Operating under the unwritten rule that everything cool at South by Southwest must involve a long line, New York's darling rock hipsters the Strokes somehow managed to turn a free, general-admission concert at a scenic riverfront park into an ugly, velvet-rope-like scene Thursday night.
Fans started climbing fences after the grounds reached capacity (about 25,000 people), and SXSW badgeholders with VIP connections fought the same porto-john lines as all the riled-up Austin teens in attendance.
For the Strokes themselves, the concert proved to be more of a stabilizer, as rumors of band turmoil and lukewarm reviews for their new record were glossed over by a smooth, tight, rabidly received performance. Fireworks detonated during the finale "Last Nite" -- a sort of thank-you to Austin from SXSW organizers on the event's 25th anniversary -- which certainly added to the sparkle.
Fireworks were blowing off elsewhere, too. Another revered New York band, TV on the Radio, came off hiatus with an electrifying 12:30 a.m. set under the stars at Stubb's, where the band also performed in the heat Friday afternoon at Spin magazine's annual day-party. Sparks also flew at La Zona Rosa late Thursday, where attendees were disappointed to learn of last-minute cancellations by Cee-Lo Green and rapper Lupe Fiasco (for reasons not quite clear) -- but their replacement was R&B fireball Janelle Monae, returning to the fest where she burst out in 2009.
While the Strokes concert showed off Austin's picturesque skyline and spring weather, the city also used SXSW to showcase the Moody Theater, the new $40 million home of PBS's "Austin City Limits." New Orleans institution the Preservation Hall Jazz Band played the palatial studio Thursday with My Morning Jacket rocker Jim James as a guest.
Across downtown and about $39.9 million cheaper, the dingy club Mohawk was filled by sonically stylish Minneapolis-based all-star band Gayngs and its "affiliyated" offshoots such as Marijuana Deathsquads and Slapping Purses.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisRstrib