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Live review: Prince's three shows at L.A. Live

Princepiano
Prince’s three-in-one concert experience Saturday at downtown’s L.A. Live nightlife complex often felt like a date with a special someone that wasn’t going quite as expected. You know how such evenings can be: Your beloved insists on making all the decisions; he (or she) directs the conversation toward unfamiliar topics; he makes you wait, but when he’s finally fully present, announces he can’t stay too long. Such a night can frustrate, but then it turns around completely on the strength of just one perfect, loving gesture. Despite many challenges, Prince still managed just that kind of metaphorical final kiss.

The circumstances were less than perfect. Expert at improvised set lists, Prince loves to stretch out, but this jaunt through the Nokia Theatre, the Conga Room and Club Nokia required a tighter song selection, which felt truncated compared with last year’s Coachella set and other recent high-profile gigs.

He also struggled with the sound system, notably during the opening Nokia Theatre show. A bad buzz afflicted his vocal microphone and the mix was weak in the middle. Later, a long line to get into the final show at Club Nokia left some fans frustrated, after they missed that ending set's first few songs.

Throughout the obstacle course, Prince noted the problems, but vowed to soldier on. Showing pique would have just wasted time; he had a concept to execute. With a new website, LotusFlow3r.com, just launched, and three albums hitting Target stores today, Prince was staging both a celebration and a marketing pitch.

None of the performances featured much new material, but each represented the mood of one of the new releases, already available for download on Prince’s website for a $77 subscription fee. The first show reflected the “old school” approach on “MPLSoUND”; the second, the guitar adventures of “LOtUSFLOW3r,” and the third focused on the smooth sensuality found on “Elixer,” even though that album’s main singer, Bria Valente, never took the stage.

The Nokia Theatre show was a crowd-pleaser despite atrocious sound. It featured hits such as “Kiss” and “1999” alongside covers including Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” (sung by a gangly audience member) and “Hollywood Swinging” by Kool & the Gang. The stage looked like an unexplored planet populated by jellyfish and pyramids; Prince wore a black and white ensemble that somehow seemed colorful. But technical problems really stopped this set from being as dynamic as it might have been.

Song selections included cuts that Prince performed at Coachella last year and others featured at his recent Oscar party at the Avalon. “You ever get the feeling that you just have too many hits?” he said before heading into yet another one; he didn’t pull too many surprises out of his silk pocket. Percussionist and former Prince protégé Sheila E. made a guest appearance, as she had at Coachella last year. The band, a streamlined version of Prince’s most frequently employed ensemble, never locked into a real groove.

The Conga Room show quickly made up for the glitches at the big theater. Bassist Sonny Thompson and drummer Michael Bland raised a powerful blues-rock ruckus; Prince was playing guitar with his teeth within minutes of taking the stage. As he settled into full guitar hero mode, ably backed by his old Minneapolis cronies (and harmonica player Frederic Yonnet, who took a flashy turn near the show’s end), Prince relaxed here was a set with excellent new tunes, cool obscurities, and strong, often nearly ecstatic playing.

Having traded in chic loungewear and elaborate props for flashy but practical working clothes, Prince and his players built a sound steeped in the blues and psychedelic funk. They reworked “All Shook Up,” a signature Elvis Presley song, in ways that would have made Sly Stone proud. They paid homage to Jimi Hendrix with a version of his “Spanish Castle Magic,” and traced a through line within Prince’s own repertoire, from the playful “When U Were Mine” to the heavy new “Dreamer,” that brought it all back to some cosmic juke joint.

After the high of the Conga Room, the set at Club Nokia came as something of a surprise. It shouldn’t have; following on the path of the new albums, it was time for something sexy and down-tempo. Fans hoping Prince might feed the fire he’d just ignited next door — or others, just arriving, who wished for another bunch of hits — had to adjust when a jazzy quiet storm descended.

In a blazer reminiscent of a disco ball, fronting a group anchored by the Brazilian keyboard artist Renato Neto, Prince presented himself as the master of the chill-out room. He let the band stretch out, with Neto dominating but bassist Rhonda Smith and drummer John Blackwell also finding room to solo. He departed the stage for long periods, or stood at the side, enjoying his collaborators’ jams.

There were few familiar songs, and though Prince’s falsetto was lethal when deployed, he mostly chose to lay back and let the lush music envelop the crowd. Obscurities like “In a Large Room With No Light” clearly thrilled the knowledgeable few, but the band served little familiar fare to the partygoers sipping the purple cocktails the club was selling for the occasion.

Finally, the long date was over — and Prince pulled out the nectar. The 2 a.m. curfew had past, but out came the great vocalist Chaka Khan, delighting the crowd with her soul classic, “Sweet Thing.” The man of the hour then proceeded with a string of his most luscious ballads, the best of which was a version of “The Beautiful Ones” that was far more triumphant than heartbroken. Right then, Prince seemed to know he’d won the race: He was the lover of the hour, after another endless night.

