I was 40 feet away from him. Yeah, let me say that again. I was 40 feet away from mother…fucking…Prince last night! (Because really, you can’t say his name any other way – at least not after what I witnessed at the Marquee a brief 20 hours ago.)
Now, I’ve seen Prince before. Twice actually. When he did his 21 Night Stand at the Forum in Inglewood a couple years back, I saw him once with my friend Nikki while visiting her, and then again a couple weeks later with my friend Dan, who was thoroughly offended that I saw Prince without him.
For those of you who haven’t been to the Forum, it’s a stadium theater, an old stadium theater, chock full of character and history. It seats approximately 18,000 people when used for concerts. I was thrilled to be one of 18,000 to see Prince in all his glory for two nights on that tour.
Naturally, Prince’s 21 nights in LA were stadium-centric shows, complete with glitzy costumes that were changed frequently, a love symbol-shaped stage, grandiose lighting, and purple confetti that fell from the rafters during the epic anthem that is “Purple Rain.” To say it was spectacular is an understatement.
But last night was different. Last night…was Prince stripped. (Ladies, contain yourselves!)
Don’t get me wrong, there were still stage theatrics. After all, it is Prince. The normally-bare Marquee stage was draped with a red velvet curtain. An LED screen behind the performers provided quite the light show. Prince’s keyboard had LED lights that ascended and descended, looking like sound waves in a music studio or skyscrapers being rocked by the cosmos.
But we were still in the middle of the Marquee, a converted movie theater, standing room only, a cement brick of a building, jammed like sardines, sweating and stinking. It’s a rather industrial, dirty, gritty kind of place, which is what makes it one of my favorite music venues in town.
Prince’s performance matched the venue. He didn’t have a single costume change. In fact, he was in all black from head to toe – stylish as ever and there was a rather large, rather fabulous necklace – but no purple, no sequins, nothing overly showy. And he was rocking natural hair, afro-style. Not greased or teased, just relaxed and casual, like he’d just rolled out of bed to come jam with us.
And this was a rock concert. Yes, there was funk and pop mixed in, but most of Prince’s sets were guitar-soaked and hearkened back to a time when playing an instrument was everything. He kept asking us, “Arizona, do you like your rock and roll? Do you like your rock and roll funky?” Yes, Prince. Yes, we do.
He opened the show with “Let’s Go Crazy,” but it was slower, simmering in guitar licks, swimming in a sick bass line. No synth – just electric guitar, bass, and drums. It was sexy and powerful and set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Speaking of sexy and powerful, Prince’s band, 3rd Eye Girl? Shit. An all girl band, each one of them smokin’ hot and sickeningly talented. Donna, the electric guitarist, shreds. She’s merciless in leather with a shaved head on one side and a guitar face that rivals most. Hannah, the drummer – take the cutest girl you’d find on the beach in California (blond hair, huge smile, sweet as a button) and hand her some drumsticks. She smashed us – completely elated and grinning the whole time. Ida, the bassist, sported braided pigtails and looked like a flower child, but don’t let that fool you. She knows how to slap. And hard.
By the way, none of these girl look like they’re older than, oh, 20. Maybe it’s great genetics. Maybe rock keeps you looking young. Maybe they’re closer to my age. Regardless, they are young and vibrant and talented and deserve to be on stage with him.
Did I mention we were a mere 40 feet from the stage? I could watch Prince’s facial features change from his telltale smirk to his grin of musicianship joy to his guitar face, which has got to be the best guitar face in the business. And why shouldn’t it be? The way Prince handles a guitar – they have a relationship. It’s one I’m a little jealous of, which of course is why Prince wrote the lyrics, “I love you, baby / But not like I love my guitar.”
Prince’s first set was maybe 45 minutes. We knew he sure as hell wasn’t done.
Nope, definitely not. We got three encores last night.
During the first encore, Prince and 3rd Eye Girl did a mashup of “Crimson and Clover” and “Wild Thing.” I know, it doesn’t seem like they would work together, but theydid. And it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard.
During the same encore, we were treated to a surprise special guest. Fucking Larry Graham. Yeah, of Sly and the Family Stone. Wearing the pimpest hat I have ever seen in my life (oh, it had a feather!) and a rhinestone-studded bass strap. The man is 67 years old and a damn rock star. When he was onstage, my eyes were diverted from Prince. He played with so much passion. And the grooves? Dear Lord.
During his jam with Larry Graham, Prince scatted – but not in traditional jazz singer style, no way; he bass line scatted. He literally produced the sounds Larry’s bass was making, but vocally and in complete synchronization. It was wild.
When the lights went out on that encore, there was no way in hell we were leaving. We waited. We chanted. We smiled at each other. And when the first notes of “Purple Rain” soared through the Marquee, I didn’t scream; I cried. I was utterly overwhelmed. I spent the next 10 minutes holding one hand over my heart and singing along, tears in my eyes.
We all thought that might be it. I mean, “Purple Rain” is the anthem. But as Prince has said at many a concert, “Do you have a curfew? How many hits do you think I have?”
Many. And the house lights didn’t come up. So we nervously twitched and waited and danced to unheard music.
“When Doves Cry” hit us next. And we all, accordingly, lost our shit. When the curtains reopened, only Prince was onstage at his pulsing keyboard/piano…which turned out to be a full-on DJ set-up. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we had just entered Club Prince – and his majesty was our resident DJ – who sang live to all his tracks. That medley included “Sign O the Times,” “Alphabet Street,” and other classics.
Throughout the Club Prince set, our MC of the evening kept us chanting, “Ain’t no party like a purple party, ‘cuz a purple party don’t stop!” None of us wanted it to. I’m pretty sure the majority of that crowd would have stayed there all night.
But of course, it had to end. Everyone took their final bow, the house lights came on, and we all trudged out of the Marquee knowing that now, we had to return to our normal lives. I was exhausted and my hearing was shot. Up until I fell asleep, I heard sounds in my ears like water rushing over stone.
Today, I’m tired…but also strangely full of energy. The concert hasn’t left me yet. It’s still in my system. I’m running on adrenaline, the lingering memories of bass lines and choruses and Prince swagger making my day all the sweeter.
Ladies and gentlemen, I drank the purple Kool-Aid. And it was good. It was damn good.
There ain’t no party like a purple party.
Photo licensing – jdco