The much-maligned South By Southwest festival closed last night with two blockbuster shows: Justin Timberlake in one venue, with Prince performing across town. Neither would ever be considered a bad choice, but let's break down which show was better -- just because we can.
the resurgent pop superstar
the living legend
Why They're Performing
Timberlake: promoting the hyped new album, The 20/20 Experience, which hits record stores -- all five that are left -- and iTunes on Tuesday.
Prince: just because.
How Corporate Was the Show
Prince was performing at a "secret" Samsung show that some people needed to do a scavenger hunt to attend, or something. Per Rolling Stone's Eric Danton:
The show, dubbed "The Next Big Thing," was presented by Samsung, which gave away 200 tickets to people who used the company's tablet-like Galaxy cell phone to complete an 11-item scavenger hunt around Austin.
If you want to know how far the South by Southwest Music Festival has strayed from its anti-corporate, indie rock roots, you need only consider this: One of the most popular shows on the final night of the festival was Justin Timberlake, playing a concert sponsored by Chevrolet to promote the newly revamped Myspace Web site.
Number of Encores
Timberlake: none reported.
Prince: six or seven, says Rolling Stone, on top of a 50 minute standard set. Total running time: two hours and 40 minutes.
What Was the Show Like
Timberlake's show was "an pulsating hour of his slick rhythm & blues," McKinley writes. It was "less about pimping his new album and more about entertaining the shit out of the 800 people there," writes Idolator's Carl Williot.
Prince, on the other hand, was more like a chef, "sampling and savoring each ingredient and adjusting to taste," Danton says. Billboard's Gary Graff described the show like "an exercise in organic, improvisational music-making and ensemble dynamics that Prince guided like a conductor steering an orchestra through an intricate symphony," who routinely abandoned order for creative, beautiful musical chaos.
Who Had the Better Back-Up Band
Timberlake was accompanied by the Tennessee Kids, the 16 piece band he's been playing with during television appearances like the Grammys or Saturday Night Live. They were "playing at a decibel level that could be felt physically," McKinley said, and "coming up with completely revamped arrangements," Williot reports.
Prince played with 22 piece backing band that included "11 horn players, two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer, a percussionist and a host of vocalists," according to Danton. They routinely went off-script and improvised for long stretches of time. Each band member got their own solo. But it was OK, and they could get away with it, because they were "tighter than a Marine Corps top sheet," Danton says.
Who Had the Craziest Fans Lining Up
Timberlake: per the Times, crowds had to be turned away on the fire marshall's orders and there were mounted cops at the door making sure a full scale riot didn't break out. "Many in the crowd had been waiting for three hours or more," Mckinley reports.
Prince: this show "was arguably the hottest ticket of the conference -- with some hopeful fans even lining up outside the club as early as Friday morning," writes Billboard's Gary Graff.
Awesome Covers Played Alongside Their Regular Catalogue of Hits
Timberlake, as reported by Idolator's Williot:
After this, it became clear the night was less about pimping his new album and more about entertaining the shit out of the 800 people there, because JT played “What Goes Around…Comes Around” and covered INXS‘ 1987 hit “Need You Tonight.”
Prince, as reported by Billboard's Graff:
Prince nodded to his forebears and heroes with versions of Curtis Mayfield's "We're a Winner," Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You," James Brown's "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I'll Get It Myself) ( Part 1)" and Rose Royce's "Which Way Is Up," and he paid homage to some peers with a set of Jackson family favorites -- Michael's "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," Janet's "What Have You Done For Me Lately" and the Jackson 5's "Dancing Machine," during which he brought several fans onstage to join the "purple party." Prince the composer, meanwhile, visited The Time's "Cool," "The Bird" and "Jungle Love," Sheila E's "The Glamorous Life" and Sheena Easton's "U Got the Look."
And, Finally, The Video Evidence for Making Non-Hipsters -- ie, the rest of us -- Jealous
Here's Prince performing "Something in the Water" per Miss Info:
Here's Justin performing "Senorita," off his first solo album, Justified:
And the Winner Is...
Anyone who attended either concert. The losers? The rest of us.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.