Is it possible to overdose on funk jams? Fans (or just Samsung phone owners that won tickets) lucky enough to watch Prince’s show at La Zona Rosa in Austin, Texas last night were certainly in danger of too much of the stuff – at the expense of his meatier material.
Prince hit the stage at the 1,200 capacity venue for the SXSW 2013 closing party with a 22-piece band, including full horn ensemble, two different drummers, a guitarist revealed as the ‘Third Eye Girl’ and a couple of phenomenal dancers. He introduced almost each and every one (the drummer John Blackwell thrice, in fact) of the New Power Generation before they embarked on lengthy instrumental solos. It was, at times, a little watery.
Still, that’s Prince – he’s performed shows for decades now where he’s relied heavily on his orchestra and backing vocalists at the expense of himself – and, anyway, it wasn’t a listless performance in the slightest. Dressed, at first, in a bright cerise long-collared shirt underneath a navy blue suit with a diamante cane and silver necklace that looked like mermaid scales, he held the orchestra in the palm of his hand, conducting and directing with extraordinary control. With a flick of his wrist and a ‘less drums!’ or ‘bass!’ he brought different instruments to the fore. He flirted with the audience, flashing his cartoonish, wide-eyed grin, showing off 720 degree spins and throwing the mic and drum sticks into the audience before choosing women from the crowd to dance on stage.
Classics such as ‘1999’, ‘Purple Rain’, ‘U Got The Look’, ‘Musicology’ and ‘Housequake’ were mixed with covers of Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough’, Janet Jackson’s ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately?’, ‘Dancing Machine’ by the Jackson 5, and snippets of Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)’ and Curtis Mayfield’s ‘We’re A Winner’. Other tracks included ‘Extraloveable’, ‘Satisified’, ‘The Glamorous Life’ (a song written for Sheila E.) and ‘Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)’ which Prince played on the keys. Highlights were a stripped-down ‘Shhh’ with a stunning guitar solo (unfortunately not by Prince who didn’t touch his guitar once) and watching Prince dance ‘The Bird’ as he dug into The Time material (‘Jungle Love’, ‘COOL’).
Prince left the stage and returned six times, changing his outfit from the pink shirt and suit combination to a ruffled affair, a classic ‘Purple Rain’ era black sleeveless vest and a bear ‘Spirit Hood’ alongside the rest of the orchestra. He played for almost three hours in the end although only around 20 per cent of that time featured him as the centre piece. When you’ve got the one of the greatest frontmen of all time five rows in front of you, watching a band of random (in comparison) but brilliant musicians funk out for ten minutes is, at best, not a priority, and at worst, frustrating and tedious. “Don’t make me hurt you – you know how many hits I have?” he yelled at the audience at one point, which was strange considering the set had few hits and lots of covers or songs he’d written for other people.
The show was set against spectacular graphics of 90s-style slinkys, gauche rose petals and backgrounds that looked as it they’d been made using Microsoft Windows ’95. Thankfully the ‘SAMSUNG GALAXY’ flashing background that remained during A Tribe Called Quest’s frenetic warm-up set had been removed. It didn’t stop Prince saying “I want to say a very special thank you to Samsung” towards the end of the show. I preferred the next sentence:
I love being a musician. I feel like I’m a servant… a servant to you
La Zona Rosa was certainly turned into a purple party last night – the mercury rose and the band pushed it to the max. Yet at times it did feel a bit Vegas cabaret, a little jazz hands. The key problem? There simply wasn’t enough Prince and he leant too heavily on his band. I was desperate to hear more of his voice. Still, a mediocre Prince show is still better than most gigs I’ll ever go to.
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