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  • Live at the Magic Bag, Ferndale, MI

    • 6 out of 10
    • Supersuckers
    • Man, there's nothing like good, old fashioned, rock and roll... add a bit of industry resentment to that with a double-shot of cynicism, and you get one of the best "new" rock bands going. This album
  • An Evening with George Shearing & Mel Torm�

    • 10 out of 10
    • Mel Torm� & George Shearing
    • Of the three men who taught me how to sing, the last was Mel Torme. Apparently, Mel Torme is a joke to anyone more than a decade older than me, a living parody of a Vegas crooner. But I stumbled on th
  • Rift

    • 8 out of 10
    • Phish
    • This quasi-concept album (the only of its kind) from these Vermonters finally showcased their ability to convey a message with a studio album, whereas previously they only succeeded in doing so live.
  • Velocifero

    • 6 out of 10
    • Ladytron
    • "Back to the future" isn't the right turn of phrase for Ladytron's newest album,

  • How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

    • 6 out of 10
    • U2
    • U2's latest entry is a mostly underwhelming collection of songs that does very little to sound any different from its equally pedestrian predecessor, 2000's "All That You Can't Leave Behind." While

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SXSW Music Festival Enjoyment Tips

This past week I attended the SXSW Music Festival and Conference for the first time, and along the way I discovered a few key things to making the week a lot more enjoyable. Here I’ll share my top five, in a very particular order of importance.

  1. Get The Badge -- The Badge is the single most important key to enjoying the music festival in my opinion. The music badge (this year, between US$500 and $650, depending on when you purchased) gets you priority access to all the SXSW music venues in town. The other option is a wristband. Costing $140 to $180, wristbands are primarily offered to Austin residents, though others certainly get them. Wristbands get you access to all the clubs, but badgeholders will get in ahead of those with wristbands. Many times this week, I showed up at a club that had a huge line of wristband folks, only to waltz in ahead of them holding the almighty badge. It’s not a guarantee you’ll get in, but it’s a guarantee you’ll be prioritized over the masses. If you’re going to rearrange your schedule and spend the money to attend, the $350 will be insignificant if you wind up waiting outside all the shows you came to see.

  2. Talk to people -- The sets at SXSW showcases are short -- about 40 minutes -- and between them you’ll find yourself in the company of those with similar musical preferences, waiting to see the same band you are. Chances are, they’ll know about other shows you might want to see, and you them. Talk to your neighbor. Your week will be better because of it. Mine certainly was, and I saw bands I never would have known to go see.

  3. Earplugs -- Most of the places you’ll be seeing bands are small venues. This is awesome, because you have the opportunity to see some pretty popular acts in a very intimate setting. The problem is that for SXSW, they mic everything, and crank it up to get a loud, clear sound (and they usually succeed). Without earplugs, you’ll be subjecting yourself to hearing fatigue, wearing yourself out, or worse, causing permanent damage to your hearing. I recommend Etymotic’s ER-20 (about $12) over the foam kind, since the ER-20 gives you a clearer sound.

  4. Use -- listed every event for SXSW 2008, including all the "unofficial" stuff that was happening. It was organized by day, and also searchable. Once you create a free account here, you can select all the events you want to see and then -- this is the best part -- download the entire calendar to iCal, which you can then sync with your phone or PDA. The events include the act name, the time, the venue address, and in many cases a description. For me, this proved a huge asset. If is not around next year, the SXSW site also offers similar functionality, albeit without all the unofficial events, and is not as easy to navigate.

  5. Eat a Big Lunch -- Chances are you won’t have time late in the day for your big meal, as you bounce from venue to venue catching all the music. Eating something significant at about 1pm and then having a snack dinner on-the-go throughout the night worked really well for me. There are plenty of cart-style vendors in downtown Austin, and the options are enough that you’ll likely find something that fits your style.

Finally, a note to Austin residents: Attend the festival. I lived there for six years and got caught up in the "South by Southwest is evil" mentality. To be fair, the attendance definitely puts Austin on overload, and if you’re NOT going to the festival, you want to avoid downtown like the plague. That said, I can’t believe I lived only a few miles from this event each year and never went. If you’re a live-music lover, take a few days off from work and immerse yourself in the experience. I can’t imagine you’ll be disappointed, regardless of what all your neighbors might say.

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