On TV last night, NBC broadcast a special tribute episode of Saturday Night Live for Prince — who died unexpectedly Thursday at 57 — including sketches of Fred Armisen impersonating Prince alongside Maya Rudolph as Beyonce. Over on HBO, Beyonce was dropping a surprise album of music videos.
As for Rudolph, she was in Austin, singing and crying her heart out alongside longtime friend Gretchen Lieberum with their Prince tribute band, Princess.
What seemed like simply a fun booking to celebrate the end of the 2016 Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival suddenly became a vital experience for both fans and the band after Prince’s death Thursday and quickly sold out.
“Well, Austin, I loved you before but I love you more now,” Rudolph told the capacity crowd Saturday at the Paramount Theatre after the band had opened with Let’s Go Crazy. “We had no idea when we were planning on coming to see you and play Prince music, that this fucking could have happened. So, bear with us. I couldn’t think of anything I’d like to do more than play this music right now. Gretchen and I went to college. We were in a band together in college, but we — the thing that cemented our friendship for life was our mutual love of Prince.”
The feeling definitely was mutual throughout the building.
The dearly beloved fans gathered together to get through this thing now called life without Prince shook purple glow sticks above their heads to welcome Princess to the stage.
Between songs, Rudolph also explained that one of her cousins introduced her to Prince via his Dirty Mind album when she was 9. Lieberum revealed that her grandmother’s friend took her to see Purple Rain at the movie theater when she was only 11, unable to process her first feelings of horniness at the time. At points midway through Princess’s set, the sexual energy of theirs and our purple icon permeated the Paramount — a chorus of some 1,270 primal screams behind the music, ecstatic yelps of joy in honor of Prince.
Rudolph later pointed out a woman in the audience who had flown into Austin for the show — a childhood friend of hers who’d gone with her to see Prince in concert for the first time during his Lovesexy Tour in 1988.
Rudolph and Lieberum did meet Prince in person a few years ago after attending another of his concerts in Anaheim. “He knew that we were Princess, and he supported it, because he knew that it came from love,” Rudolph recalled. “And in a weird way, I never thought that we would ever do it when he wasn’t alive. It never occurred to me. He saw us sing Darling Nikki on TV once. Afterward, he came up to us and he gave us hugs. And then he said, ‘How y’all going to do the backwards part?'”
Lieberum: “And then the best part, which fucking blew my mind, he said, ‘I’ve got you programmed in my DVR.’ What?!”
They performed a 15-song set heavy on the hornier, lesser-played-on-radio tracks from Prince’s breakthrough catalog of albums from 1980-1984: Dirty Mind, Controversy, 1999 and Purple Rain.
And their pre-encore set closed with Darling Nikki, including the backward part.
Rudolph fought back tears earlier in the evening, before letting them flow throughout their encore of Purple Rain. Afterward, the band left the stage, while Rudolph stood alone at her microphone. “I don’t want this to end,” she said.
“Thank you so much. You never think your heroes are going to die. It’s so strange, but, you know, it happened to me. My hero died. And I never knew what that felt like. And it’s so sad, because I just don’t know who’s left. There’s not that many incredible musicians like that, that brought so much joy to my life. But I don’t know if we’ll do this band for…” The audience shouted its approval, then roared some more and supported her even longer with applause. “This has been really therapeutic, so thank you. Since Thursday, being a Prince fan all my life, and then realizing how many people in the world also loved him. That’s been real cool. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but now I just want to sing more songs. I know that’s what Prince would do. I’m not Prince. I’m not Prince. By a fucking mile. But, it’s just, there’s something about singing these songs that scratches an itch that I can’t explain. It really feels so good. And this band is so amazing that they allow us to live out this fantasy that fills my soul. So. Thank you so much for letting us do this.”
Perhaps Princess can become a part of Rudolph’s upcoming variety series with Martin Short on NBC, and bring it full circle once more.
Princess set list, April 23, 2016, Moontower Comedy Festival
- Let’s Go Crazy
- When You Were Mine
- Let’s Pretend We’re Married
- Jack U Off
- Purple Music (unreleased)
- The Beautiful Ones
- Dirty Mind
- Little Red Corvette
- Darling Nikki
- Encore: Purple Rain