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Photos by Michael Hollett and John Kastner.
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A Tribe Called Quest.
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The prince of pop, Prince.
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On a night when Smashing Pumpkins, Justin Timberlake, Kendrick Lamar and a city-filled with other choices beckon, Prince and openers A Tribe Called Quest playinh the legendary Austin club La Zona Rosa are the irresistible choice.
SXSW pass-holders in a lineup that runs blocks outside the club are assured entrance. Police rush up to push me back still a half block from the door as a Black SUV pulls to a stop a few feet a way. I spot Prince through the ride's clear front window but as it pulls along beside me, the dark side glass reveals little till the power windows slide down and Prince offers a friendly wave - acting every bit his royal namesake - as the vehicle disappears around the building.
Once inside the remodeled room, the stage juts deep into the crowd, a demand from Prince to accommodate the over-stuffed show. The city is filled with whispers of special guests at the jam-packed roster of shows but it looks like Justin Timberlake will be jamming without one of the rumoured stars as Jay-Z jams past me to squeeze into the side-stage VIP area. Eventually Green Day, Questlove and a stack of movie stars inch in, while folk legend Suzanne Vega dances at the back of the room.
A Tribe Called Quest delivers a fantastic set that has a crowd largely there to see someone else singing and dancing with the band on-demand. The often-over band jokes about breaking up again to a crowd that hopes they don't. Q-Tip goofs about cleaning the stage with his towel near the end of their set, "Something I would never do, except for Prince."
After a brief changeover, police start forging a path in front of me as Prince's immense horn section squeezes through the crowd, playing like jazz musicians at a New Orleans funeral.
Immense band assembled at the front of the room, Prince takes the stage in a stunning blue suit and perfectly matched red shirt and pocket square, swinging a gem-topped cane, in full swagger mode. The show is a Soul Revue with Prince serving as a dancing, prancing bandleader, offering the talented ensemble a series of full-on solos that make the night a riff-filled extravaganza. The room comes to a full stop for hits like Purple Rain and kicks off a dance party for 1999.
Prince beams throughout and plays tracks by other legends including Curtis Mayfield and Michael Jackson. Four costume changes later and a 50-minute second encore later, Prince leaves an exhausted crowd certain they made the right choice attending his gig on an option-filled last night of SXSW.