LA, you blew it. There was room for at least another thousand people to get into the Palladium to see Prince and the NPG last Saturday night. How you let that one slip by, I have no idea. But actually, it’s okay, because sometimes, Prince responds to a light turnout with a show so epic, it seems intended to shame the people who didn’t get off their asses to come see him. According to PrinceVault.com, at 220 minutes, Saturday’s show was the second-longest Prince concert on record – with the all-time winner clocking in at 225 minutes.
If a full house was a concern, I suppose announcing the gig more than eight hours in advance would have been a good strategy. The plan to sell tickets at the box office likely killed off interest from anyone who didn’t want to make the drive from Thousand Oaks or wherever just to find out if seats were available. And yes, our city has seen more than its share of Prince shows in recent years, from multiple night stands at the Forum and Staples Center to appearances in tiny rooms like the Troubadour and Sayers Club, so maybe we’ve started taking him for granted. This sure isn’t London, where massive crowds queued up over last minute announcements of intimate gigs just last month. Even the parking lot guy across the street asked me, “So that’s the real Prince? Is it a big sold out show?” I said, maybe not, you should come see it. I hope he did.
Because Prince continues to operate at a very high level. While he hasn’t produced many truly satisfying albums in the last decade, his live shows always deliver, and he makes a noticeable effort to avoid repeating himself from tour to tour. But recently, he appears to be in a good space. The tracks he’s been playing onstage with his all-woman trio 3rdeyegirl have been a step in the right direction, a return to sassy guitar-powered funk in the vein of “When You Were Mine” and “Bambi”, and a lot of eyes will be fixed on the forthcoming Plectrum Electrum album, waiting to see if the band’s live energy will translate into a great album. That group – guitarist Donna Grantis, bassist Ida Nielsen and bassist Hannah Ford – tore the roof off the Anaheim Grove last year, with a tightly focused set that called upon Prince the guitar player to dig deep.
While Saturday’s surprise show was initially billed as a 3rdeyegirl show on the venue’s marquee, the presence of a large horn section and five female vocalists marked this as a night with the New Power Generation. The “NPG” tag has never referred to any one specific group of players, as Prince has used the name on and off since the early nineties. In today’s terms, an NPG show means a night with the 3rdeyegirl lineup augmented by horns and backup singers; little or no guitar playing from Prince himself (he did pick up Grantis’ guitar during an awkward moment where he seemed to be trying to teach her a new riff on the spot, and finally donned his own for the final encore of “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Funk N Roll”); and a set list focused on dance numbers that periodically feature a quintet of female singers, including his latest protégé Liv Warfield, who had performed a full set with the NPG Hornz in the same room on Friday night.
It also meant a good dosage of the hits, including “1999”, “Take Me With U”, “Purple Rain”, “U Got The Look” and “Raspberry Beret”; a sprinkling of covers, including selections from both Michael and Janet Jackson; obscure fan favorites like “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” and a searing solo piano version of “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore?”; and a bunch of songs he wrote for other acts, including a heartbreaking “Nothing Compares 2 U” sung as a duet with Shelby J., and a powerful one-two-three punch of “The Bird”, “Jungle Love” and “The Glamorous Life” that came late in the evening. There was a guest vocal spot from Lianna LeHavas, who did a superb job on “Lost and Found”, and some inspired rapping and beatboxing from Doug E. Fresh over the sampled intro to “Hot Thing” that turned out to be a spontaneous highlight. Every so often Prince would command “Lights off! Everybody dance!” and we all did.
This was a Prince show unlike any other I’ve seen, but it had one familiar aspect that I remembered from the opening night of 21 Nights in LA a few years ago, the sensation that as long as we kept clapping, he would be persuaded to come back out. Of the reported 220 minute length, probably two hours of that time was encores. At some point, as we hollered in the dark for more, the guy next to me said, “Was that six encores he just did? Can he possibly do more” I said “I’ve seen him do seven. Keep hollering.” We did. And sure enough, out he came. It reminded me of seeing Parliament-Funkadelic in the same room two decades earlier, another marathon set that left me crumpled in a heap at the edge of the dance floor.
Selfishly, on a comfort level, it was awesome that so many people stayed away. I’m still nursing a broken leg, so it was a pleasure that I could easily sit down up in the balcony, or else go down to the floor and walk right up, maybe fifteen rows from the stage. Had he done the show at the Avalon or the Troubadour, it would have been a packed house, seen by fewer people. And while the old-school Palladium can be a hard place to get a drink and a bathroom break when fully packed, it’s a pleasant enough venue when the show is less than sold out. The sound was surprisingly crisp tonight at the center of the floor, a noticeable improvement from previous shows I’ve seen-but-not-really-heard there.
Take one look at the set list below (swiped from PrinceVault.com.) and please try to remember next time: when there is a Prince concert in this town and your ass is not physically nailed to the couch, you GO to that shit.
Musicology incl Mama Feelgood interpolation
Love Machine (Elisa Dease lead vox)
U Got The Look incl I Can’t Stand Myself (When You Touch Me) (instrumental) interpolation
Nothing Compares 2 U (Shelby J co-lead vox)
Take Me With U (Elisa Dease co-lead vox)
Cool incl Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough interpolation (Shelby J, Liv Warfield, Elisa Dease)
The Sweeter She Is (Shelby J, Elisa Dease, Liv Warfield co-lead vox)
Mutiny incl Ice Cream Castles (instrumental) interpolation
Old Friends 4 Sale
People Pleaser (Shelby J, Liv Warfield, Elisa Dease on co-lead vox w/ Prince)
Ain’t Gonna Miss U When U’re Gone
Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)
We’re A Winner Shelby J lead vox
I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) (Liv Warfield lead vox, sans Prince)
I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door, I’ll Get It Myself) (instrumental)
The Glamorous Life
Lost & Found (Lianne La Havas lead vox)
[Sampler Set] all the below titles w/ band backing except when indicated, Prince on keyboard
Hot Thing w/ Doug E Fresh
If I Was Your Girlfriend w/ Doug E Fresh
Forever In My Life w/ Doug E Fresh, Prince on bass
When Doves Cry
Nasty Girl (instrumental) sample / 777-9311 (instrumental) sample
Sign O’ The Times
I Would Die 4 U
Alphabet St – Ida Nielsen bass solo
The Most Beautiful Girl In The World sample
A Love Bizarre
Days Of Wild incl Big Fun ‘Get Freaky’ chant & Ain’t Nobody, Don’t Stop The Music & Family Affair interpolations (w/ Damaris Lewis Shelby J, Liv Warfield, Elisa Dease)
How Come U 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 (Shelby J lead vox)
(Theme Song From) Which Way Is Up?
Dancing Machine (Shelby J, Liv Warfield, Elisa Dease co-lead vox)
Partyman > It’s Alright & When The Saints Go Marching In (instrumental) interpolation
Let’s Go Crazy incl Frankenstein interpolation
Funknroll [Remix] Played over PA
(Authors note: I counted five female vocalists on stage all together, two black females in addition to Shelby, Liv and Elisa. I’m guessing the Vault folks have not yet ascertained these young ladies’ identities.)
Epic, historic concert. The whole thing felt so intimate. We were so close physically and spiritually to Prince and he was that close to us. No words.