Prince Outlasts His Audience in Marathon Set: Concert Review
Superstar rewards the faithful with tireless four-hour, 60-song set that doesn’t end until 2:30 a.m.
James Brown may be gone, but there’s a new Hardest Working Man in Show Business. Prince, the impish 55-year-old dynamo, took over L.A. last week, following up his performance on The Arsenio Hall Show on Wednesday night (March 5) with a pair of “secret shows” at the Palladium that were the worst-kept surprise in town.
On Friday night, he turned up about an hour after a performance by protege LiV Warfield (he executive produced her recently released solo album, The Unexpected), fronting the 11-man New Power Generation Hornz and his latest band, the all-female 3RDEYEGIRL, on a 60-minute jam session that came across like a combination of George Clinton and Frank Zappa, with hairpin turns that stopped on a dime, starting with “Days of Wild,” a track from his 1998 Crystal Ball album. In whiteface and wearing a brimmed hat, Prince looked like a refugee from Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Tour; he was joined by Warfield and her sister Shelby J., running through a brisk, seven-song set that featured a medley of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” “Northside” (Stargard’s theme song from the 1977 Richard Pryor comedy Which Way Is Up?), the Batman soundtrack’s “Partyman” and Graham Central Station’s “It’s Alright.” The only puzzlement was why there were only 1,000 or so people spaced out in the 3,700-capacity venue.
With word that he would be “upping the ante” the following night, Prince came on at 10:22 for the scheduled 8 p.m. start, after an old-school DJ set from legendary rapper Doug E. Fresh, who spun OG classics like “Rock the Bells," “Play That Funky Music” and “Walk This Way” as the crowd, filling up less than half the venue, paid $100 each for tickets. This time, Prince was resplendent -- with his puffy Afro now unadorned, a purple smoking jacket, a gold chain around his neck and a glittering silver pimp walking stick in hand -- and ready to dazzle us with what he repeatedly referred to as “live music played by real musicians.” He put the 20-piece, 11-man horn band through its paces, mostly eschewing guitar, launching into a 55-song, four-hour-plus, five-encore set that wouldn’t end until 2:30 (3:30 if you count the time change).
Offering a comprehensive overview of his catalog -- from 1981’s Controversy (“Let’s Work”) through last year’s single with 3RDEYEGIRL, “Ain’t Gonna Miss You When U’re Gone” -- he also delved into songs he’s penned for The Time (“The Bird,” “Jungle Love,” "777-9311"), Sheila E. (“The Glamorous Life,” “A Love Bizarre”), Vanity 6 (“Nasty Girl”) and The Family (an almost unrecognizable gospel rave-up for “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Mutiny”), along with a bevy of covers from one-time rival Michael Jackson (segueing from The Time’s “Cool” to a snippet of “Don’t Stop 'Til You Get Enough”), the Impressions (“We’re a Winner”), Aretha Franklin (“I Never Loved a Man [The Way I Love You],” featuring Warfield), James Brown (“I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing [Open Up the Door, I’ll Get It Myself]”), featuring a cameo by Janelle Monae and Lianne La Havas (who joined him on “Lost & Found”).
Prince led the band through its dizzying paces, returning to the stage even though, by the end, the audience was pretty much spent. It was an awe-inspiring display of both endurance and talent, the only downside being his petulance about cell phone cameras, and the burly bodyguards escorting offenders out of the venue and forcing them to delete photos and videos, a losing battle. The other puzzlement was why the house was just half-full for this most epic of Prince concerts.
Eschewing guitar for the most part, even for the iconic “Purple Rain,” which he turned over to a searing sax solo, and a blink-and-you-missed-it “Stars on 45” medley of “When Doves Cry,” “Nasty City,” “Sign o’ the Times,” “I Would Die 4 You,” “Pop Life,” “Alphabet St.” and “the Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” Prince kept coming back for more, like Brown tossing off his cape from Danny Ray.
By the time he got to the fifth encore, “Let’s Go Crazy,” followed by an unreleased track, “Funknroll,” he had outlasted most everyone with his undeniable talent. Though, unlike fellow marathoners like Bruce Springsteen, it was almost as if Prince was proving a point, intent on finishing even if no one was there to listen. Still, the breadth of his talent is undeniable, and this show for the ages offered conclusive proof why.
U Got the Look
Nothing Compares 2 You
Take Me With U
The Sweeter She Is
Old Friends 4 Sale
Ain't Gonna Miss You When U're Gone
Something in the Water
We're a Winner
I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)
I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I'll Get It Myself)
The Glamorous Life
Lost & Found
If I Was Your Girlfriend
Forever in My Life
When Doves Cry
Sign o' the Times
I Would Die 4 You
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
A Love Bizarre
Days of Wild
How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore
The Beautiful Ones
Diamonds and Pearls
Sometimes It Snows in April
Act of God
What Have You Done for Me Lately
(Theme song from) Which Way is Up?
Let's Go Crazy