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SXSW Daily Mixtape: R.E.M., Stones Throw showcase

A roundup of South by Southwest’s opening day, featuring sets by troubadour Jason Collett, a group of hip-hop labelmates, and this little band from Athens, Ga.

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R.E.M.
Whitney Pastorek

Our reporters on the scene in Austin will be filing Daily Mixtape summaries from noteworthy performances at South by Southwest along with links to tracks for you to check out, if you’re so inclined.

JASON COLLETT
The scruffy troubadour played a short afternoon set under the tent at Emo’s Annex, and he brought along beer — or at least took credit for the free beer on hand. ”This sort of feels like summer camp,” he said, thankful for the chance to cut his Canadian winter short. ”All good summer camps include Tecate!” Here’s to Being Here is Collett’s second solo effort (he’s a card-carrying member of Broken Social Scene), and its friendly classic rock vibe was the perfect way to ease into the SXSW swimming pool.
DOWNLOAD THIS: ”Roll On Oblivion”

THE BLACK & WHITE YEARS
It’s an odd gig — performing for Austin’s mayor and 100 of his closest friends — but somebody’s gotta play it. Kudos, then, to this local retro-electro foursome, which drew the short straw but maintained a head-bopping pace on the steps of City Hall, as politicians mingled with publicists while the How’s Your News crew diligently recorded the proceedings. Best news of all, lead singer Scott Butler’s hopefully-ironic mustache shall live to skeeve out another day.
DOWNLOAD THIS: ”Power to Change”

DEAD CONFEDERATE
Depending on your perspective, these Athens, GA natives had either the best slot at Wednesday’s festival or the hardest job in town. As the opening act for the up-and-coming outfit that I believe is called ”The R.E.M.,” they had a captive audience — 2,000 people crammed into the backyard of Stubb’s BBQ to ensure their spot for Michael Stipe and Co. — but they also had to spend most of their set plugging the headliners and reassuring the listless crowd that they only had three songs left (or two, or one) before that other band from Athens would emerge. But these kids shouldn’t have worried: Their droning, angry, Southern-gothic sound kept us properly entertained as everyone awaited the aforementioned superstars.
DOWNLOAD THIS: ”Goner”

R.E.M.
Back in the ’80s and ’90s, this then-foursome released a number of very popular albums — you might even own one or two. But then they lost a member and played around with genres outside their trademark jangle-pop, at which point their popularity (and record sales) flagged, bottoming out with 2004’s awkwardly bad Around the Sun. So while they’re obviously not at SXSW to be discovered in the conventional sense, it could be said they needed this gig as much as anyone, since the April 1 release of Accelerate and its accompanying success and/or failure will most likely determine whether the band will continue to be a vital artistic ensemble, or continue its slow slide into the realm of nostalgia. Wednesday night’s almost-two-hour show was the expected mix of Accelerate material (including ”Supernatural Superserious,” the record’s first single, as an encore) and coveted greatest hits (including ”Man on the Moon”). And though both Stipe’s voice and the band’s general spirit/musicianship were excellent, the uneven quality of (and audience affection for) the songs they chose didn’t do the guys any favors: While the Accelerate material held up well live, so much unfamiliar material kept the crowd’s momentum from ever getting off the ground, and long-dormant tracks from Reckoning (”Second Guessing”) and Fables of the Reconstruction (”Auctioneer (Another Engine)”) managed to both sail right over the heads of younger audience members while making a good case for those who secretly wish the band had broken up after Document. Luckily, R.E.M. can make curious and obscure live choices all they want, and still be R.E.M. — so long as they play ”Fall On Me,” the crowd’s going home happy. Not a bad place in their careers to be after all.
DOWNLOAD THIS: ”Supernatural Superserious”Whitney Pastorek

NEXT PAGE: The Stones Throw hip-hop showcase

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