@ZackTeibloom “Ain’t no party like a purple party, ’cause a purple party don’t stop.” Prince first said this early Sunday morning during his 50-minute-long second encore. When he said it again somewhere around his fourth or fifth encore, the artist currently known as Prince had the crowd wondering if the purple party would ever stop, and hoping it wouldn’t. Those of us in the front row may have been standing in line since 7:15 p.m., and continuously stayed on our feet for the next seven and a half hours, but when Prince said “We’ve only got 20 minutes left. Let’s make them the best twenty minutes of our lives,” at 2:40 a.m., we summoned what little energy we had left on the last day of SXSW to see what the man in purple would do next. Well, those of us who were left did. But we’ll get to that.
In the 36 hours leading up to the show, after getting an e-mail with the subject “Winner! Prince” it was hard to fathom that we were actually seeing him, and in such a small venue. We scrambled to find any purple in our wardrobes and I had to decide between wearing an Adrian Peterson jersey and just wearing a normal collared shirt, opting for the latter as to not to pull a “Silver Linings Playbook” move and wear a football jersey to a nice event. The purple army was strong in a line that had multiple police officers shutting down the block and surrounding areas. One sassy woman saw another wearing the same purple blouse as her and loudly exclaimed “Oh, no! You best be taking that off!” at her. Game, blouses. The line grew restless as the 8 p.m. door time was moved to 9 and then at 9:45 we finally entered La Zona Rosa and my friend Charles and I found our way to the very front row on the audience left, next to the VIP area on top of the stage. We watched Snoop and Omar from The Wire chatting and taking pictures with other fringe celebs like Isiah Washington as we waited for A Tribe Called Quest to take the stage. After an hour of minimal to no sound checking and nothing going on on stage, It went from “I can’t believe we’re seeing Prince” to “When the hell are we going to see Prince?”
At 11:10 A Tribe Called Quest took the stage and were just dynamite. My experience with them before Saturday night was limited to one liners like “Can I kick it? Yes ya can!” but I was blown away with what a tight, smart, hilarious group they are. They played a 50-minute set churning out jam after jam, dancing in unison, getting the crowd to put all their fists up, and getting every last person to do it before proceeding. They joked about how they should break up and get back together again, and then chided the audience for not getting the joke and knowing their history. When one of them said they were just chipping golf balls when they got the call to come open for Prince, they asked another member of the Tribe what he was doing. An audience member yelled out “Jerking it!” and they busted up laughing. I recommend checking out these five six-second vines below to get a taste of how great they were as openers.
- Tribe Called Quest Dance in Unison
- “Can Y’all Kick it?”
- “Take Money, money”
- “Say Oh my god”
- More Tribe Being Awesome
The show felt like it could have been sufficiently amazing after an hour and a “Purple Rain” encore, but when he came out for encore number two and said “the after party starts right now,” we’d eventually learn the after party would be longer than the party. He covered Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” in that lengthy second encore and a new narrative unfolded: How much Prince can you handle? During that MJ cover, I glanced over to see “Snoop” from “The Wire,” as we both had huge goofy grins, me dancing from the front row, she dancing from VIP and laughed at how surreal it all was. Prince was covering Michael Jackson and we were close enough to touch him.
“Thank you, Austin. Don’t make me hurt you. You know how many hits I got?” He hurt us, as the hits just kept coming, playing originals like “Extra Loveable,”Satisfied,” “U Got The Look,” “Musicology,” and “Housequake” and mixed in all kinds of covers. He didn’t leave the Jackson family alone, covering Janet’s “What have you done for me lately?” and the Jackson 5’s “Dancin’ Machine” and Curtis Mayfield’s “We’re a Winner” and pulled from The Time’s catalog for “Cool” and danced The Bird during “Jungle Love.” It was all spectacular, but I was still waiting for Prince to pick up a guitar.
But besides not wearing purple, the biggest surprise was that the artist Rolling Stone called the 33rd best guitarist of all time never picked up a guitar. Not once for the entire show. With a 22-piece band behind you, including two incredible female guitarists, maybe you can rest on being the band-leader and singer, but it was a bit disappointing to not see Prince’s guitar chops. His band is world-class, but no big names, so to hear them play a ten-minute funk jam for encore number four as Prince just faux conducted them was enjoyable, but maybe not the best use of the talent on stage. Still, this was 160 minutes of Prince being incredible, so I’m not complaining.
When Prince was coming back for a fifth encore and then a sixth and then a bow, Snoop was nowhere to be seen, and she wasn’t alone. The crowd had thinned out to nearly half, but those of us there still chanted “Prince! Prince! Prince!” at 3:01 a.m. until the sound guy finally turned the house music on and said “Good night, thanks for coming out”. The 54 year-old magical alien being of a man seemed appalled that they were making him leave so early. “You heard of five-hour energy? My name is 11-hour energy!” At 28, I could barely stand another minute. I shuffled out the door, thrilled to have been lucky enough to have seen this once in a lifetime show and biked the three miles home through crazy Saturday night SXSW traffic and felt like I was floating as my ears rang harder than they’ve ever rung. (36 hours later and they’re still ringing when it’s quiet.)
Two weeks ago, Charles’ brother Rob asked me who my #1 artist was that I wanted to see live, but hadn’t yet. I debated Bowie or the Stones or a re-united Led Zeppelin before confidently settling on Prince. He did not disappoint. I’ll give it a 9.9/10 and say it’s the third best concert I’ve ever seen, only behind Paul McCartney at Minute Maid and Jack White at SXSW last year. I still need to see Prince again with Caitlin at my side and a guitar in Prince’s hands, but this was one I will never forget.
Photo by John Sciulli for Samsung