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SXSW Day 5: Prince helps close things with a bang

For Journal Register Newspapers

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AUSTIN, Texas -- If the South By Southwest Music + Media Conference, with it's 2,000-plus acts and thousands of attendees, is kind of like a Big Bang to a beat, it's appropriate that should end with the biggest bang of all.

Cue Prince.

The enigmatic Minneapolis auteur brought his latest, 22-piece version of the New Power Generation band to Austin for a special Saturday night, March 16, show sponsored by Samsung Galaxy at the club La Zona Rosa. Formally announced after SXSW started, it quickly became the hottest ticket in town -- Justin Timberlake the same night for MySpace was a very close second -- with plenty of security lined up on the street outside the club to keep non-approved hopefuls at a distance.

Anyone who made it -- including celebs such as Dennis Quaid, Nick Cannon, Solange Knowles, Jesse Williams, Talib Kweli, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Mayer Hawthorne, Isaiah Washington and "The Wire's" MIchael K. Williams and Felicia Pearson -- surely felt it was worth whatever it took to get in. Following a hot set by the iconic rap group A Tribe Called Quest, Prince and company did nothing less than burn the house down with a two-hour and 45-minute display of dynamic and organic musical virtuosity marked by long jams, tight ensemble workouts and one surprise after another. The indefatigable Prince himself played bandleader as much as star, leaving his guitar offstage and playing only a bit of keyboard in order to spend most of his time conducting the NPG through its slick arrangements and quick-change improvisations. He danced his usual dervish for the crowd, but his eyes and ears were clearly tuned to what was going on around him, although the group seemed so instinctively tuned that the direction hardly seemed necessary.

Hits -- and Prince's own material, for that matter -- were at a premium, with only "1999," "Purple Rain" (with a delicate "vocal" solo replacing the guitar heroics) and "Housequake" coming from Prince's A-list. Instead he dug into his catalog for fare from 2004's "Musicology" album, including the title track, and spent most of the night delivering covers, including Curtis Mayfield's "We're a Winner," Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You," James Brown's "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I'll Get It Myself) ( Part 1)" and Rose Royce's "Which Way Is Up." And he paid homage to the Jackson family with Michael's "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," Janet's "What Have You Done For Me Lately" and the Jackson 5's "Dancing Machine," during which he brought several fans onstage to join the "purple party."

Prince also tucked into the work he's done for other artists, with hot renditions of The Time's "Cool," "The Bird" and "Jungle Love," Sheila E's "The Glamorous Life" and Sheena Easton's "U Got the Look." "I love being a musician," he told the crowd at one point. "It feels like being a servant -- a servant to you."

And as the last NPG notes sounded just before 3 a.m. Sunday, everyone left feeling well-served, indeed.

Other highlights from SXSW's last day:

* Kenny Loggins was the unlikely star of Rachael Ray's annual Feedback, a day party at Stubb's that's open to the public and includes plenty of (free) food from Ray's own recipes. Loggins, who played both on his own and with his new band the Blue Sky Riders, got a field full of hipsters totally hyped with a one-two punch of "I'm Alright" and "Footloose" -- after getting everyone to sing along to "Annie's Song." Even Jesse Hughes of the Eagles of Death Metal, who had pronounced it "a dream come true to be opening for Kenny Loggins" -- and meant it -- was rocking side stage. Ray's eclectic bill for the day also included the rap duo Macklemore & Lewis, who were joined by Warren G, while Eric Burdon showed up to sing "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" with The Cringe, a band led by Ray's husband, John Cusimano.

* On the sun-splashed terrace of Austin's W hotel, Michigan soulster Mayer Hawthorne previewed eight songs from his forthcoming third album, which is due this summer. The music was true to the classic soul-pop sound of its two predecessors, but with more contemporary sonics and beats provided by collaborators such as Pharrell Williams, Oak, Jack Splash, John Hill and Jack Warren. "This is the first album where I didn't produce the entire album myself," Hawthorne explained. "I worked with a lot of unbelievably talented people on it, and it really made me a better producer myself.

* Another music legend, former Creedence Clearwater Revival leader John Fogerty, played a set of his own on Saturday after tearing it up two nights earlier with the Sound City Players. The show's special moment came when he was joined by the Americana group Dawes to recreate the version of CCR's "Someday Never Comes" that they appear on for Fogerty's upcoming album "Wrote a Song For Everyone" (which also includes duets with Bob Seger and Kid Rock). Prior to Fogerty, the reunited True Believers delivered a strong concert of their own, while singer-songwriter Bobby Bare played his famous "Detroit City" and commented to the crowd that, "I realized with 'Detroit City' I would never have to get another job in my life" because of the song's success.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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