On December 19th, 2011, Prince left thousands of concertgoers unsatisfied after a far too short show at the Tacoma Dome in Washington State. How do I know they were unsatisfied? Very few people left the arena, even long after the houselights came up and the stagehands began disassembling equipment. There seemed to be a collective feeling of disbelief among the large crowd, many of whom were likely well aware of the lavish praise Prince’s current Welcome 2 America tour is receiving. The folks I talked to after the show were outright pissed – and with good reason: the good seats were around two hundred bucks a pop (to say nothing of the VIP tables near the stage). Couldn’t Prince manage a two-hour show at the very least?
Not on this night, as it turned out. It’s especially unfortunate for those who were seeing Prince for the first time. It was my sixth Prince concert, but it’s the first time I felt like I didn’t get my money’s worth. The show started late, but not absurdly so. The stage – in the shape of Prince’s patented symbol that once served as his name – was in the center of the arena. He’s done this before and I was happy to see this type of presentation again. It gives the audience a much better view, one that favors the entire arena rather than only those closest to the stage. There were a few false alarms with the lights going down briefly and coming right back up, amping up the anticipation prior to Prince and his band taking the stage.
Now would be a good time to say I love Prince and consider him to be, bar none, the baddest man in all of music. He’s truly in a class of his own as a live performer, breathing a rarefied air known only to the likes of the late Godfather of Soul, James Brown. His bands are always incredible – with legendary sax man Maceo Parker taking on a co-starring role on the current tour. Parker has been playing with Prince for years now, but he’s best known for the groundbreaking funk solos he played during his many years with James Brown. When Prince was onstage in Tacoma, he put on a solid show as usual. At barely an hour and a half, there just wasn’t enough of it.
Even worse, the set was mostly predictable. Many of his biggest hits were present, which was undeniably nice for casual fans. The opening trio of “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Delirious,” and “1999” was energetic and a great way to kick things off. “Take Me with U” was performed as a duet with Andy Allo, while Shelby Johnson tore up the part once sung by Rosie Gaines on “Nothing Compares 2 U.” There was a fun, funky medley of “Raspberry Beret” and “Cream.” I wasn’t wild about the reworking of “Little Red Corvette” as a torchy ballad; in fact I thought the arrangement was sluggish and ground the show’s early momentum to a halt.
Much better was a loose run-through of the old Time track “Cool,” a welcome obscurity. They even threw in a bit of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough,” handled by the quartet of female backing vocalists. But the surprises pretty much ended there. Maceo Parker was duly spotlighted several times; at 68 he’s blowing as strong as ever. Other band members were given solo spots as well, including keyboardists Cassandra O’Neal and Morris Hayes.
As is fairly customary during a Prince show, the band left at one point, leaving Prince alone at a keyboard. But instead of a solo piano medley, the man who proclaimed early in the show that he was bringing back “real music” proceeded to sing over snippets of prerecorded samples of a bunch of tunes. I don’t think “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” even had live vocals, just Prince boasting about how many hits he has, while the single version played for about thirty seconds. “Darling Nikki” was teased – just the intro played before Prince abruptly stated, “I don’t want to sing that.” He disavowed his more explicit lyrics a number of years ago. But at any rate, despite a suitably bluesy vocal on “Forever In My Life” and a tantalizing bit of “Hot Thing,” I wanted to hear the band actually playing these songs.
“Purple Rain” brought the house down to close the main set, featuring a killer extended guitar solo. Sparkly gold confetti sprayed out from all corners of the stage during his signature song, which helped signify that we were nearing the end. The problem was it just didn’t feel like the right time for this grand finale. Without a supporting act and a nearly half-hour late start, the show wasn’t much past the one hour mark when “Purple Rain” started. When it finished, the crowd got rowdy and more than a bit impatient hoping for an encore. Prince and company finally reappeared and played an intense version of “Controversy.” But that was it, one song for the encore. No one wanted to leave, with even the security advising people to stay put for a while. Morris Hayes hung around his keyboard station, graciously talking to fans and posing for pictures. But as it turned out, Prince was already on his way to the aftershow.
And apparently that’s where the REAL party started, at Seattle’s Republiq, where Prince and the NPG funked up the joint for over two hours. That’s according to the accounts I’ve read, as I regrettably wasn’t there. Relatively speaking, very few people get to attend Prince’s legendary aftershows (the only one I ever managed to get into, Prince didn’t even make an appearance). Every Prince fan worth his or her salt knows these late-night shows are incredible (there are many amazing examples available from, ahem, unofficial sources). But man, I hate to see it take priority over pricey main concerts.
I try to avoid missing an opportunity to see Prince perform, and would I never discourage anyone from seeing him. I’ve talked to more than one non-fan who became a convert after seeing him live. He delivers in a big way, leaving arenas full of people with a tremendous high. The December 19th Tacoma Dome outing was a rare and disappointing exception to the rule.