What would the ’80s have been without Prince?
The dawn of Reagan’s America coincided with the dusk of disco and the coke-exhaustion of P-Funk. America needed a new groove. What we got was a second British Invasion, when bands like Spandau Ballet, Tears for Fears and Depeche Mode made the whole world forget that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones ever existed!
But we did have Prince. And even the Brits had to bow down to His Royal Badness.
Prince was there at major signposts of my young adulthood. His first single, “Soft and Wet,” was played at my high-school homecoming dance, senior year. I made sure of it because I drove home to get the 45; the sorry-ass DJ didn’t have any black music in his crate.
In college, I witnessed Prince’s “Controversy Tour” – his first arena tour as headliner, with Zapp and Roger Troutman opening.
“When Doves Cry” is one of the few songs where I vividly remember my first time hearing it on the radio. I was driving to my sister’s house in Columbia, Md. “When Doves Cry” was so unlike anything I’d ever heard, I literally had to pull the car off the road and just listen until it was over.
In ’87, I used the lyrics of “Sign ‘O’ the Times” in a writing lesson while teaching a group of 15-year-olds in the D.C. summer jobs program.
I even did my hajj to Minneapolis in ’88. Didn’t meet the man, but did write a nice piece for the Washington Times about the city’s music scene and gold-rush atmosphere, both single-handedly inspired by Prince.
Now, I can’t say I stuck with Prince through the ‘90s. Even a pop genius only gets a certain amount of time to ride ahead of the culture, and then the culture catches up, then it passes him. Pop music, conquered by hip-hop, left Prince’s ass behind 15 years ago. (About when Dr. Dre released “The Chronic,” I’d say.)
But we still have Prince. And I will say this: If I ever had to sleep with a guy – I mean, absolutely had to do it – Prince would be the one.
In November, he opened his own nightclub in Vegas at the Rio. It’s called 3121. Prince performs there every Friday and Saturday night. (Till when? For the foreseeable future, I suppose.) I figured last weekend would be a great time to see him, since he’s getting ready to play the Super Bowl halftime show. Figured he might be whipping his band into fighting shape.
Here’s the deal: tickets cost $125 apiece, and that’s for “standing room.” A seat at a table will cost you more than $300 (but you also get a chilled bottle of Veuve Clicquot).
Damn, Prince… $300?! Couldn’t I just blow you and we call it even? Wait, forget that. For $300, Prince should suck my dick.
So anyway, I was in there Saturday night with my standing-room ticket. Although the doors open at 10, they tell you when you pay that Prince won’t start playing till after midnight. Whatever, because Prince’s hand-picked mistress of the turntables (and the Mac laptop), DJ Rashida, was mixing it properly… old-school faves like “So Ruff, So Tuff,” older-school shits like “I Know You Got Soul,” and all kinda hot numbers from Prince’s vast repository (“Sexy Dancer,” “A Love Bizarre”…)
And I was digging the visual accompaniment on wall-to-wall video screens: clips of Josephine Baker, Bill Robinson, the Nicholas Brothers, Cab Calloway, James Brown, etc., dancing in time with the music.
Still, the Red Bull was starting to give out by the time Prince hit the stage at 12:30 a.m., Sunday morning. It was indeed a thrill to see him in such an intimate setting, a beautifully designed circular space, packed with fans.
He started out with a little bit of old (“Girls and Boys”) and a little bit of new (“Lolita”). Then the band went on an extended vamp of “Down By the Riverside,” New Orleans style, and Prince took off walking. Backed up by beefy bodyguards, Prince did a walking tour of the seated tables that encircle the dance floor. That was kinda cool, seeing him pass five feet in front of me, then sit down in somebody’s booth. I guess that’s something else you get for your $300… the chance he might stop by your table for a minute.
“What y’all want to hear?” Prince asked when he got back on stage. After some noisy response, Prince said: “Early in my career, when I would ask that question, people said ‘Somebody else!’ ” Okay, so Prince is no Bette Midler with the stage patter. But then he strapped on a wireless bass and said, “I’ma play something new. Let’s see if y’all can hang with this.”
In the chugging instrumental jam that followed, Prince drifted back to the tables again, and he took off his bass and handed it to a guest, who proceeded to thump-‘n’-pop it for a few bars while Prince stood on a tabletop, fanning him. Not being close enough to see who the mystery guy was, I had to wait till Prince got back to a microphone and said, “Larry Graham in the building!”
Prince then threw us a little “Kiss” and segued into some “Musicology,” which took on the flavor of a J.B. tribute. Especially when the horns started blowing the “Pass the Peas” riff. This was the cue for another special guest, will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas, who rapped for a while as Prince disappeared and a bunch of chicks from the audience came onstage to shake dem asses.
I didn’t pay to hear will.i.am, but I wasn’t mad. I did pay to be at a happening spot, and these little surprises created the feeling that we were all just hanging out in Prince’s playpen. It was cool.
Cooler still when a drum machine kicked in and Prince sang “Forever in My Life.” And even cooler yet when that turned into Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” and Graham came out of the audience for a proper showcase.
Highlight of the night for me was “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” one of Prince’s best-sung songs ever. But after that, dude was saying “good night” and shit. He’d only been onstage for an hour!
Oh no no no, bruh-man… I know you ain’t done yet! No, he wasn’t. Although for some reason he went through the motions of making it an “encore.” You know… exit the stage, dim the lights, wait a couple of minutes. Then back he came to play “Purple Rain,” a song I’ve never been in love with.
By the time he was finished for real, it was about quarter to 2, and Prince said: “You’re welcome in my house any time, all right?”
Yeah, bitch, whatever. I just paid $125 to hear you perform for 75 minutes. What’s that, $1.70 a minute? Just open a phone-sex line, Prince. Save money on the electric bills.
Afterwards, I read reviews of Prince’s opening weekend at 3121. Each of those two nights, he threw down for two solid hours, then he and the band went over to his adjacent restaurant, the Jazz Cuisine, and continued to jam till 5:30 in the morning.
Well, during Saturday’s show Prince did say, “We’ll be at the Jazz Cuisine all night long, come join us.” But by then I was dizzy-headed from standing on my feet for four hours straight, and it was past my bedtime anyhow, so I went back to my hotel.
But, hey… I did have Prince.