And on Night 2 at Paisley Park, Prince invited the public, saluted the WNBA champion Lynx in conversation and declared this last-minute $50-a-ticket performance a rehearsal.
He put the same band he had for Wednesday’s 3-hour Lynx victory party through its paces for 100 minutes late Thursday night running through songs, working out arrangements with instructions and just jamming -- till 3:05 in the morning.
“Y’all mind if we do a rehearsal right now?” the Purple One told the sparse crowd of about 35 people after Liv Warfield and Ashley Minnieweather sang “You Got the Love,” which was faster than Wednesday’s slow-jam reading but still not as up-tempo as Chaka Khan’s original version. “That way we don’t have to get up at 9 in the morning.”
Indeed, Prince was in a playful mood. At one point, he asked how many people had been at Paisley for the Lynx celebration the night before. Um, about two of us. “Those girls not only play basketball, but they dance,” he declared. “See all those scuff marks onstage.”
They were from Madonna, a fan shouted, referring to Madge’s appearance at Paisley to see Prince the week before.
“We cleaned them up from last week,” the Paisley potentate explained. “These are new scuff marks.”
Thursday was actually an unusual occurrence in Prince’s world in that he invited fans to a rehearsal – an intimate opportunity to see his working process in the NPG Music Club room at Paisley Park.
Wearing a striped yellow, red and black stocking cap with a matching top, Prince was accompanied by a revamped group – guitarist Donna Grantis from 3rdEyeGirl, drummer Kirk Johnson who used to be in the New Power Generation, bassist Mono Neon and the two aforementioned backup singers.
Take their treatment of “Purple Rain,” for example.
Prince started the song on electric piano, with a light churchy touch. After he ran through a verse, a chorus and some whew-whews, he called “background,” meaning the singers should do the whew-whews.
“That’s your part, ready?” They sang and he reacted with a “whoa!” He asked them to do it again. “Don’t start looking at each other,” he urged. “C’mon.”
He liked what they did and declared “yeah. One more time.” Then he played the famous “Purple Rain” guitar solo on piano, with a pronounced gospel tinge.
When he finished, he announced: “We’re going to take an offering right now.”
Sometimes the band just jammed. And Prince explained what they were trying to do in a cryptic way.
“We keep messing around with it till we can yank the guts out of it,” he told the fans. “Till we can find out where the funk is.”
He’d call out for a bass solo, a drum solo or horns (which were synthesized – not like at a true gig where he insists on real instruments played by musicians).
He’d call for a new song. Or ask a singer if it was the right key for her.
At one point, he went over to Grantis and demonstrated a riff on her guitar so she would know how he wanted it.
She didn’t need any tips during their jam on “Guitar,” a strutting rocker that sounded like a mashup of the Stones, the Who and the New York Dolls. It was part of the second half of Thursday’s session, which featured some ferocious guitar fireworks by Prince and Grantis on heavy funk-rock workouts.
At other times, things were subtle. On one jam, Prince on piano playfully traded licks with drummer Johnson, even boiling it down to single-note exchanges.
What was clear from this public rehearsal is that the maestro has strong feelings about arrangements but obviously respects his colleagues enough to let their instincts and artistry surface. Even if the stage was dark (lit only by rope lighting in the bass drum), this was a rare and illuminating peek behind the Purple curtain.