When you pay your money at Paisley Park, you take your chances. Will Prince perform? Or is it just a party with a DJ? Or maybe another band.
Friday’s $30-a-ticket affair — advertised on Wednesday as a DJ, live music and “u never know what might happen” from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. — did not feature Prince. However, Saturday night brought the Purple One and his trio, 3rdEyeGirl, to the stage at 12:20 a.m. They played a guitars-roaring 80 minutes. Then, after a 20-minute break, they returned for a 17-minute encore of Princely funk ’n’ roll.
It was the kind of night on which Prince — his mushrooming Afro still not approaching 1978 volume — walked through the crowd of maybe 1,000 without a bodyguard or even an escort and no one bothered him.
It was the kind of night when Prince sold 3rdEyeGirl souvenirs ($10 posters, $30 and $75 shirts) for the first time at Paisley. It was the kind of night that felt like a rehearsal for the fun of it.
This was not like last year’s advertised Paisley shows in October when he played a meticulously rehearsed program featuring 3rdEyeGirl and his big New Power Generation band with its 11-piece horn section. Nor was it like the performances he’s given in the past month or so in London, San Francisco and Hollywood — or even the ones at the Myth nightclub in Maplewood last May.
Only hard-core fans would have recognized Saturday night’s set list, which included mostly older obscure tunes such as the falsetto-filled “Empty Room,” the creepy and pretty “Beautiful Strange” and “I Like It There,” a rare slice of chill music in a mostly aggressive program. He implored the crowd to sing along to “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute),” conducting the fans like he was instructing his bandmates during rehearsal. “Turn the lights down, close your eyes and sing,” he urged as he arrived at another chorus in the funk-tinged pop-piano piece.
What there wasn’t was a lot of familiar songs. The piano ditty “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore,” the second number of the night, might have been the only piece casual fans knew.
“He didn’t do ‘1999,’ ‘Little Red Corvette,’ ‘Kiss,’ ‘Diamonds and Pearls,’ ” grumbled one fan to her two friends — who, like most of the crowd, looked to be under age 40 — as they started to exit after the main set. “That was all his newer [stuff]. He did not do one old song.”
Well, as Prince himself said at one point in the show: “Don’t worry about what the crowd does, just be good at what you love.”
That meant some heavy-duty guitar jams, with Prince manifesting his new affinity for lightning-fast jazz-rock sounds that recalled Joe Satriani and Steve Vai more so than Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana, two of Prince’s early influences. Maybe it’s because Donna Grantis of 3rdEyeGirl is more from the Satriani/Vai school. Maybe it’s because Prince wants to forge a new power-rock sound. Even the encore of the “Purple Rain” hit “Let’s Go Crazy” had a sludgy, heavy vibe.
In any case, he and 3rdEyeGirl have evolved into a killer foursome that’s equally adept at precision playing and at monstrous jamming. Hannah Ford Welton, the youngster in the group at 23, is developing into a ferocious drummer. “It’s official,” Prince pronounced late in the show. “Hannah is a beast.” Indeed.
His other announcement at night’s end might have been a bit hyperbolic: “We’ll be at Paisley Park every weekend till eternity.”