Prince Delivers Funk-Filled Finale at SXSW

Justin Timberlake and the Smashing Pumpkins headlined other SXSW wrap-ups nearby

By PAUL J. WEBER
|  Sunday, Mar 17, 2013  |  Updated 12:57 PM EDT
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Rock Stars: Then and Now

AP

This Fall 2012 publicity photo provided by Rogers and Cowan shows musician Prince performing in concert in Chicago. Prince turned off the lights at South by Southwest on Saturday with an unexpected and intimate showcase that ranks among the biggest surprises in years at the star-studded music festival and conference.

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How else would Prince shut down the South by Southwest Music Festival that is basically a weeklong showcase of rock n' roll?

By throwing a totally different kind party: a grooving, brass band-backed funkfest that stretched to 3 a.m. and outlasted many fans lucky to get inside in the first place.

As Justin Timberlake and the Smashing Pumpkins headlined other SXSW wrap-ups nearby, Prince prevailed as the toughest ticket Saturday night by performing for only 300 people in his first appearance at the annual music smorgasboard that featured 2,200 bands and artists this year.

Prince towered over them all — but his concert at the tiny La Zona Rosa club that sits on the fringe of the SXSW mayhem was no grandiose spectacle. He performed on a spartan stage behind a giant video board, and contentedly played bandleader instead of superstar for this funk-filled SXSW finale.

"They called our people and said they wanted some funk in Austin," said Prince, before belting out the last bars of a gentle rendition of "Purple Rain."

A 12-piece brass band joined the latest incarnation of Prince's New Power Generation for a run of hits like "1999" and "Cool" that jammed a groove twist. The show began with the band making a Mardi Gras-style march onto the stage, which was quickly drowned out by shrieks upon the sight of Prince emerging in a magneta, high-collared shirt and snug black blazer.

Few fans, however, came away with photographed keepsakes. Prince is notoriously rigid about controlling his music and image, and organizers warned the crowd three times before the show that taking pictures was forbidden. Fans who flaunted the rule were scolded by security or told to scram.

Even simply using a cell phone was banned— a biting irony, given that the concert was thrown by Samsung Galaxy and promoters worked the crowd beforehand offering customers fresh phone batteries or device test-drives.

Prince never played guitar during the set. Nor did he perform his new single "Screwdriver" that debuted earlier this year, opting instead for funk covers: Curtis Mayfield's "We're a Winner" and Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Until You Get Enough" among them as the night dragged on and weary fans made their way to the exits early.

"Don't make me hurt you. You know how many hits I got?" Prince said during the first of several pseudo-set closers, before launching into yet another encore.

Green Day, Dave Grohl, Vampire Weekend, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks also starred at SXSW this week.

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