In the world according to Stace (that’d be me, for those not paying attention), Maya Rudolph is a genius. A comedic genius, you might say, but I mean it in a more general way. I’m just sayin’, if this woman ran for president, she might get my vote. Beautiful, funny, and musically talented, she’s got it all. As if that isn’t enough, she’s in a long-term relationship with the music of Prince, and it’s getting pretty serious. Recently, she’s been sharing it with the world alongside her college buddy, singer-songwriter Gretchen Lieberum, and together they are Princess.
Lucky, lucky me: SF Sketchfest brought this act to my city and gave me a ticket to watch! (Don’t be jealous.) So last night, I planted my feet outside the doors at Mezzanine in the drizzle and waited an hour to be let in. At first, I thought I’d finally found the island of misfit toys, as no one remotely associated with the venue seemed to know much about what was going on, who the artist was, if tickets would be available (the show was sold out, but of course there were still those willing to try at the door), or how long the event would go. In the end, after an hour, I was the first one in the door. Cocktail in hand, I picked a spot against a pillar near the front and there I stood for the two hours until the ladies graced the stage. I have to be honest: these were torturous hours. Though I subject myself to them regularly, I’m not especially fond of huge crowds, and Mezzanine really packed ’em in last night. I can’t blame everyone else in the city for wanting to witness the glory of Princess, but it didn’t stop me from wishing I had a little more room to breathe. (Seriously: I even texted managing editor Dakin, who was up front, to ask if it would be any better if I went back near the door. He said probably not much, so I sucked it up and stayed put.)
At last, though, the show was about to begin. After an exercise in patience, testing the limits of one’s own personal space needs, and minor claustrophobia, it was all about to be worth it. My feet protested having already stood for three hours, but I ignored them when the lights went dark and the band took the stage, all dudes dressed as Prince in various stages of his career. When Rudolph and Lieberum took the stage a moment later, the applause was enormous. Rudolph looked overwhelmed, but Lieberum spoke first. “Maya?”
“Is the water warm enough?”
“Shall we begin?”
“Yes, Gretchen.” And begin they did, with Rudolph screaming a la Prince for the first of many times. Lieberum mimed holding a mirror while Rudolph mimed getting ready in it and the two began to dance. Their first song, “D.M.S.R.” made clear that they weren’t going to perform Prince’s big pop hits, but his lesser-known, dirtier songs. “All the white people clap your hands on the four!” Rudolph demonstrated what she meant by counting one, two, three, and then clapping. Lieberum counted on her fingers.
“Oh, shit,” Lieberum said when they’d finished the song.
“Well, well, well. San Francisco!” Rudolph greeted the room. “This is so exciting! Thank you for your warmth.” At that point, the ladies spotted someone near the middle of the room holding a neon sign with their Princess logo (see photo, above). Both girls paused to give whoever was holding it a shout-out, and a deserved one at that.
After “Sexuality,” Rudolph said, “thank you, ladies and gentlemen. You’re so very nice.”
“It’s steamy in here!” Lieberum announced.
“It is good steam,” Rudolph agreed. “It’s good for the pores. It’s wonderful for my hair…”
Next came “When You Were Mine,” which featured some fantastic dancing. Though I’m quite sure I already knew this to be true, it was at this point in the show that I noted that while Ms. Lieberum’s chosen vocation is singing, Ms. Rudolph, too, has quite a set of pipes on her. “That’s a goodie. An oldie but a goodie.”
“I was listening to an oldies station the other day,” Rudolph explained. “It was not Peter, Paul, and Mary. They were playing fuckin’ Depeche Mode!”
“That was thirty years ago, motherfuckers!” Lieberum reminded her. The next song, they said, was a “beautiful song penned by Prince Roger Nelson.” The song was “Head,” and after the line “I came on your wedding gown,” I laughed at Rudolph’s interjection: “happens to everybody!” Up next was “Sister,” and at its close Rudolph acknowledged a fan. “I concur, sir. The bass player is awesome. Wait a minute now. We gon’ get some numbers tonight!”
“I just heard, ‘I’m partial to the keyboardist.’ A man in pearls,” Lieberum spoke up. “A man in pearls. Why don’t you plan your evening with the bassist and the keyboardist to this song?” The next one was “The Beautiful Ones,” and Rudolph’s Prince scream in it was the best one of the evening (of many). At the song’s close, both girls were on their knees, and when it ended, they collapsed onto the floor of the stage.
“That really takes it out of me emotionally,” Lieberum confessed. “Thank you, Californians! You know this one?” It was “Dirty Mind,” and then Lieberum mentioned something about a “sveaty mustache.”
“Oh yeah, this one,” Rudolph said as they started the next song.
