Old-schoolers tune out when he plays his new songs, funk freaks are clueless when he plays a Led Zeppelin cover, rockers sit down when he plays slow jams, and jazz heads scoff at his pop hits, but everyone with ears to listen–and an ass to shake–agrees that there is no one like Prince. Although music critics tried to set him up against Michael Jackson in the eighties, his truer peers are James Brown and David Bowie. Prince is a musical perfectionist and master performer who has reinvented himself over and over. And on top of that, he can play practically every instrument perfectly and has produced himself since the beginning. These days he even releases his own albums and books his own shows. Yes, there’s some punk rock in him, too.
But you can’t really get Prince until you see him in concert. Actually, I’m no super fan and I didn’t see him until 2004 after the L.A. Kings flamed out (typically and appropriately) and missed the NHL’s post-season. Instead of getting my money back from Staples Center, I decided to purchase some nosebleed Prince tickets. While wandering the aisles before the show, we were offered to swap our tickets for unsold seats that were super close and… damn. I was surprised and blown away by what seemed like a nonstop guitar solo.
So when it was announced that he would play 21 shows in Los Angeles with most tickets going for 25 bucks (including service charge) I had to go. And I wound up attending to three of the shows at The Forum… I apologize in advance if these brief descriptions are too geeky. It would get old if I kept saying how insanely perfect and timeless songs like “Controversy,” “Kiss,” and “D.M.S.R.” are, so I’ll just describe some of the major differences in the sets.
My first night was actually the third of the series: Friday, April 22. Not long after the already legendary kick-off show that stretched well past 1:00 a.m. and included seven encores that continued until the Lakers’ old arena was half full with the house lights on, we had huge expectations. But instead of starting off as a crowd pleaser, the evening began with a more experimental slant showcasing Prince on bass (even if the lights were low): “Beginning Endlessly,” “Laydown,” “Endorphinmachine.” Surprise guest Alicia Keys came out to sing “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” while he played keyboard and Cuba Gooding Jr. came onstage to dance for a couple of songs. After two encores, we waited for more than an hour for more and were rewarded by seeing him ride out on a beach cruiser. A weird way to end an odd, somewhat somber (but unique and cool) 90-minute set, now viewable on YouTube.
The next Saturday was another sold-out show. I got killer seats for 25 bucks, and this time he played a more crowd-friendly show with five encores. The guest was Gwen Stefani, who came out to sing “So Far, So Pleased” and, later on, “Cool/Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” (He played a ton of Time songs and the Michael Jackson tribute every evening.) There was a cool piano version of “Something In the Water (Does Not Compute)” and heavy/funny blues section between “The Question of U” and “The One.” Sheila E’s rendition of “The Glamorous Life” was an explosion of energy, and she kept jamming after Prince returned to finish off the party. He kept mentioning how he was going to help save the Forum, and it was hard not to believe him.
Last Saturday, May 29, was allegedly the last of the 21 shows (if you count the George Lopez show, two gigs at the Troubadour, and the triple-header at the House of Blues). Once again, we had killer seats but this time we had to pay more. Oh well. He played more of his biggest hits from 1999 and Purple Rain this time around (“The Beautiful Ones,” “Let’s Go Crazy/Delirious”), and didn’t have any guest stars or celebrity dancers. Instead, we got Maceo Parker, who not only showed a lineage from James Brown to P Funk to Prince’s NPG, but brought a jazz element to many songs that showcased the Purple Yoda’s ability to jam. It was as if the celebrity factor was downplayed, leaving the solitary genius of Prince to make one final, massive impression before he moved on to his next unpredictable step…