overlooked how good they were before). Like many bands at SXSW 2007, Headlights had a bit of a Broken Social Scene or Arcade Fire vibe, playing multilayered tunes that take on a frenzied emotional intensity during live performances. I liked Headlights a lot. www.headlightsmusic.comPHOTOS OF HEADLIGHTS

TALLY HALL at Bourbon Rocks day party – I went to this party, hosted by Found Magazine, in the hope of seeing Okkervil River, but the schedule had changed and I arrived just after Okkervil finished playing. The beer was free, so I stuck around for most of the show by Tally Hall, a bunch of nerdy-looking guys in white shirts and ties who played songs reminiscent of Queen, Oingo Boingo and, um, Gentle Giant? I heard some interesting harmonies and musical patterns, fairly sophisticated stuff, though it was all a bit too 1970s kitschy for my tastes. www.tallyhall.comPHOTOS OF TALLY HALL

THE PIPETTES at Flamingo Cantina day party – One of the most hyped acts at SXSW. Do they deserve the hype? Well, at least they look great. And I thought they sounded pretty good, too. There’s nothing wrong with reviving the 1960s girl group sound and adding some saucy contemporary UK attitude to the lyrics. I haven’t heard their record yet, and I wonder if it has much staying power, but would I see them again in concert? Heck, yeah. ) OF THE PIPETTES

(One of them mentioned seeing THE DANSETTES the night before, another girl-group revival band. The Dansettes sound great, and I wish I’d seen them beyond the one song they performed with the Black Hollies on Saturday. I wonder how the Dansettes will stack up against the Pipettes?

ATTIC JAM at La Zona Rosa – I kept wavering on whether to attend this show. Hosted by RACHEL FULLER, who happens to be Pete Townshend’s girlfriend, it was sure to feature an appearance by Townshend, plus some “special guests.” How long would the line be? How much would Townshend actually play? I decided I had to see at least some of it, and I was able to get in fairly easily (it’s a big venue), though I got kicked out of the photo pit. Townshend opened the show with a solo acoustic performance of the Quadrophenia song “Drowned,” which made it more than worthwhile. He was followed by WILLY MASON, who played a few songs, with Townshend playing along on at least one. MIKA, who is big in Britain right now, played a couple of piano ballads, including a cover of “Everybody’s Talkin’” with Townshend joining in a little. Fuller played some of her own piano music, which was pleasant enough but unremarkable. Then came JOE PURDY, doing more soft acoustic music. None of this was bad, exactly, but given the fact that it was a showcase featuring the guitarist for one of the most explosive bands in rock history, it was all a little bit on the boring side. Martha Wainwright was scheduled to come up soon, and I don’t care much for her music, so I decided to head out, even though there was a promise of more Townshend music at the end of the three-hour time slot. (I later read that he came back for a couple of songs.) The concept of these “Attic Jams” is OK, but I’d rather see a full Townshend concert or maybe a Townshend jam with some of the more interesting musicians at SXSW. Imagine if he’d played with Iggy Pop – or Daniel Johnston? Now, that would have been memorable. – PHOTOS OF THE ATTIC JAM with PETE TOWNSHEND, RACHEL FULLER, WILLY MASON and JOE PURDY

I ended up spending the rest of the night at Mohawk and Mohawk Patio, which were hosting the showcase for the Secretly Canadian label. Somehow, because of scheduling changes and confusion, I missed one of the Secretly Canadian bands that I wanted to see the most, the Besnard Lakes, but at least they’re coming to Chicago soon.

DIRTY PROJECTORS at Mohawk – This was a weird one, avant-garde rock with a little math rock thrown into the mix? There were some complex guitar melodies and vocal harmonies, all played with a fair amount of emotional intensity. It’s not the sort of music you can fully absorb right away, so I’m not sure how much I liked it. Challenging, and potentially very good. OF DIRTY PROJECTORS

I LOVE YOU BUT I’VE CHOSEN DARKNESS at Mohawk Patio – I’ve never really gotten into this band, but their music (sounding a lot like the Smiths, as my brother remarked) sounded pretty good this time. I left midway through their show to run indoors and catch… www.chosendarkness.comPHOTOS OF I LOVE YOU BUT I’VE CHOSEN DARKNESS

FRIDA HYVÖNEN is one of the most interesting new talents to emerge out of Sweden, and I had the pleasure to interview her for the March/April issue of Punk Planet magazine, but I’d missed her two concerts in Chicago. Her piano playing is a little simple, but it suits her songs well enough. The lyrics are starkly personal at times, strange at others. She even played a quirky little song about Shanghai. She exudes her singular personality in concert, and was pretty animated for a piano player, leaning back in odd ways. “I think I love you,” she told the audience, and after a pause: “I know, that’s a cheap shot.” She’s beautiful, too, with the looks of a Swedish movie star. www.fridahyvonen.comPHOTOS OF FRIDA HYVÖNEN

BISHOP ALLEN – Alas, I have to say that Bishop Allen is one of several bands I saw at SXSW that made only a fleeting impression and then disappeared from my brain. I liked them. I can’t remember what they sound like. I promise to listen again. bishopallen.comPHOTOS OF BISHOP ALLEN

RICHARD SWIFT is a talented singer-songwriter who switches between piano and guitar. He strikes me as the indie-rock kin of Rufus Wainwright and Edward Harcourt. He makes some of the funniest faces while he plays. His closing song was the catchy “Atlantic Ocean,” featuring backup singing through a Vocoder, giving it an ELO feeling. www.richardswift.usPHOTOS OF RICHARD SWIFT

While all of that was going on outside, I caught snatches of Catfish Haven and the excellent Chicago rocker DAVID VANDERVELDE in Mohawk’s crowded indoor venue. LADYHAWK, who played next in the same room, is an excellent band, but I’ve seen them a few times, so I wasn’t going out of my way to see them again at SXSW. Watching them through the opening in the bar, it was hard not to get excited. (Britt Daniel of Spoon was standing next to me, watching, too.) As the band completed it set, I worked my way into the room. This was one of the most enthusiastic crowd responses I saw at SXSW. After the Ladyhawk guys finished flailing around on the stage, the crowd chanted, “One more song! One more song!” Ladyhawk came back for another tune, though it’s unusual for SXSW acts to do encores unless they’re the last band of the night. Ladyhawk’s record is good, but the music really comes alive in concert, as the band pounds away at those riffs with an abandon that resembles My Morning Jacket’s live shows. A couple of people who had wandered into the bar, unsure of which band was playing, said, “Who are these guys?” www.ladyhawkladyhawk.comPHOTOS OF LADYHAWK

I caught a few songs as OKKERVIL RIVER began playing outside, then went back inside for EVANGELICALS, a group from Norman, Okla. (Okkervil is great, one of the best live bands around, but I was motivated by the desire to hear something new.) I’ve had trouble figuring out exactly what kind of music Evangelicals plays; their record is diverse, strong and hard to categorize. Evangelicals decorated Mohawk’s small stage with the silvery leaves of fake plants and some green tubes containing electric lights. Lead singer/guitarist Josh Jones was wearing just one shoe, and he had nylon stocking on underneath his torn jeans. The searing set climaxed with the trashing of the drum kit and the smashing of a guitar. Jones held the broken remains of his guitar aloft, and someone yelled, “Encore! Play that thing!” It was too late for an encore, but I caught another two songs by Okkervil River out on the patio before heading back to the hotel. – PHOTOS OF OKKERVIL RIVER /PHOTOS OF EVANGELICALS


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