Ladies and gentlemen,” Maya Rudolph said, taking the stage last night at Austin’s purple-lit Paramount Theatre, “we are gathered here to celebrate the one-of-a-kind, most brilliant, most special, most magical, most fucking incredible Prince Rogers Nelson. He was our hero. We loved him. And he has completely shaped our world. We’re going to do this together, am I right?”
The Saturday Night Live veteran and musician Gretchen Lieberum had decided to forge ahead with their previously scheduled gig as the musical duo Princess – the pair’s five-year-old Prince cover band – at the fifth annual Moontower Comedy Festival. As Purple Rain unspooled across movie theaters and SNL’s tribute episode revisited past performances, Rudolph and Lieberum simultaneously kicked off their own farewell homage with “Let’s Go Crazy.” Backed by an all-male five piece in various states of undress, they defiantly asked, “Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down?” “Oh no, let’s go!” the sold-out crowd shouted back, pumping the purple glow tubes Paramount staff distributed as a visual surprise for the band.
In purple lamè to Lieberum’s black, Rudolph whipped her loose hair and layered harmonies atop the “real funky” melodies that an older cousin first introduced to Rudolph at age nine. She and Lieberum strutted, slinked and squealed through “Controversy,” “D.M.S.R.” and the Cyndi Lauper-covered “When You Were Mine,” pausing to thank a chiseled stagehand named Tampico for proffering white wine and mutely caressing the sweat from Rudolph’s upper lip.
“Head,” “Sister,” “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “Jack U Off” found Rudolph mimicking double-fisted geysers of bodily fluid before introducing the “nerds only” rarity “Purple Music,” a 1982 live recording skittering around a disco swirl of vocal recombination.
Lieberum recalled spending a summer with her grandmother at age 11, the year of her own Prince awakening. “She was like, ‘Gretchen, why don’t you see that picture with the brown fella who looks like a lady? My friend Phyllis is going to take you.’ So my grandmother’s friend Phyllis took me to see Purple Rain. I was so mesmerized. I felt this feeling I’d never felt before in my whole life: I realize now it was ‘horny.'”
Setting the scene for the screeching highlight “The Beautiful Ones,” Lieberum professed knowing she’d one day meet the man who made her feel so funny. “This was the song I always wished Prince would sing to me …” she sighed, her voice catching with tears. During the song’s falsettoed heights, the duo writhed onstage amid showered rose petals. (“I’ve got four fucking kids,” Rudolph quipped as she pulled herself back together. “That shit comes naturally.”)
Rudolph recounted her first live Prince experience – the Lovesexy tour at the Forum in eighth grade – then fast-forwarded to seeing Prince alongside Lieberum as a “pregnant as fuck” adult in Anaheim. “It was amazing … and we got to meet him backstage.” Rudolph paused, her eyes welling. “I got to tell him that story, and he was so fucking cool. He knew that we did Princess and he really supported it, because he knew that it came from love.”
By the time they met the Purple One, the duo had performed “Darling Nikki” on a 2012 episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. As Lieberum added, “Then the best part, which fucking blew my mind, he said, ‘I got you programmed in my DVR.” Rudolph’s tongue began playing exaggeratedly over her lips, her two middle fingers arching suggestively below her midsection.
“Dirty Mind” escalated into an extended “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious,” Rudolph reminding fans “That man recorded music every day of his life. They think there’s more in there somewhere.” She and Lieberum then closed with “Darling Nikki,” lifting their eyes and arms toward the ceiling in wordless gratitude.
A 13-minute version of “Purple Rain” served as emotional encore. Rudolph and Lieberum tossed bouquets into the swaying crowd and, helpless against the ever-climbing guitar, cried in each others’ arms. The audience had remained standing the entire hour and a half show; now there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
“You never think your heroes are going to die,” Rudolph said amid sobs. “It’s so strange, but it happened to me. My hero died. I never knew what that felt like. And it’s so sad, because there just aren’t that many incredible musicians left.
“I’ve been a Prince fan my whole life,” she continued, “and am realizing how many other people in the world loved him. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but now I just want to sing more songs. I know that’s what Prince would do. I’m not Prince by a fucking mile, but there’s something about singing these songs that scratches an itch that I can’t explain. Thank you so much for letting us do this, and we hope to see you again.”