Is there a better finale for five days at South by Southwest than a brass band born out of New Orleans' second-line funeral march traditions? Not this year. In truth, though, one of the reasons we wound up at the Hot 8 showcase on Rainey Street was our easy decision to get as far away from Sixth Street as possible. Austin's answer to Bourbon Street was in its most delirious state Saturday, bulging with hanger-ons and spring breakers who are to SXSW what rubberneckers are to traffic. There was no one performing on Sixth worth the hassle or aroma. Maybe if the rumors of Jack White playing again proved true this year I'd have braved it, but he, too, probably didn't want to deal with the seemingly uncontrollable masses.
BEST OF THE DAY: An up and coming part of the NOLA scene when Spike Lee spotlighted them in his post-Katrina documentaries "When the Levees Broke," the Hot 8 Brass Band are finally starting to tour more beyond Louisiana, which makes them perfect for SXSW exposure. They closed out the party along Rainey at the patio of the Half Step and seemed to display the mixed emotions most attendees and performers feel at the end: glad it's almost over, but it's not over yet. Theirs is a little more contemporary brand of brass funk, with more rap-flavored vocals and extra blasts of bombastic funk. They started with a P-Funk medley and ended with a surprisingly hard-rocking "Sexual Healing," returning for an encore -- a rarity during SXSW -- to do their chanting hometown homage "504." Here's hoping they make it to Minnesota before the next SXSW.
BEST OF THE NIGHT BECAUSE IT WAS OUTSIDE AT NIGHT: One band we already know is coming to Minneapolis -- their April 13 gig at First Avenue sold out fast -- Phantogram wound down its SXSW run on the same hi-fi, high-elevation "Guitar Center Sessions" stage, atop a parking garage where I caught Damon Albarn's taping two nights earlier. Unlike the rather flat Albarn, though, the Upstate New York electronic rockers rose to the impressive settings. Many of the songs on the group's new album, "Voices," reflected the stage's swirling, lights and cosmopolitan vibe with their wildly whirring atmospheric tone and strutting rhythms. One the rockiest of the batch, "Nothing But Trouble," came off especially eerily, while the 2010 hit "Mouthful of Diamonds" shimmered under the stars and city lights, too. Singer Sarah Barthel similarly showed more spark and spectacle than before, dancing with her jet-black hair over her face every chance she could get out from behind her keyboards. Here's hoping the First Ave gig is as mesmerizing, even if it has to be on the ground floor.
THE PARTY TO END ALL PARTIES: Somehow, not-exactly-cool TV cooking show host Rachael Ray has become the host of the biggest closing-day party for the all-too-cool South by Southwest Music Conference. Ray's latest Feedback soirée at Stubb's BBQ was as festive as any, with ample free grub and cocktails and a extra lively dance-party sets by both Cee Lo Green and Blondie.
Sandwiched between Blondie and Cee Lo on the hilltop stage opposite the main Stubb's stage -- what a choice time slot! -- Har Mar Superstar and his band kept the party going with a wham-bam tear through "Tallboy," "Lady You Shot Me," "Restless Leg" and other recent standards. He actually stopped the fun in a good way when he sent his band off stage he stood there shirtless with a guitar and sang a naked cover of Sam Cooke's "Bring it on Home." It was a bigger wow moment and prettier finale than his old show-stopping routine of taking his pants off.
"I'm your adult entertainment for the evening," Cee Lo said as he took the stage with female band mates dressed in see-through garb befitting a Las Vegas dancer. He went on to sing funked-up David Bowie and MGMT songs and reunited with his former Goodie Mob mate Big Gipp. After four days in Austin, Blondie's Debbie Harry fought through a raspy voice but had plenty of help from the crowd during a rowdy cover of the Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right (To Party)" -- perfect for the occasion.
BAD RAP/WRAP ON THE FEST?: Los Angeles rapper Tyler the Creator was read his rights at the Austin airport Saturday. The hubbub on SXSW's final day was Tyler's arrest for inciting a riot at his showcase a night earlier. Online video shows the ringleader of the juvenile rap crew Odd Future telling fans outside the packed show to break down barricades and rush in, which they did. By coincidence, Tyler was the performer about to go on at Mohawk nightclub on Thursday morning when the fatal car rampage happened outside the venue. He had a pretty easy opportunity to make a positive return after the tragedy, but instead he stupidly put more people in danger -- in a year when the atmosphere at SXSW had already grown so volatile with the overcrowding on the streets. Too bad he'll wind up being the rapper most talked about after the fest, not Nas, Schoolboy Q or Chance the Rapper.
See all our SXSW coverage and Tony Nelson's photo galleries at startribune.com/sxsw.