Wednesday night’s sold out show, An Austin Tribute 2 Prince at Antone’s, began at 8:30 p.m. with a proclamation from Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, declaring June 1, 2016 Prince Day in Austin. It ended over four hours and roughly three dozen songs later with an epic “Purple Rain” sing-along led by close to ten of the best singers in Austin, a grand finale that reverberated with so much heart and soul everyone left in the club felt it in the core of their being.
Though the proclamation didn’t begin with “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today,” as the evening’s emcee, soulful rock singer Nakia, had hoped it might, honoring the boundless creativity of one of our generation’s greatest artists was still a lovely gesture on the part of the city. And though the expansive scope of the evening’s program clearly was designed to demonstrate the enormous breadth of Prince’s body of work, the show was at least an hour too long. Less than half of the audience made it to the end of the night.
The concept for the show was built around Grupo Fantasma, Austin’s Latin music powerhouse who did a stint as Prince’s on call backing band for several years beginning in 2007. They were billed as the house band for a cast of Austin all-stars which wasn’t exactly false advertising. For the evening’s second set, the band, enhanced with extra horn players, a pair of keyboards, a trio of backup singers and original guitarist Adrian Quesada splitting six string duties with Beto Martinez, reminded us exactly why one of the greatest pop stars in history enlisted them as his crew.
The band’s versatility, rock solid grooves and magnificent power were all stunning. They opened with a medley of Carlos Santana and Stevie Wonder songs that Prince gave them to play at his club in Vegas. “He was a genius. He loved all kinds of music. He loved Latin music,” percussionist and vocalist Jose Galeano said.
They followed the medley with an original unreleased Prince song with a mysterious backstory. His Purple Highness randomly sent the track, “Sex and the Single Girl,” to the band via email with no instructions. Unsure what to do with it, they eventually recorded a version and sent it back to him, but he never replied. The funkified rendition the band played with Alice Spencer from Shinyribs playing the role of sexy single girl would surely have done him proud.
From there, it was a veritable hit parade. We went crazy with Nakia, Suzanna Choffel beautifully captured Prince’s unique ability to meld raw emotion and catchy pop with a wonderful take on “Pop Life,” and Lonnie Trevino took us deep into the heart of “Erotic City.” Alex Marrero, who plays Ozzy in Brownout’s Brown Sabbath was perfectly suited for the deep dirty funk of “Gett Off” and “Sexy M.F.” and once a few sound issues were resolved, a duet of “Nothing Compares 2 U” between Nakia and singer Lex Land, who he met during his run on the NBC reality show “The Voice,” was breathtaking.
There were nice moments in the first set too. Elizabeth McQueen did a beautiful job opening the show with a solo performance of Little Red Corvette on a dark stage with images of Prince projected on her white dress, Monte Warden’s acoustic rendition of “Take Me With U” was very impressive and Rebecca Loebe, another alum of “The Voice,” did a lovely take on “Manic Monday,” a song Prince penned for the Bangles.
But full band transitions, some with a fair amount of set up and tear down, an oddly placed lengthy shout out to the evening’s nonprofit beneficiaries (Clifford Antone Foundation and SIMS) a few songs in and superfluous chatter made the evening feel long. A break of about 20 minutes following the first set while Grupo set up meant the main event didn’t start for a full two hours after the beginning of the show.
Considering the lack of seats in the venue (chairs were pulled out to create space) the show required stamina that a good portion of the audience did not have. Those who left missed Akina Adderley brilliantly tackling a few deep cuts, Tje Austin perfectly recreating “7” and Tameca Jones’ truly phenomenal performance of “U Got the Look,” a song so well suited to her natural swagger you’d think Prince was visualizing Jones at Antone’s in all her peacock feather-adorned glory when he wrote it.
Overall, the night was a heartfelt tribute rich with unforgettable performances, but it could have used a good editor.