It had been almost ten years since I'd last seen Prince in concert. 2004's Musicology Tour was the last time he had brought his talents to the Detroit area and a number of reasons have prevented me from traveling to see him when he was playing anywhere near Michigan. One of the biggest has been this perpetual 'greatest hits' tour mode he has been in ever since he was supposedly playing his hits for "the last time" during the Musicology shows.
Prince came to Chicago last year and although I was tempted, the NPG Vegas Revue style of the Welcome 2 (Insert City Here) shows made it an easy decision for me to save my money and hope for something better. Well, that something better came this year with the Live Out Loud Tour. Featuring his new backing band 3rd Eye Girl, an all female three piece of Donna Grantis on guitar, Ida Nielsen on bass and Hannah Ford on drums, this tour has been a revelation for Prince's hardcore fan base. The shows were all scheduled for the West Coast, in small clubs, and eschew a good portion of his biggest hits for album tracks, new material and re-worked versions of a few of his more famous songs. Most importantly, the Live Out Loud Tour features Prince front and center, either with guitar in hand, or behind a keyboard, providing all the vocals for the show. No annoying backing singers, no rappers, no dancers, no distractions. I have dreamed of seeing Prince like this again and when two shows were announced in Minnesota to close the tour, the panic to figure out a way to get there began. Hearing bootlegs of other shows on the tour just made the need to figure out a way to get there worse.
One of the biggest criticisms of this tour were the hefty ticket prices. For the two homecoming shows at The Myth, each ticket was $289 by the time fees were tacked on, meaning you were coming out of pocket nearly $600 to see both shows. I love Prince, but these days I don't have that type of money to see anyone at those prices. My only hope was for ticket prices to fall and as the shows approached it was obvious something was going to give. Tickets were not selling well, Prince was giving interviews to hometown papers to try to drum up interest and local radio stations started ticket giveaway contests.
But finally, just three days before the show, after I had resigned myself to the fact I could not go, the news I had been waiting for broke. A new pricing structure was announced, with both $99 balcony and $149 second tier tickets released, and that is when we made our move. Balcony tickets for the first show and, thanks to a wonderful seller on Craigslist, drastically reduced main floor tickets for the late show. With tickets now in hand, and a quick hotel reservation booked, this was really happening. A road trip to Minneapolis for two Prince shows in a small club.
We left metro Detroit around 6AM the day of the show and started the long, nearly 12 hour trek to Prince's home state. Other than a spot of construction in Illinois, the trip was smooth, Wisconsin especially provided a glorious opportunity to gain time with empty roads with nary a trooper to be seen anywhere. We arrived in St. Paul about an hour before doors were supposed to open at The Myth, grabbed a quick bite and made our way to the club. The Myth is in a former shoe superstore and the building does seem out of place amongst the other big box retailers located around it. It shares a parking lot with a Toys R Us and is across the street from a Best Buy and other typical mall outlets. When we pulled in, the lines were already long to get in. Myth personnel were all over the parking lot warning everyone about Prince's strict no cell phone or camera policy, and I wasn't about to risk getting tossed out of these long awaited shows to send a text.
Considering the time we arrived at the venue, the chances of having a good spot in the balcony were slim and the view was definitely obstructed. All the spots around the edge of the balcony were taken so we moved up a level to the bar area where you could at least see some of the stage over people's heads. Not ideal by any means, but knowing we would be on the main floor for the second show helped relieve any disappointment. Prince and the band took the stage shortly after Hannah Ford came out to make one last announcement about their no cell phone or picture policy. Starting out with the new 'Reloaded' version of "Let's Go Crazy" is genius as it satisfies the casual fans in attendance and gets them into the show right away. It was hilarious though to watch these same people stand in confusion when less familiar songs like "Endorphinmachine", "Screwdriver" and "The Love We Make" kept coming at them.
More rock tracks like "Guitar" and "Plectrum Electrum" filled the first part of the set, but Prince was fighting technical problems with his guitar and feedback was prevalent throughout, causing him to veer from the setlist and dive into the Sampler Set about midway through the show. The most hilarious part to me was watching the same people who seemed bummed out about all the material they did not recognize suddenly go absolutely nuts for familiar material being played from Prince's sampler. Yes, he sings live over a lot of it, but I've made my feelings known about the Sampler Set before. It's a cheap ploy for a guy who loves to brag about "Real music by real musicians." Prince even appeared to make light of this, seemingly mocking the crowd going nuts by saying things about them "not liking real music" and saying 3rd Eye Girl was not a lip-synch band, "but they are tonight!" At least the band did play along on a few tracks like "Housequake" and "Sign 'O' The Times".
One of many highlights of the evening then followed as "Mr Goodnight" closed out the Sampler Set. Prince asked "Can we get Mr. Goodnight to the stage?" and out came Revolution drummer Bobby Z to play on "Purple Rain". This had been announced earlier on Twitter so it was not a surprise, but it was still an awesome moment to be in the building and see these two onstage together again. Prince broke the song down and mentioned how his "brother" Bobby had been there for his first concert, his first television appearance, his first awards show and he was still with him today. It was a touching tribute and a heartfelt nod to his past I wish we would see more of from the man. The only downside of the "Purple Rain" performance on this tour is Prince sticking to the keyboards for the whole song. For a show that is focused on his guitar skills, it is such a Prince move to not play, arguably, his most famous guitar solo.
The band then returned for their instrumental take on Pearl Jam's "Even Flow" before closing out the first show with "Bambi", "Stratus" and an abbreviated "U Got The Look". Overall, I enjoyed the show, but the technical problems definitely marred it. It is tough for me to be overly critical though, not having seen a Prince concert in almost ten years, I was just ecstatic to hear the man live again. But the second show was what I was truly stoked about, knowing we would be on the main floor and knowing Prince usually takes out his frustrations over an uneven show by delivering big time in the next one. Luckily, we only had to wait about an hour for that next opportunity.