Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

SXSW 2013: it’s going to be a beautiful night

SXSW 2013 comes to a close in Austin with a three hour funk and soul extravangza from Prince and his 22-piece band

Can you hear me, Austin? (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Samsung)

Mon, Mar 18, 2013, 09:29


There ain’t no party like a purple party. From early week in Austin, it was clear that there was only going to be one place to be when SXSW came to a close in the early hours of Sunday morning. Whatever else about what happened during the week – all those superstar jams, all those new bands swaggering into town, all those big acts in small rooms – Prince playing La Zona Rosa was in another league entirely.

There’s many reasons for this. When we think about superstar acts, we think about them on a pedestal. By virtue of what they’ve done in the past, they’ve earned that position, that luxury. Sure, in most cases, superstars get by on fumes from back in the day. The hits are hits from the golden era when hits were really hits, songs which were international humdingers which went on sell loads and loads of albums and ensure the act had international traction. Superstar acts still come through today but not as many and with not the same frequency as before. We also don’t know about their sustainability. Do you really think acts like Coldplay, The Killers and Lady Gaga will still matter 20 years from now?

Real pop stars are in another league. As the gig begins, you gawk at the stage and, ten feet away, Prince Rogers Nelson stares back at the audience with a grin on his face. He looks extraordinary. You note the hot pink shirt, the glittering cane and the massive chunky necklace. You’re not on Sixth Street with its uniform sloppy sneakers and sweaty t-shirts now, man. Then, Prince starts to move, the 22 piece band begin to play with a confidence and swagger which is quite staggering (there’s not a missed or bum note all night long) and the go-go funkaganza is on.

We’ve all heard about those classic shows, the ones where artists stretch themselves and take the audience to another place, the ones which are talked about again and again and again. Thing is Prince often does shows like this. He’s known for playing post-show shows where he goes on and on until the break of dawn. This was from that department, a show which Prince and co teased and tantalised and punched one way and then the next. This was Prince showing off, though a few costume changes and half-a-dozen encores, just what he and his New Power Generation band are capable of doing on a Saturday night. It was always going to be a beautiful night.

His band deserve their own paragraph. It wasn’t so much the set’s content (a couple of classics like “1999″, a lot of obscure cuts and some great covers) or the context (Saturday night fever at SXSW in Austin, TX) which mattered as much as the manner of it. Prince’s band were red-hot, turning themselves this way and that on everything from “Musicology” to “Purple Rain” to “Housequake” to a fantastic cover of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough”. Every song was a groove, every groove was a moment to savour.

The frontman? He deserves his own book. When you talk about great pop acts, the ones with soul and funk and panache and pizzazz and wow, the ones who vamp and scream and make you vamp and scream, you’re talking about dudes like Prince. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore – and if they do, they’re cloning them from what he’s done in the past. The man from Minneapolis did not have touch a guitar tonight and was more band-leader than pop star, but that star quality – that unique, intangiable, unmistakable, unmatchable characteristic which many want and only a few possess – was present from start to finish.

Star power: that’s why we hung around, that’s why we swapped other SXSW closing parties for this one, that’s why we kept yearning from more, that’s why we’re still keen students of the game. Star power: from James Brown to Prince. Star power: you can’t fake that. Star power.