SXSW Picks & Sleepers

Picks & Sleepers

Saturday Picks

All showcase times subject to change. Please check

Grupo Fantasma

5pm, Town Lake Stage @ Auditorium Shores
After a yearlong Wednesday night residency at Antone's, this dynamic, climbing toward a dozen members horn- and percussion-driven Latin powerhouse has developed into one of the hottest bands in Austin. – Jay Trachtenberg

Dirty Dozen Brass Band

7pm, Town Lake Stage @ Auditorium Shores
One of the crown jewels of New Orleans music. Don't let the "brass band" title fool you, either; this is a thoroughly modern juggernaut that mixes hip-hop street beats with Crescent City fonk and butt-rockin' R&B into a hypnotic groove all their own. – Jay Trachtenberg

Los Lonely Boys

8pm, Town Lake Stage @ Auditorium Shores
LLB owned 2003 like the Oklahoma Sooners own UT's Longhorns. Hermanos Henry, Jojo, and Ringo Garza, born, raised, and still living in San Angelo, became Austin's favorite band with a self-titled CD that sprinkles Latin sabor over meat-and-potatoes Texas blues and rhapsodic live shows. – Christopher Gray

"Murder Dog" Magazine/ Damage Control

8pm-2am, Aussie's
United by electro sensibilities and the tendency to lyrically spit rather than to merely rhyme, Murder Dog magazine pairs the grimy, post-garage blitzkrieg of East London's Dizzee Rascal with an all-star cast of Down South rap heroes. Bun B of Port Arthur's UGK provides as fitting a match as any, linear relations persisting by way of scheduled performances by Watts, Ron C., Magno, and Mike Jones of Houston's Swishahouse clique. Paul Wall's former partner in rhyme Chamillionaire also joins the fray. Joined by old school St. Louis players Sylk Smoov and Austin's own Bavu Blakes – who's been witnessed of late riding the wave of his Hydroponic Sound System-produced single "Play the Role" – the Murder Dog lineup was hand-picked by Matt Sonzala, the host of Houston's much acclaimed Damage Control radio program on KPFT. With festivities opened by Austin's MC Fatal, Houston's Grit Boys, and Play-N-Skillz from Dallas, this may be the only SXSW hip-hop showcase this year that emphatically leans away from alt-rock aesthetics in favor of dirty, dirty inclinations. – Robert Gabriel


8pm-2am, Parish
Hip-hop's bastard sons of abstracted persuasion, Anticon calls an Oakland warehouse home as it personifies a DIY ethic usually associated with a punk label such as Dischord. With mushroom shards embedded in minds melded to drum machine circuitry, Doseone and Jel of Themselves let it all hang out on the experimental tip. Latest release No Music of Aff's remixes 2002's No Music to the point of extreme detachment as preposterous poetics bodysurf waves of disjointed hallucination. Outlandish nods to anomalous rhythms stutter forth from Why?, whose ode to a chicken named "Darla" not only expresses sympathy for a lipless creature on the brink of roasting, but also makes one wonder if the Dead Milkmen have come back curdled. Restiform Bodies combines the ingenuity of Passage, Telephone Jim Jesus, and Bomarr Monk as "ghetto-tech, prog-hop, bit-pop, and avant-psych R&B" are simultaneously invented and reinterpreted within one fell swoop of the trio's knob-twiddling repertoire. Alias, by way of Muted, has proven that even devoid of introspective lyricism, his instrumentals retain a morbid sense of inescapability. Even noisier mood swings are projected by Dosh, who recently stepped outside his role as drummer for Fog to construct his own self-titled display of despondent syncopations. Add it all up, and it's doubtful that an even number will be derived. – Robert Gabriel

Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players

8pm, Soho Lounge
One of the unexpected sensations of last year's SXSW, this is a genuine family band (dad on keyboards and vocals, mom on projector, and precocious 10-year-old daughter on drums) that creates witty musical tales based on slides and photos found at yard sales. – Jay Trachtenberg

