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SXSW 2012: The return of Fiona Apple, and other moments to watch

March 14, 2012 |  1:15 pm

Fiona Apple
Although the 26th annual South by Southwest music festival officially began Tuesday in Austin, Texas, the first day of panels kicked off Wednesday morning, and the biggest day parties commenced at noon with bleary-eyed travelers and Tuesday night revelers rolling in to begin anew.

At the Austin Convention Center (where I'm headed  after I finish this post, to see Michael Kiwanuka), panels on online digital tastemakers (i.e. bloggers that matter) and new directions in digital music devices have already occurred. One of the most anticipated panels is at 5 p.m. Entitled, "Are Cloud Music Services the Same Old Song and Dance?," it promises "a nitty-gritty look at models and subscriber numbers to determine whether the deal has been sweetened enough to lure the majority of the market that’s still stealing music." As a big fan of Spotify who's well aware that problems with artist compensation makes unlimited access feel nearly as dirty as illegal downloading, this is an issue that will continue to be discussed in the coming year.

Musically, one of the most anticipated Wednesday evening shows will be Los Angeles singer and songwriter Fiona Apple's return to the spotlight after nearly seven years of relative silence. She performs at 7:45 p.m. at Stubb's as part of NPR Music's showcase, a gathering that will also feature the wonderful songwriter Sharon Van Etten, the frantic electronic chaos of Dan Deacon, the Alabama Shakes (in what could be a breakout performance, buzz-wise), and violinist-composer Andrew Bird.

PHOTOS: South by Southwest

Apple is finally releasing her follow-up to 2005's "Extraordinary Machine," with the forthcoming album (take a deep breath) "The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do" (and, yes, the odd capitalization is intentional), due this summer on Epic Records.

And that's just one showcase. Also scribbled in my notes and tearing me in different directions are, among many others, Kimbra -- best known as the co-vocalist with Gotye on the breakout hit "Somebody That I Used to Know" -- at La Zona Rosa; L.A. sister-act  Bleached; the return of reggae icon Jimmy Cliff, who will be performing with Rancid's Tim Armstrong; and, because a few people have suggested it, Cashier No. 9 from Belfast, Northern Ireland, which gigs at the Tap Room at Six at 10 p.m.

You can follow my night on Twitter: @liledit.


SXSW 2012: 10 Los Angeles artists you should see

SXSW 2012: Easing into the music with Dustin Wong

SXSW 2012: Bear in Heaven, Light Asylum among early standouts 

-- Randall Roberts reporting from Austin, Texas

Photo: Fiona Apple performs at the Forum in Los Angeles in 2006. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times.