Prince delivers dazzling cover-filled rock set at the Troubadour
Wednesday night, there were no photos allowed at either of Prince’s instantly sold-out shows at West Hollywood’s Troubadour. The official reason stems from the Purple One’s insistence on controlling his visual representation, online and off. But I suspect otherwise.
Prince’s First Avenue days are well in the past -- the guitar god long since graduated to stadiums, arenas and other mass congregations. And for good reason: People don’t know how to behave when standing within five feet of Prince, dressed in a Native American shawl, skintight pants and white furry boots. Men lapse into prehensile stammers and crude gestures. Mesmerized women writhe like they’ve been placed under a fairy tale incantation.
Security guards were deleting photos of anyone who dared flout the Prince’s edict. But I suspect the photos wouldn’t have come out anyway. The purple is too bright, his motions too rapid. Presumably, all you can capture is a blurred hologram that vaguely resembles an old Sports-Flic baseball card. It’s weird, but so is Prince.
Sometime this week, he decided he wanted to play a pair of impromptu concerts -- the first filled with jazz numbers, the second with avalanche-heavy rock and roll riffing. Fans had no clue what to expect. They just knew that tickets were $100 and that the Purple One was playing a nightclub that typically hosts indie and folk acts. Predictably, it sold out within the hour. Prince is the sort of performer you cancel plans for; he’s the sort of performer you cancel wedding anniversaries for.
In the midst of a 21-night stand at the Forum, the indefatigable 52-year-old made his feelings abundantly clear on the first song, “I Like it There,” from 1996’s “Chaos and Disorder.” Following it up with "The Gold Experience’s” “Endorphinmachine” and the early cut “Bambi,” he lit into a lacerating squall of guitar solos. You half expected doves to start crying, or at least the CAA agent-types in the audience -- everyone agog at his Jimi Hendrix-like thrash that matched the evening décor (black light psychedelic posters, rainbow beads and the occasional lava lamp).
His backing band from the Forum shows jammed behind, but the performance was qualitatively different from a typical Prince show. The rock was harder, the setlist more obscure, the vibe distinctively loose and jam-heavy. The guitar solos threatened to shake the posters off the walls, with Prince interpreting Hendrix and Steve Ray Vaughn riffs with a virtuoso’s imagination. A sax man came out and went full Coltrane, unleashing blue notes that lit up the black lights.
Letting loose wry comments about airport security, skin color and the funk, Prince played on -- reinventing “Dreamer” from 2009’s “Lotusflow3r” and India Arie’s “Brown Skin.” Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue” got the cover treatment, as did Tommy James’ “Crimson and Clover” and Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” -- a tacit reminder that Wednesday was the 30th anniversary of the reggae legend’s death.
Beyond its humor, Dave Chappelle’s occasional skits on "The Chapelle Show" about Prince struck such a chord because they tapped into the idea that there is nothing the man can’t do. He can make purple cool. He can kiss the sky like Jimi Hendrix. He can stomp you in basketball and then cook you breakfast. He can sing with a falsetto that frustrates Newtonian theory. He writes songs with more plot twists than the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Over the course of the two and a half hour concert, he gave his own singular twist on jazz, funk, futuristic soul, R&B, classic rock, reggae and electric blues. It was like watching Nabokov write “Pale Fire” -- he was twisting notes into origami just because he could. He didn't play a single one of his major hits. Nothing off “Purple Rain.” No “Diamonds and Pearls.” No “Controversy.”
But this is Prince, a man so inscrutable, strange and gifted that his eccentricities now seem almost ordinary. When he spray-painted a pair of hearts on the drum kit, mid-performance, it made its own peculiar logic. You cannot argue with Prince -- there is little ground to stand on. And judging from the audience, if he had knocked on their door and attempted to sway them to his faith, no one would have blanched.
Three encores. Wild chicken grease re-creations of “Play That Funky Music,” “Peach” and “Anotherloverholenyohead.” Chuck Berry riffs. Black Sabbath sludge performed with a figure skater’s grace. High fives to the crowd between encores -- an interstitial interlude where Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” played. Six hours of performance last night alone, and you couldn’t see a bead of sweat on the man’s face. Even Marley’s ghost reappeared in a final encore, with the band interpolating “Get Up Stand Up.”
The words may have been too resonant. After all, it’s hard not to take Prince literally. So when the marathon finally ended at 2:30 a.m. -- the house lights came on and the lava lamps flicked off -- a crowd lingered for an additional 20 minutes. They were dazed and confused, unwilling to leave, unsure whether that had actually happened and wondering whether Prince might remerge to play just one more song. Or maybe they were just waiting for him to cook them pancakes.
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: Prince at the Troubadour. Credit: Tony Pierce / Los Angeles Times