Concert: Prince in Los Angeles
Prince kicked off the first show of a planned 21-night run at Los Angeles' Forum on Thursday (4/14) with a production that at times felt like a triumph and at others like a cautionary tale.
But throw a $25 ticket price on the pile of parts and it comes up as a bargain no matter how one slices it.
The winning points of the marathon three-and-a-half hour journey lie with Prince's incredibly deep catalog and the 52-year-old's seemingly superhuman ability to look and perform a lot like the Prince of the '80s and '90s. His top-notch band -- this tour's iteration of the New Power Generation -- carries a lot of the load and deserves a lot of the credit for creating a varied palette of textures, mashups and party romps.
The rough spots, while noteworthy, were more of the perplexing variety than actual grievances.
For one, it seems that Prince's relationship with the majority of the Forum's crowd on Thursday could fall into the "it's complicated" category. But that's really mostly on the crowd, which in Los Angeles is notoriously late and impatient.
Case in point: With a 7:30 p.m. time on the ticket, at 8:30 p.m. the venue was still more empty than full. A trickle more bodies were in seats by 8:50 p.m., at which time the house lights went down and the crowd roared. But after a moment, the house lights went up again. Psych. The same routine happened about every five minutes for the next 20, and by then plenty of boos worked their way into the game. And it was an odd, frustrating game, though obviously intended to move late stragglers into their seats.
Taking the stage at 9:10 p.m., Prince already was poised to blow way past a standard 11 p.m. end time. But in Prince world, sometimes the whole band leaves the stage for no obvious reason. It feels like the show may be over, but no, it's just that section of the show that's done.
When a couple of those happen inside the main set and then the house lights come up and stay up for 10 minutes before and between encores, the impatient and confused (and surely, the tired) begin to bail. By the time Prince was on the sunset side of what ended up being about six encores and closing in on 12:30 a.m., the venue was mostly empty.
But what happened between that beginning and end was often sublime and occasionally magical.
Prince and band plucked through more than 40 songs, hitting many of his career highlights. "Purple Rain" was given the epic showstopper treatment, while "Kiss" and "Raspberry Beret" proved early crowd favorites.
Before "Purple Rain," the female members of the band -- vocalists Shelby J, Elisa Fiorillo and Liv Warfield; keyboardist Cassandra O'Neal and bassist Ida Nielsen -- performed a stunning piano/vocal take on Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love," working gorgeous four-part harmonies into their arrangement.
With plenty of time to work with, Prince took the set far beyond the well-traveled roads, pulling in the rarity "Peach," re-imagined as a roadhouse rocker with Prince's serious guitar chops on display. "Sometimes It Snows In April," from the mostly-forgotten "Under The Cherry Moon" movie project, was given an elegant and shimmering polish.
A rollicking cover of Billy Cobham's "Stratus" proved a high-powered funk jam that gave keyboardist Renato Neto a well-deserved spotlight.
While the show had no official guest artists, Sheila E is aboard in something of an almost-band-member capacity. She joined up in the latter half of the show, and several of her own hits were woven into the set.
The elephant in the room, though, was the fact that Prince has 20 more of these shows to fill. At several points through the evening, he admonished fans to help spread the word.
His pricing model and worth ethic alone should get him most of the way there. Most seats for the 21-show run are priced at $25 with no added charges, according to press announcements for the shows.
And the way things played out Thursday, many of those $25 ticketholders ended up mighty close to the stage by show's end.