Ralph White

8pm, Hideout
Founding Bad Liver Ralph White is all about the music. Adept at Louisiana's traditional music, White also traveled to Ireland to refine his fiddle playing, and traipsed through Africa with a banjo, picking up regional thumb piano styles along the way. The Austinite brought it all together on his 2002 Terminus debut, Trash Fish. – David Lynch

Bloodshot Records

8pm-2am, Antone's
Chicago's home of "insurgent country" is having so much fun turning 10 that they need two showcases this year. The second one leads off with Jon Langford, whose Waco Brothers are MIA. Instead he's heading up something he calls Ship & Pilot that's likely just as raucous. A solo LP, All the Fame of Lofty Deeds, the story of a cowboy spaceman, is due in April. One of Nashville's best bands, Paul Burch & the WPA Ballclub play like it's 1953, with a finesse and spirit that screams of the 21st century. Burch's Fool for Love was one of 2003's best. Jon Rauhouse's Steel Guitar Rodeo showcases the pedal steel master in all his glory with guest turns by labelmates Sally Timms and Kelly Hogan. His second effort drops next week. Graham Parker in the middle of this makes perfect sense. He was always a roots-rocker, right? Bass player Tom Freund joins GP, whose latest trip, the Americana-flavored Your Country, is just out. You can never be sure what Bobby Bare Jr. will spring next, but he's been in the studio lately, so expect new music from him this summer. After a year or so on hiatus, Split Lip Rayfield returns from Kansas to turn bluegrass on its head. It's four guys with acoustic instruments, but it's loud and fast and that ain't a bass, it's a gas tank. Split Lip recently recorded new tunes and hope to have a CD out by fall. – Jim Caligiuri


8:15pm, La Zona Rosa
It took this Boston threesome three tries to get a big-deal contract for their intelligent, driving indie pop. Three fine LPs were put out by Sugar Free, but the Sony-backed Per Second, Per Second, Per Second ... Every Second is predictably garnering the rave reviews. – Melanie Haupt

Southern Lord

9pm-2am, Blender Balcony @ the Ritz
Given that Southern Lord was staked in 1998 by Greg Anderson of Goatsnake and Burning Witch's Steve O'Malley, on names alone you know the L.A.-based indie isn't putting out Afro-pop. In fact, Southern Lord is pit crew to Dave Grohl's terminator Probot. Better yet, they still mint vinyl 45s. On their "Cirrhosis" 7-inch, Phoenix's Graves at Sea are toxic screamed vox and seared doom metal. Not that NYC's Khanate, featuring label founder O'Malley, offers any sanctuary with its post-apocalyptic Nazgul cries. Outlaw Order, thundering out of New Orleans, is a little more down to earth, as in swamp metal: quicksand rhythms and humid riffs. In Earthride, as in their Baltimore HQ, hardcore is the heart, lumbering and Southern, Dave Sherman's "whiskey-burned vokills" like Lemmy stuck in an oil slick. Snuffing evening and showcase is Nashville's Place of Skulls, Heaven & Hell-era Sabbath fronted by Jack Bruce, which in this case is Victor Griffin, he of Christian beliefs. Southern Lord help us. – Raoul Hernandez

Handsome Boy Modeling School

9pm, Austin Music Hall Grooming fashion disasters with only the most refined of hip-hop sensibilities is a job best left for the venerated duo of Dan "the Automator" Nakamura and Prince Paul. Posing as Nathaniel Merriweather and Chest Rockwell, the veterans of such projects as 3 Feet High and Rising and Dr. Octagon push the conceptual envelope and them some with wacky forays into the posh and swanky. – Robert Gabriel


9pm, Hard Rock Cafe
Longtime Aussie faves Powderfinger bring the Black Crowes rawk with Vulture Street (V2), their epic follow-up to 2000's Odyssey Number Five. The quintet, led by Bernard Fanning, has been huge Down Under for roughly a decade, but has yet to achieve stateside success. – Melanie Haupt

