Prince's six-encore SXSW show: A moment-by-moment report
You know that old Texas saying, “Keep Austin weird“?
Well, Prince really helped that cause on Saturday night, when he took his massive band to Austin’s La Zona Rosa for the Samsung Galaxy showcase: they wore animal caps, danced with a circus ringleader, and capped off a long week of SXSW mania.
Fans were so excited about the show that they arrived at the venue at 9 p.m. and waited for two full hours before even the openers took the stage. (That would be A Tribe Called Quest, who were excellent.) Then they waited another half hour while Prince set up. At which point they were treated to two and a half hours of crazy fun.
So what happened? Below is a moment-by-moment recap of what must’ve been a thrilling/exhausting night for His Purple Majesty. (The guy is 54 years old. So much energy!) Here’s how it all went down.
12:30 a.m.: A very tall, gorgeous woman, dressed in a pants-free costume that makes her look like a pink circus ringleader, walks out on stage wearing a gold Mardi Gras mask. “It’s Naomi Campbell!” shouts the woman behind me. Sadly, this is not true. “Please welcome Company Play!” announces the Lady Who’s Not Naomi Campbell. And that’s when the animals arrive.
12:31 a.m.: From the very back of the room, a string of musicians marches toward the stage like a New Orleans second line, dancing while they play. The guys in the brass section are all wearing fuzzy plush hats that look like animal heads. I spot a fox, a raccoon, a frog, and a bear before I realize that there are too many to write down. The fierce-looking lady back-up singers, at least two of whom have shaved heads, are shaking tambourines. There are 22 people in Prince’s band. 22!
12:32 a.m.: When they’ve made it to the stage, the horns blast, and there before us is Prince. He looks amazing. He is wearing a black, ’70s-style suit with a bright pink shirt and a matching handkerchief, and a massively chunky silver necklace that may or may not have been designed for ladies. He’s also holding a cane that appears to be made out of ten billion diamonds. It is blinding. The band is playing a song about bright lights and big cities, and Prince is singing “Something tells me this is gonna be fun!”
12:40 a.m.: One of Prince’s back-up singers, whose bouffant hairdo and black vintage dress make her look a little like Adele, launches into a fabulous, gospel-inspired take on “1999” while Prince mock-dramatically dabs his face with his handkerchief. He makes the best faces. This one says: Please! Do not interrupt the face-dabbing, or I will cut you!
12:43 a.m.: Prince sits down at the keyboard and plays some amazingly complicated jazz-inspired runs like it’s no big thing. Then he launches into a series of excellent Prince yowls. There’s the uh-uh. There’s the owwww-ah! And there’s the amazingly high-pitched heee-HEEEE! A few brave souls try to sing along to the howling and fail miserably. Most of us just let Prince do his thing, because he is Prince, and his thing is being awesome.
12:44 a.m.: The circus ringleader shoots streamers from a cannon! The crowd cheers!
12:45 a.m.: Confetti explodes down from the ceiling! The crowd cheers louder!
12:46 a.m.: Prince yells, “Turn the lights off!” and the room gets pitch black. Prince’s drummer plays a crazy drum solo in the dark. The only thing we can see are the glow-in-the-dark lights he has strung down the front of his shirt and around the cuffs of his sleeves. Those cuff lights are moving very quickly.
12:47 a.m.: When he’s done, the band starts to play the ballad “Shhh!” while the screen behind them lights up with images of falling rose petals. One member of Prince’s band starts singing and playing a clarinet-like instrument that digitally alters his voice. Then another member of the band does the same thing. Then both of them do it together. Battle of the Autotune-inets! Or whatever they’re called!
12:59 a.m.: Prince’s guitarist Donna Grantis, who has long hair that’s shaved on one side and looks like one tough chick, plays a mind-bending metalhead solo. “Open up your third eye and listen!” suggests Prince. Done! It sounds so good, I’d also like to open my third ear.
1:03 a.m.: The band transitions into playing “Musicology” and Prince name-checks a few classic favorites in the song: “‘Let’s Groove’ / ‘September’ / Earth, Wind and Fire / ‘Hot Pants’ by James / Sly’s gonna take u higher!” Then he smiles. “I know some old people in this room know what I’m talking about!” he says, laughing. “Don’t you ever touch my stereo!”
1:10 a.m.: Up next is “Extralovable,” also known as the song where Prince offers to take a shower with you. “Where’s my rollerskates?” Prince asks before starting the song. But as soon as the music kicks in, he’s spinning around on stage, faster and faster. Who needs skates when you’ve got feet like that?
1:18 a.m.: Instrumental interlude, played while Prince disappears backstage and a night sky is projected on the screen behind the band. Watching it feels like when you’re in a casino and you don’t know what time of day it is because you’ve been there so long. Maybe this is Prince’s reminder: it’s still nighttime, people!
1:20 a.m.: Prince emerges from backstage wearing a black and white patterned shirt. (Note: costume change no. 1.) “Austin, Texas!” he shouts. “Just like I pictured it. Y’all got a whole lotta guitar players up here, dontcha?” The first strains of “Purple Rain” begin, and people really lose their minds. One very tiny woman in the crowd starts jumping up and down very fast, hoisting herself up from the stage, as if she’s on an invisible pogo stick. “You can sing if you want to,” Prince offers generously. And, boy, does she.
1:22 a.m.: When Prince comes to the line about only wanting to be some kind of friend, he turns and purrs, “Can I find a friend in Texas?” The crowd screams. He continues to coo his way through the lyrics, kneeling down on stage, getting quiet, then building and building up to an avalanche of Ohh hoo hoo hoos.
