By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
As you may know, Prince just completed his first Vegas stand. I say first in the hope that this will become a habit for him. This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
It’s true, the conclusion of this several-month stand was announced abruptly, in that way Prince-related news is so often dispensed: without explanation, or indication of future plans. The Shadow Government of Prince obsessives are hoping he will either begin a tour, or duplicate his Vegas stand at a nightclub in another city. (Some believe it could even be Los Angeles.)
I’d be tickled to see him set up shop here. But for his sake, I hope he returns to Vegas. After witnessing his show there on April 21, I believe Vegas is as good for Prince as Prince is for Vegas: It’s bringing out his inner Sinatra — and his inner Prince. In fact, I’m hoping that by the time Prince is through, “Purple Rain” will be as much a Vegas anthem as “My Way” — and America will be better for it.
His stand at the Rio was, I suspect, exactly what people came to Vegas for in the Rat Pack days. (I’ve recently been digging the Sinatra: Vegas box set — which spans 25 years of Sinatra’s Vegas club performances, all tipsy and masterful.) It’s a pretty simple formula, really. Take a casino nightclub — in Prince’s case, an old-fashioned circular ballroom (curiously christened “3121” by Prince — also the name of his last album). Add a hard-working band and a perfectionist superstar who’s got nothing to prove, but wants to anyway. That’s about it. This is not a theatrical performance with giraffes and strippers. This is, essentially, a club gig. (Yay, right?)
The show started a little after midnight, with a fairly amazing set by an a cappella group called Mosaic, who re-create early hip-hop — complete with “Apache” and “More Bounce to the Ounce” samples — using nothing but their mouths.
And then, just like that, Prince appeared, in a white suit, with a badass orange guitar that sounded like Satan, and a large band, heavy on the brass — including Maceo Parker on sax, those twin dancers and two keyboardists. (I don’t know if it was meant to blend with the hotel’s Carnival theme, but the band had a distinct New Orleans vibe; they even played “Down by the Riverside” at one point while Prince was offstage changing shirts. I took this as Prince’s version of an anti-war statement.)
Despite his claims of clean living, I think Prince enjoys the fact that people come to Sin City to get very, very drunk, and to smooch. Announcement: That masturbation action at the Super Bowl was no more an accident than Janet’s bra. Jehovah’s favorite Witness has gotten back to his sexy/profane roots. (Double yay, right?)
He pretty much set the tone for the night with “Satisfied,” a flirty, sexual gospel-type joint, featuring much vamping on the needs of a lady — and his proclaimed understanding of those needs. But this time, the vibe was different. Somehow, Prince adopted the role of a romantic cheerleader for the lovers in the audience — almost a sort of musical Dr. Phil — without playing the sexual hero himself. I have never seen anything like that from him live, and I wish I could explain it more specifically. It was something subtle, and very different. I liked it. It made him more human — and, at the same time, less mortal. He was casting a spell, sorcererlike.
“Satisfied,” from 3121, was one example of a newer song that worked ?well in a scenario where you mainly want to hear the old stuff. But it’s hard to escape the fact that as bored as Prince may be of his old material, it really is his best stuff — and fans paying hundreds of dollars deserve to hear it. A lot of it.
He did play “Kiss,” “Purple Rain,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “Cream,” “U Got the Look,” and even Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music.” (In “Kiss,” he changed Dynasty to Desperate Housewives. Cheeky monkey.) “Girls and Boys,” an album cut from Parade, was a pleasant surprise. But to be honest, I could have used more of his back catalog — and not necessarily hits, even. Sometimes, I think Prince doubts whether people really listened to his albums, which is a shame — he’s a true album artist in the tradition of the Beatles, and to a kid like me who bought Purple Rain on vinyl, it’s just as thrilling to hear an album track or B-side as a hit. (I would have killed to hear “The Beautiful Ones.” Killed.) I guess what I’m saying is, I wish Prince had more confidence in his fans — and, weirdly, in his own material.
I also believe Prince is an incredibly underrated lyricist, and this environment didn’t exactly spotlight that aspect of his music. “If I Was Your Girlfriend” — which is all about the words and the claustrophobic arrangement — declined to unfurl itself in all its wild majesty. I’m sorry, but some Prince songs are just too special, too delicate, too alien, to be played by a brass band. And that’s also a shame, because that’s one thing Sinatra totally understood about Vegas: The intimacy of a setting like this begs for storytelling. And Prince is a master storyteller.
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