Tim Easton

9pm, Opal Divine's Freehouse
Tim Easton's third release, Break Your Mother's Heart (New West), is the perfect showcase for the songwriter's finger-picking prowess and wordsmithery, which are shades of Dylan and Cash but with an extra, supersexy/ sensitive something that makes them unique. – Melanie Haupt


9pm, Momos
The only thing missing from Metric's recent sophomore LP, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? is its "Heart of Glass." Not that the Toronto-based Broken Social Scene spin-off is bleached Blondie. On disc at least, Elastica comparisons are apt thanks to Emily Haines' taunts and James Shaw's taut guitar, but live, New Wave wires the band's feverish gigs. – Raoul Hernandez

Robyn Hitchcock

9pm, Rockstars
Newish CD Luxor is full of the acerbic, surreal wit and unstoppably catchy melodies that made the Soft Boys founder one of the most influential singer-songwriters of all time. Moody, dark, and bursting with enough pure pop to choke a horse, Hitchcock is rightfully legendary. Just ask Jonathan Demme. – Marc Savlov


9pm, Stubb's
Getting off the horse did Raul Malo nothing but bueno. A solo LP, a stint with Los Super 7, producing Rick Treviño's country comeback; all made the Placido Domingo's return to the fold that much more vigorous. Last fall's Sanctuary debut was the reunited Nashville quartet's richest, most assured album. – Raoul Hernandez

Toshi Reagon & Big Lovely

9pm, Texas Union Theatre
Some know Toshi Reagon as the daughter of Sweet Honey in the Rock's Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon. Others know her from tours with Ani DiFranco. A self-described "postmodern R&B woman," her record collection includes Kiss, Sabbath, and Zeppelin. Reggae, folk, blues, protest songs, rock & roll; her eponymous debut came out on Razor & Tie in 2002. – David Lynch


9pm-2am, Maggie Mae's
Local label kingpin Phil Waldorf shows off his stable of insanely talented artists, starting out with Brooklynite Chris Lee. Lee's 2003 release, Cool Rock, found him busting out blue-eyed soul-pop complete with energetic horns. Winged Life is an appropriate name for Shearwater's just-released batch of melancholy Americana taking flight over a bleak but beautiful landscape. Okkervil River's Will Sheff shares vocal duties with fellow songwriter Jonathan Meiburg, both of whom specialize in literary lyrics Faulkner would applaud. Next up is Summer Hymns' psychedelic Americana, straight outta Athens, Ga. Best described as the love children of Neil Young and the Flaming Lips, this quartet's weirdo folk, especially on last year's Clemency, goes for the intelligent grin rather than the doofy guffaw. The Mendoza Line's 2003 release, If They Knew This Was the End, was a sweet, playful album of sleepy folk-rock accented with whispered vocals mingling with fuzzy indie pop. Expect more of the same from the Brooklyn group's forthcoming Fortune. Saving the absolute best for last, Centro-matic rounds out the bill in the wee smalls. Worth the wait, too, as last year's Love You Just the Same is quite possibly one of the year's perfect records, with Will Johnson's sexy, scruffy beard and voice inspiring epic swoons for the book-nerd set. – Melanie Haupt

The Singles

10pm, Pecan Street Ale House
Trying to reconstruct the magic of Sixties pop is risky business. Thankfully, Detroit's Singles plow through their power-packed debut, Better Than Before (Rainbow Quartz), which connects the dots between the Beatles, Byrds, and Flaming Groovies with a heart full of soul. – Greg Beets

Now It's Overhead

10pm, Friends
Somewhere between Depeche Mode and Death Cab for Cutie lies Athens, Ga.'s Now It's Overhead, fronted by Saddle Creek mainstay Andy LeMaster. The quartet's second Saddle Creek effort, Fall Back Open, features guest appearances by LeMaster's Bright Eyes bandmate Conor Oberst as well as Athens icon Michael Stipe. – Darcie Stevens


10pm, Tambaleo
Relative newcomers, Zykos released one of Austin's best albums last year in Post-Parlo debut Comedy Horn. Vaguely evocative of Interpol, Horn is an intricate tapestry of interwoven piano, guitar, bass, and drums anchored by frontman Michael Booher's haunting vocals. – Christopher Gray

