Prince proved once again Saturday night that the best purple parties are the last-minute purple parties. He united his power trio 3rdEyeGirl and his sprawling NPG for a punchy, potent set that kept Paisley Park packed until 2:00 in the morning.
Word of the show got out just days beforehand, and fans started lining up outside Paisley’s gates early in the afternoon on Saturday. A line grew and snaked down the street across from Prince’s home and studio despite the cold temperatures and relentless rain, and by the time doors were scheduled to open at 9 p.m. there were a couple thousand fans, a news van, and police swarming the streets in quiet, tightly controlled anticipation.
Paisley Park’s soundstage is relatively large (12,500 square feet, with the space to hold over 1,000 fans) but feels intimate, and even before he took the stage Prince could be spotted in the wings, directing traffic and talking to his band. The show started promptly at 10:02 p.m., when many fans were still filing into the building, and kicked off with over an hour of music performed by NPG’s three back-up singers, Shelby J, Liv Warfield, and Elisa Dease.
Each vocalist took turns performing a short set of their own songs backed by the NPG, and as the band settled in and found their groove the energy started to build in step with fans’ giddiness. By the time Liv Warfield finished her fiery turn at the mic it seemed like Prince was about to come out, and the singers traded verses on a dramatic cover of “At Last” and stepped back into the shadows as the band tore into “Days of Wild.” But the song carried on without vocals and Prince was nowhere to be seen, so the group took a few quick solos and then filed off stage, handing things over to the DJ around 11:30 p.m.
With no phones allowed, nothing but water available to drink, and the room too crowded to do much dancing or mingling, the next 30 minutes were a jittery affair, with fans singing along to cuts like OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson,” Snoop Dogg’s “Drop it Like It’s Hot,” and Prince’s own “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” For a moment, it felt like we were all at a middle school dance, awkwardly shifting our feet and trying to figure out what to do next. But right at midnight the band re-appeared and launched into “At Last” again, signaling the start of the evening’s next chapter.
The three singers moved to the center of the stage again, but before they could begin the song a confident pre-teen girl in a black-and-white striped suit coat shoved them aside and proceeded to deliver an electrifying, hurried version of the song. As the NPG singers moved out of the spotlight they revealed that Prince had also taken the stage, and he stood next to the young singer (who he introduced as Brianna Curiel) and watched in awe as she kicked off his set.
From then on out it was a straight-up Prince show, with the 11-piece NPG and all three members of 3rdEyeGirl uniting to blast off funky, horn-laden riffs behind Prince as he sang. The set started out with a pair of hits, “1999″ and “Diamonds and Pearls,” before winding into the longer, more complex medleys and jams that made up much of his residency at the Dakota last winter.
The band sounded incredibly tight, even more so than they did at those Dakota shows, and had clearly rehearsed not just the songs but intricate transitions between each number. This was especially clear on a medley that strung together Prince protege Andy Allo’s “People Pleaser” with new song “Ain’t Gonna Miss U When U’re Gone” and “F.U.N.K.,” with each song bleeding into the next and building an incredible momentum.
“Ain’t you tired of trying to please people all the time?” Prince asked at the top of the medley, following up his question with a little impromptu bit about a man and a woman arguing about who was going to do the grocery shopping and cook dinner. As with the shows at the Dakota, Prince proved to be an engaging and entertaining banterer throughout the night, cracking jokes and telling stories in funny little voices and generally doing everything he could to rile up the crowd.
When he was about 45 minutes into the set he stopped and teased the audience, saying that he might be done for the night but that we could stay and dance to the DJ. But the crowd loudly protested and he turned to shoot us all a sly grin, then tore open a wrenching version of “Purple Rain” that showcased just how strong and soulful his voice still is after all this time.
After several years of shying away from the spotlight and playing shows everywhere else but here, it truly seems that 2013 is the year Prince is trying to reconnect with his hometown crowd. It was evidenced in the hit-heavy set list he chose for Saturday night’s party, in his demeanor throughout the night, and in the way he dropped the word “Minneapolis” into nearly every song, at one point stopping during “Purple Rain” to say “This is your song, Minneapolis! Own it, Minneapolis!”
Prince had a keyboard set up at the edge of the stage and seemed like he was going to sit down and play it at one point, but the only time he picked up an instrument was for a fiery solo at the end of “Musicology” and leading into a punchy medley of “Love Rollercoaster” and “Play That Funky Music.” Honestly, his vocals were so strong throughout the night and 3rdEyeGirl’s Donna Grantis proved so capable on the guitar that it didn’t really seem like much was missing, but the crowd certainly ate up that brief moment when he strapped on his own axe.
The band came back for an encore at about 1 a.m., and Prince re-emerged in a new outfit (he traded a slinky, silky, and bejeweled vest and turtleneck for a Sgt. Pepper’s-evoking maroon tunic) and paid tribute to Larry Graham with a joyous cover of “It’s Alright.”
“You know I like to play practical jokes; look at my outfit” he joked after that song, returning to his little character sketch of a woman and man arguing about dinner and talking about a woman who left him. “Take me back,” he pleaded, then turned to the audience and said, “Minneapolis, take me back! Please, Minneapolis!”
And with that he brought Shelby J back to the front of the stage for a powerful duet on “Nothing Compares 2 U,” another of the night’s show-stopping moments. He followed it up with the Time’s “Cool” and a sprawling, scintillating cover of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” which he dedicated sarcastically to entertainment giant AEG.
Of all the things Prince said throughout the night, though, one question stood out above all the others. Before playing “Purple Rain” he stopped, looked out at the crowd, and calmly asked, “So, should we do this again next weekend?” And I think you can guess what the audience had to say about that one; everyone in attendance did our best to tell him a resounding “YES.”
Prince at Paisley Park 10/5/13 set list:
Diamonds and Pearls
Old Friends For Sale
People Pleaser / Ain’t Gonna Miss U When U’re Gone / F.U.N.K
Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)
Love Rollercoaster / Play That Funky Music
Breakfast Can Wait
Act of God / What Have You Done for Me Lately? (NPG singers)
Nothing Compares 2 U
Don’t Stop til You Get Enough / Partyman
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