What an incredible show. Prince is an artist that exceeds his fan’s expectations with his creativity and his energy. And for someone less familiar with him, like myself, a Prince show can easily be overwhelming. The third and final show of the purple one’s East Coast Residency at the decadent Mohegan Sun’s Arena went beyond any expectations I had of the artist. With over twenty musicians backing him, Prince put on a remarkable show that moved between funk and rock tunes with just a nod of his head.
I said the show was overwhelming because, while I wouldn’t have been surprised by a two and a half hour show based on reports from the previous night, I didn’t anticipate this night to start over an hour later nor did I anticipate that the Janelle Monáe would give a practically full set of her own in the opening slot (Esperanza Spalding had opened the previous two nights). But even before the opener, I found out last minute that the ladies of 3RDEYEGIRL and New Power Generation were throwing a press event prior to discuss some forthcoming release(s), that Prince might stop by during it (cut to the chase — he didn’t) and that there was an after-party in the Casino’s cabaret room following the show (and just to close the curtain on it now — Prince briefly appeared, didn’t perform and as a result, people got refunds).
Wandering backstage and downstairs to the press event, I got the opportunity to meet the band members — Liv Warfield, Donna Grantis, Hannah Ford, Ida Nielsen and Damaris Lewis and listen to them discuss their forthcoming album, Plectrum Electrum as well as Warfield’s own solo project due out this month, The Unexpected. Ford, Grantis and Nielsen make up 3RDEYEGIRL, a group that Prince assembled himself, with the assistance of the internet and Youtube performances of some of the ladies. Ford led the conversation with discussion of the familial nature of working with Prince and his organization. As the idea of family was bounced about, the ladies were asked if Prince ever flipped pancakes for them, in reference to an infamous Dave Chappelle skit (Chappelle’s visage graces the cover of Prince’s first single with 3RDEYEGIRL “Breakfast Can Wait”). Unfortunately, there had only been a pancake breakfast at Paisley Park but no Prince-prepared flapjacks.
No matter. Prince nurtures the musical spirits of his band with his presence. He helped craft Plectrum Electrum and a couple songs on The Unexpected. Performing with the man means the ladies have to be attuned to working with a musical genius, one who may change direction on stage or tell them they’ll be performing on the eastern edge of Connecticut and residing within the Mohegan Sun for days without any notice. Towards the end of the press event, the few people in attendance were treated to an unfinished premiere of Warfield’s video for “Why Do You Lie?” a powerful, funky track. Then the waiting began.
During his own set, Prince declared, “Janelle Monáe’s video “Q.U.E.E.N.” is the best video of 2013.” Before adding, “What’s more, her album [The Electric Lady] is the best album released this year”. While the nurturing musician has a cameo on Monáe’s album, it was still a special treat to see Prince join Monáe to perform their collaboration “Givin’ Em What They Love” — wheeled out on an upright dolly clad in stark white and black like a psychiatric patient, the same as Monáe had been. Unfortunately, as much as I love Monáe, the audience didn’t seem too enthusiastic for her — they were there for the purple one. Monáe electrified the stage for over an hour going through hits like “Cold War”, “Tightrope”, Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, Prince’s own “Let’s Go Crazy” and of course, “Q.U.E.E.N.”. But the audience was undeterred and coolly receptve of her moon-walking and tightrope dance-steps. The set was simply amazing though, as Monáe held nothing back.
When the house lights came back up to allow for the stage to be changed over, from the back of the floor, Doug E. Fresh turned the arena into a dance party with some classic hip-hop anthems. Fresh got people off their butts and kept them entertained until finally, Prince returned for his throne, this time in a sleeveless gold tunic with black trousers.
What followed was a largely funk-driven set, starting with “Big City”, propelled by the massive horn section and Lewis building drama with her lean dance steps, stepping around like a dazzling and diva-esque model at one point. The funk fest continued until guitar rock dropped on the song “Something in the Water” when Prince rhetorically asked the audience, “Oh you want to rock huh? Well we can do that. Depends on how far you want to go in.” But it wasn’t too long before things turned back towards funk as the NPG jammed “Pop Life”, “Nasty Girl” and other hits into an off the wall medley. Beyond the music, it was super enjoyable to observe the profound expressiveness Prince conveys just via his eyes — that twinkle made even more pronounced by the Jumbotron.
After the false goodnights at the end of “Housequake”, people knew that Prince would return for an encore. Returning to the stage, nearly in the shadows, Prince gave the audience his powerful, teary-eyed “Purple Rain”. It seemed like a fitting end, and as Prince said good bye again and left the stage, I left the arena. Unfortunately, this test proved I wasn’t one of his most loyal fans. They didn’t go over two and a half hours, but Prince and the NPG took the stage once more not long after for a few more songs, including “Raspberry Beret” and “Plectrum Electrum”. I got overwhelmed. There was already so much great music and the 55-year-old had just played arguably his biggest hit, so why not end there? Well Prince clearly lives and breathes music. He can’t stop. With the numerous supporting musicians of NPG and 3RDEYEGIRL behind him, he never has to.
Clip courtesy of Wireimage (Still above taken from this video).
3RDEYEGIRL and NPG at press event:
Liv Warfield (singer), Donna Grantis (guitar), Hannah Ford (drums), Ida Nielsen (bass), Damaris Lewis (dancer).
Head over to Facebook to see a larger gallery of images of Janelle’s set!. (Unfortunately we were not permitted to photograph Prince’s set.)
Prince’s setlist (via USA Today):
Nothing Compares 2 U
U Got the Look
The Sweeter She Is
Something In the Water (Does Not Compute)
Let’s Go Crazy
When Doves Cry
Sign o’ the Times
Forever In My Life
Take Me With U
Janelle Monáe’s setlist:
Givin Em What They Love (w/ Prince)
I Want You Back (The Jackson 5)
Let’s Go Crazy (The Revolution)
Come Alive (The War of the Roses)