On the Speakers

10pm, Hard Rock Cafe
As if having ex-Creeper Lagoon frontman Ian Sefchick on the mic wasn't enough, this quirky, üuber-dynamic L.A. quartet punched their hip cards twice more by recording their debut EP at Tiny Telephone and holding down a coveted residency at Los Angeles' Spaceland. – Andy Langer

Million Dead

10pm, Lava Lounge Patio
This London quartet's new disc, A Song to Ruin (Integrity/Xtra Mile), has been tagged as emo, but that's lazy. It's leagues beyond that genre's ilk, with gobsmacking, whiplash guitars, deeply political/personal lyrics, and more voluble crunch than usually allowed by Ian MacKaye. – Marc Savlov

Patterson Hood

10pm, Cactus Cafe
The Drive-by Truckers' frontman has more songs on his gun rack than bugs on his badass band's van windshield, and more Southern rock opera poetics than all the other "" concerns combined. – Raoul Hernandez

Mike Doughty

10pm, Mother Egan's
After a flurry of Web-only releases, Soul Coughing's former head hacker, critic of rock critics, and 90210 fanatic will release a Dan Wilson-produced disc this spring. Hope the album – and this live preview – feature his fine piece of Michael Moore-like social commentary, "Busting Up a Starbux." – Andy Langer

Patty Griffin

10pm, Stubb's
This Austin siren can do no wrong it seems. Grffin's 1000 Kisses (ATO) overflowed with sensitive, heartbreaking, angry songwriting befitting her fiery red hair. Its follow-up, due this spring, includes guests Emmylou Harris and Julie Miller, and its stopgap, last year's live A Kiss in Time CD/DVD combo was another prize. – Melanie Haupt


10pm, Soho Lounge
It's hard to resist the sunny appeal of this NYC retro-pop combo. Their seductive, playful singer Juju Stulbach channels the saucy spirit of fellow Brazilian Astrud Gilberto for that mid-Sixties Sergio Mendes sound. The band's self-titled Bar/None debut was one of '03's pleasant surprises. – Jay Trachtenberg

Dilated Peoples

10pm, Austin Music Hall
This L.A. rap group, composed of Evidence, Rakaa Iriscience, and DJ Babu, proudly rides the fence between underground credibility and mainstream success. Their Capitol follow-up to 2001's Expansion Team is Neighborhood Watch and sports vocal contributions from Kanye West and Devin the Dude, as well as stellar production from the Alchemist. The blazing single "Marathon" is a hint of things to come. – Robert Gabriel

Stanley Jordan

10:30pm, Vibe
The Vibe is Austin's headquarters for jam, and the addition of SXSW headliner/jazz guitar great Stanley Jordan to the club's Saturday night roster is sure to be a defining moment for the Sixth Street venue. This Princeton graduate has been teaching up-and-comers master-musician moves for more than two decades now. – Raoul Hernandez

Michael Penn

11pm, Cedar Street
A rare live appearance by Michael Penn outside of his West Coast stomping grounds. The singer-songwriter's brand of Beatles-esque folk-pop married to Elvis Costello-style wordplay continues to nurture a thriving cult fan base. Penn's new Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947 is titled for a painting he purchased at a flea market. – Jim Caligiuri

Jeff Klein

11pm, Mother Egan's
Gruff voices and cynical hearts always betray a romantic. Something of a UK sensation, Austinite Jeff Klein helped his cause with last year's One Little Indian debut, Everybody Loves a Winner, the local singer-songwriter's second LP. He'll burn your house of love down. – Raoul Hernandez

Britt Daniel

11pm, Red Eyed Fly
Spoon may be sitting out this SXSW, but don't despair. Armed with only an acoustic guitar and boom-box beat-maker, Britt Daniel's solo flights often throw his finely wrought sketches of fitted shirts, paper tigers, and car radios into even sharper relief. – Christopher Gray

