Prince at the Ogden Theatre, 5/12/13
Prince had one job last night, and that was to make this crowd forget about the price of admission. For about sixty of the ninety minutes he was on stage at the Ogden, he did just that, but his focus on the obscure, the new and the abrupt ending of the show left everyone feeling like they didn't get enough. It felt like eating dinner at a fancy Chinese restaurant: Everything was delicious, fresh and enticing, but ultimately, all you did was pay a bunch of money to feel hungry an hour later.
It has been promised that no two shows would be alike on this entire tour. This leaves room for quirky choices, and rarely performed sleepers. This approach didn't leave a lot of room for the classics. So did he play enough of the classics? A quick temperature check outside the Ogden after the show says no. Even so, when the classics showed up, they were incredible.
Things started off well. We were treated to a chopped and screwed version of "Let's Go Crazy" that just kicked the funk out. "Endorphin Machine" from The Gold Experience admittedly sounded better than it ever has and left a few people in the crowd turning to their friends doing the Kanye shrug. "Do you guys mind if we lip sync? Since everybody else is doing it" was the way Prince introduced a much beefier, bluesier version of his latest single, "Screwdriver."
The band, consisting of new protégés 3rd Eye Girl, played like they could barely be contained and you got the feeling that lead guitarist (yes, lead guitarist) Donna Grantis might just consume Prince whole one of these nights on stage. She is that much of a beast. Don't fret, Prince has shed his megalomaniacal ways in recent years and become a more benevolent band leader fostering growth and development (no, seriously, this man will be speaking at business seminars before you know it).
So it must be this new, chill Prince who was responsible for a set list that dovetailed into "Dolphin" before anyone even knew it. Prince should be either commended or punished for playing an odds and ends set culled from his catalog and a few covers that had no rhyme or reason. It honestly sounded like he chose these songs because he lost a bet at first. But if you were down to bask in the glow of the purple one then you could definitely get down with this song selection. If you were looking for more bang for your buck, it looks like you would have been better off at the late show that followed this one.
Maybe Prince just wants to go all Band of Gypsys on us since the ladies could more than handle the challenge. This was a set of songs that would sound wicked if played by Jimi Hendrix and Band of Gypsys. "FixUrLifeUp" is a new song that definitely benefited from the chunky retro arrangements which were on full display, like when a riff that could have been "All Along the Watchtower" slowly birthed "Colonized Minds" from the unfortunately spelled LotusFlow3r back in 2009.
This was definitely about Prince showing a lot of faith in his recent catalog. Though his records have been selling well, and his fanatical fans put up with more than the lion's share of bullshit to rock with him, "Colonized Minds" is not what you would call a "go to jam" even for diehard fans of the recent records.
Not to worry. Before long, Prince dusted off "Bambi" from way back in 1979, and it sounded fresher than the day it was made. It was thrilling to see Prince going so hard on guitar, and at such close range. For the fingering train spotter, this was a master class in kicking ass. "Cause and Effect," a non album track that was available as a stream on Minnesota Public Radio back in 2010, heaped more than its share of race and politics all over the party, but the crowd was unfazed. That quickly dissolved into "Compassion," from the album 20TEN, and more sermonizing. Prince took a moment to introduce the band, but not before calling out the drummer's husband on...wait for it...cowbell.
"I know y'all ain't seen one in a long time; that's a cowbell y'all!" The band stretched out just jamming, and it was clear that this is what it's all about for Prince these days at this stage in the game. You will not only pay for a ticket to see him play, you will pay attention to whatever he decides to do. Or else, why are you here? Before you can say, "It's only been an hour," the man told us all, "Good night and thank you," and exited the stage for the encore.
"Can we play some old school for you right quick?" he playfully asked, and just like that, the crowd was back in his unyielding grasp to the sounds of "She's Always in My Hair," a rarely performed b-side from Around the World in a Day, an album that turns 28 this summer. He's not kidding about old school. Really more of an excuse to just stretch out into a groove than an actual song, Prince and especially the band went all the way in on this version, which featured a dope double-time switch and a languid bridge, along with lots of great solos from Prince and from Donna Gratis.
Wild Cherry's seminal funk jam "Play That Funky Music" was how Prince chose to end this early set. The band certainly murdered it, but the players left room to wonder what they would have done with a more substantial slice of funk like something from Sly Stone or Graham Central Station. It really felt like they were all holding back, and that became truly apparent when the lights came up and all the air abruptly left what up until then had been a ravenous crowd.
Personal Bias: I have seen Prince more times than I can remember. I am not a huge fan of his music post the TAFKAP days, but I do believe every single one of his albums has a moment of pure genius. I can't rail on him for song choice too bad because one look around during even the most obscure selection and you could see people singing right along. It was much more gratifying as a long time fan to hear songs like "Bambi" and "She's Always in My Hair," not because they are old, but because he never, NEVER performs them live.
Random Detail: A lot was made before the show started about staying off cell phones. The audience was told that those caught videotaping would be immediately escorted out. Couldn't help picturing Prince as the Soup Nazi: "NO PRINCE FOR YOU! GET OUT OF MY CONCERT! You are banned from jamming on the one, for thirty days!"
By the Way: I understand that Prince has been living in Prince world for a long time, but to feature so much cowbell and not even give us thirty seconds of "Don't Fear the Reaper" shows a disdain for Internet memes that is unconscionable. Trust me, Prince, when you listen back to the tape, you're going to want "Don't Fear the Reaper" in your set, and it's definitely going to need more cowbell.
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