Photo by Kevin Mazur
Prince had to resort to an unprecedented Purple Light special — $259 tickets cut to $149 and $99 for the final three days — to fill the 3,200-capacity Myth nightclub in Maplewood for two gigs Saturday night. But he didn’t give discount performances. In fact, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer delivered two of his most rocking shows ever in his hometown.
If clubgoers expected an evening of funk and pop hits from the architect of the Minneapolis Sound, this wasn’t their show. This was Prince, who turns 55 next week, in a Purple haze, playing heavy rock, sort of a reimagination of his youth listening to KQRS, with shades of Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles and even the James Gang — and a Pearl Jam cover (an instrumental “Even Flow”) for good measure. This was Prince playing with a brand new band he debuted in January at the Dakota in Minneapolis, the female trio 3rdEyeGirl, sounding fresh and hungry with players probably young enough to be his daughters.
Although both of Saturday’s concerts started with the same ferocious triple play of an aggressive, metallic “Let’s Go Crazy,” the Stones-ian “Endorphinemachine” and the recent rockin’ single “Screwdriver” (which sounds like the best Aerosmith song in years), the two gigs couldn’t have been more different.
The opening 95-minute program resembled many of the shows on Prince’s current 10-city tour of clubs and small theaters; it featured a crowd-thrilling medley of hits including “When Doves Cry,” “A Love Bizarre” (with a disco-y bass line) and “Housequake.” The closing, free-wheeling 105-minute set eschewed the hits medley and instead explored some more obscure oldies, including “Free” (from 1982), “So Far So Pleased” (1999) and “Laydown”(2010).
Both sets featured “Purple Rain” with guest drummer Bobby Z, who, of course, played on the original version but hadn’t played it in concert with Prince since probably 1987. At the Myth, the song became a spiritual moment, not only because of Prince’s churchy piano playing but also because of his genuinely emotional preaching, talking in the first set how Z was there for Prince’s first TV appearance and first award and, in the second set, how Z has been a steady source of encouragement.
But Prince & the Revolution was then, 3rdEyeGirl is now. Drummer Hannah Ford Welton is an energetic powerhouse, bassist Ida Nielsen plays it thick and sturdy, and guitarist Donna Grantis is an accomplished shredder, well versed in metal vocabulary. And Prince was a monster on guitar, showing more range and depth, though less soulfulness and subtlety. He also sat at the piano, doing everything from a New Orleans R&B groove to grand melodic passage that stopped just short of classical territory.
If fans needed another indication that this is a Prince of a different color, he wore one outfit all night. Remember when he used to change clothes between songs? He didn’t even change between concerts on Saturday. He stayed with the same black top, pants and leather jacket, with fringed sleeves and rhinestones, and his recent hairdo, that Jackson 5-like Afro.
Prince never mentioned Maplewood once but he did call the crowd “Minneapolis,” “Minneapolis/St. Paul” and mostly just “hometown.” He seemed happy and free — and more talkative than he was at the Dakota, where he played six gigs over three nights in January. In fact, his eight advertised shows (as opposed to those spontaneous late-night performances at Paisley Park in Chanhassen) may represent the most he’s ever played in his hometown in a single year.
Saturday’s late gig also stood out for having probably the youngest crowd at a Twin Cities Prince concert in the past 20 years. Never has there been so many people who appeared to be under the age of 40. Maybe they know he’s onto something with the youngish 3rdEyeGirl.
What did the fans think?
“He played brilliantly but I hated the ending,” said Jonora Jones, 38, of Charlotte, N.C., referring to Prince whispering to his bandmates who announced “Prince lost his voice” so they played an instrumental. “He’s better than that.”
Kent Peckel, 45, and his wife Katie, 37, of St. Paul, spent more than $1,000 to attend both sets. “The shows were pretty different,” he said. “The second was more compelling because they stretched out more and pulled out obscure stuff. He’s become a really generous performer, and he’s generous to the other band members. For years, they have been faceless.”
“The show at the Dakota was a show of a lifetime because I was in the front row,” said Kelly Coffey, 39, of Minneapolis. “He was entertaining tonight. He’s the best. It was worth $150.”