The psychedelic rock of Deerhunter and the classic rock stylings of Besnard Lakes were centerpieces on the second night of music showcases at the South by Southwest (SXSW) music conference in Austin, Texas. As crowds descended upon Sixth Street -- home to more than 20 SXSW venues -- British R&B upstart Amy Winehouse drew nearly impenetrable lines, and dozens were left stranded on the sidewalk for Canada's Besnard Lakes.

Those who made it inside, however, were treated to the transfixing vocal stylings of Jace Lasek, whose falsetto work drifts through the haze created by three guitarists. The Montreal-based group resembles the pop-tinged psychedelia of Mercury Rev on its recent Jagjaguwar album "The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse," but live, songs like "Devastation" and "And You Lied to Me" took on a more original bent.

The harmonies of the Besnard Lakes are as impressive as anything the Beach Boys ever created, and cuts like "Disaster" and "Bedford and Grand" are looking for grandeur in something that's a bit louder. The latter brought the act's early evening set to a close with a fist-in-the-air chorus and a keyboard line that gradually works its way to the front of a wall of guitars.

Besnard Lakes played early on the Secretly Canadian showcase, which despite the fine music was a bit of a nightmare; lines snaked down the street, and label co-founder Ben Swanson told us, "I'm so stressed out right now," as he attempted to usher VIPs to the front of the line. Also on the bill, local favorites I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness, who tore into tracks like "According To Plan" and "Lights" from last year's stellar "Fear Is on Our Side," plus a new song that the singer claimed was "actually really old." The group also said it was playing with guitarist Ernest Salaz for the first time in a year.

The hypnotic hard rock of Atlanta five-piece Deerhunter at the Soho Lounge was another highlight. Bradford Cox, perhaps the thinnest musician in Austin this week, turned his vocals into a drone or a howl, nearly matching the pitch of the guitars. Weilding his singing voice as if it were an instrument, he was able to lose -- and loop -- himself into the churn of the music. Guitar dissonance rose of from a minimalist smattering of notes, and ambient noises created a backdrop for the act's orchestrations to rest upon. "Strange Lights" was dizzily transfixing in its presentation, playing like a record stuck on repeat with out-of-this-world guitar notes pushed forward by a propulsive, rock 'n' roll bass.

At Stubbs BBQ, Apostle Of Hustle played a few seconds of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" and then chastised the indifferent audience for not knowing the song. Failing to impress was Mika's subsequent set at Eternal; the guy may be a star on the rise in his native England, but on this night in Texas, overwhelmingly poppy items like "Big Girl" and closer "Lollipop" just weren't flying.

Elsewhere on the second night of SXSW, Domino artist Benjy Ferree's set of playful folk-rock was criminally under-attended at Habana Calle. At first listen, Ferree and his band appear to dish out little more than jolly drinking songs, but there's plenty depth to Ferree's county and blues influenced tunes. Arrangements shift tempos so subtlety that songs often end up in a different place than they began, and easy going melodies are dressed with a cleverly placed violin or a surprising whistle.

Recent Matador signees Shearwater held court in an Austin church. The setting was fitting for the band's majestic piano crests and the high-pitched, sermon like vocals of Jonathan Meiburg. Yet his Jeff Buckley-inspired verses could quickly turn into something more forceful, and songs teased with exploding and disintegrating into a mess of noise. Even on more muted songs, the rhythm seemed to lurk in the shadows, toying with the possibility that it could break free at a moment's notice.

Against Me! slayed the crowd at Exodus, blending new songs earmarked for its Butch Vig-produced next album with fist-pumping tracks like "Don't Lose Touch" and "Sink, Florida, Sink." A rollicking cover of the Replacements' classic "Bastards of Young" was icing on the cake.

As for the unofficial SXSW showcases, Thursday's day and evening party schedule was overwhelming. Peter Bjorn and John closed out the night at 3 a.m. at the Blender after-party with a dashing display of guitar artistry, forming irresistible pop anthems out of punky guitar workouts. "The Chills" was a Jesus and Mary Chain-like mess of guitar fuzz and melodic interplay, whereas "Paris 2004" slows things down to construct its arrangement around a hooky keyboard loop.

Earlier, Brazil's Bondo Do Role was a smashing mix of metal samples, hip-hop vocals and trash-can rhythms. The three-piece brought a high-energy mix cross-border sounds fetchingly silly dance moves. Singer/songwriter Andrew Bird seems to get better every year, here previewing songs from his new album, "Armchair Apocrypha," due out on March 20. Songs begin with a simple violin sample, but the Bird and his two-piece backing crew quickly turn the songs into a mini-orchestra.

The Canadian rock trio Land Of Talk proffered angular guitar lines and agitated melodies, best heard on tracks like "Speak to Me Bones" and "Breaxbraxx." Frontwoman Elizabeth Powell is a compelling presence and a great guitarist; her voice can purr as capably as it can shout.

Tally Hall played nerdy rock'n'roll that during one song, required one of the five guys in white button downs and colored ties to shout through a megaphone. Our assessment: the indie rock Barenaked Ladies.

At Maggie May's, Ronnie Day offered up emotional rock tunes in the vein of Dashboard Confessional, soon to be heard on his Epic debut, supervised by J.I. buddy Mike Flynn. While there, we ran into veteran engineer Mark Needham, who gleefully reported he was working on the new Ozzy Osbourne album, and then flashed us devil signs with his hands.

The Doghouse Records showcase at Libation featured up-and-coming rock combo Weatherbox play multi-faceted prog-tinged tunes that would appeal to fans of Sunny Day Real Estate or Sparta. The music is great, but the singing is not quite there; if this band can develop more compact, fluid songs, they could really be onto something.

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