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Prince brings out Bobby Z, thanks hometown fans at uneven Myth show

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After years of multi-night stands at other big cities in the U.S. Prince has recently rekindled his mercurial love affair with his hometown, starting with his six-show stand at the Dakota back in January and ramping up to a surprise two-show engagement at the Myth on Saturday night.

Many area fans initially balked at the steep ticket price ($259) for the intimate shows in Maplewood, so two less-expensive tiers were created to draw in more of an audience for the Purple One and his new backing band, 3rd Eye Girl. The Myth still didn’t reach capacity by showtime, but it was plenty full of fans from throughout the country who were anxious to see Prince play a club in his home state.

While seeing Prince play in a small room again after years of arena tours was exhilarating, his 95-minute set proved to be decidedly uneven and a bit wayward, with the spectacular moments frustratingly standing side-by-side with substandard jams. Prince did frequently tear it up on guitar during the 19-song set, but he repeatedly deferred to guitarist Donna Grantis throughout the inconsistent performance and stayed cautiously behind his keyboard for many of the night’s most poignant and moving moments.

After a pre-show announcement from drummer Hannah Ford Welton, in which she encouraged us all to put away our phones and cameras (though they were strictly forbidden in the club anyway) and “be in the moment and have some fun with us,” the lights eventually dimmed and plumes of smoke emerged from underneath the curtains. Booming drums notified everyone that the party was indeed starting, and as the curtains drew, Prince was sitting confidently on the bass drum, wearing a black jacket adorned with fringes and rhinestones over purple bellbottoms. He surveyed the audience for a moment and then screamed “Hometown!” as he strapped on a guitar and led the band through a simmering, bluesy run through of “Let’s Go Crazy.”

“Are you ready for me?” Prince self-assuredly teased as he touched his prominent afro, launching into a ferocious guitar solo while the screens behind the band lit up like a decibel meter. Prince let the crowd sing the “Oh no, let’s go” chorus before subtly morphing the song into Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein,” and he and Grantis raucously brought the song home. It was a thrilling start to the show, with Prince emulating another famous Minnesota musician (Dylan) by completely reworking one of his most famous songs.

“Is this Saturday night or what?” Prince asked, getting a loud roar back from the club in response. “Oh really? Hit me Hannah!” And with that, the band launched into “Endorphinmachine,” while the screens featured stark, black and white Duchamp/Escher-like images which boldly illuminated the performance. “I’m at home now, so I’ve got a question for you,” Prince asked while the band broke the song down. “Do you like rock ‘n’ roll? Do you like your rock ‘n’ roll funky, though? Funk it up, then!” And the band obliged, with bassist Ida Nielsen and Welton locking in on a smooth groove as the track erupted.

Prince was in a playful and talkative mood throughout the set, asking us, “Are you ready for the old-school? Do you mind if we lip-sync? Just for a song or two—everyone else is doing it.” And indeed, Prince’s pre-recorded vocals launched the beginning of “Screwdriver” as colorful neon lyrics were spelled out on the screens behind the band. And while the live version of this new track is miles better than the studio effort, the new song paled in comparison to the potency of Prince’s bigger hits; a Frampton-like solo just made the song sound dated and dusty, even though it’s a new jam.

A soulful and funky take on the 1985 b-side, “She’s Always In My Hair,” smoothed things out, with Prince delivering a scorching solo and some restrained dance moves. “Y’all aren’t ready for me,” Prince admonished, before freestyling on the lyrics a bit, working “She’s always in Prince’s little curly hair” suggestively into the end of the song. When he asked the crowd to sing along to the chorus, he got a meek response, and took us to task for it. “I think I heard like three of y’all on that one.” When he got a much louder reaction from the audience he smiled and brushed his shoulder off in appreciation, making one of the few true connections with the crowd throughout the show, despite the intimacy of the club.

Prince then went behind the keyboard for a tender take on “The Love We Make,” a slow-burning spiritual number from his ’96 triple-album Emancipation, which featured Grantis leading the way with her bluesy guitar squall—a turn which Prince himself acknowledged before the next track. “That’s Donna Grantis on guitar. Show her love,” he commanded. He momentarily strapped on a guitar before ditching it and going back to the keys for an impassioned take on “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man,” with the Purple One orchestrating the band through the number with the plaintive strains of the keys.

The show had definitely hit a lull at this point, and the combination of “Guitar” and the brand new “Fixurlifeup” tried to light a fuse but failed to find a spark, despite Prince strutting around on stage during the latter song without an instrument to play for the only time in the night. He returned to the keyboard for a tepid, passionless take on “When Doves Cry” that was the biggest disappointment of the entire show, letting the audience sing most of the lyrics as he passively added nothing to the song with his barely-audible keys. It just seemed like Prince wasn’t interested in digging into the raw emotions that inspired the hit in the first place, and without that fire and intensity, the song languished and ultimately fell flat.