Petty Booka

11pm, Elysium
It's easy to describe this ukulele-toting duo from Tokyo as adorable, but that would be ignoring the edginess of the concept behind Satomi "Petty" Asano and Miyuki "Booka" Matsubara's Hawaiian-themed covers of everything from Blondie to Tom Waits. The grass-skirt-clad ladies were the darlings of SXSW 03, which coincided with their first American release, Let's Talk Dirty in Hawaiian. – Melanie Haupt

Architecture in Helsinki

11pm, Soho Lounge
A Postal Service-Beach Boys hybrid, Architecture in Helsinki puts their own touch on a peaking genre: electro pop. The Australian eightpiece has perfected bubble gum for the 21st century using tons of harmonizing vocals, synths, samplers, the occasional DJ, and most importantly, hand claps. – Darcie Stevens

The Butchies

11pm, Lounge
While it might disconcert some to see Butchies outside the safe confines of Ladyfests or dyke nights, it's time this super cute, super rock trio broke out with their latest, Make Yr Life (YepRoc). Kaia (Team Dresch) and company are ready to burst bubbles of assumption. – Kate X Messer

Har Mar Superstar

11pm, Emo's Main
Relegated to grinding his tightie whities against unsuspecting ladies at Charles Attal's late-night Blue Genie party last SXSW, Har Mar is a legitimate SXSW showcaser this year. Now based in L.A., the Detroit native sets hearts throbbing with his erotic R&B. – Melanie Haupt

Old 97's

11pm, Stubb's
After an extended hiatus while frontman Rhett Miller recorded and toured solo LP The Instigator, the twangy Dallas romantics notched their sixth album, set for a June release, in upstate New York this winter. The quartet further endeared themselves to Austin by signing to hometown label New West in January. – Christopher Gray

Cowboy Jack Clement

11pm, Hole in the Wall
Music history wouldn't be the same without Jack Clement. He was under Sam Phillips' wing at Sun Studios when Jerry Lee Lewis came 'round and he wrote "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" for Johnny Cash. At RCA, Clement was Chet Atkins' right-hand man, and he discovered Charley Pride in the Sixties. He also wrote songs like "Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart" and "The One on the Right Is on the Left." – Jerry Renshaw


11:50pm, La Zona Rosa
Out on tour with David Lowery's "other" band, Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker is one of the last great American rock bands. Whether rocking out with their Nineties FM radio hits or twanging it up as they did on 2003's Countrysides, this group isn't above having fun on stage, no matter how cynical the lyrical content. – Jim Caligiuri

Danny Barnes

Midnight, Coyote Ugly
Since moving from Austin to Seattle a few years ago, Bad Livers founder Barnes has blended his formidable songwriting, singing, and picking skills with flexible musical souls like Jello Biafra, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, and guitarist Bill Frisell, who plays on his new Terminus release, Dirt on the Angel. – David Lynch

Rosie Flores

Midnight, Cactus Cafe
This feisty San Antonio-born rockabilly gal was long a stalwart of both the Austin and L.A. country hipster scenes before moving to Nashville to ply her songwriting skills. Recently, Single Rose was her first live LP, and look for Bandera Highway, a compilation of her Hightone hits, later this month. – Jay Trachtenberg

Penelope Houston

Midnight, Mother Egan's
After establishing the Avengers as S.F.'s premier pioneer punkers, vocalist Penelope Houston did a musical about-face to do acoustic folk tunes. Her latest is Snap Shot (Flare), a pop-leaning EP of covers ranging from the Band's "It Makes No Difference" to Shocking Blue's "Love Machine." – Greg Beets


Midnight, Rockstars
Last year's Band Red (SpinArt) made this Norwich, UK, quintet the talk of SXSW 03. Singer Nikki Colk struts like Jagger as she delivers the group's electrifyingly sultry pop-punk. The buzz worked: After spending 2002 touring with the Polyphonic Spree, Clinic, Imperial Teen, and the Datsuns, KaitO headlined their own summer tour through the States in 2003. – Melanie Haupt

