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Prince delivers dazzling cover-filled rock set at the Troubadour

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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.

RELATED:

Prince to perform a 21-night stint at in Los Angeles

One night with Prince

Live at Prince's mansion: Everything but the pancakes

-- Jeff Weiss

Photo: Prince at the Troubadour. Credit: Tony Pierce / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (18)

This is the same little wrinkled raisin that went onto the George Lopez show and said of song covers, "You see, covering the music means your version doesn't exist anymore. There's this thing called the compulsory license law which allows artists to take your music at will. That doesn't exist in any other art form - there's only one version of 'Law & Order,' but there are several versions of 'Kiss' and 'Purple Rain.'"

But did you LIKE it?

I have been a fan of Prince for a long time. if anyone has a chance you have to go see him at the Forum , he will be there for about two more weeks. its the best experience to hear some real music being played. for me he is the ultimate preformer. I wish I could have afforded the troubadour concert. it sounded amazing. but I will be at the Forum Friday, Saturday and Sunday. if you get a chance to see him GO!. you'll have a good time.

Jeff, great review. We were there for that set last night (through some lucky turn of purple magic), and your description of the show is completely perfect. After seeing several Forum shows where the hits have been pumped out (exceptionally well I might add), last night's riff laden glory was just what this girl needed to hear. Absolute bliss.

I still can't believe I was there.

Great review! I was not there but after reading all the comments made on the unofficial Prince site prince.org and your article I sure wish I was!

Prince is one of the remaining bright spots in music today. He's still got it and is the ultimate performer and a true legend.

Huh? I think the writer went a bit overboard.

Let me list a number of artists, all more talented than Prince: Radiohead, Coldplay, U2, Bruce Cockburn, Neil Young, Keane, Crowded House, Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros, Old 97's, Band of Horses, Moby, Michael Ubaldini, John Fogerty, Aimee Mann, Merle Haggard, Joe Bonamassa and the list goes on and on. The majority of Prince music does not connect emotionally with listeners and is forgotten shortly after its release. People who rave about his guitar playing have never seen Walter Trout, Derek Trucks or Joe Bonamassa.
To each his own; I'm glad not to call the purple one mine.

Great writeup Jeff - wish I could've witnessed that! Prince always shreds hard!

Great article, Jeff... I'm from Minneapolis and used to work at First Avenue from 1982 to 1986. I saw many Prince shows there. Last night brought back the feeling I used to get seeing pre-rockstar Prince where you had no expectations/hopes that he would play the hits because there weren't any yet. You were just open to whatever happened and happily went on the journey wherever it may lead. He truly is a living legend.

Kudos to Tony for being all James Bond and taking the picture anyway. What, no press photo passes?

Prince never said people couldnt cover his music. He's upset with the fact that they dont need his permission to cover and sell his music. Playing a cover in concert...different story.

I was there at the early show. He did do Controversy and Pop Life as far as "hits" go.

Prince in his purest form as a Band Leader.

Gavid Deafen = pathetic. Apparently you have no clue what Prince was talking about. How difficult is it for you to understand that Prince meant RECORDED music, NOT performing covers LIVE?

I remember back when I was in high school in the early 90's, there was a kid in school who just loved Prince and gushed about his musical talents. Most everybody laughed at him and thought he was odd. Can you blame us? We were just a bunch of stupid kids back then that didn't recognize the musical genius that Prince was and still is!

"Coldplay ... Keane ... Band of Horses, Moby... Walter Trout, Derek Trucks, Joe Bonamassa..."

Heh... heh heh heh... ha ha ha ha!! Such a joker... You really killed me with that one.

commercial pop+disneyesque clothes+marketing=prince

One of best living guitarists + absolutely first rate bassist + stratospheric, soulful, accurate vocalist + tremendous body of work as a songwriter + doing it all while dancing = Prince.

What the heck... how do people find out about these tickets? I would have paid serious money to see this show. Somebody, please share the secret! This blows.

"commercial pop+disneyesque clothes+marketing=prince"

Ahahahahahahah! Yeah, right, that's what these shows were all about, you nailed it. Man, the nerve of some people...

I guess seeing Prince live should be added as a mandatory high school class cross-country.


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