Sean Lennon's experimental debut -? His father's son in more ways than one, the musician looks to his girlfriend for inspiration

Apparently, no one told Sean Lennon that rock stars don’t haul their own gear.

Holding a guitar in one hand and pushing a mammoth amp with the other, the waifish-looking musician is making his way rather unsteadily across the lobby of an Austin, Tex., hotel. By the time the disparate members of his entourage scattered throughout the lobby realize what’s happening, Lennon has already plopped onto a bench near the entrance, where he sits quietly, staring into space with furrowed brow.

Perhaps he’s thinking about this evening’s gig. Lennon is in town for South by Southwest, the annual music-industry schmooze-athon that draws hundreds of artists, journalists, and bizzers to Austin to check out bands, talk shop, and pig out on beer and barbecue. While not his first public performance, tonight’s concert will be, Sean reckons, ”really important” in stoking anticipation for his upcoming debut album, Into the Sun, a beguiling mix of radio-friendly alt-pop that dips into rock, jazz, and bossa nova stylings and will be released May 19. Indeed, Sean Lennon’s show is one of the convention’s most eagerly awaited events. Everyone wants to know if the late John Lennon’s other scion can carry the weight of his legacy.

Sean’s ruminative posture seems to unsettle his small posse, who gather around him solicitously. For a few awkward moments, no one says anything. Then, as if on cue, Lennon’s girlfriend (and Into the Sun’s producer), Yuka Honda, bursts through the front door, trailed by members of Lennon’s band. She drops a shopping bag into his lap. ”Look what I got for you,” she chirps, pulling several shirts from the bag, booty from an afternoon spent combing Austin’s thrift shops. Lennon fingers the colorful glad rags. ”Cool,” he says, grinning up at the beaming Honda. Within moments, the incandescent chemistry between the pair has spread, and the mood in the hotel lobby becomes palpably lighter. Instant karma strikes again.

The ”Beautiful Boy” immortalized in the 1980 John Lennon song of that name has grown up. Now 22 and sporting a sort of leopard-print hairstyle and horn-rim glasses, he looks, at first glance, like any other disaffected, post-slacker guitar boy. But look closer and the imprint of his famous parentage leaps out at you. Give him granny glasses and a new haircut and he could easily play his dad in Beatlemania.

The youngest Lennon grew up in the hermetic environment of the Dakota (the famed New York building that will forever be remembered as the site of his father’s assassination on Dec. 8, 1980) and went to Swiss boarding schools. After abortively attending Columbia University (”I kind of just didn’t want to waste my time there…. I wanted to be hanging out with my friends and starting rock bands”), he decided to go into the family business.

”The first music I listened to was on my dad’s jukebox” stocked with old Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and Beatles 45s, says Sean, who began writing songs at 12. After cutting his teeth on the roots stuff, he moved on to embrace a wide array of music, from classic rock and soul to punk, speed metal, hip-hop, jazz, and fusion.