THE Damnations

Midnight, Opal Divine's Freehouse
Through thick and thin, the Damnations continue to be one of Austin's best bands. With the sisterly harmonies of Amy Boone and Deborah Kelly, their songs are full of soul and grit. Meanwhile, Rob Bernard adds his strings and things in a raw, tumultuous way. They hope to have a new album in 2004. – Jim Caligiuri

Jim Lauderdale

Midnight, Hole in the Wall
Now that "Grammy-winning" is applied to Lauderdale's credentials, he's become an unstoppable force in Nashville. A singer-songwriter of the highest order, his recordings with bluegrass patriarch Ralph Stanley are the stuff of dreams, while Headed for the Hills, due in May, features songs co-written with Robert Hunter. – Margaret Moser

Malcolm Middleton

Midnight, Friends
As the musical mastermind behind Arab Strap, Malcolm Middleton is responsible for a string of spare, beautiful LPs with vocalist Aidan Moffatt. Middleton solos with 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine, and surprise, his Scottish brogue isn't much different from Moffatt's, though his post-whiskey reflections on a bungled life actually contain brief glimmers of hope. – Michael Chamy

The Hives

Midnight, Emo's Main
Now that the great garage scare has subsided and Eighties-era English mope has saturated the underground again, the Fagersta Five is back and buzzing hard on the eve of their third full-length. A rash of Veni Vidi Vicious, caught two years back at NYC's Bowery Ballroom, confirmed the hype for us, at least, so the "Main Offender" here may boil down to room capacity. – Raoul Hernandez

Comets on Fire

Midnight, Caucus Patio
On 2002's Field Recordings From the Sun on Ba Da Bing!, Comets on Fire harness their flashback garage blasts in layers of disorienting chaos. Live, the S.F. fireball burns so bright that days after opening for Sonic Youth, they're playing two SXSW showcases. Alternative Tentacles just reissued the band's self-titled debut. – Michael Chamy

Coheed & Cambria

Midnight, Emo's Annex
They've graduated to the indie-rock all-night diners around town. Last year's In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 elevated C&C to the level of guilty pleasure with an oh-so-catchy emo whine funneled into a Maiden-like sword 'n' sorcery concept LP. Jump on the prog-emo wagon before everybody else does! – Michael Chamy

Jesse Malin

Midnight, Cedar Street
2002's Fine Art of Self Destruction proved that this New Yawker could transition from sleazy, no-frills punk with D Generation into a loveable heart-on-his-sleeve singer-songwriter. Expect a preview of his forthcoming Artemis disc. – Andy Langer

Jamie Cullum

Midnight, 18th Floor @ Crowne Plaza
There's been quite a buzz about this London jazz/pop singer/pianist. His debut, Twentysomething, won't be out until May, but he's already being compared to everyone from Harry Connick Jr. to Mick Jagger. His Hendrix and Radiohead covers are intriguing. – Jay Trachtenberg

James Hand

Midnight, Broken Spoke
Otherworldly is just one of the words that describes James Hand. A traditional country singer in the purest sense, Hand is the closest thing to Hank Sr. today, and his band includes players who've performed with Ernest Tubb, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Bush. A true Texas original, Hand has released three CDs, including Live at the Saxon Pub, earlier this year. – Jim Caligiuri

Los Lobos

Midnight, Stubb's
Los Lobos are on a roll. After releasing one of the best albums of their 30-year career in 2002's Good Morning Aztlán!, the East L.A. wolves set an entire block of downtown Houston ablaze with a scorching, pre-Super Bowl street festival set at the Main Event in January. With The Ride due in May, expect no slowdown. – Christopher Gray


Midnight, Austin Music Hall
With their new album, Fly or Die, on the verge of a guaranteed blow-up, self-proclaimed N.E.R.D.s Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo present the more experimental side of their winning Neptunes production formula. Forgoing the Spymob band to reveal their own instrumental foreskin, the Virginia Beach duo finds themselves at a juncture where they can do no wrong. – Robert Gabriel