—Ann Powers

Photo by Afshin Shahidi. No photography was allowed at Prince's L.A. Live shows.

 
Comments () | Archives (28)

the set at Club Nokia came as something of a surprise. It shouldn’t have;

- really, Ann? i'm disappointed in your review of the evening. typically i enjoy reading your columns, but i guess prince's basement jam and sneak peak at the three records - really, only two are worth listening to - has you fully in his purple-lined pocket. if there was a statement anywhere since the shows were announced that the three performances would be radically different and follow the arc of the three new records, well, i missed it. i got tickets to the Club Nokia show because those were the ones i could get when i worked two laptops and a desktop on sunday at noon. i watched jay leno for pissakes three times last week, just to see prince, and each time getting more and more excited to be in the same building of someone who's thrilled me for most of my conscious life. i didn't want to stay up until 4 am and get an overnight babysitter for my 17-month-old so i could watch prince's band "stretch out." i'm all for an unconventional concert experience, i just want to know what i'm getting for my money. i've long wanted to see prince in a small venue, passing up stadium and arena shows and not at all interested in coachella. finally, i get the chance and spend what ain't chump change in this economic time to see prince, ostensibly, the world's greatest performer and i get the disinterested prima donna. granted, when he was singing and playing guitar i remembered why i was there and sorta forgot he was being such a baby. but his dancing seemed lazy and routine and his whining about the sound was embarrassing.

borrowing the parlance of the credit card commercials:

3 tickets: $300+
babysitting: $80
parking (blocks away) $8
dinner: $35
staying up all night to watch a precious artist sulk about sound that wasn't even bad and spending more time off stage than on - worthless.

Homophobe. All my LGBT friends have started boycotting him.

I liked him better when he lived in Minnesota and just wore panties.

There were more than a few "Boos" as the Artist Formerly Known as Great departed the stage at the end of the Club Nokia set. When TAFKAG first announced that he was leaving after just 45 or 50 minutes -- some of which was missed by a significant portion of the crowd -- more than a few incredulously asked "Is he kidding?" And while he did wind up playing for another 30 or 35 minutes, with but one or two recognizable songs [the fan club members nearby all looked at one another trying to figure out what song TAFKAG was playing] there was visible disappointment throughout Club Nokia, and a lot of loud complaining as the club was being cleared.

TAFKAG seriously misfired on that last show. Emulating Miles Davis -- but nowhere near as compelling an artist -- by leaving the stage or standing to the side, at least Miles had the good manners to actually P L A Y while he was hiding behind amps. TAFKAG was content to turn over the show to others. And while they may have been very talented, no one waited in line for 2 or 3 hours, for a show that started an hour late, to see Neto, Smith or Blackwell.

I don't know if its age, hiding in an ivory tower, being surrounded by sycophants or what, but TAFKAG mistreated a crowd of hugely loyal followers.

btw: TAFKAG may have announced that no photography would be allowed at his L.A. Live shows, but two rather large cameras on Monopods blocked the view of many near the center of the crowd.

I went to the first show in Big Nokia. When Prince decided to actually sing himself - and/or play the guitar, it was great and his talent is obvious. However he did precious little of either, he just led a crowd sing-a-long the whole time. And, it was mostly covers of other peoples songs. Pre-show, it was a bad omen when you walk in and hear the distortion and a buzzing speaker on the left side of the house from the preshow mix tape, and the sound guys looked like they couldn’t care less. The first 25 minutes felt like I paid to watch sound check. He exited the set after 50 minutes, and then played a series of encores (?) -not much of a show. And, how could a serious guitar talent like P let his HARMONICA player do “Little Wing” without weighing in himself? That’s totally beyond me. Was cool to see him in person, otherwise the show was a hot mess.

Well, I attended the first concert of Prince's three last night. The SOUND MIXING, SOUND QUALITY was absolutely the worst I have ever experienced at a concert that should have had the absolutely best start of art mixing engineers and equipment. Throughout most of the concert, you were unable to understand and make out the vocals of Prince himself. His microphone was distorted most of the entire show. A real disappointment!

I have to completely disagree with your write up about the Nokia LA Live performance. You are being too kind. It was the worst Prince concert I've ever been too. The sound was horrific and Prince handled it wrong. He walked off the stage twice, had the audience sing most of his songs, and was doing other performers songs rather than his own. He did not handle the sound problem well and didn't care that the audience was just trying to go along with him. I was center stage orchestra level, and people around me were yelling profanities and booing him. He should have apologized, stopped the concert and fixed the problem. Then he has the nerve to say I don't care about what ever problems happen tonight, this is my celebration. Quite selfish and rude to all of us who paid decent money to see him.
I will forever be a Prince fan, but that concert was an embarressment. I think your write up is way to kind. He should be publically apologizing and returning our money or giving a new concert. Believe me, it is not about the money, its about character and the point of how he handled the issue. He handled the problems poorly and should not blame AIG for hiring losey professionals to handle his audio.

