Another night, another wildly different Prince show.
The hometown megastar returned to the Dakota in Minneapolis on Thursday for his second pair of "public-rehearsal" gigs in a three-night stand. If there was any doubt that the little big man planned major changes, he settled it all of five seconds after hitting the jazz club's dimly lit stage just after 8 p.m. (His punctuality this week might be the oddest thing about the shows.)
"Dancing is allowed," he sternly instructed the crowd, instantly tripling the number of words he said all night Wednesday. And he said a lot more as the 80-minute early set tore on, including a coy throwdown to his six-man horn section: "I hope you got more air!"
Where Wednesday's show was all about challenging a new drummer and his horn section -- Prince didn't sing once in Night 1 -- Thursday centered more on his trio of female backup singers. Each of the soulful ladies got a chance to take the lead in the early set. Much like his interaction with the instrumentalists on Wednesday, however, Prince hung in right there with them on microphone, keeping the concert mostly about him -- which, of course, is what the fans paid $100 to $150 to see.
With vocal workouts the cause du jour, Thursday's set list covered a broad spectrum. From his own vast discography, the 54-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer opened with "Act of God," a hard-bopping showpiece from his last album, "20Ten." A few songs later, he asked for the stage lights to be turned down as he turned up the heat during the sultry slow jam "Satisfied," which is from 2006 but is as kinky as his early '80s work.
He reached way back into his catalog later with "Something in the Water Does Not Compute" (from the "1999" album) and "Let's Work" (from "Controversy"). "What year is it?" he quipped before the latter song. The golden nugget of the night was the show's sassy finale, "Cool," one of Prince's collaborations with the Time.
To the non-Prince diehards, these songs were as off the radar as some of Thursday's covers, including "Which Way Is Up?" by the 1970s all-female funk band Stargard and recent tunes by English soul-folk singer Lianne La Havas ("Lost and Found") and Atlanta neo-soul singer India.Arie ("Brown Skin"). Backup singer Shelby J proved to be a worthy stand-in for India.Arie, but saxophonist Adrian Crutchfield also ate up the spotlight.
The rather hefty ticket prices demanded at least a couple of hits -- and maybe a lengthier set, too -- but the intimacy of the venue proved to be a valuable trade-off. That was especially evident at the start of the encore, when the house lights lit up during a dizzying cover of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough." It looked as if Prince was leading a dance party in someone's living room.
No telling how much livelier things will be when an even larger version of his band shows up for Friday's shows.