AUSTIN, Texas -- On the last night of this year's South by Southwest music festival -- when many attendees were probably thinking about spending the next several weeks lying down in a quiet room -- Prince threw a party that nobody wanted to leave.
Headlining a double bill Saturday at La Zona Rosa that also included A Tribe Called Quest, the pop superstar took the stage after midnight and didn't get off until 3 a.m. Actually, he disappeared on several occasions, but each time the crowd -- which included Dennis Quaid, Paloma Faith and Questlove of the Roots, who apparently headed over after his gig across town with Justin Timberlake -- drew Prince back with cheers that felt more like a collective demand. By the end of the show, which was hosted by Samsung Galaxy, he'd done six encores, and earned all of them.
"I love being a musician," he said near the climax of a long, beautiful version of "Purple Rain." "It feels like a servant -- a servant to you."
Backed by an ultra-tight 22-piece band and dressed in a dark suit over a high-collared hot-pink shirt, Prince mixed classics such as "1999," "U Got the Look" and "The Glamorous Life" (which he originally wrote for his protege Sheila E.) with deep cuts and covers of tunes by James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and Michael and Janet Jackson. He did spirited vamps on "Extraloveable" and the Time's "Jungle Love" and stripped everything down for a haunting piano-ballad take on "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)." And he definitely made the house quake with "Housequake."
"Don't make me hurt you," he warned the audience as it clamored for more. "You know how many hits I got?"
As great as Prince sounded Saturday, it was just as much fun to watch him dance with his backup singers and pull faces at fans; he pretended to be frightened by one after he handed her his microphone to sing a few lines. A lifelong pro who still feels it in his bones, he was bringing a level of showmanship to SXSW virtually unseen over the previous five days and nights.
"Real music," Prince called his act, asking us how long it had been since we'd experienced it. Like this? Too long.