I think the real story is not being told in your write up.

I attended the Nokia Theatre show at 7pm and I was extremely disappointed with the sound as well. Unacceptable, this show should have been flawless! They had plenty of time to prepare, considering it started 45 minutes late. Prince said something about talking to the management and he'd be back...well, if he was talking about the club's management offering attendees a full refund or a make-up show...I think we should definitely take him up on the offer.

What concert did you attend? I was the first and it was EXCEPTIONAL! Then entire crowd loved it and had NO idea of the problems with the sound system.

He is PRINCE---and he did not let us down. Sounds like the AEG venue has some, "fixin"" to do!

To say there were technical issues is like saying an LA rainstorm is a mist: The sound at the Nokia Theater was the worst sound I have ever heard at a show in my life (47 years short). Prince did a great job overcoming the issues, but I thought he was going to walk out and refund us the $$ after the first few songs.

Then, at the 3d show, We finally got in at almost 1:30 am, for a show that was supposed to start at midnight, missing the first 6 songs. The fact that we ended up waiting in line for 2 hours was bad enough, but then to have the show be so truncated...

Between my wife and I, the night cost about $450... I think we are owed a refund, and I will never attend another show at any of the LA Live clubs or the Theater again: the sound was horrible for the first show, the staff were rude (during the 3d show the usher was trying to pick up some girl, and was shouting over the music too her for the whole show) And the overall vibe was of frustration. Having seen Prince many times in the past, seeing sound checks and how he takes so much pride in the sound of his shows,I would have to chock it up to the LA Live management.

If you have tickets to one of the venues in LA live, I would suggest you reconsider.

U811

The Club Nokia show was a big disappointment for 80% of the audience it was a 45 minute set including the encore because of the wait outside and for 100% percent of the audience it was no longer than an hour with Prince on stage for only 60% of the set time.

I was at the Club Nokia,hmmmm long line, waiting too much ,people frustrated........that concert was for real music lovers ,jam session type of concert.Huge suprise for most of the people last night.No hits , no new material , strange concert. Honestly I was expecting better show. C'mon man , NO FUNK , NO ROCK , BLUES just few ballads and a lot of jamming ! Look like people that attended Conga Room concert were the luckiest one , last night !!!!! I really love and admire that man, but give us some funk/rock man. You can still do it. RENATO is unbelievable,what a player!!!!

I was at the Club Nokia,hmmmm long line, waiting too much ,people frustrated........that concert was for real music lovers ,jam session type of concert.Huge suprise for most of the people last night.No hits , no new material , strange concert. Honestly I was expecting better show. C'mon man , NO FUNK , NO ROCK , BLUES just few ballads and a lot of jamming ! Look like people that attended Conga Room concert were the luckiest one , last night !!!!! I really love and admire that man, but give us some funk/rock man. You can still do it. RENATO is unbelievable,what a player!!!!

How can anyone deny this musician? Sure, he's not the artist of the 1999 & Purple Rain era, but he has evolved into such a polished performer that can still sell out an arena thirty years later. Saw the last show of the evening and thoroughly enjoyed it. The band sounded so great, it was easy to miss the slight feedback coming through the speakers.
Prince, in a small club & up close, and an apple martini...priceless!

I was fortunate to see two of the shows last night and I was not disappointed. Prince was in fine form. The night was purely magical.
But I did have serious problems with the venues.
The Nokia Theatre is one of the worst places I have ever seen a concert.
The theatre is very unattractive.
The sound was terrible. Prince worked and worked to make it right. And only through his sheer power was he able to put on a great show.
But my biggest problem was with Security.
They were like Nazi's. Storming the areas dragging people out because they were taking pictures with their camera phones.
It was insane. One guy pulled out his little phone and they dragged him out in the middle of a song like he was going to shoot somebody.
The security detail should be ashamed of themselves.
Prince was singing Come Together.
It just didn't mix.
The staff at Club Nokia were polite but incompetent.
The tickets said the venue was to open at 11:30.
It opened after midnight.
So when Prince started to perform we weren't in the theatre.
And the buzzing from the sound system was terrible.
At one point Prince stopped the show and said the sound was the worst he had ever seen.
Even with all these problems Prince did an amazing job.
But AEG the owners of the club should be embarrassed.

