Last night I found myself at the House of Blues for the second night of Prince’s Welcome2Chicago residency aftershow. He’d played the United Center the night before, and the crowd at House of Blues waited until 3am for him to come out and say that the cops were shutting it down. I found this out on my way to the venue, and my heart instantly sank. I’ve been in this kind of situation once before. Back in 2005, when 3121 came out, I waited in line for 8 hours to get tickets to Prince’s aftershow at First Ave along with Kari. The doors opened at midnight and he took the stage at ten til 3. We at least got an hours worth before he announced that they wouldn’t be allowed to continue. I don’t know what I’d do if I waited all that time and got nothing.
That show at First Ave was his first in the venue in over 20 years (since Purple Rain) and was easily one of the best shows I’ve ever seen despite the brief runtime. So while I was discouraged about the news from the previous night, I showed up at House Of Blues with a positive attitude. The doors were set to open at ten and I showed up about fifteen after and got in line. I was shocked how few people were there ahead of me and then realized that the majority of people coming would have also been at the United Center for the regular show. I could have shown up half an hour later and probably got just as good a view. For ninety dollars I wanted to make sure I got a good spot, though. And I did-front row, stage right.
It was eleven when I got to my position for the night, and I knew it would be at least an hour before the thought of live music would enter the building. Luckily there was a DJ named Dudley D who was playing a lot of mid to late-90’s hip hop that kept the crowd feeling good. He was actually one of the better DJ’s I’ve heard. A little too much The Gap Band, but he made up for it with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The time went by pretty quickly, and before I knew it there were shadows moving behind the curtain on the stage (which has to be the ugliest curtain any venue is currently using).
Before I knew it, it was almost one in the morning and security was making final checks. Minutes later Prince’s newest dancer Damaris Lewis came out to introduce the band. The crowd went predictably wild, and I was getting really good vibes that this would be something special. The New Power Generation kicked into some funky swing, and then there he was-The Purple One-standing right in front of me.
There were some complaints from night one at the United Center that Prince didn’t play any guitar and acted more like a guy directing a band than a guy playing a show. This is a point I understand and relate to. At the same time, The New Power Generation is SO good, it’s hard to complain. I think there was a definite break in the way Prince approached playing live. My guess is it came out of the Musicology sessions, but it could have been before that. I think he realized that he has this unique opportunity to play with and enjoy having all these great musicians around him and he wants to have a good time with it. If that means he spends more time with the microphone pointed at the bell of a trombone than up to his mouth, so be it.
Shelby J took a lot of the vocal workload, which is the norm at these events. When I saw her perform with Prince at First Ave, I thought she was a little off. There was something sharp in her voice that she couldn’t get away from. Last night she absolutely killed it. I don’t think she hit a false note the whole show, and there was so much power in her vocal chords I thought she might literally blow the roof off the place. This was especially true during the bands cover of india.arie’s “Brown Skin.”
Of course all anyone really wants is for Prince to pick up a guitar and go wild. Well, it was about an hour into the show before he touched one. And when he did it was for an extended medley that found him riffing with his supremely talented guitarist Mike Scott. This three song suite included “There’s Nothing Greater, U And Me,” “Everyday People,” and “Dance Electric.”
Prince has that unique quality of making everyone else disappear when he interacts with the crowd. It’s usually found in great public speakers, and Prince is one of the very few musicians who have acquired it. His banter isn’t even all that great. I think he did a call and response about Chicago getting down like ten times, but because he’s asking you to be involved in the conversation you do whatever he wants. The crowd is so enamored with him, I could easily see everyone at House of Blues following him to the ends of the Earth.
When he came out for the encore, he made the announcement that he needed to save his vocal chords for the following evening when he would be playing with Janelle Monae. He left the stage and let the band do their thing for a while, so the last thing he sang was 3121‘s “Get On The Boat.”
It was an incredible show. Somehow Prince managed to not only keep me awake well past my bedtime, but provide me more energy than I showed up with. How the man does it, I’ll never know. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention to other standout performers from last night that really had me groovin’. John Blackwell on drums really laid down the beats. Maybe the best funk/rock and roll drummer I’ve seen live since Questlove. He took a short break and Hannah Ford took over on drums for one song, and she was also phenomenal. Last I’d like to recognize Marcus Anderson, saxophonist extraordinaire. One of the best horn players I’ve ever heard. He had a couple solos that really blew my mind.
And that’s it. If you caught the show count yourself lucky. Prince live is one of the great experiences a person can have. If not, I’m sorry. If you’re in Chicago they posted some tickets for $29.50 to tonight’s gig at United Center. Way up in the 300’s though, so bring your binoculars.