Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Majestically Talented Prince Still Reigns, Albeit Quite Purplexingly -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

United Center, Chicago
September 24, 2012

Until the "end," and what happened after, I didn't think Prince's show Monday at the United Center--the first of three put on sale--was nearly as bad as some other reviews (1, 2, 3) seem to be suggesting.

More than not, I rather enjoyed it and found the basis of most complaints (lack of structure, preponderance of song snippets, heavy showcasing of background vocalists) to be fully in keeping with the two Prince shows I'd previously seen (in 2000 and 2004).

So although I may have preferred a performance that was formatted and presented a bit differently, I pretty much got what I expected, at least until the Princester decided to pull a rude ruse on his fans, some of whom paid $150 and up for tickets (I didn't).

But let me back up and say that while there are a number of musical artists I favor, there really is no one alive--not even just in music--who I can readily suggest as being any more talented than Prince. Given his prodigious gifts as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, musician who can play myriad instruments, dancer, producer, arranger and concert performer, there are relatively few people who can match any of his talents, let alone the combined array of them.

At Monday night's inaugural Welcome 2 Chicago concert, his multi-faceted artistry was frequently on dazzling display. From one moment to the next, Prince channeled James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger with equal aplomb. And rather than a typically structured concert comprised of a song, then another song, then another song, etc., Prince put on his own non-stop funk festival in which he showcased creations of his made famous by others—“The Bird” and “Jungle Love” (The Time), Sheila E’s “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre,” and “Nothing Compares to You” (Sinead O'Connor)—as well as covers of The Impressions' "We're A Winner" and Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough.”

Even at 54, the artist originally, formerly and currently known as Prince seemingly hasn’t lost a step--at least to someone who never saw him way back when. Dressed in a half-black, half-white suit that pretty much summed up the audience, he was a kinetic presence as he moved about the unpronounceable symbol-shaped stage in the center of the UC floor. Between singing, dancing, playing the guitar and piano, and even in frequently sharing the spotlight with—or fully ceding it to—female backup singers (as on Shelby Johnson's rendition of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel") Prince was never less than entertaining, until he wasn’t, but more on that in a moment.

There was no denying his virtuosity and to me, no debate that his show was much more acutely enjoyable than the one I saw Madonna deliver at the same venue last Wednesday. Suddenly, it seems to be 1985 all over again, with Prince, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen being the biggest concert acts to hit Chicago over the past 3 weeks.

While I liked Prince much more than Madonna, he wasn’t nearly as good as Bruce. This might seem an obvious opinion coming from such a devoted Springsteen fanatic, but I would concede that Prince is not only more extensively talent than the Boss, but also has a catalog that’s just as deep (even if I’m not as big a fan of it).

But unlike the outstanding examples of end-to-end bliss Springsteen produced at Wrigley a few weeks ago, the Prince show felt more like a demonstration of amazing talent than a fully satisfying concert. And Prince pissed off his own fans in a way that I don’t believe Bruce ever has.

That Prince took the stage—rising through a trap door in the middle of the symbol—a tad after 9:00pm for an 8:00pm show that had no opening act didn’t bother me at all; in fact it seemed sort of normal.

And although “Pop Life” was the only strictly Prince-doing-Prince song that I really recognized in a fluid first hour that played like a stream of funkonsciousness, I was readily able to admire what Prince and his band—including a horn section—were doing.

Still, I preferred when he delivered full, largely faithful versions of “Take Me With You,” “Raspberry Beret,” “Cream” and an extended rendition of “Purple Rain.” And if you simply look at the setlist (on Setlist.fm), it might be easy to imagine that it was an absolutely fantastic show.

But while his purple majesty gave the crowd a mostly full “Kiss,” as has been his wont in the past, “When Doves Cry” consisted of the audience singing the first two verses before the song morphed into “Sign of the Times,” which also wasn’t played all the way through. And “Darling Nikki” and “I Would Die 4 U” were given merely opening riff teases—to huge applause—only to evaporate.

After about 2 hours, Prince ended the show—or so it seemed—with a couple songs I didn’t recognize. But while I would’ve liked a little more structure and a few more hits, played in full, I was sufficiently impressed, including by a rather scintillating lighting display, to have awarded the show @@@@1/2.

But then things got stupid.

After Prince said thank you and left the stage, the house lights stayed down, no PA music came on and the outline of the symbol-shaped stage remained lit.

Prince had already taken his sweet time coming back onstage after “Purple Rain,” so it didn’t seem impossible that he might reappear after a few minutes of stage mopping that was taking place.

But a few minutes turned into 10, then 20, as some people around me on the 3rd level started to leave while most remained put. On a restroom run, I asked two security guards if they thought it was over, and they said “Yes,” but still I stayed, in the dark, more out of curiosity than any real need to hear Prince tease me with any more song snippets.

Finally, at 11:40pm, the house lights came up and people booed lustily. And seemingly everyone left the building and went out to their cars, except for the heartiest souls who still stuck around—not me—only to be ushered out within 10 minutes, according to reports.

This would’ve been bad enough, that Prince kept people hanging for 40-50 minutes for no reason.

But even worse, I learned today that at about midnight, with conceivably very few people left in the arena, Prince came back onstage and played “1999” and “Little Red Corvette.” There were even unconfirmed Facebook insinuations that he had alerted his fan club to stick around after the lights came on. 

As my friend Paolo said—we were both there but not sitting together—“That’s bullshit.”

While I doubt Prince will lose any sleep that this ridiculousness cost him a 1/2@ on my rating of his show, I am puzzled on why he would go out of his way to be so maddening. The show itself—or at least the first 2 hours of it—wasn’t perfect, but it was sufficiently pleasing, even at times astonishing.

So why end the night by royally pissing everyone—or very close to it—off?​

Seems there was also mass dissension at Prince's after-show gig at the House of Blues, where he himself didn't even play a song.

In addition to Tuesday night's show at the UC, Prince also plays Wednesday, with tickets seemingly still available.


Brad said...

Got to see the second show on Tuesday night, which you may be amused to hear had Prince apologizing for the "inconvenience" of the night before, saying they had some kinks to work out. Great show and I thought your review was spot on.

Anonymous said...

prince murdered the TUESDAY NIGHT show. so happy I attended. I felt like I literally time travelled to his purple rain movie. phenomenal