ONLINE EXCLUSIVE – South By Southwest update: Thursday

Celebs and non-stop music at Austin Texas music festival

The celebrity sightings have been a bit sparse — our Calgary crew has only managed to spot REM’s Michael Stipe Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis protest-folk icon Billy Bragg and celebrity gossip maven Perez Hilton — but there’s no doubt that SXSW is in full swing. After two days of non-stop music (not to mention the free food and booze that a lot of the labels use to convince us cheap audiophiles to pick their showcase over the other 100 happening at the same time) my ears are aching my stomach is quaking and my legs are shaking. Hard to believe we’re only halfway through. A few more highlights:

Fleet Foxes — An alt-country five-piece that sounds like Crosby Stills Nash and Young fronting My Morning Jacket. Gorgeous harmonies and a sound that would fit comfortably on a golden oldies station.

Akron/Family — Yes Akron again. On Wednesday I saw them as a three-piece and was blown away. Thursday they played as a six-piece and I think my mind melted. And tonight they’re going to be playing at Emo’s (arguably Austin’s No. 1 venue) to finish off the night so you’ll likely hear about them again. They’re that good.

The Heavy — A soulful rock group (or a maybe a rockin’ soul group) these new Ninja Tune signees come across like a more powerful Gnarls Barkley. The front man has charisma to spare and if the amount of cameras in the venue were any indication they’re likely to blow up very soon.

Le Loup — Although their live show sounded absolutely nothing like their sparsely stunning 2007 album The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly Washington DC’s Le Loup were still something to behold. The huge ensemble (including what looked like a sousaphone) made a wonderfully ramshackle sound as their scrawny singer convulsed chanted and held the crowd in thrall.

Los Campesinos — The latest addition to Canada’s Arts and Crafts label this Welsh ensemble fits nicely alongside label-mates Broken Social Scene and Most Serene Republic. Plus they drew in probably the biggest crowd I’ve seen so far at the festival.

Jens Lekman — His mellow singer-songwriterisms might seem cheesy if it weren’t for his unbelievable stage presence unnaturally perfect voice and incredibly well-observed lyrics. It also doesn’t hurt that his backing band consists entirely of gorgeous women (à la Robert Palmer but without the cheesiness) — I think one of them was actually an elf.

The Octopus Project — Another perfect ending to another amazing day. Austin’s own Octopus Project mix instrumental rock with crazy electronics but it’s their visual presence that really sets them apart. After starting the set by unleashing bag upon bag of white balloons into the crowd they began thrashing about in front of bizarre animations and ’80s instructional drum videos. By the time they busted out the theremin no one in the crowd could deny their majesty.