Live at Prince’s mansion: Everything but the pancakes
It was two years ago to the Sunday when Prince, under a torrent of rain in the middle of Miami’s Dolphin Stadium at Super Bowl XLI, dazzled the world with a panoramic 12 minutes of his biggest hits next to pumped-up covers of “Proud Mary” and the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You.”
But in the wee hours of Feb. 1 in the opulent basement of his Beverly Hills mansion -- a rec room that boasts a Prince-emblazoned pool table and and an encased "Purple Rain" motorcycle -- Prince played an equally wide-ranging and mind-boggling set for a far more intimate gathering of fewer than 50 people, all of it designed to celebrate the launch of his Website lotusflow3r.com.
After a presentation of the new site, which looks to be an all-encompassing portal to Prince's history as well as a direct line to the three albums he has slated for 2009 (the first being "Lotus Flow3r", the electro-charged '80s flashback "MPLSound" and the debut of his latest protégé Bria Valente), Prince emerged for post-press conference concert with a blistering rendition of the Cars’ 1979 new wave hit “Let’s Go.”
Prince led his lethal band, including the amazingly hard-hitting female drummer Cora Coleman-Dunham, through a nearly two-hour set. It was a rollicking, celebratory affair, and it included takes on the Rolling Stones (“Miss You”), the Doobie Brothers (“Long Train Running”), Mary J. Blige (“Be Happy”) and a Sly & the Family Stone medley.
Among the small but enthusiastic crowd were "Fame's" Debbie Allen and singer Anita Baker, the latter of whom eventually joined the band to trade vocals with Prince and his stellar trio of female vocalists, Liv Warfield, Shelby J and Marva King. When he launched into his own well of hits to churn out his 1981 single “Controversy” and “Feel For You,” the song made famous by Chaka Khan, a small dance floor erupted into what could have been a scene for a surreal music video commemorating the “Electric Slide."
“Y’all done tore up my carpet!” Prince chuckled afterward.
Never one to shy away from music technology, Prince let the band take a breather to perform a solo set on a keyboard sequencer. Vamping along alternately on guitar and drums, he spun out versions of fan favorites like 1982 B-side “Irresistible Bitch” and "Sign o’ the Times"-era nuggets “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” and “Hot Thing.”
When Prince finally ended the show, he played an amiable host in the massive kitchen, flitting around the room in shoes that lighted up with red lights with each step as two cooks prepared an array of food for his guests (yes, the shoes lighted up with each step). Downstairs, DJ Rashida, in front of the original motorcycle from the film "Purple Rain," spun dance hits until a fuse blew.
Chatting up one of Prince's backup singers, Liv Warfield, she suggested I stick around. “There was talk of another set,” she dished. “You always have to be ready at a moment’s notice.”
Not 20 minutes later, Prince strode by purposely. “Come y’all, let’s hit it one more time, real quick,” he said to his band, and soon everyone was back in the basement for Round 2.
The now post-2 a.m. set was a gospel-tinged stroll through classic soul and R&B classics, showcasing his female singers on songs like “When Will We Be Paid” and the Friends of Distinction classic “Going in Circles.”
Ending with a spirited rendition of “Love Bizarre," which segued into a live mash-up of the lyrics to Rick James’ “Give It to Me Baby” matched with Prince's own “Let’s Work,” the singer, who by the way does a hilarious Kat Williams impression, seemed impressed with the endurance of the dozen or so die-hards that stayed until the end, which was sometime past 3 a.m.
Sending guests on their way with a click of his illuminated heels, Prince once again proved his status as one of America’s premier musical icons. The only thing missing was pancakes.
Photo credit: Afshin Shahidi