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SXSW ’08 IN REVIEW

First-time showcases by R.E.M. and Van Morrison, plus separate humor-filled interviews with Lou Reed and Mick Jones, were among the notable events of this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) music conference/festival in Austin, Texas.
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R.E.M.‘s Michael Stipe in action at Stubb’s.
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Top 3 performances
* 1: X (March 14 at Austin Convention Center’s Bat Bar) — Like The Police last year, X (from left: Billy Zoom and John Doe) — back together celebrating its 31st anniversary — is showing no signs of age.
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* 2: The Whigs (March 13 at Austin Music Hall) — Lots of instrumental muscle and urgent vocals from the Georgia trio, led by Parker Gispert (above).

* 3: My Morning Jacket (March 13 at Austin Music Hall) – The Kentucky collective played favorites from Z as well as cool-sounding material from the forthcoming Evil Urges.
Best gimmick: The Service Industry. This appropriately named band from Austin writes songs about what it knows, drawing from experiences working at bars and restaurants. The resulting tunes are fun but also have a serious undercurrent to them.
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Best beard: This year, Austin was crawling with whiskered gents — including ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons — but nobody topped the growth sported by drummer Bryan Nelson (above) of the city’s own Snake Trap.

Coolest stage setup: Austin’s When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, which featured two drummers who faced each other as they played separate kits.

Biggest surprise: The small turnout for Bo Bice‘s headlining set at the Cedar Door. Apparently a pretty good run on American Idol doesn’t mean as much as it used to. (Take note, Jordin Sparks.)
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Liam Finn settles in for an interview March 13 inside the Austin Convention Center.
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Texas music legend Roky Erickson presides over the start of the Rhino Musical Aptitude Test, held March 14.
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Sharin Foo of the Raveonettes performs March 15 at the Rachael Ray event.
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Louisiana’s Red Stick Ramblers do their thing March 15 at Jovita’s.

— Text and photos by Chris M. Junior