"Las Vegas, you mind if I play some guitar?"
As if Prince had to ask. Even fairweather fans of the Purple One — though, mysteriously, not the stodgy compilers of best-guitarist magazine polls — know dude shreds. But Prince loves nothing more than to ask rhetorical questions onstage. ("You having a good time?" "Hear that bass?") And, of course, wail away on his six-string, which is what he did through the better part of his 8 p.m. show last night, one of four shows at The Joint this weekend.
For this particular theater tour, Prince has stripped it down, and we're not referencing the Lovesexy album cover. His support band, 3rd Eye Girl, only numbers three — a guitarist, bassist and drummer, all women who look like they time-traveled from the Age of Aquarius, which wasn't random. Most of the show took on a decidedly late-'60s/early-70s vibe, from the band's costumes and the background screen's graphic loops (imagine a screen saver if they had them back in 1969), to the overriding aesthetic of the first two-thirds of the setlist: raw, bluesy, fuzzed-up, psychedelic. Even Prince himself looked very Hendrixish in his overcoat and new 'fro.
Hendrix was a touchstone throughout the main set, as was Cream, Led Zeppelin, even The Stooges. This should give you every indication of how remarkably loud it was in The Joint, and it wasn't solely due to the twin axe attacks from Prince and guitarist Donna Grantis, who holds her own next to her boss ably. Ida Neilsen slanged out chunky, concrete-heavy basslines that, while mixed in well, threatened to overpower certain numbers. In fact, the PA system — which facilitated an offensive line of amps on either side of the band — ocassionally crackled and rattled as if levels were too elevated or a speaker had been blown, especially during the stoner-rock number "Fixurlifeup" and a stormy go at "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man," which was peeled of its spry keyboard pop melodies. Sometimes it was all about bombast and little else. Other times, you felt the songs were missing something, and not just the very elements the band arrangement couldn't include.
But most of the time, it just plain rocked. Prince nailed the solos during an even-riffier "U Got the Look," quitting just before they went on too long and remaining economical to the song. During the first few songs, you wondered if such a guitar-centric concert should would turn into an excuse for indulgence. But this wasn't one of his late-night jams, where an infusion of or reinterpretation through blues and jazz allow him to stretch out. Half of the rockers were tight, and the other half had enough structural shifts and elemental variety to keep onlookers engaged.
After a trio of sexed-up tracks, Prince took to the piano and gave the crowd exactly what it wanted, "Purple Rain," though he stayed behind the keys and denied us that iconic, beautiful, concluding guitar solo — ironic, given that instrument's focus during the show.
His Highness would redeem himself from that transgression with an uptempo melody of favorites, though it suffered from the distraction of audience members dancing onstage. I don't want to watch drunken ticketholders when I can watch a performer known to work a stage like James Brown. But, alas, Prince kept to the keys during this segment, which incorporated two of his greatest compositions — "Sign O' the Times" and "When Doves Cry" — and his gift to Sheila E, "A Love Bizarre." After "I Would Die 4 U," he returned to his guitar to close out the show with a brilliantly pared-down "Alphabet St.," which sounded like the funkiest rockabilly number you ever heard.
At 100 or so minutes, it might've been the shortest Prince show you ever saw, but nonetheless a steal for the double-digit price tag. Which is the cue for everyone else to snap up the remaining tickets for tonight's two-fer.