Valerie June's sweet Southern lilt touched on indie-rock, soul and even country at SXSW.
Valerie June's sweet Southern lilt touched on indie-rock, soul and even country at SXSW.
Craig Hlavaty

March Madness

SXSW 2011 was one for the books, all right — the police blotters and ambulance logs. Every day of the annual Austin music festival, reports came across the wire of fights, gate-crashing, injuries and unruly behavior by performers and audiences alike. Much of the mayhem seemed to be connected to rap group Odd Future, the L.A. "New-Tang Clan" that was easily this year's most talked-about act and whom headlines, buzz and trouble followed around SXSW like a stray dog. But not all of it.

The crowd at The Strokes' Auditorium Shores performance Thursday didn't let the fact that it was a free show stop them from storming the fences; four people were injured when a camera boom collapsed just before British synth-pop duo OMD's Friday-night set at Stubb's; and, most notoriously, Screeching Weasel front man Ben Weasel scuffled with two female fans during the Chicago punk band's Scoot Inn gig Friday, an especially ugly incident that was uploaded to YouTube almost immediately.

Part of what happened last week can be ascribed to plain bad behavior, part of it to alcohol, part of it to bad luck and part of it to the insatiable demand for live music that SXSW has created over 25 years. Sunday morning, Managing Director Roland Swenson told Austin's KXAN-TV that the festival would look into scaling back its free events next year, although it's hard to imagine how that could happen at this point.

Nevertheless, there were a few sublime musical moments amid all the chaos. Here are a few, as selected by the full-time Houston Press staffers covering the event — Craig Hlavaty, Brittanie Shey and me. See more SXSW coverage on our Rocks Off music blog at

Chris Gray

Bright Light Social Hour: Friends and former colleagues had been telling me that the Social Hour was the brightest light of Austin's current music scene for a few months, but even that was no preparation for what I saw Saturday at the Austin Music Awards. First BLSS cleaned up in the awards, then they nearly blew the roof off the Austin Music Hall with a streetwalkin'-cheetah set that not only made it easy to see why they took Song of the Year for rock and soul muscle car "Detroit," but put drummer Joseph Mirasole on the short list of the most gonzo stickmen since Keith Moon with his flipped-out solo during the band's cover of The Who's "Young Man Blues." C.G.

Death From Above 1979: It was a fan's dream. Even though this titanic-sounding Canadian bass-and-drums duo only released one LP, one EP and a remix album before a late 2005 breakup, they cultivated a following of rabid punks, indie-rockers and metal freaks. Their Saturday-night reunion at Beauty Bar became a mini-riot, complete with a downed fence, flying beer cans and mounted police officers deploying mace, tasers and extreme force to quell the crowd that couldn't get inside the tiny patio venue. But how did DFA sound? Great, amazing, just like the past six years hadn't gone by in silence. Craig Hlavaty

Bob Geldof: In his St. Patrick's Day keynote speech laced with sprightly Irish humor and salted with f-bombs, the former Boomtown Rats front man spoke for almost an hour on a deadly serious topic: "The End of Relevance." Geldof called rock and roll "America's greatest cultural gift to the world," cited its lingering influence on the events unfolding in Cairo and Tripoli, then said it no longer had anything worthwhile to say and challenged the music-biz bigwigs on hand to do something about it. Yes, he mentioned Live Aid a couple of times too. C.G.

Valerie June: With a tangle of dreadlocks, a sweet Southern lilt, an obsession with kitchenware, and a musical template touching on Cat Power, Erykah Badu and even the vintage sheen of Justin Townes Earle, June was pleasing to most every sense. Her voice alone had me enthralled as I was leaning against a toaster oven in the converted banquet-hall venue, naturally. "Shotgun" hit the crowd square in the forehead and shut up the squawkers in her midst. C.H.

M Pour Montreal: I have a fairly strict "no-waiting-in-line" policy for SXSW, so when I arrived to the NPR day show to see a line stretching down Sixth Street, I opted instead to duck inside the bar next door for the M Pour Montreal showcase. At any random day party, liking two out of two bands is a pretty rare treat, and Thursday they were Grimes — a one-woman-band who layers synth loops and vocals à la Imogen Heap but with a voice like Claudine Longet — and Pat Jordache, whose vintage pop and lumberjack voice reminded me of early Steve Winwood. Brittanie Shey

OMD: I was only five years old when Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark "went all Hollywood" (their words) on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, so I wasn't familiar with their earlier stuff. Founding duo Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were introduced Friday afternoon at Stubb's by Moby, who said he never would have started making electronic music were it not for OMD, then later joined them on bass for a few songs. This was before the boom hit the fans, and getting a second chance to discover one of the most influential synth-pop bands in history was a high point of the weekend. B.S.


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