“This is a b-side,” Lieberum explained. “Only very coooooool people like this one.” It was “17 Days,” which went straight into “Controversy,” featuring yet another fabulous Maya Rudolph as Prince scream. At this point, I was forced to acknowledge (with my eyeballs, but also in my notes) that Gretchen Lieberum is a sexy bitch. Or should I say Sexy M.F.? And Maya… oh, Maya. Maya is everything.
“Thank you, friends!” Lieberum said.
“This is like one of those bathhouses,” Rudolph proclaimed. “Those Bette Midler bathhouses in the seventies. Good. It’s good for the pores. You’ll all have wonderful complexions when you get home. It gets rid of the toxins.”
“I think it might be adding some toxins,” Lieberum suggested. The next song, she said, was a personal favorite. She called it a “wholesome gem” as they began “Jack U Off.” When it was finished, Rudolph blew a kiss to the crowd.
“Thank you!” Rudolph said. “Just to put a little joy, some pureness into your soul. Some positivity, some light.”
“This is another one that does that some thing,” Lieberum promised as they began one of the few songs of the night that I actually had heard before, “Erotic City.” It was, as you’d expect, excellent.
“Oh, I really love that song a lot,” Rudolph admitted when they’d finished. “I fucking love that song. Like, every bat mitzvah I ever went to, I requested that song. Every bar mitzvah, too…”
“It’s very appropriate,” Lieberum agreed.
“Guys, it’s how babies are made,” Rudolph announced. “It’s all very, very natural.”
“We have a few more songs for you,” Lieberum promised.
“You are all so beautiful,” Rudolph gushed. “You all have very, very beautiful faces.”
“Private Joy” came next, featuring a great solo from the shirtless-by-then guitarist. “This next song is another romantic gem,” Lieberum promised. “It’s about those special times when someone gets a little too excited.”
“That’s what we’re doing,” Rudolph admitted. “Say no more.” The song was “Tick Tick Bang,” and when Maya Rudolph shook her ass the way girls in rap videos do, I felt a rare joy I haven’t experienced in a while, especially because she then gave us a lovely curtsy.
“We’re here for you,” she announced to the crowd. “To play you Prince songs that you know and love.”
“The dirty, dirty ones!” Lieberum agreed.
“That you know and love.”
Someone near the middle of the venue shouted, “Thank you!”
“You’re welcome,” Rudolph nodded, not missing a millisecond. “We have a few more songs for you before you have to go, before you have to go night night. Don’t go night night yet.”
“Lady Cab Driver” was next, and the line “take me to your mansion” just made me laugh: if she has a mansion, why is she driving a cab? I digress. This song brought the first of several opportunities to see Maya Rudolph do what I can only call the “boob shimmy,” and it was hilarious and glorious all at once. There was a great little dance break into “Automatic,” which featured similar silly dance moves that I thoroughly enjoyed.
“We have one more song tonight, everybody,” Lieberum announced.
“And it’s a doozy!” Rudolph agreed. “I’m just gonna drink a little bit of water…”
“I’m so glad we had this time together,” Lieberum admitted while her counterpart soothed her parched throat. The final song of the set was the wonderful “Darling Nikki,” and this time, when Rudolph screamed, Lieberum had her fingers in her ears to block out the sound. Both girls did the boob shimmy for this song, and lots of other sexy, silly, awesome choreography.
“We love you, goodnight!” Rudolph shouted.
“We’re Princess,” Lieberum added. “Thank you!”
For a brief second or three, the lights tentatively came back up, and I wondered whether nor not they would do an encore. When they went right back down, the Princess neon light made its way to the stage in time for the encore. The guitar player came back first, and began the long, epic intro to “Purple Rain.” Before the girls took the stage again, I wondered if we were in for a costume change. When they returned, I was right: Lieberum had changed from a little black dress and a black cop hat to a white dress and a similar hat that was black and white. After throwing out glow sticks to the crowd, the two girls embraced. The crowd began to wave their arms from side to side, the way you do only during the most epic songs. When they finally began the lyrics, I was surprised at the reaction of the audience, as though they hadn’t known until that moment what song it would be. Doesn’t everyone know by the intro what’s coming? Anyway, it featured an awesome singalong with the crowd, and during the end, Lieberum and Rudolph slow-danced during the instrumental parts. The crowd joined in for the “oooh oooh oooh oooooh”s at the end as I wondered, could there possibly be a song to try to top this one, or is this it?
“Goodnight, we are Princess, thank yoU!” Lieberum shouted again when they’d finished the song.
“Fuck yeah!” Rudolph agreed. “We are Princess! And so are you! We love you, Bay Area. You know it!” As the neon sign was lifted up to her, she bent down to speak to whomever had brought it, and I ducked out of the venue before getting trapped in the mass exodus leaving the small club. But the light of that sweet Princess sign and Maya Rudolph’s eyes carried me home safely into the night. And I know the experience changed me for the better.