After one impossibly long 14-hour drive down to Austin Monday night, I am safe, sound and partially recharged in Austin for the 2011 South By Southwest music festival. Tuesday night featured the first year that SXSW tried to bridge the gap between the music festival and the interactive and film portions that precede it, doing so by launching a half-dozen showcases a day early. The night reaped immediate highlights from Weekend, an indie pop act signed to Slumberland that sounded like a dance-minded revisitation of the Feelies. It was at times built on moody psych-pop sounds and post-punk bass vibes at others. Viva Viva drew me into BD Riley’s, by conjuring the Who and contemporaries like Dr. Dog. I also enjoyed the gothy, Cure-inspired work of Diamond Rings, but his one-man performance mainly let me appreciate his 2010 debut release all the more. Beach Fossils, too, just missed the mark, with songs that didn’t quite push past the band’s lo-fi pop limitations. Still, they are remarkably young and remarkably promising. Wednesday brought a much needed SXSW respite, as I trekked out to Congress Avenue and South First Street to check out several vintage clothing stores and End of an Ear, a cozy locally-owned record shop that seemingly carries everything cool. Imagine a store that sits somewhere between the style of Homer’s Music and the Antiquarium and you’re close to what End of an Ear is all about. The night’s showcases brought about my first “screw it” moments, as I waited 20 minutes in a badge holder’s line, which supposedly grants priority access to those who have them, to see Bad Brains. People trickled out of Emo’s, but nobody went in. After that experience, waiting in Stubb’s Duran Duran line was nixed as well. Instead, I focused on more highlights. On Wednesday, Eternal Summers showed that lo-fi pop requires songs and focus. The Kanine Records band played bouncy summery garage pop, that shoegazed its way beyond Best Coast. A Place To Bury Strangers also proved that they are the loudest band just about anywhere, with their bleeding noise sonics that conjured up images of standing on the precipice of the end of the world. Yuck, a buzzy bunch of UK alt.rock revivalists, sounded less like all the Sonic Youth/Dinosaur Jr. notices that preceded their SXSW showcase and more like a young Green Day, pre-Dookie days. That’s all for now, as I’m about to head down Sixth Street to commune with fellow Reader writer and head honcho Andrew Norman. Look for the next dispatch around this time tomorrow.

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