Camper Van Beethoven

12:50am, La Zona Rosa
After stellar sets at SXSW 03, CVB returns to promote bonus-track-laden reissues of their four pre-Virgin LPs on Cooking Vinyl/Pitch-a-Tent. The Santa Cruz, Ca.-bred, country-flavored psychedelic punk troupe draws on everything from absurdist humor to lush, intricate jam pieces. What would you expect from an act that covered Fleetwood Mac's Tusk in its entirety? – Greg Beets

The Delgados

1am, Friends
After they loosed last year's spectacular fourth album, Hate, the Delgados' Glasgow, Scotland-based Chemikal Underground label is expanding overseas. The Delgados are at the top of their game, with wry Alun Woodward and the rich lungs of Emma Pollock trading off timeless, orchestrated pop songs that make Belle & Sebastian look like has-beens. – Michael Chamy

Tom McRae

1am, 18th Floor @ Crowne Plaza
Forget downloaders, the real criminals can be found in A&R at each and every U.S. major label that's passed on this British genius' Mercury Prize-nominated sophomore album, Just Like Blood. Elegant, cinematic, and unbelievably warm, it backs up NME's claim that McRae is "this genre's saving grace." – Andy Langer

Okkervil River

1am, Tambaleo
This local outfit led by sometime Chronicle contributor Will Sheff blew critics' hair back last year with Down the River of Broken Dreams (Jagjaguwar). The Austin fourpiece pairs a darkly literary Nick Cave aesthetic with gently intuitive musicianship that goes from punky screech to folksy coo on a dime. – Melanie Haupt

Bottle Rockets

1am, Opal Divine's Freehouse
Just off a successful tour opening for Lucinda Williams, Festus, Mo.'s Bottle Rockets have hit full stride. Their 2003 Sanctuary CD, Blue Sky, is their finest work to date, a genuine accomplishment for a band that's been battling the wars for a decade. – Jim Caligiuri

Riverboat Gamblers

1am, Emo's Main
Dentonites the Riverboat Gamblers have been blasting audiences out of their socks for years now with a swaggering blend of Seventies cock rock and high-octane punk. Their Gearhead CD, Something to Crow About, does the band justice, but seeing them live is a must. – Jerry Renshaw

Dillinger Escape Plan

1am, Bigsby's
New Jersey's DEP is nearly impossible to categorize with their spastic math-rock intensity. A live show might include fireworks, major lights, and even a fire breather. Their addition to Philly's heaviest metal imprint, Relapse Records, should cement the entire deal. – Jerry Renshaw

Thalia Zedek

1am, Red Eyed Fly
Brooding indie guitar legend Thalia Zedek (Come) has been places you don't ever want to go. Her morosely comforting lull acts as a friendly ambassador to dark journeys of the soul. Sometimes you gotta get right down in that dirty muck, and Zedek is the one to lead us little horsies to the trough. – Kate X Messer

Michelle Shocked

1am, Fox & Hound
With two decades of music-making under her belt, Texas-born L.A. dweller Michelle Shocked has been busy lately. Two years ago, her Mighty Sound imprint released the fresh and underrated Deep Natural. Last year the label re-released her seminal folk explosion, Short Sharp Shocked, cramming 21 unreleased tracks into this 15th anniversary version. A collision of East Texas blues, honky-tonk, and folk. – David Lynch

Daniel Johnston

1am, Soho Lounge
Give it another 20 years and all 197 entries in the Lost Lennon Tapes series will be equaled by Austin pop savant Daniel Johnston. Last year's 2-CD Dualtone treasury, The Early Recordings Volume 1, was a dollop in the right direction for one of the luckiest sperms ever. – Raoul Hernandez

The Decemberists

1am, Buffalo Billiards
The Decemberists prove that even nerds need good music, even if it's populated by pirates and seafaring Victorians in dungarees. The Portland, Ore., quirky folk-pop quintet released their most esoteric work yet, Her Majesty the Decemberists, on Kill Rock Stars last fall, and it bears the mark of Colin Meloy's writing degree. – Melanie Haupt

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