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Prince performs JANET classic at SXSW


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Prince loomed over South By Southwest Music–first as a rumor, then as a confirmed booking that sent fans scurrying around Austin for a ticket giveaway, and finally as a smooth force whose nearly three-hour performance ended at 3 a.m. He led his 22-piece New Power Generation band through a dizzying run of classics, obscurities and covers.

He followed an emphatic set by A Tribe Called Quest, whose four members were tight despite rapper Q-Tip’s quip that they got hired for the show “at the last minute.” Later, pausing among songs like “Can I Kick It” and “Bonita Applebum,” when he sensed the crowd wasn’t reciprocating Tribe’s energy, he cracked, “maybe we should break up again for the third time.”

Dozens of other bands were still pounding away around Austin, Texas, when Prince emerged at about midnight Saturday, popping a glittery cane and wearing a black suit and hot pink shirt with a high collar. But his show, which went on to include about six encores (some delirious audience members eventually stopped counting) and about as many wardrobe changes, signaled the end of the five-day SXSW music marathon.

Samsung had orchestrated the concert to promote its Galaxy phones. For the cause, a loft-like club with a capacity of around 1,000 people had been reconfigured with a wide stage and a video screen running the length of the back wall.

At times members of Prince’s young band wore fuzzy hats shaped like animal heads with floppy earflaps, but their playing was anything but soft. In the face of their almost seamless punch and groove, the audience didn’t seem fazed by fact that Prince only played a handful of his biggest hits and never touched a guitar–including on “Purple Rain,” which came early in the show. That was soon followed by “1999.” Later he played tracks by the Time (“Jungle Love”) and Sheila E. (“The Glamorous Life”), along with his 1982 song “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute),” rewarding catalog-savvy fans in the house, including Roots drummer Questlove, who tweeted “thought I’d never hear [that song] in my lifetime live.”

Out in the crowd, security guards were kept busy trying to prevent fans from snapping pictures with their phones. That proved to be a losing battle, as Prince pulled from a jukebox of soul and R&B, including with the Impressions’ “We’re a Winner,” Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,” Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”

He was a sinewy dancer, popping around the stage. Vamping on a keyboard. Squealing Prince squeals. Daubing sweat during a hot solo by his saxophonist. Leading his back-up singers in a loose conga line. Kicking over a stool. Stirring up the crowd with one liners like, “Austin, don’t let me hurt you! You know how many hits I got?”

With the 3 a.m. curfew approaching, he expressed some theatrical disbelief: “20 minutes? Seriously?” Then came Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately.”

Samsung had handed out tickets for the concert to a few hundred of its phone customers. But what if the sponsor could have opened up the show to every musician trying to master their craft during South By Southwest?

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