I only could get tickets for the first show and I absolutely loved it. This man has to be one of the best performers alive today - the luscious licks on his cover of the Beatles' come together sounded amazing and his controversy jam rocked. prince, please play some more shows, you love it, we love it, let's do it more often :)

Prince ripped off the public, the show at club nokia was a huge mess from start to finish, he should be ashamed of robbing the fans of about 1 hr, and playing all this jazz, come on man, what the heck was that. GARBAGE, a refund would be right. or else he is a thief. johnny

Prince, i have been your fan for a longtime, but i haven't been able to enjoy your music since u became a JW. Please, please, stop promoting them. I want to be able to listen to your music again. I love u. Peace.

I want to comment on the writing of this article. WHERE did you learn how to write? Your writing is horrible. This is a music article. It's like they pulled you out of the Business section to write a music story. Sorry Ann. two thumbs down.

" Later, a long line to get into the final show at Club Nokia left some fans frustrated, after they missed that ending set's first few songs."

Club Nokia is a great venue...IF you can get in. I didn't see the Prince show that night, but I was there to see Madelyn Peyroux who played a couple of hours before. The security was tighter than the airport (I expected to be asked to remove my shoes) but much, much slower. I don't know if the security was overstaffed because of the Prince show, but I found it to be quite riduculous. I don't need 5 staff members to help direct me to my seat.

I can't imagine how annoyed the Prince fans who missed part of his show must have been; I know that with the small size of the venue that it wasn't cheap to get in. Missing any part of a show because of venue mismanagement is unacceptable- they need to get it together.

We had tickets to the Club Nokia show, and showed up around 11:30 (when it was supposed to open the doors), leaving the fabulous Axis of Justice show early. The line did not START TO MOVE until 1, and we were not in it, given that we had reserved seats and were told by security the show would not start until everyone had a chance to get in. We did not get to our seats until 1:45.

This was a joke, and I will be getting a refund, or contesting the charges. This was a tremendous disappointment, and when people were being filed in, security was generally rude, telling people to hurry up. I don't know whether to blame Prince or the venue, but unless I get a refund, I won't being giving either of them any more of my money, ever. If this were a GNR show, and not a Prince show, people would have torn that place up.

And your reporting of what happened is a sham. Not sure if you are trying to kiss up to Prince and/or AEG, but you should report what happened accurately.

Prince came all the way out here to do this 3 venue thing and DIDNT perform purple rain!!

I was in disbelief as were most of the pepople sitting in our section. I know he has loads of material but come on...really? You didnt perform purple rain??

I was at all 3 shows, and will address a few points above.

1. He DID play Purple Rain (at the first show)

2. I've been to several shows at the Nokia Theater and Club Nokia, and the sound has been pretty much perfect. This really makes me wonder if the fault for the tech issues (at the first show, at least) might fall to Prince's own people. He had ALL DAY to set up for that show. Any issues should have been solved before showtime. (The sound was perfect at the Conga room for Prince)

3. I concur that the 3rd show was a big letdown, though he did redeem himself with "Beautiful Ones" and "Nothing Compares 2 U"

I was at the first show....the first song you could not hear his guitar or voice AT ALL for the first 20 to 30 seconds, and when they finally punched it up, it still was quieter than most of the rest of the stuff on stage. He played probably 2/3rd of the whole concert with his guitar and mic quieter than the 2 backup singers' microphones!! My god were they loud- literally drowning out the guitar. Don't these audio guys do this for a living? If I did this in my job I would be fired. Perhaps they were....

Prince, however, was a blast and his guitar work is only improving with age. Amazing amazing talent. I was happy to be there in spite of all the audio problems, however, and my wife finally got to see the man himself live. Its just too bad you could BARELY HEAR IT!

Got tickets to see the midnight show that didn't start until way after 1am. After standing in line for 1.5 hrs we walked in to find out that Prince was already on stage playing. What the heck? We were there way before the show was to start, stood in line way too long just to get in to the concert that was already half over. I didn't pay to hear Renato play piano. Sure he's good and that's great but I didn't come to hear him. Prince clearly was tired and burned out but hey, it wasn't my idea to do 3 shows in one night. And to boot he let it be known that he had to be at the Kingdom Hall by 1pm Sunday. I know it might have been a joke (maybe not) but the late night hour was definitely on his mind. Prince definitely let his band carry the show. I felt like it was a big jam session and the only ones who got it or enjoyed it were the folks on stage. Prince was off stage more than he was on stage. He'd come on, sing a bit, walk to the side and stand there. Or just walk off and told the crowd to "listen to this" as the band jammed again. People were not happy from the get-go and he should make it right. At least apologize for such a horrible 3rd performance. Prince should put on another concert for all who came to Club Nokia. Just my suggestion but who am I? Oh wait……A DISAPPOINTED FAN!!!!

 
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