Only after an artist has established and consistently met impossibly high standards do we measure him or her by them. Which is what Prince has done over the course of a superstar 35-year career, which was his undoing Monday night. He turned in a thrilling, uproarious, hilarious 90-minute performance at the Tacoma Dome—and folks still went home unhappy.
According to reports. My crew and I went home gushing about a helluva show, the prevailing sentiment being, “Thank God for Prince.” An artist who demands $230 a seat demands deference as well. Part of genius’ power is that sometimes it leaves its audience befuddled. (See Bob Dylan, Bjork, Warhol, etc.)
The first hour of the concert was pure ecstasy, hit after hit played with a smoking-hot eight-piece band with three backup singers, a keyboard meastro on a satellite stage, and James Brown/P-Funk veteran Maceo Parker on saxophone. Everyone at the TDome—an estimated 15,000 people—knew every chorus and proved it by singing along: “Let’s Go Crazy” (“Dearly beloved…” is possibly the greatest-ever concert-opening phrase), “Delirious,” “Little Red Corvette,” “Take Me With You,” “Raspberry Beret,” “Cream.” Prince’s voice reached the highest piercing falsettos and big, resonant verses. He kicked and pumped and stalked around the 360-degree, Prince Symbol-shaped stage. He climbed atop and humped his piano, unleashed blistering guitar solos, and made intricate, ninja-like moves with his microphone stand that were equally beholden to James Brown and Michael Jackson, whose “Don’t Stop 'til You Get Enough” he snippeted. Tent revival gospel, Funkadelic sweat shop, husky blues jam, schmaltzy jazz lounge, raunchy sexcapade, all utter rock star preening and prowess, all unforgettable songs performed impeccably—this hour alone was worth the price of admission.
The band left the stage for a while while Prince sat solo at the piano, singing and playing “Take Me With You,” among others, to backing beats. This was an intimate glimpse of Prince at home in his Pro-Tools studio and a smart contrast to the full-band portion of the show, which he repeatedly touted as “real music.” A couple times during the night, he judged the mostly 30- 40-something crowd as younger than it actually was. (“Y’all are new school in here, huh?” he said at one point. “Don’t know what a saxophone is?” At which point Parker made an example of himself.)
Then there was “Purple Rain.” After a brief break, Prince rose up from below the stage in his third costume change amidst a storm of purple foil confetti to start the song and lead the entire arena in a singalong. Moments so swollen (the poetic term is “purple”) with joy, nostalgia and grandeur are all but extinct in the world of pop music.
After second encore “Controversy,” lights went up for the second time of the night. The time was 9:50. I was visiting a vendor at the moment and asked him when food service would end, expecting last call. “No idea,” he said. “There are no rules tonight.” The lights went down again, then up halfway and lingered. Some of the crowd left. Some stayed. Behind-the-scenes reports had stated the TDome was booked from 8 pm 'til midnight and Prince might play for four hours, but nothing was confirmed. By 10:10 the house lights were all the way up, the aisles emptying.
A confusing, controversial (ahem) ending for sure. But those who suggest their ticket expense would’ve been justified by another 30 minutes of music miss the point. Prince put more performance into 90 minutes than most do in two hours. Then he left to perform another two hours at a dance club in SoDo—a not so secret “secret” concert open to the public for $60.
Prince doesn’t give his audience what it wants, he gives it what he wants, and when, and where. The wise fan takes it.