The concert began before the curtains even opened. With the first notes of “Let’s Go Crazy” strummed on heavy, distortion-seeped guitar, bright light flooded over the top of the curtains. As they swung open, a light display of dancing decibels on an LED screen blinded the audience. And from the light emerged the backlit silhouette of Prince. Calmly sauntering down stage, his shadow had more fierceness in it than most fully lit performers.
“Portland, you ready to get crazy tonight?” he asked. The sold out crowd answered unanimously, its stadium-volume roar filling the Roseland like it was the Rose Garden.
Having already played an earlier show, Prince took the stage a mere fifteen minutes later than the scheduled 11:30 pm start time—that’s early for a man who has been known to be fashionably (read: extremely) late. Known for his outrageous outfits, the Purple One kept it simple with a black-and-white long-sleeve spandex shirt, tight black pants, and a chunky metal necklace.
This seemed to be a new Prince—one who seeped his music in a wash of feedback, distortion, and psychedelic visuals and rung it out when he wanted to slow things down. Rock ’n roll numbers such as “Bambi” scorched through the speakers at a volume that blurred the line between cacophony and harmony to create something beautifully arresting. It’s a line that others may try to straddle, but Prince strolls along it with precision and flair—whether he’s addressing his affectionate side with the blues (“Beggin’ Woman Blues”) and tender soul (“When We're Dancing Close And Slow”) or exercising his solo muscles by letting his guitar wail.
The spotlight may have been set on Prince and his guitar, but there was another name on the marquee next to his. His backing band, 3rd Eye Girl, weren’t there to simply provide the foundation. Towering over him, Hannah Ford (drums), Donna Grantis (guitar), and Ida Nielsen (bass), decked out in leather pants, studs, glittering headbands, and wild hair, were like glamazon rock warriors. Each packed formidable musical chops and played an integral part of the team with Prince assuming the role of master bandleader and controlling the flow of the music with a point of the finger or a head nod. And the relative intimacy of the Roseland meant every person in the room could see his flirty eyes and sparkling grins.
Waiting in the line that wrapped around three sides of the block before the show, the man next to me giddily listed off all of the songs he wanted Prince to play: “Purple Rain,” “Kiss,” “1999,” “Raspberry Beret.” No doubt most in the audience wished that they would witness a two-hour greatest hits medley with some Purple Rain-era salacious grinding. But aside from the stripped-down version of “Let’s Go Crazy” and “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man,” the setlist was filled with deep cuts, never-released songs, and covers. Although Wild Cherry’s “Play that Funky Music,” at which point Prince just stopped singing and let the crowd turn into a writhing frat party karaoke cluster, was questionable at best, the cover of India.Arie’s “Brown Skin,” wailed by Portland’s hometown girl and Prince backup singer Liv Warfield, who took the stage twice, was one of the most mind-exploding moments of the night.
By the first encore, it became apparent that this concert wasn’t about resurrecting old tropes or styles; it was about the music. It was about forging a distinctively new experience: one drenched in funk-heavy jams. If there were any dissidents in the crowd, their jeers were drowned out by the explosion of applause after each song. Even without many hits, Prince had the crowd wrapped around his perfectly manicured finger—to the point that he had the us yodeling halfway through the set.
Although he kicked off the encore by saying, “We’re going to be here all night” (as many hoped we would), he only came out for a second single-song encore. The lights went up a mere 75 minutes after the first notes, leaving one to wonder if his multi-hour shows are a thing of the past, or if Portland just didn’t make the cut this tour. (To his credit, he had already played one concert that night...)
Either way, as I was walking back to my apartment, I overheard the same man I met in line gushing about what he just saw. “I didn’t recognize half those songs, and I can’t get them out of my head.” Who else can shatter your expectations and still leave you wanting more? Prince, that’s who.