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Live music review: SXSW 2014 kicked off with Octopus Project, Jason Schwartzman

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The Octopus Project at SXSW Interactive 2014

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The behemoth that is South by Southwest (SXSW) kicked off yesterday in Austin. Both the Interactive and Film portions of the festival officially began on Friday as attendees arrived from all over the world to participate in what has become the largest independent festival of its kind. Early in the evening we caught an excellent Overheard PBS taping with host Evan Smith (Texas Tribune) and film actor, Jason Schwartzman. The evening featured several big name performers. Director, Jon Favreau hosted a party with surprise guest, Gary Clark Jr. at the Mohawk after the screening of his road trip foodie film, "Chef." Big Boi headlined the Verizon opening night party at Cedar Street. Local Natives performed at ACL Live as the featured act for the Umbel / Vox event. G Love and Special Sauce (see slideshow) entertained fans at Stubb's BBQ. Examiner opted to support local artists at Do512's Epic Interactive Party featuring Robert DeLong with one of Austin's best acts, The Octopus Project.

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The Octopus Project are often described as an electro-pop band. That description, although sufficient, does not do justice to this band who we think of as a polished, experimental, psych-pop group that continues to push the boundaries of their own genre. Visually, their shows are stunning. Well coordinated bit-map projections compliment rather than overshadow what has become an impressive catalog of songs. If you have not had a listen to their latest effort, "Fever Forms" we urge you to stream the album to see why we love this band so much.

Last night we caught the members of The Octopus Project hustling into Empire Control Room from an earlier gig and hastily set up for what turned out to be another scintillating performance by the group. The outside stage at the venue was crammed with festival goers who stood transfixed by the incredible visuals behind the band and projected onto either wall of the garage-like room. We captured a bit of Instagram video of their crowd-pleasing song, "Truck." No matter how many times we see this act, their shows constantly amaze. Few Austin bands translate their live performances from studio to stage as well as The Octopus Project.

After spending part of last year touring with Devo and further spreading their influence across the country one would expect The Octopus Project to take a deserved break. Instead the group composed the score of independent film, "Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter" winning a Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Award for Musical Score. The win highlighted the exceptional song-writing that has become the band's hallmark.

The Octopus Project will appear at The North Door as part of a SXSW official showcase with Sorne, Zorch, Holiday Mountain, Major Major Major and Hikes on Tuesday, March 11 before heading to France for two dates at the end of the month. Be sure to check our slideshow featuring images shot last night by Examiner columnist and photographer Suzanne Cordeiro

In the early evening yesterday at the KLRU television studio on the University of Texas campus Overheard PBS host Evan Smith welcomed Jason Schwartzman to the studio. The actor whose film debut was indie-cult hit, "Rushmore" has been in Austin since February filming a new movie. The socially awkward, but charming Schwartzman mentioned he jumped at the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time in Austin to work on comedy, "Seven Chinese Brothers" with local filmmaker, Bob Byington. The film will also star Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck).

Fans may not be aware that Schwartzman descends from Hollywood royalty. His mother, actress Talia Shire (Rocky) is the sister of acclaimed director, Francis Ford Coppola. The actor told Smith his mother is naturally shy and eschewed film sets during his childhood. Schwartzman did not have aspirations to become a film actor when he was cast in the lead role of "Rushmore" as a teen. A chance meeting in with a casting director who thought he was a natural for the part lead to Schwartzman landing the part. He mentioned as child, he thought being an actor meant starring in blockbuster films like "The Terminator" and "Batman." It was not until he began working with former University of Texas student, Wes Anderson that he realized there was a place for him in film.

Anderson and Schwartzman have become close friends over the years. The actor has a deep respect and admiration for the quirky director. "I've never seen anyone work harder (on a film) than Wes," the actor emphatically stated as the taping was ending. The actor and director have spent so much time together making movies that their process has evolved into little conversation about a particular scene. Schwartzman recounted being driven to a set in Rhode Island from New York, hopping out of the car, changing into costume and beginning shooting within 20 minutes of arriving on set.

He also spoke highly of comic director, Judd Apatow who he described more than once as "extremely collaborative" and fun to work with. Apatow loves sharing the filmmaking process according to Schwartzman and often invites actors, friends and curious observers to the set during filming. Schwarztman commented that he appreciated being invited to observe the editing process with Apatow during the making of one of the films he starred in. The actor says he has a desire to direct one day but "needs to find a way to focus for more than a few months at time" on projects before delving into that realm.

Look for more SXSW coverage of White Denim at Jimmy Kimmel Live from the Long Center, Heartbreaker Banquet, a special performance by Ludacris and a surprise guest at the Austin Music Awards coming this week.

Insider Tip: Head to Gypsy Lounge Tuesday, March 11 for a special guest at the Sailor Jerry House unofficial kick-off party around midnight. Follow Greg Ackerman and Sailor Jerry on Twitter for updates. No RSVP, wristbands or badges are required. Arrive early as the venue will likely reach capacity.

Special thanks to Ross Bennett, Suzanne Cordeiro, Haley Odom and Jimmy Stewart.

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