The whole room has joined in, and many people are singing with their eyes closed. When the song is over, they erupt into applause. “What a night, huh?” says Prince, just before disappearing off stage. “I love being a musician! It feels like a servant. A servant for you.” Okay, so that’s a weird thing to say. But weird is good in Austin! Keep on serving us, Prince!
1:25 a.m.: Stage goes dark. Chanting starts: Prince! Prince! Prince!
1:26 a.m. (FIRST ENCORE): “The afterparty starts right now!” declares Prince, who has just returned to the stage wearing a hat that’s tipped to one side. (Note: costume change no. 2.) The band starts playing Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough.” “Y’all alright?” asks Prince, perhaps noticing the first signs of fatigue. “You got somewhere to go? You got a curfew?” Nooooo! yells the crowd.
1:28 a.m.: “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” segues into “Cool,” and Prince teaches us how to spell out the letters C-O-O-L using one hand raised above our heads. “Austin!” he calls out. “Is it hot in here? Do you know why? Because you’re cool!” Everyone is dancing. “Austin!” he calls again. “Is it hot in here? Do you know why? Because… it’s really hot in here.” He laughs. By the time the song is done, and Prince leaves the stage once more, the steam is rising off the crowd.
1:32 a.m.: Stage goes dark. A few people leave. Chanting starts: Prince! Prince! Prince!
1:36 a.m. (SECOND ENCORE): “Can we jam for a minute like we do in Minneapolis?” asksPrince, who has just returned to the stage, wearing a black vest. (Note: costume change no. 3.) “How many people have heard of Curtis Mayfield?” [Cheers!] “Oh!” jokes Prince. “Some old people in the house!”
1:37 a.m.: The band starts into Mayfield’s “We’re a Winner,” which segues into Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man The Way that I Love You” (sung by one of the fierce bald ladies), which segues into Prince’s own “Satisfied.” At one point, Prince pretends to faint. The woman who’s not Naomi Campbell drags him away from the mic and revives him.
1:43 a.m.: While performing “Housequake,” Prince delivers the night’s best non-sequitur: “Everybody clap your hands! / Don’t wait for your neighbor / Green eggs and ham!”
1:47 a.m.: After a rousing take on “The Bird,” which works the crowd into a frenzy of whoa-whoa-whoas, Prince salutes the audience. “Goodnight, Austin!” he says, walking off stage, again. [Cheers!] He double-takes. “Don’t make me hurt you!” he threatens. “You know how many hits I got? My middle name is Eleven Hours Energy!”
1:52 a.m.: Stage goes dark. More people leave. People are getting too tired to chant. So they clap. Clap clap clap!
2:00 a.m. (THIRD ENCORE): Prince returns to the stageto take on “Jungle Love” by the Time, prompting the crowd to do the oh-wee-oh-wee-ohs, and then starts into “The Glamorous Life.” A woman in the front wrestles the microphone from him and hollers her way through the chorus. “I’m scared of you!” says Prince. They finish out the song together. The band does the grand-finale-horns thing that late-night shows’ house bands do to signal that the theme song’s done. (See also: the sound at 0:50 in this clip.)
2:10 a.m.: Prince leaves the stage. Again. People clap wildly. Again. “This is great, but it’s also exhausting,” sighs the woman standing behind me. “I think Prince has left the building,” says the man next to her. “No,” says his girlfriend. “You just want to believe that so you can go home!”
2:11 a.m. (FOURTH ENCORE): Prince returns. Brocade vest. (Costume change No. 4.) Runs through “Let’s Work.” And “U Got the Look.” Donna Grantis gets another solo. “Is that enough?” Prince challenges. Very sleepy cheers follow.
2:24 a.m.: Stage goes dark. Very slow clapping ensues. People still love Prince. But they are falling asleep.
2:25 a.m. (FIFTH ENCORE): Prince returns. Gold shoes. (Costume change No. 5.) He is twirling a drum stick like a baton. He plays “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute),” and maybe another song or two, and maybe there is a unicorn on stage playing the upright bass and… wait, sorry! We’re awake now! We’re awake! And Prince is declaring, yet again, “Thank you, goodnight!”
2:40 a.m.: Stage goes dark. The “Prince has left the building” guy? Well, he’s leaving the building. Along with a few dozen others who just couldn’t make it. The rest of us rally. We are cheering! One more time!
2:41 a.m. (SIXTH ENCORE): “They say we got 20 more minutes,” Prince shares. “You think we can make it the best 20 minutes of our lives?” Screams! Also: Prince is wearing a plush lion hat. (Costume change No. 6.) And he looks adorable. So there’s that to keep us energized! He roars through “Act of God,” Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” and the Jackson 5’s “Dancing Machine.” He is dancing up a storm, doing the rollerskate spin, the comb-my-hair move, the criss-cross-your-gold-shoes move. He even pulls people out of the crowd up on stage — mostly women, but there’s one big guy up there, too, and he has a huge smile on his face. “It ain’t over!” gasps Prince as he retreats off stage. “IT AIN’T OVER!”
2:56 a.m.: It’s over.
2:57 a.m.: Prince’s band returns to give one final bow. And Prince himself gets a standing ovation. Granted, we were already standing — for the past six hours. But after a show that was this high energy, the guy deserves a six-hour standing ovation.
3:02 a.m.: A few true believers remain, changing, Prince! Prince Prince! “Thanks for coming out!” says a voice over the speakers. “We’ll see you soon!” The lights turn on. But the true believers keep chanting, One more song! One more song!
Hours later: They might still be there now, if no one forces them to go home.