At this point, Prince shifted into DJ mode behind his keyboard and invited fans up to dance while he led the band through a medley of hits, changing the hooks of the songs at will, seemingly with a push of a button. A sexless version of Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” morphed into a more inspired take on “Sign O’ The Times,” with Prince only adding his vocals in the mix at this point, disappearing behind the sea of bad dancing taking place in front of him. “It’s Saturday night, we could do this all evening,” Prince exclaimed/threatened. “Do you know how many hits I’ve got in this box?” A quick snippet of “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” followed by a lengthier rendition of “Hot Thing” only proved his point.

“Y’all ready? Let’s go,” encouraged Prince, as the familiar strains of Sheila E’s “A Love Bizarre” rang out in the club. Prince was laughing arrogantly at this point, knowing that he held a good chunk of the club in his hands while controlling the energy of the entire club with just a push of a button. “Is this a lip-sync band? Well, tonight it is,” teased Prince. “Y’all don’t like real music. No, you don’t. I’ve got too many hits in here.” He was half right—whatever this portion of the show was, wasn’t real music. And no, I didn’t like it.

The band took turns soloing during an extended jam on “Housequake” that gradually fizzled out, before Prince announced, “Y’all having a good time so far? We need Mister Goodnight out here on the drums. Take your time, sir. Get settled in.” And with that, legendary drummer for the Revolution, Bobby Z, came out to take a turn behind the drum kit for an emotional take on “Purple Rain.” Prince sadly didn’t touch a guitar throughout the track, preferring to stay rooted behind his keyboard while streams of angelic white light shot up over him. And while this version wasn’t technically the greatest rendition of “Purple Rain” ever played, what Prince said during the track’s breakdown ultimately made it quite memorable.

Prince changed the lyrics of the second verse to “this friendship will never end,” and then went on to emotionally and openly pay tribute to his longtime friend and collaborator. “When I first started out in this business, the guy behind the drums was right by my side. The first time that I ever appeared on TV, he was right there by my side. The first time I ever received any award, he was right by my side. And, after all these years, that brother right there is still right by my side. That’s what this song is about, right there—that type of love.” And with that, Prince led us through two more takes on the chorus, as the crowd helped him sing along to the track’s hopeful coda. “Thank you, hometown. Thank you, Bobby Z!” Prince said as he and the band made a quick exit and the curtains closed.

After a lengthy encore break, a loud drum beat once again announced that the show wasn’t over. Prince was center stage with a guitar as the curtains opened, as he led the band through a funky, bluesy instrumental take on the Pearl Jam hit, “Even Flow.” It was an odd but strangely absorbing choice, as most of the people in the crowd were struggling to place the familiar riff, while I was left wondering just when and how Prince first encountered the grunge classic. Prince kept wailing away on guitar during a racy run through of “Bambi,” from his self-titled ’79 sophomore album, that proved to be another unfocused effort. With one last word of thanks, Prince blew kisses to the crowd as the curtain closed again, and we were left wondering if the show was over after just 80 minutes.

Thankfully, the performance didn’t end on that note, and after a dramatic break, the curtain again parted and Prince and 3rd Eye Girl launched into the instrumental “Plectrum Electrum,” with Prince again leading the way with some spirited and soulful guitar work. “Can we do one more for you?” Prince asked after he brought the jam to a lively end. “We’re gonna do another old-school one for you. This is for all the young kids in the crowd who have never heard this before, who will say, ‘Oh, that song was good.’ Yeah it is, and it’s from 1986!”

The night then closed with a lukewarm take on “U Got The Look,” with Prince taking a moment during the track to give a salute to the crowd while saying, “Thank you, hometown!” He never did say Maplewood (or Minneapolis or St. Paul for that matter) once during the entire performance. Before leaving the stage, Prince held up his guitar to the crowd after his last solo of the night, blowing on it confidently as if to cool it down. But sadly he and the band never really caught fire during the performance, and in the end, just being in a small club with Prince turned out to be cooler and more memorable than any of the music on offer throughout the inconsistent set.

–Erik Thompson

Set list:

Let’s Go Crazy
She’s Always In My Hair
The Love We Make
I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man
When Doves Cry
Nasty Girl (Vanity 6)
Sign O’ The Times
The Most Beautiful Girl In The World
Hot Thing
A Love Bizarre (Sheila E)
Purple Rain (with Bobby Z)
Even Flow (Pearl Jam)(Encore)
Bambi (Encore)
Plectrum Electrum (Second Encore)
U Got The Look (Second Encore)