By Katie Bain and Ben Westhoff
City National Grove of Anaheim
“Do you love rock and roll?” Prince asked last night. “Do you like your rock and roll funky, though?”
A Prince show is always a big deal; his passion and showmanship is Springsteen-like. Even better, his need to constantly perform is Dylan-like, so you sometimes get to see him in way too small venues. Which is how we found ourselves at the 1700 capacity City National Grove of Anaheim — a small, bizarre venue located, essentially, in the Angels' parking lot — just feet away from him.
He performed two shows last night, and we saw this first; he's wrapping up his Live It Loud West Coast tour, and he's performing with a trio of vaguely-hippie white ladies called 3rdEyeGirl (they're righteous).
Tickets for the show, Prince's first in the L.A. area since his 2011 extended run at the Forum, were a cool $200. It was mainly older folks, and lots of women, and they lined up early in the afternoon for the GA show. The first 50 or so got special wristbands that allowed them to stand directly in front of the stage, a privilege we were granted as well.
So we got a long, long, look at Prince. He's in great shape; we could see his form quite well beneath his black stretch pants. Perfect butt. We'd show you a picture but security was extremely extremely vigilant about the no-photos policy; seriously, if you even checked Twitter you were threatened with expulsion by giant men.
Prince came on at 8:30pm, wearing, in addition to the black pants, a leather duster, plenty of silver eye shadow and kohl black liner, and his hair combed out, glistening in the lights. In both sound and style, the show was Paisley Park on acid, with psychedelic imagery flashing on the massive LED panel.
The band rocked: Danish bassist Ida Nielson, Kentucky-born drummer Hannah Ford and Canadian guitarist Donna Grantis were dressed in leather and fringes, and Grantis in particular — with her head partly shaved — did a lot of the heavy lifting on the guitar solos. Prince has long surrounded himself with strong and highly stylized female musicians (Sheila E., Apollonia, Wendy & Lisa) and seems to have good chemistry with this current crew.
But, really, it's all about Prince, and the ease with which he starts a party. He's smiling at you and getting the crowd to sing along and moving like a ballet dancer, all the while performing a version of “Let's Go Crazy” that's quite different from the original. And he's got wind in his hair and rays of light projecting from behind him, and you want to be with him and be him simultaneously. His flawless guitar solos weren't showing off, but instead nearly always at the mercy of the groove.
Mostly, you were happiest when he was smiling, which he mostly did when he could tell you were happy. Then, you could count on winks, nods and check-you-out glances, which continued through the set of mostly late-era jams and deep cuts, rendered almost unrecognizable as the band stretched them out with (seemingly) improvised jamming.
The pace slowed with an extended version of “I Like It There” from the 1996 album Chaos and Disorder. The lights came down and candles were brought onstage, to go along with the video backdrop showing…candles. It was sexytime, and he was bathed in a warm yellow spotlight for a come-hither-baby version of “Bambi” from his eponymous 1979 sophomore LP. He's always been about walking a line between sensuality and raunch, and at 54 we'd hesitate a guess that he's still in his prime as far as all that's concerned.
The main set ended with danceable covers of The Cars' “Let's Go” and a mashup of “Crimson and Clover” and “Wild Thing.” He quickly returned for an encore of his own hits, including a slowed rendition of “Little Red Corvette,” which skipped over the final verse in favor of his ad-libbing, over and over, “Can we talk about your body baby?” Oh, and there was also Prince on piano for a quite-faithful rendition of “Purple Rain.” “We a long ways from Hollywood,” he said during the song's climax, “so don't act like you too cool up in here.” This was a cue for everyone to join in on the “ooooh ooh ooh ooohs.”
The Pussycat Dolls' Nicole Scherzinger had been sitting on a couch stage-side for much of the set, and she finally got her chance to come up and share the mic for the second encore, “U Got the Look.” She does, he does, and, hell, in his company we felt like we did too.
The Audience: They all look like cosmetology students, for some reason.
Personal Bias: Katie had a much better sense of her womanhood after Prince's 15 minute version of “Little Red Corvette” at Coachella 2008. Ben saw Graffiti Bridge in the theater, on a date.