March 8, 2014
Only a few artists earn the right to make the world bend to their idiosyncratic whims. Out of this exclusive group of mono-named deities, none are funkier or more unpredictable than Prince. For roughly a half-decade, he made everyone refer to him in symbol form. He schooled Zooey Deschanel on love last month on New Girl. We're talking about someone who wrote his first song at age 7, called it “Funk Machine;” and spent the rest of his life embodying it.
So when I received an e-mail invitation to a last-minute Saturday night concert at the Hollywood Palladium, all other plans got canceled. Gore Vidal once opined that you should never turn down sex or the opportunity to appear on television. I'd amend that to include seeing Prince at any opportunity.
The following are an abridged list of revelations divined from the nearly four hour, five-encore stunner:
*Not all Prince shows are created equal
This was my fifth time seeing Prince. His 2008 Coachella performance doubled as a personal Damuscus moment. Until then, I'd never fully grasped the Prince cult. The songs were obviously catchy, but never fully resonated due to my anhedonia towards red sports cars, berets, and the year, 1999.
But after watching Prince shred like Hendrix, reconfigure one of the greatest hits collections of the last 35 years, and trot out Morris Day and the motherfucking Time, I debated writing “Fool” across my check.
Since then, I've seen him play once at the Forum (cameos: Whitney Houston, Craig Robinson). There was a secret late night hard rock show at the Troubadour that included Bob Marley covers, Native American shawls, and white fur boots. I attended an early morning show at Sayers Club, where all phones were confiscated – causing us to gaze straight into the deep purple (it was like being blinded by a crushed velvet sun).
Saturday night was one of the greatest shows that I've ever seen. He was backed by an 11-piece brass section culled from members of the New Power Generation, his all-female trio of protégés, 3rd Eye Girl, and singers who hit notes soulfully enough to make Beyonce look like Katy Perry. Sometimes, he'll just jam obscure deep cuts all night, but on Saturday, he gave the crowd the hits (“1999,” “Let's Go Crazy,” Raspberry Beret,” Nothing Compares 2 U” et. al.), a cover of “Don't Stop Till You Get Enough,” cameos from Janelle Monae, piano and guitar portions. At one point, the LED screen showed flying dove feathers. It was magical.
Genres conquered include funk, '70s soul, 6'0s R&B, gospel and classic rock. He wore a red silk suit with a gold-fringed tassel necklace, and waggled a gold Pharaoh's staff. Oh, and for some reason there were only 1,000 people there in a 3,700-plus capacity room (probably because it was so last minute). Among them were Dave Chappelle and Bobby Brown. The only thing he didn't do was end the show by saying, “Game, blouses.”
*Prince knows better than U
I initially cracked jokes about the rap-themed '94 Bar-Mitzvah playlist from the opening DJ (House of Pain, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Sugar Hill Gang.) And then it turned out to be the legendary Doug E. Fresh.
*Prince still hates technology
Ushers kicked people out for taking iPhone photos. Prince repeatedly espoused the importance of “real music.” In the abstract, this sounds like an old man yelling at a cloud, but these are the quirks you overlook from someone who is a legitimate musical genius.
*Prince may be an Immortal
Government records claim that Prince is 55. Yet he looks almost identical to how he when he was 22, completely with perfectly coiffed afro. His stamina and falsetto shame anyone born in the '90s. His hair is immaculate and voluminous as Keith Richards and Samson. True rock stars never lose their hair. Prince is the truest.
I understand that there's something infuriating about reading that you missed the greatest Prince show since the last great Prince show. The good news is that judging from the performance, it will be this way for eternity.