As vinyl collectors in the Twin Cities took stock of their purchases from Record Store Day and local shop owners closed down their businesses for the weekend, a mysterious flyer popped up on social media: Prince was throwing a last-minute “Record Store Weekend Jam” at his Paisley Park complex on Sunday night, and anyone who worked at a record store could get in for free.
The offer proved enticing enough to bring about 150 people out on a school night — and, in typical Paisley Park fashion, the crowd would have to bide their time if they wanted to see what the fuss was about.
The first two hours of the party were a waiting game in the smaller of Paisley Park’s performance rooms. With a loop of Tower of Power’s 1973 performance on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert playing again and again, the audience started out giddy but gradually lost steam, with many of the assuredly exhausted record clerks taking a load off by sitting cross-legged on the ground in front of the stage. But thankfully when the Tower of Power video finished one of its loops and threatened to start over for the fourth or fifth time, the giant doors that lead to the main soundstage swung open and everyone jumped to their feet and started buzzing again.
Prince wasted no time launching into his first song, and everyone was still filing into the main room as he blasted through the opening strains of the 3RDEYEGIRL song “WOW” from behind a giant gauzy scrim covering the stage. When he sang the first line of the song, “Hello / How are you?” the scrim disappeared in a whoosh, and the crowd literally gasped and shrieked as they realized they were standing just a few feet from the performer as he sang and played his guitar.
Despite the fact that the show was billed as a “jam,” it was actually one of the more produced sets by Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL that I’d seen to date. The scrim peek-a-boo was a new addition, as was guitarist Donna Grantis and bassist Ida Nielsen’s coordinated march up onto elevated platforms during the extended squalor of “Let’s Go Crazy.” And the real wow factor came from just how much guitar Prince played throughout the night, starting with “Wow” and climaxing with an astonishing, jagged, never-ending solo on “Let’s Go Crazy” that seemed to span every fret on his gleaming guitar and somehow ended up right back in the original groove that was scorched into our collective memories when it was recorded in 1983.
Dressed in a black stocking cap, flowing silver jacket, stretchy wide-leg black pants and black leather high heels, Prince commanded the stage casually, only addressing the audience in short bursts. “Do we love records?,” he asked the crowd after “FUNKNROLL” (a song that has taken on an almost “Superstition”-like groove live), and made sure to sprinkle in his words of appreciation for record stores and music in general as often as he could.
After a short piano solo by Prince on “Stratus” and a strange drum solo by 3RDEYEGIRL’s Hannah Ford Welton that incorporated cartoony beats and ended with her twirling around alone on the stage, the audience was on the move again to follow a new sound that was emanating from the smaller room. There, Judith Hill and a nine-piece band that included members of NPG Horns tore into a set of material off her new Prince-produced album, Back in Time, and suddenly it all became clear: This show was Prince’s way of getting his new protégé in front of the people who might soon be selling her album to record buyers around town. Both he and Hill pulled out all the stops to make sure they left impressed.
Sunday night’s performance by Ms. Hill was a night-and-day difference from the short set she delivered last month on the same stage. For starters, she actually seemed to be having a good time — and she wanted the audience to have a good time, too, bouncing right up alongside the front row of the crowd and bounding up on a platform to sing and dance joyfully. Part soul revue and part gospel revival, Hill kept the energy cranked through the first two songs and had people dancing even harder than they had been for Prince. She taught the room a simple synchronized dance move to go along with “Wild Tonight” and poured her heart out during “Cry, Cry, Cry.” The audience demanded an encore, and she delivered with the boisterous call-and-response of “My People.”
As the clock struck April 20 (actually I think it was somewhere around 1 a.m.), the doors swung open once again and the crowd went back over to the main room for a mellower and more psychedelic set by Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL. With colorful, celestial graphics flashing across the back of the stage, Prince led the band through a gorgeous atmospheric rendition of “Revelation” that left the room so stunned and quiet that you could hear someone drop a water bottle on the floor at the end of the song.
The evening ended with long, noodle-y, blissed-out reimaginings of a few of Judith Hill’s songs, and it was clear that Prince was more interested in creating a vibe and experimenting with the textures of the songs than putting on a show. At one point, he motioned to Ida Nielsen that he wanted to play bass and have her take his guitar for “My People”; and at another, he and Hill sang in soulful harmony without bothering to get anywhere close to a microphone. With the NPG Horns blaring and the band settling into one last deep groove, he asked the stage tech to turn all the lights down and gave us all some sage advice: “Find a place to dance. There’s nothing to see, just dance.”
Set One: Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL
Let’s Go Crazy
Rock ‘n’ Roll Love Affair
Set Two: Judith Hill with NPG Horns
As Trains Go By
Fire (The Ohio Players cover, sung by Chance Howard)
Superstition (Stevie Wonder cover, sung by Kip Blackshire)
Love Trip/Hot Fun in the Summertime (Sly and the Family Stone cover)
Angel in the Dark
Cry, Cry, Cry
Set Three: Prince, 3RDEYEGIRL, NPG Horns and Judith Hill
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)/Dance to the Music/My People
Trains Go By
Final funk jam