I would call myself a Prince fan. I’m not a Prince fanatic … I’ve known a few of those and they’re pretty kuh-razy … but I’ve been a solid supporter throughout some of his down periods and I usually pick up the records that don’t get totally panned. Which, for a long stretch in the nineties, was not too many of them.
But then in 2004, with the release of Musicology, it seemed like Prince was trying to be Prince again. And everyone who had no real reason to like him for the past 10 years breathed a sigh of relief and crossed our fingers that he just might still have another Purple Rain or Sign O’ the Times in him somewhere. I went to see him at Madison Square Garden during that tour, and it was the only stadium show I’ve ever seen that actually belonged in a stadium. Prince is so good live that he can make a 20,000 seat venue feel like a small club. Sarah has never seen him live before, and we’ve always said that money would be no object if he came around again.
A few weeks ago Sarah and I were driving around LA when I saw an electronic billboard with a big picture of Prince and something about “5 nights in a row.” “Hey!” I shouted, and Sarah reflexively tensed up on the wheel. Sarah does not like sudden, loud noises when she’s driving. I apologized and pointed her attention to the billboard. As soon as I pointed it out, though, it changed, like the singing frog that refuses to sing in front of anyone but me. We were driving up La Brea in West Hollywood, and there’s a string of electronic billboards set up in a row that rotate their ads every twenty seconds or so. And every time the Prince ad came up, we were just far enough away that we couldn’t read it. But the seed had been planted. Prince’s seed.
When we got home, we looked it up online and discovered that the billboard was referring to a 5 night stand on Jay Leno. Which, I don’t think there’s anyone I care about enough to suffer though Jay Leno.
A few days later, I thought I should check again. He had a new record coming out, he was playing Jay Leno, he lives in LA now … he had to be playing somewhere, right? So I went to the Prince fansite, Prince.org, and discovered that indeed, he was playing 3 shows in one night at the Nokia pavilion or music mall or whatever they want to call it in downtown LA. There was a 7:00 show, a 9:30 show, and 12:00 show. The $75 tickets were, of course, sold out, but we found 2 General Admission (!) seats available on a scalper site called StubHub for $150 apiece. I know, I know, it’s a lot of money. But I rationalized it by telling myself that I have paid $30 for many shows in the past, and Prince easily delivers 5X the show of any other performer. So, voila. We got tickets to the midnight show, because, um, duh. When given the choice between a 7, a 9:30, and a midnight, of course you’re gonna get the midnight seats.
2 weeks later, the night of the show. A few of our friends ended up joining us, because it’s like a once in a lifetime thing, right? We got to the venue at like 11:00. Doors were supposed to open at 11:30. Luckily, our friends Terry and Yu had arrived a few minutes earlier, and they were in good position in the rapidly lengthening line. So Sarah, Shea, Amanda and I joined them and waited.
And waited. Finally at, 12:45, they opened the doors to the venue. I ran into a friend’s brother in the line. He was geeked. I was geeked. We were all geeked. Prince!
Earlier in the evening I had gone on Prince.org and found the set list for the 7:00 show. Which was:
Crimson and Clover
I Feel 4 U
If I Was Your Girlfriend
Play that Funky Music
Lets Go Crazy
The Glamourous Life (with Sheila E)
Let’s Go Crazy? Purple Rain?!? Come Together?!? Sheila E.!?!?!?! With that kind of rock solid early show, who could ever predict the mind-blowing delights that were certain to greet us at the midnight show?
After going through 10 minutes worth of security, we walked in the club. It was tiny. I mean, not tiny, like the kind of venue I would play tiny. But tiny for Prince. We were right on the floor, general admission. The bar had specialty Prince-themed drinks – the Purple Rain, Around the World in a Daiquiri – I just made the last one up. Sarah and I spent $24 apiece on two beers. Who cares? Money is no object! Prince!
We wandered around for a few minutes, trying to find the best viewpoint. Guess what? They were all good! We were like 30 feet from the stage!
And then, a few minutes after we walked in, Prince wandered out, nonchalantly. There he was. Right in front of us. He mumbled some words to the crowd, and then launched into a slow jam that I’d never heard before.
“I see what he’s doing here,” I whispered to Sarah. “He’s bringing it down a little, so that we’ll be all the more pumped when he breaks out the hits.”
The next song was another slow jam. And then another. And then an extended keyboard solo in which Prince wandered offstage entirely. And not like some kind of Lisa Coleman hot keyboard jam … think bad Herbie Hancock. Reeeeallly bad Herbie Hancock.
As the show went on, the expected “kick out the jams” moment never arrived. Amanda knew someone who worked at the venue, and soon enough we got the inside scoop. Unannounced before tickets went on sale, and unbeknownst to anyone except Prince and his band, each of the three shows had a theme. The first show was the Pop show. That’s why it was filled with the awesome pop hits that everyone wanted to hear. The second show was the Rock show. I saw the set list for that show later, and although it was filled with a lot of obscurities, it was still a freaking rock show.
The theme of our show? The midnight show that anyone in their right mind would have assumed would’ve been the “party until the break of dawn” show?
For curiosity seekers, here’s the complete set list.
Under The Cherry Moon (no vocals)
Dreaming Of U (no vocals)
Lay U’re Hands On Me
Journey To The Center Of Your Heart
The Sun, The Moon And Stars
Sometimes It Snows In April (no vocals)
When The Lights Go Down
I Love U But I Don’t Trust U Anymore
She Spoke To Me
A Large Room With No Light
Sweet Thing (with Chaka Khan)
The Beautiful Ones
Nothing Compares 2 U
Okay, what? All right, “The Beautiful Ones” and “Nothing Compares 2 U” were sweet treats. But at the end of a night of nonstop jazzbo jams and scat singing, they lose their luster somewhat. According to the Prince fanatics on Prince.org, I should’ve been pumped to hear “A Large Room With No Light.” I had never heard that song before. Apparently it’s an unreleased track that he never plays live. I didn’t realize what I was hearing at the time, so I jotted down some of the words:
Skee skat skiddly bo skat skiddle
Be bop jabooty skat skibbly be bop booty
Biggity bop snap skatty skat boozy bop skat skippy
4 U 2 B one love universal this sound system sucks
Skat skibbly bo skip jazzy jazz!
At the end of the show, they kept the lights off for a good 15 minutes as we stood there cheering for more. We were cheering for more because we felt as though we had not yet seen a show. And this was the case with everyone surrounding me, not just my friends. Throughout the show, people were screaming with disappointment. And after 15 minutes of being in the dark, hoping beyond hope that we could hear at least one song we liked, the lights came on and we went home. Oh, and also, the bar closed about 1/2 an hour after the show began.
I’m sure the true Princeheads, who had gotten tickets to all three shows, probably thought it was a jazzy delight. As our friend Terry said, “Prince just gave me blueballs.” I told the story of the show to my friend Jenn afterwards, who said, “well, they don’t call him the Purple Douche for nothing!” Amen, Jenn. Amen.