Saturday night, at the historic Austin Paramount Theater, Maya Rudolph took the stage and united 1200 hardcore comedy fans and Prince fans with an electric tribute to the man who meant so much to her creatively and personally.
The world was shocked on Thursday by the news that music, dance, and style legend, and all around artiste, Prince, had died. Many of us were already in Austin for the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival and felt conflicted about whether it was okay to laugh and party when the world had lost such massive creative force. But great comedy has a way of bringing people together, and many of the comedians made reference, and paid tribute to Prince on Thursday night, venting the loss, most notably Maria Bamford who closed her show with love for Prince, and Martha Kelly who incorporated making sense out of it all into her first performance.
And then Saturday night, at the historic Austin Paramount Theater, Maya Rudolph took the stage and united 1200 hardcore comedy fans and Prince fans with a two hour tribute to the man who meant so much to her creatively and personally. The Princess show was already planned as one of the festival’s gigantic show. In our preview article for the festival, Princess was one of our top picks for festival-goers, predicting that “Maya Rudolph’s Princess may just end up being the talk of the festival this year because it’s so unique.”
Rudolph and her best friend Gretchen Lieberum dressed in Prince-esque garb took the stage, backed by a full band– the Purple Banana– doing Prince numbers, and it was electric. Touching, crushing, cathartic, and absolutely unforgettable, the crowd showed up with all their energy and love for Prince and for Maya. There were 1200 seats and not a single one of them was needed as the crowd stayed on their feet all night from the first note to the last. And as the band started to play, all 1200 audience members broke out purple glow necklaces and snapped them on simultaneously– a surprise and a gift for Maya from the festival.
Rudolph opened the show telling the audience, “We are gathered here tonight to celebrate the most beautiful, most magical, most wonderful….he was our hero. We love him and he has completely shaped our world and we are going to get through this thing together. So Dearly Beloved…we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called life.” And then the band kicked in, with a house rocking version of “Lets Go Crazy.”
The band played Controversy, D.M.S.R., When You Were Mine, Sister, Lets Pretend We’re Married, Jack U Off, the unreleased Prince vault song Purple Music, The Beautiful Ones (which may have been the showstopper), The Breakdown, Little Red Corvette, and they closed with Darling Nikki, all the while undulating, grinding, gyrating and releasing, and having a great time, celebrating the music, and of course, letting out impressive rock screams. Maya and Gretchen told the audience about the time they met Prince, three years ago, and how they found out that Prince was a fan of the Princess show. He told them he had recorded and DVR’d their performance of Darling Nikki on Fallon, and had wondered how they would do the backwards part. (Quite well it turns out.)
The encore, Purple Rain, was obviously planned, but if it hadn’t been, the crowd would have demanded it, stomping, cheering and screaming for a full five minutes before the band returned and hit the opening notes. It was the encore that wouldn’t end with instrumentals, flowers being thrown into the audience, everybody oooh’ing and singing, the girls hugging and holding hands, wishing they could stay all night, with a feeling that as long as they kept playing, Prince was still with us. Just before leaving the stage, while the band played the final notes of Purple Rain, and the audience screamed, Maya broke down into tears telling the audience, “You never think your heroes are going to die….and I am just so fucking sad. Because I don’t know who’s left?” She ended the show saying that she doesn’t know if they’ll continue this band, “but it’s been very therapeutic, so thank you.” And with that, she said good night to Austin.
Fans came from all over- some as far as Maine, others as near as two blocks away. Many dressed in purple, some took the chance to dress in full Prince gear. The bar served Purple Reigns.
No one could have predicted that the show would become a memorial tribute. I spoke with festival director Lietza Brass before the show and she told me that nobody knew whether Maya would cancel the show. “We certainly thought, ‘will she or won’t she.’ I can’t speak for what was in her head. I heard through key people that she was of course extremely distraught, but then the confirmation that we got was funnily enough not through her management or her agent but was through twitter. I forget what she said but I think it was something like ‘we are going to rock the fuck out of this show.'”
Rudolph brought the show to Sketchfest last year and to Festival Supreme where Moontower director Jim Ritts saw the show, called it dynamic and electric and determined to bring it to Moontower. They’ve also performed it at The Hollywood Bowl and on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
In a video released Saturday by SNL alum Tim Kazurinsky, the world got to watch video footage of Prince performing at the SNL40 after party. You can see Rudolph on stage with him obviously just happy to be there, rocking hard along with the band.
The Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival closed its run for 2016 just a few hours after the show, and there was no question, that Princess was the event that will be talked about for years to come– a cathartic release for fans, and the best way to mark the passing of a creative genius.