As Atmosphere noted in their song “Shhh”, there isn’t a lot to brag about in Minnesota. It’s cold, there aren’t really any tourist destinations (sorry Mary Tyler Moore statue) and the popular sports teams are varying levels of terrible. One thing we do have, though, is the Purple Yoda himself: Prince. Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis and while he has lived outside the state, Minnesota has always been his home. That said, Prince hasn’t performed in Minnesota since a run of three shows at various venues in 2007.
On the morning of Tuesday, January 15, 2013, however, Prince announced a run of six ‘rehearsal’ shows at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. The Dakota is a small jazz venue that seats less than 300, so it was initially a surprise that Prince would hold the concerts there rather than his home base at Paisley Park. Turns out, the band fun. is starting a tour in St. Paul on the 23rd and had rented out Paisley Park as their rehearsal space. So Prince decided to move his rehearsals to another location, but being Prince he couldn’t let that be the only curve ball he through his fans. Jaws really dropped when folks learned that the six shows would be over three nights (shows at 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. each day), each night would have a different theme, and the shows were scheduled for the next three nights: Wednesday the 16th through Friday the 18th. The shows were broken down as follows:
Wednesday, January 16, 2013, “Soundcheck”: Prince auditioning a new drummer and performing improvised music. Gimme Noise’s review can be found here.
Thursday, January 17, 2013, “Jam!!!”: Prince and the band playing an after party vibe. The Current’s review is here.
Friday, January 18, 2013, “Surprise!! (don’t miss this)”: It’s a surprise, so who knows what is going to happen. I have serious doubts that even Prince knew initially what he wanted to do at these shows.
Tickets to all shows went on sale on Tuesday, and I was able to navigate the music world’s destruction of the Dakota’s ticket buying website to secure tickets to the Friday Surprise 8:00 show.
As the week went on, speculation was rampant about what the surprise would be, with the popular assumption being that Prince would unveil an all female backing band. Some, were hoping for something crazier though, including Current host Mary Lucia who noted that with Prince “god only knows who will show up, he could unearth the body of James Brown”. When Prince took the stage it was clear that the rumors were correct as he was joined in a traditional rock quartet by three females: Donna on guitar; Ida on bass; and Hannah on drums. As we know with Prince, he likes the women around him to be young and gorgeous and these three certainly qualify. We also know, though, that he’s not going to let anyone on stage with him that doesn’t have the chops to keep up, and again they definitely fit the bill. I don’t know where Prince found them (seriously does he have a lab where he creates all these gorgeous and talented women?), but I’m glad he did.
The bigger surprise, though, was that after Wednesday night’s crowd saw bandleader Prince, and Thursday got keyboard jamming Prince, Friday was gifted with the presence of guitar virtuoso/rock god Prince. The band took the stage and Prince stood silently at the front with his guitar strapped on and his head bowed (wearing pants with one black and one white leg, what appeared to be a purple velour jacket (the lighting at the Dakota wasn’t designed for this kind of show so it was hard to tell for sure), a white puffy shirt open to the chest, and gold chains). As the crowd whooped and tittered, Prince give a forceful ‘shhhh’, instantly silencing the crowd and drawing a Cheshire grin from the man of the hour. Silence then fell again for about 20 seconds. It seemed at first that Prince might be setting the mood, but once the music started it was clear the silence was just the calm before the storm. The band launched into a raucous five song stretch (“Endorphinemachine” – “Screwdriver” – “When You Were Mine” – “Guitar” – (song that has left my memory)) that didn’t give anyone a chance to breathe. Thereafter, the show was a wonderful, noisy blur of cymbal crashes, funky bass lines, and screaming guitar solos from both Prince and Donna. There were only occasional chances to catch our breath when Prince took to the piano. In short, to quote a friend of mine, Prince and the band “rocked our [word omitted in deference to Prince no longer cursing] faces off”.
Highlights of the set included the funky slow jam “Beautiful Strange”, which may well have impregnated several women in the audience, to close the main set, a solo piano version of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” to open the encore, and the surprise of the night: “Purple Rain”. To be fair, “Purple Rain was both a highlight and slightly disappointing (if that’s possible). It was disappointing both because it was one of the few songs where Prince put his guitar to the side and played the piano, and because the band chilled the song out while only playing the first verse and extended outro. It was a highlight, though, because it was Prince playing “Purple Rain” 25 or so feet away from me, and to be honest it’s hard to be objective about that.
Another happy surprise was Prince’s mood. He was clearly having a great time on the evening, cracking several jokes including asking if anyone in the crowd was related to him before stating that we’re all related, noting about drummer Hannah, “spell it backwards and it’s the same”, and referring to himself at one point as an “androgynous pirate”.
Put all of this together, and it is difficult for me to say I’ve ever been to a more enjoyable show. Judging by the smiles on the rest of the audience’s faces as they left the Dakota in a deaf daze, I don’t think I’m alone in this belief. Accordingly, Prince gets an A+.
An author and editor at MiG, Craig lives in Minnesota with his wife and son and is an attorney in his real life. Once upon a time Craig played the trumpet and spent four years in the Hawkeye Marching Band and pep band. These days Craig finds himself most often listening to experimental rock, hip hop, and post punk, but you can see everything he's listening to at: www.last.fm/user/cafreema Craig is not ashamed to admit the first concert he ever attended was New Kids on the Block.
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