Moontower Fest ends on emotional high with Maya Rudolph-led tribute to Prince

Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberum lead Princess, a Prince cover band, at Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival Saturday, April 23.
Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberum lead Princess, a Prince cover band, at Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival Saturday, April 23. Credit: Rustin Gudim / contributed by Moontower

Princess,” a full Prince cover band led by comics and longtime friends Maya Rudolph and vocalist Gretchen Lieberum, had already been on the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival since February. It seemed like a fun musical curiosity, something along the lines of Fred Armisen’s Ian Rubbish show from two years ago.

With the death of Prince on Thursday, the show became so much more. What was already going to be a tribute to Prince’s music and persona became a necessary, cathartic tribute. At times it was funny; Maya Rudolph’s Prince-like sexy declarations and her on-point dance moves and shoulder hiccups made it impossible not to giggle. But it was also incredibly sad, especially as the night concluded, when a tearful Rudolph clearly didn’t want the performance to end. After throwing batches of flowers to the audience, she thanked the Austin audience and said the performance was therapeutic.

“It’s nice to be sad with you all and happy at the same time,” she said earlier in the show. “It never occurred to me that we might ever perform this music when he’s not alive.”

Was there ever a chance the show would be canceled? Not at all. “I couldn’t think of anything I’d like to do more than play this music now,” she said defiantly at the start of the show.

Kicking off with “Let’s Go Crazy,” the show dispelled any notion that it might just be an indulgent karaoke romp of Prince’s hits. Rudolph and Lieberum are clearly hardcore fans and they focused on Prince’s early work, eschewing his later work for songs from “Dirty Mind,” “Controversy” and “1999.” They even threw in an unreleased song, “Purple Music,” and played nothing from after “Purple Rain.”

No “Diamonds and Pearls,” no “Gett Off,” nothing from “Sign O’ The Times” or as one audience member called out for, the “Batman” soundtrack.

Which speaks to the breadth of Prince’s discography: it was a lengthy and complete show even focused on just that early timeframe.

Audience members were given purple glow sticks they waved around in the Paramount Theatre and for at least the first half of the show, it was a standing room, more concert than comedy show. “You can call Uber in 85 minutes,” Rudolph said, urging everyone to stand and dance after the first song.

Rudolph and Lieberum earned laughs with their half-naked all-male band and their shirtless helper “Tampico,” who wiped mustache sweat from Rudolph’s upper lip and showered the singers with rose petals at one point.

How did the band sound? A little shaky toward the end of “Let’s Go Crazy,” but more confident as the show went on and Rudolph, the daughter of “Lovin’ You” singer Minnie Riperton, and Lieberum, have got pipes. Whether solo or in harmony, they sounded great and were well-composed despite what must have been the crushing emotional weight of this week’s loss.

“The Beautiful Ones” was a goosebump-inducing thrill and “Jack U Off” still had a raunchy, eye-popping impact 34 years after its release (Rudolph and Lieberum’s hand gestures only enhanced the not-so-well-known song). “Darling Nikki” even had the backward-singing part at the end, which Prince Rogers Nelson himself advised they include.

The duo got to meet Prince backstage at one of his shows after he’d seen their covers performance on TV, which he enjoyed. “I’ve got you programmed on my DVR,” he told them, perhaps the sexiest use of the word “DVR” in recorded history.

Rudolph described seeing Prince in concert for the first of many times when she was a pre-teen and Lieberum told in detail the story of seeing “Purple Rain” in a theater with her grandmother’s friend at 11 and having her sexuality awoken that night.

By the “Purple Rain” encore, an emotionally exhausting, but completely funky night ended with Rudolph saying she’s not sure what the future of Princess will be, but that she wants nothing more than to keep performing. “Now I just wanna sing more songs. I know that’s what Prince would do,” she said.

Set list:

“Let’s Go Crazy”
“When You Were Mine”
“Let’s Pretend We’re Married”
“Jack U Off”
“Purple Music” (unreleased)
“The Beautiful Ones”
“The Breakdown”
“Little Red Corvette”
“Darling Nikki”
Encore: “Purple Rain”

More photos, credit Maggie Lea, Paramount Theatre / Moontower Comedy Festival:

Author: Omar L. Gallaga

Omar L. Gallaga is a technology culture writer for the Statesman's tech website 512tech. He's been at the Statesman as a reporter and editor since 1997. He also is co-host of "Statesman Shots," our weekly Austin culture podcast. He's written for Rolling Stone, the Wall Street Journal, Television Without Pity, and NPR's "All Things Considered." He's also a staff TV writer for

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