Monday, June 15, 2015

Prince Dazzles Fans at the Warner Theatre with Short but Powerful Performance

Prince doesn't waste any time on his "Hit & Run" tour. Social media was all abuzz this past Wednesday as word slowly leaked out that Prince and his excellent touring band, 3RDEYEGIRL, along with vocalist Judith Hill, would be appearing at the 1,800 seat Warner Theatre in D.C. on Sunday night. Tickets were to go on sale Thursday at noon. Hysteria reached a fever pitch as noon on the fateful day approached, and perhaps predictably the tickets were gone instantaneously. Just as predictably, they showed up on StubHub with remarkable haste. Then came the news that a second show -- beginning at 11:00 p.m. on Sunday -- was added. It sold out immediately as well.

Despite the time constraints imposed by having a second show beginning in only three hours, Prince didn't stroll out on stage until 8:30. The fans went nuts, as expected. Prince seemed to be in good spirits as he rollicked through a greatest hits set that touched on most of his big classic singles. True to his recent form, he mostly neglected recent material and stuck with his '80s classics.

The frustrating thing about seeing Prince in concert is that his whiplash run through the hits, while thrilling and exciting, is basically a glorified medley. NONE of the songs were performed in their entirety. If you're lucky, you get two full verses and choruses. The snarl of guitar that opens "When Doves Cry" was greeted with wild applause, but Prince allowed the song to fizzle out at the end of the third chorus, neglecting the best part of the song -- the extended ending with the wild guitar solo, screams, and virtuoso keyboard section at the end. His other hits were treated with similar slapdash fashion. He sounded inspired, he hopped from searing guitar to piano and back with effortless ease. His vocals are as good as ever - when he hit those high notes on "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore" it sounded every bit as good as when he recorded the song over 30 years ago. The 57-year old wunderkind moved around the stage with a manic energy of someone half his age. Prince is an artist still in his prime.

A shame, then, that he doesn't respect his catalog enough to actually play the songs. Some tracks were mere teasers, a few chords and perhaps the first line or two. He teased the instrumental opening of "Darling Nikki" before veering away into something less risque.

More troubling was the brevity of the show. Prince seemed to be rushing as the cascade of hits continued. He mentioned several times "We got people waiting outside!!" which at one point drew a chorus of boos from the crowd. It was almost as if he wanted to get this over with so the REAL show could begin at 11:00.  He played an hour and 40 minutes. Subtract 10 minutes for the two breaks (one between the main two sets, and one for the encore), and then subtract another 10 minutes for two songs performed by Judith Hill, and you have 80 minutes of Prince. Considering the hefty prices tickets were sold at face value -- and the even heftier prices many of the fans had to pay on StubHub -- it was very poor bang for the buck. As an emotional "Purple Rain" faded into silence and the house lights came on, there was an undeniable sense that while Prince gave an amazing performance, it was just way, way too short. One look at his recent set-lists makes it crystal clear that the 8pm show at the Warner Theater was much shorter than the shows he's been playing recently.

This could have been resolved any number of ways - first and foremost, by not having a second show. Then Prince could have played as long as he wanted. But perhaps he wanted to get before as many fans as possible, a laudable goal for sure. Then why not have the show at a bigger venue? Or, if he wanted to keep things intimate, which they undoubtably were at the cozy Warner Theater, why not schedule a run of several nights?  Having two shows in one night means that the early show fans got the short end of a very very expensive stick.

It was a remarkable performance, and Prince showed without question that he is still at the top of his game (as he did in the studio with his two recent gems, Art Official Age and Plectrum Electrum). But as good as the show was - - and, make no mistake, the man and his stellar band were phenomenal -- it's hard not to feel like it was over before it even began.

As Trains Go By (Judith Hill)
Let's Go Crazy (abbreviated)
Take Me With U (abbreviated)
Raspberry Beret (abbreviated)
U Got the Look (abbreviated)
Shake! (The Time Cover, abbreviated)
Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough (Michael Jackson cover, abbreviated)
Cool (The Time Cover, abbreviated)

- break -

When Doves Cry (Abbreviated)
Sign o' The Times (abbreviated)
Hot Thing (abbreviated)
Nasty Girl (Vanity 6 cover - tiny snippet)
A Love Bizarre (Sheila E. cover - tiny snippet)
Darling Nikki (a few instrumental bars of the intro)
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World (a few lines)
Pop Life
How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore? (abbreviated)
Diamonds and Pearls (a few lines)
The Beautiful Ones (a few lines)
Controversy (abbreviated)
1999 (abbreviated)
Little Red Corvette (abbreviated)
Nothing Compares 2U
Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry cover, abbreviated)

Purple Rain

** Note - the 11:00 p.m. show was longer, and featured guest Stevie Wonder on "Superstition," ""I Wish," "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)," and "Signed, Sealed Delivered"

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