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Thursday, 15 March 2012 11:43

SXSW day 1: Tribal dances, southern soul and a little pop, Wednesday, March 14

Alabama Shakes Alabama Shakes Chris Bay
Written by Chris Bay
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2:37 p.m. Finally arrived in Austin. Fourteen hours in the car is a long time, but such a trip can be made more palatable given some great company, fun conversation and stimulating tunes to wash it down. Such was my good fortune on the journey southwest down interstates 44 and 35.

6:35 p.m. After picking up my press credentials, I kill the lull between the afternoon and evening showcases--roughly 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.--by grabbing some beers with a St. Louis friend at the Ginger Man, which is essentially the godfather of craft beer bars. A couple good brews later and I am ready to see some music.

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Tennis

9:35 p.m. The line at Stubb's to see Fionna Apple is around-the-block long, so I keep walking, ending up at the charming and divey venue Red 7, where Tennis and Thee Oh Sees are on the bill. Tennis goes on early, due to what I assume to be a cancellation by Thee Oh Sees, and plays a brief but endearing set. (I later found out that the two groups simply switched set times.) I saw Tennis at this same event last year, just after their debut "Cape Dory" was released and just before most folks had taken much note of them. At that time they were sprightly and talented, but the songs were one-dimensional. The past year has been good to them; I left wanting to hear more of the band soon. The magic of SXSW is that I'll definitely have that opportunity before the end of the week.

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Dan Deacon

10:20 p.m. Back to Stubb's. Dan Deacon was scheduled to go on at 10, but the electro-gymnast is having trouble with his rig. At one point he solicits the crowd for a 1/8" to dual 1/4" cable. Nobody has one.

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Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes and NPR's Bob Boilen

In the meantime, I grab a beer, and on the way by the press tent notice NPR's Bob Boilen interviewing Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes, who are scheduled to play after Deacon. I lurk closely by, trying to listen in, and then move on before someone has to tell me to do so.

10:32 p.m. Dan Deacon begins his set, which will be only half an hour long due to the technical issues. It's fun and engaging. Electronic music for the masses. The set ends with Deacon instructing the audience form a large circle, at the center of which one of his crew members stands, leading them in a synchronized communal dance. I can't say that I took part, but it was fun to watch.

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The audience during Dan Deacon's set

11:15 p.m. The Alabama Shakes go on at Stubb's. I saw them play in St. Louis a few months back, when they were just starting to garner some attention. Now that whisper is a roar. Everyone I know down here has the Shakes on their must-see list. Just as they did at that gig at the Old Rock House, they show that every once of the hype is deserved.

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The most I saw of Built to Spill

12:12 p.m. Back out on 6th Street, a friend and I stroll past the IFC Crossroads House, where Built to Spill is playing. There's a sizeable line at the door, but it's moving quickly, so we jump in. Once inside, our assumed good fortune at having the chance to see the elusive and colossal Idaho rockers is soured. The venue is packed tight, with no room to move and not a clean sight line to be had. We hang out for a bit, but duck out after only a couple of songs, discouraged but not beaten. After all, we'll have the chance to see them again very soon. This is SXSW, after all.

88.1 KDHX DJ, writer and photographer Chris Bay is at the 2012 South by Southwest music conference in Austin. Each day he'll be turning in some notes from the field.

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