Robbie Williams, Ben Lee Lead Friday's SXSW Cavalcade

One of the most hyped and hardest shows to gain access to at this year's South by Southwest festival was Friday night's "Interview" magazine / Capitol Records' party featuring Robbie Williams and Ben Lee.

Performing under a tent to the smallest audience the former Take That star has seen for a long time, Robbie Williams and his 6 piece backing band confidently took the stage to the theme from "Star Wars" and proceeded to rock much harder than most would have expected. Williams' set was filled with the hit songs that have made him a mega-star outside of the United States. That is likely to change once his first American album is released in early May (see "Robbie Williams Tries To Up Stateside Exposure In Magazines, Video And On Stage").

On stage, Williams' cocky swagger and showmanship was offset by his engaging banter with the audience and his deadpan sense of humor. After concluding the set with an audience-pleasing

run through his hit single "Millennium," Williams quipped, "If you've loved us we've been Robbie Williams. If you've hated us, we've been George Michael."

Elsewhere across Austin Friday night, the South By Southwest conference presented a wide array of musical choices ranging from an outdoor performance by Austin locals Fastball to a hip hop showcase featuring Inspectah Deck and Rob Swift to an appearance by L7 complete with surprise guest Exene Cervenka.

One show that fit together musically more effectively than most of the other showcases featured California's Grandaddy, Buffalo, New York's Mercury Rev, and Richmond, Virginia's Sparklehorse. Grandaddy was the highlight here, with their great combination of lushly layered cinematic pop gems and off-kilter indie-rock numbers from their upcoming sophomore release on V2. However, the sheer beauty of Mercury Rev's performance of material from "Deserter's Songs" made for a great one-two punch.

Other highlights included an

exciting performance by Norwegian Grammy winning band Poor Rich Ones and their brand of emotional pop songs, featuring lead singer William's stunning falsetto.

Earlier in the day several low key shows took place around town at record stores and rehearsal spaces. Athens, Georgia, based Macha performed a truly unique style of music. The indie-rock ethnomusicologists incorporate a zither, Javanese gamelan, vibes, and a 70's organ called the "Fun Machine" along with the more traditional drums, bass, and guitar into a trancy sonic mix.