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Willow

Concert Reviews
Prince
(Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI - July 30th, 2004)

Few artists have created a body of work as rich and varied as Prince. During the '80s, he emerged as one of the most singular talents of the rock & roll era, capable of seamlessly tying together pop, funk, folk, and rock. Not only did he release a series of groundbreaking albums, he toured frequently, produced albums and wrote songs for many other artists, and recorded hundreds of songs that still lie unreleased in his vaults.

Having witnessed the overhead video speech from Prince's Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Induction night via the breathtakingly beautiful Alicia Keys, the man himself takes to the stage (designed in the shape of a '+' sign and located "in the round") over an hour late. Quickly, and simultaneously, all the high-above-the-stage spotlight operators turn their collective beams toward center stage. White-lit smoke pours from the gaping hole as rising up from the bowels together with his gold mic and stand comes the vision known simply as Prince.

Wearing a suit that is made up of both white and black sides, the Cheshire Cat grin-wearing diminutive one's first song of the night 'Musicology' is brought to the fore and is quickly followed by some snap-quotes; "Detroit, I'mmmmmm baaaack! Is this Friday night? Well, let's get crazy then." As he dramatically recites the opening words to 'Let's Go Crazy', a white spot the only thing illuminating him, the crowd roars and the song bursts into life. Like some form of megamix, he is quickly done with that and has powered on through both 'I Would Die 4 U' (now sans his suit jacket and wearing one of his own 'Musicology' tour T-shirts) and 'When Doves Cry', before the blue spots find him for, ["Put your hands up, Detroit"], 'Baby, I'm A Star'.

The instrumental track 'Shhh' is next up, ["Detroit, I love you"], and as Prince leaves the stage it allows for both the keyboards (Renato Neto) and in particular the drummer (John Blackwell) to shine in ways that defy musical belief! This track is then tagged by an ultra funky version of 'DMSR' where Prince returns and controls both the stage and audience alike with his series of arm-waving, and guitar-pumping encouragement. Still gripping onto his gun-shaped mic like it were the real thing, Prince reveals that he has no booty to shake and proceeds to allow his 'hefty' male percussionist (RAD) to "... shake a lil' sumthin' for the crowd!")

Encouraging ladies to take to the stage to dance, the very first one to do so immediately stumbles, hitting it at full force! Pushing away Prince's proffered hand of aid, she rights herself as Prince comments, "Well, if you're gonna make an entrance, MAKE an entrance!".

With the mixed sounds of both the saxes (Candy Dulfer and Maceo Parker), the trombone (Greg Boyer), and the trumpet (Chance Howard), all around at any given point, bassist Rhonda Smith joins in for some funky beats before Prince has to now 'scold' one of his own for overdoing a part of their act; "Hey man, this is a no pimp zone," he says to the shiny-suited one-man musical funk machine! The musician doesn't listen, but we do as next up a noticeably short version of 'I Feel 4 U' is performed just prior to the last song of the first set, ["We've got to go back now. You all remember the controversy of the day, don't you?!"], the old school tune, 'Controversy'. Midway through the song Prince shuts things down as he performs a 'fake' walk off ["Can't nobody mess with my band"] - his way of sticking his middle finger up at his ex-record label where the song was recorded, Warner Bros. - then pretends to sleep, before throwing his purple blanket into the crowd next to him and then walking off for real!

In-between sets is another instrumental segment that fills the 20 minute breather for Prince, where firstly Maceo Parker sax's his way through 'Wonderful World' and then Renato Neto's keyboards unfortunately bore us for 10 minutes! That said, his last few note blends beautifully into the again-rising-from-center-stage-return of prince. Seated casually on a revolving stool, acoustic guitar perched on his thigh, the Purple God gives us a full 20 minute set that includes clips from 'Little Red Corvette,' 'Peach,' 'Alphabet St.,' 'Cream,' 'Raspberry Beret', [Editor: Spoken about the lyric 'You're so cool, everything you do is a success', "Detroit, when you go home tonight sing that line into the mirror!"], and the absolutely outstanding, yet still MASSIVE middle-finger to Warner Bros., 'Prince and The Band.'

'7' brings the band back on stage and before we can blink an eye they break into 'Sign 'O' the Times' and then the slow blues guitar work of Prince during 'Question of U'. Slip slidin' his way across the floor to his previously-strewn guitar, he eventually places a white 'burial' towel over it and leaves the stage. Returning in a blue shirt and blue pants, Prince then asks us if we're "... ready to work?" and then stands back and lets the incredible drumming of Blackwell take over. 'U Got the Look' sans Sheena and now featuring Candy is next before Prince asks if we're "... ready for the life of the party?". The new song is sung to the delight of the crowd before a RAD-sung 'Soul Man' which crosses into 'Kiss'. "Jump up and dance. Don't be shy" our musical master orders and so, ... we do and we're not!

And although the song isn't actually as excitingly sung as the Tom Jones and Art of Noise latter-day rendition, the parade of colorful spots and chopped-up white tissue elements falling from the heavens make sure that the song is sung by everybody involved in this party atmosphere. 'Take Me With U' brings the final set to a close, with Prince leaving the stage, arms held high, speaking the words, "It can't be over. It can't be over."

And, of course, it isn't over for as his symbol appears spinning on the video screen above us for five minutes, what looks to be a giant illuminated squid-like element is lowered down to the center stage and for the very last time tonight, amid smoke and bright white spots, Prince is lifted back onto the stage - and appears 'inside' the creation. 'Call My Name' from the new album is sung next and is followed by Prince taking ahold of his purple-colored, symbol-shaped guitar and having at it for a few moments. "Thank you, Detroit. From the NPG and myself, we love you all," he announces as he then breaks into the final song of the night, the highly-anticipated 'Purple Rain'.

Smothered only in varying shades of purple, Prince takes the song all the way and back before ending the song, and striding to all four corners of the stage to blow kisses and smile one last time. Then, as he gets to his exit point, he waves, blows the kiss and then points skywards at God and asks us to thank the Almighty over himself. Another kiss, another wave and with his right hand index finger still pointed upwards, he leaves the stage and the incredible night is over.

Reviewed by Russell A. Trunk
Photos by Afshin Shahidi





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