I feel like now is a good time to come clean with my dirty little Minnesotan secret: Before last night, I’d never seen Prince perform live. I’ve been going to concerts for over twenty years, I’ve loved Prince just as long and I’ve lived all but a few months in Minnesota. Plenty long enough to catch a show. It’s one of those things that never fell into place. So when I saw the announcement that Prince would be opening up the doors to his Paisley Park studios for a show this weekend, I felt compelled to take advantage of the opportunity.
Four of us drove out from Minneapolis to the Chanhassen, home to Paisley Park studios. (and oddly enough, the Temple of Eckanar across street) We arrived at about five pm, a full four hours before doors were to open, and there were already about 150 people in line. One thing about Minnesotans is that everybody has a Prince story. Some saw him in concert, at exclusive after-parties, appearances here and there. I realized in these conversations that not only had I not been to a Prince concert, but I also didn’t have a Prince story of my own. I was a little ashamed and kept it to myself. Hopefully I was about to pick up a two for one.
Rumors spread, as they will, that Paisley Park shows in the past allowed as few as 300 people into the 1,100-person capacity room, and up to capacity for other shows. Nobody knew that to be true, but we talked about it anyway as the rain started and stopped. Eventually, the line compacted, people shuffling together and a little after 9:30 the line started moving. There was a short list of precautions for visiting Paisley Park that we were made aware of in the show’s announcement:
- No cell phones or cameras. We were told we would be wanded by security, so don’t bother trying to sneak it in.
- No alcohol on the premises. He’s a Jehovah’s Witness. Maybe that’s why?
- No swearing. Not even kidding.
- No re-entry. You’ve got to make sure that you’re really ready to go when you leave. Even if you hear him start playing Seven and want to rush back inside, you can’t.
Eventually we got inside and were led to a counter to pay the $50 “donation” for entry. Just to the right of the ticket counter is the motorcycle from Purple Rain. The walls were lavender, of course. It was a short walk to the venue and while I’d read it was 12,500 square feet, I didn’t realize the ceiling was going to be as high as a high school gymnasium.
The main difference standing Paisley Park from other 1000-capacity venues is that the instant we walked in, I could hear Shelby J perfectly, as well as her New Power Generation band members flanking her. She was tearing it up, and immediately reminded me of Gail Ann Dorsey, who played bass for David Bowie and killed Freddie Mercury’s part on ‘Under Pressure.’ Shelby relinquished her place as the singer to Elisa Dease who sang two pretty soft songs before Liv Warfield took the stage and…well, taught all the men in the audience that she deserves respect and that it’s probably a good idea to never cross her. The instant her hand touched the microphone, the music kicked up several notches and did not relent until she was good and ready.
A note about NPG: This is a huge band. There are three singers, four trumpets, two trombones, two baritone saxes (one plays flute), three alto saxes, a keyboard, drums, six-stringed bass and a rotation of 2-3 guitars. None of them were still for any length of time. The entire band undulates with the music, with coordinated dances, a seamless system of solos and a lack of any one band member stepping on each other’s toes, either metaphorically or literally. They are very well coordinated.
A few songs later, the music stopped and there was a significant delay while the stage set-up was tweaked. One interesting thing my party noticed was that the songs played between acts were predominantly Prince’s songs, which seemed a little odd as we were about to watch them be performed. But, you know, Prince’s house: Prince’s rules. They also played Jay-Z, who’s lyrics would have been enough to get him kicked out of the studios. Maybe Prince just lets it slide sometimes.
NPG took the stage, appeared start up “At Last” for the second time when out from behind the three singers sprang what appeared to be a 12 year-old girl who turned out to be a girl named Brianna Curiel.* Prince took the stage as “At Last” reached crescendo and Ms Curiel belted out the final ‘last,’ and gave her a big comical look up and down. His eyes got really big, he shook his head no and grabbed the microphone as she finished, playing up that he was threatened she might be a better singer.
“Hey fellas.” He asked the crowd, and all the guys responded enthusiastically. “Does this sound familiar, (adopting a higher-pitched ladies voice) ‘Baby, can you run to the store to get some food?'” The crowd responded somewhat less enthusiastically, but supported him all the same. He continued, “So are you gonna cook, then? ‘No, I’m gonna need you to cook, too.'” He threw a hand up, “Wait, you want me to go to the store and cook, too? Oh, no.” And with that, the band kicked in and the show started.
Prince may be 55, but he can still dance like he’s 25. He has a perfectly rounded afro and was wearing…something like a bedazzled sleeveless cape and a sort of pajama-dress hybrid. They could have very easily transitioned to pajamas. As I said, it’s his house so his rules. He can wear pj’s if he wants.
Prince and NPG jammed, riffed and danced their way through a selection of Prince’s catalog, as well as dipping into a medley of covers including Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster” and Wild Cherry’s “Play that Funky Music.” Prince would gesture to various band members during a song, inviting them to come up front and center to solo. He was very animated and theatrical throughout the performance, making a stink-face every time somebody hit a complicated part or their solo, waving towels to cool them down or shaking his head and smiling.
He announced the last song of the night, thanked Minneapolis (despite being in Chanhassen, but I’ll take it) and left the stage. Predictably, and thankfully returned to the stage after a short break. He’d changed out of his pajama-dress and was in what appeared to be a form-fitting woven velour jacket and pants. He started up his dialogue with the audience again, mourning his loss of the lady who asked him to buy and cook her food for her, joked about the sad outfit he was wearing and mock-cried asking her to come back to him, which led into Shelby J joining him for “Nothing Compares 2 U.” She has an incredible pair of lungs fueling a powerful voice that pierced deep as she and Prince traded lyrical blows.
The show ended with a cover of ‘Cool,’ by The Time and an extended tribute to Michael Jackson with “Can’t Stop til You Get Enough.” There was another long series of solos along the way, with Prince making sure that everybody got a chance at one, which was no small feat given NPG’s size. The song, and show ended on a high note, and people slowly filed out looking happily shell-shocked by what they’d just seen.
I wish I could have taken a picture or two to share the experience, especially Prince’s outfits, but it was a welcome change to be completely without distraction by my or anybody else’s screens. Its more of a group experience and after getting over my initial withdrawal perhaps a rule I will be adopting again at future shows. I can now walk in confidence knowing that I’ve finally seen Prince perform live, in his house, in his pj’s, and I finally have my own Prince story.
(*edit- I originally listed Brianna Curiel as Prince’s daughter, which is entirely untrue, as was my listing Lipps Inc as one of the bands covered. Perhaps going forward I won’t take somebody referring to “My girl Brianna” as “we are related, and she is the fruit of my loins.” Thank you to Humann for the correction.)