Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Purple Friday - My Night with Prince

Last Friday night was a dream come true. I finally got to see Prince in concert for the first time and I've been waiting for this moment for years. All my life, I've heard that he's one of the greatest showmen in music history and I hoped for a chance to see him before he hung up his platform shoes, guitar and great outfits.

That's why 3 weeks ago, George Lopez made the best announcement he's made since he got his late night talk show. Prince was coming on to announce a 21-night tour in L.A. and better yet, he was doing it in my old neighborhood at the Forum. For $25 and great seats, it's the best investment I could've made for a show and for 4 hours, I felt like a kid again going to Lakers game there.

The night started with current Best New Artist Grammy winner Esperanza Spaulding, who surprised me starting out on electric bass before switching to her usual upright bass. She has a great voice and a great vibe but I found her voice overwhelmed at times by her band. Her saxophonist was dynamite and often times overshadowed her with his playing. That said, Spaulding's like a jazzier version of Janelle Monae (who's gonna be opening for Prince this Friday) with a softer voice but just as cool a vibe.

At one point, Spaulding did a jazzy cover of Michael Jackson's "I Can't Help It", one of my favorite underrated MJ jams that y'all may know from De La Soul or Fabulous. It was funky as heck and we almost didn't realize that her band had an extra person playing guitar on stage. Turns out it was Prince as he jammed with her on an extended back-and-forth solo.

Dude just sat there all cool and then all of a sudden, bam! He emerged and took over the stage. You could tell Esperanza was as hyped as we were but she totally played along and handled her own well. It set the stage for what came next.

After an intermission, the lights went out. The New Power Generation took the stage and played that superhero intro music that only one man can deserve. With the stage in the center, Prince rose up from the ground, walked around the stage like a maestro surveying the scene and played his new song that he debuted on Lopez Tonight. Everybody went nuts and I've never seen a crowd that electric for somebody.

He started off his hits with my favorite Prince song of the moment "She's Always in My Hair". Can't imagine how happy I was to sing that while looking at my lady and seeing that smile cause I meant every word. Soon after, the stage turned purple and he went ahead and played "Purple Rain", which shocked me cause I expected it later in the night.

That guitar solo was spinechilling and having 13,000 people sing the chorus will be one of my favorite concert memories ever. He turned that song into a soulful jam and ended it beautifully with his backup dancers. He left the stage right after, something he did often during the night. The lights went dark and then all of a sudden, Sheila E. appeared with drum set in tow.

All the ladies in the house probably went more bonkers than the guys but once Sheila started playing and singing "Glamorous Life", she dang near upstagged Prince herself. She did that song like it was the last time she would do it and watching her kill that percussion while singing live was watching grade-A quality go to work. She destroyed the drum set and when she finished, extending the last few notes of her drum solo, the crowd went wild. Now THAT's how you make an appearance.

Sheila stayed on set as Prince resumed his set with "Raspberry Beret". I was shocked that he played "Cream" considering he was avoiding some of his more dirty songs since his 2004 comeback. He toyed with us later on playing the intro to "Darling Nikki" and joked that he couldn't do it since he was in rehab.

By the 1st hour, I was already sweating through my shirt cause it was one big dance party. The best part came when he "covered" The Time's "Cool" and I say covered because Prince wrote and produced that. He sang and owned it with the same swagger I would've imagined 30 years ago. He mixed in MJ's "Dont Stop Til You Get Enough" and it made me think about wishing the two could've collaborated on "Bad". That was the highlight along with jamming to "U Got The Look"

He came back later to play an extended mix of his hits, saying at one point "Do you know how many hits I got!?" I swear 30 years of funk/soul/R&B and rock never sounded so good. You almost wanted him to play the songs even longer cause you can't enjoy "I Would Die 4 U", "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" or "When Doves Cry" in short bursts.

Even better is when Prince chooses to do covers because you know his musical inspirations run deep. Whether it was "Love Rollercoaster" or "Fantastic Voyage", he played them faithfully with as much fun as you can expect. He even played bass on "Fantastic Voyage" and added just the right amount of funk needed to make the song right.

The 3rd encore - more on that later - he came out to "Kiss" and ran that all the way through smoothly while standing on top of his piano. He wrapped it up with "If I was Your Girlfriend" and then he and backup vocalist Shelby J killed "Nothing Compares 2 U" as I sat in awe over their soulful original version. I couldn't believe he added that at the end just to remind folks that Sinead O'Connor got famous off his pen.

Most of the night, Prince showed off why he's one of the most underrated guitarists of the last 40 years. He killed his solos and commanded the stage without saying a word at times. Despite being 50-plus, he still danced and sounded as strong as he always has. To see him reunited with the NPG after 20 years was even better because that's the best band he's had since the Revolution and they played in perfect synergy.

The final encore came after most folks left and the house lights came on and when the NPG. Fittingly ended with another cover that summed up the night. Kool and the Gang "Hollywood Swinging" except the lyrics were changed to "Inglewood Swinging". It was a party in my hometown and we boogied til midnight.

What. A. Show!!!!!! Can't say any better and hopefully I get to see him again at the end. Disappointed he didn't do "Let's Go Crazy" or "Adore" but I'll take what I got and say thank you, Prince.

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