Wednesday night became Thursday morning as Prince took the stage at House of Blues joined by the New Power Generation and Andy Allo... as well as unannounced guests Maceo Parker and Janelle Monáe capping the third installment of the “Official Purple After Jam” and closing out The Artist’s six concert, “Welcome 2 Chicago” residency…
When it comes to a Prince show, nothing is guaranteed. Including the encore.
In an era where concerts are tightly scripted and spontaneity is often not an option, encores are typically a foregone conclusion. Fans have been trained to expect them. So regardless of audience reaction (crazed or not), the script generally dictates they get it.
But Prince is old school. At Monday night’s much talked about show at United Center, he made fans wait for nearly an hour before performing some of his biggest hits to the small crowd dedicated enough to stick it out. I made it through about a half hour of that before leaving… and when I read later on about what happened, I couldn’t help but wonder if Prince just wasn’t satisfied with the crowd’s reaction, deeming it not worthy of another encore.
Thursday morning at House of Blues, Prince performed (backed by his twenty piece NPG Orchestra and special guest saxophonist Maceo Parker) for fifty minutes (at times with protege Andy Allo) before turning over the stage to Janelle Monáe and her band (also joined at times by Parker) for about forty minutes.
So when Monae left the stage at 3AM Thursday morning, fans clearly expected one more appearance from Prince to close out the sixth and final installment of his “Welcome 2 Chicago” residency.
But the crazed reaction that I was expecting never came. Instead, people just kind of casually waited around assuming Prince was coming back. Well, most missed it but he was standing at the back corner of the stage, in the dark, watching the crowd the entire time. I could be wrong but I immediately thought to myself, “he’s waiting for us to call him back.”
And just like Monday night, the house lights stayed down for about thirty minutes. And then at 3:30AM, I saw Prince turn around, walk backstage and the house lights came up almost immediately. The show was over.
But what a show it was.
People sang. People danced. The vibe was unreal. It was contagious! Afterall, how many times do you get to see an artist like Prince in an intimate venue?
And even though Prince didn't hit the stage until after 1:30AM, the floor at House of Blues literally shook as early as 11PM as people moved to the sounds of Sly & The Family Stone, Chaka Khan, Morris Day, Bell Biv Devoe, Ready For the World, Tony! Toni! Toné!... Even Eddie Murphy's "Party All The Time!" DJ Dudley D made sure it was a party early.
"You see why we keep doing this?" asked Prince.
Fronting a twenty piece band, the biggest he's ever toured, the focus was once again on the horn section... all eleven pieces of it... plus Maceo Parker.
Prince is clearly enamored with horns right now. While the horns were certainly front and center at the United Center shows too, seeing (and especially hearing) them up close at the much smaller House of Blues was unreal. In the smaller setting you see exactly how hard the musicians work. The sheer volume produced by the eleven piece ensemble was inescapable and immense.
Prince walks the stage with a swagger that's incredible to see up close. Even when he's not singing or playing an instrument, you still can't take your eyes off of him. It was amazing to watch him direct what he dubbed "The NPG Orchestra" on Monday from only five or ten feet away. He commands a sharp band that cuts with precision, slicing and dicing, reacting to changes and living in the moment. Prince and the NPG are tight.
It's also interesting to watch Prince step back and allow his band to take the spotlight. He beams at times like a proud papa. As Maceo Parker took the stage and began to wail, I watched Prince retreat to the drum kit where he stood in the shadows, shook his head in apparent disbelief, ultimately turning to his drummer John Blackwell with a knowing smile and a nod. "See? I'm just like you! I witnessed it! I saw it!" he ultimately said to the packed crowd of the performance by the legendary sax player.
Fans were asked not to take photos (including via camera phone). To discourage that further, Prince performed almost in the dark for the majority of his set... except for when Andy Allo took the stage. She was bathed in light, singing and playing guitar. "... Used to be a midnight teaser" she sang. "Y'all say what ya want to... I got a crush on her. Good Lord!" admired a smitten Prince of his newest protege.
"If we weren't playin' music, we'd be talkin' about music. Just like you!" And while on Monday Prince seemed downright antagonistic at times, Thursday morning it was one fan of music playing for fellow fans of music. Prince's absolute love of music was on full display at House of Blues as he presided over jazz jam sessions. He laid the funk down on 1987's "Housequake." He fired off one of his patented guitar solos. There was so much going on at all times!
"Y'all don't understand! I couldn't sleep last night! They said Maceo Parker and Janelle Monáe are comin' to town? Y'all don't understand!" So unlike earlier in the week, on Thursday morning Prince was endearing.
And while the crowd seemed surprisingly nonplussed by Monáe and her band as the clock crossed 2AM and headed for 3, her set was nevertheless the embodiment of energy as she danced across the stage in the unique manner that would've made James Brown smile. "Tightrope" took the bass for a walk and worked in lieu of an energy drink in the wee hours Thursday morning.
"We're just musicians who love music!" said Monáe. And Wednesday night into Thursday morning at House of Blues, free of stadium spectacle, the closing moments of Prince's "Welcome 2 Chicago" residency were indeed a music lover's dream.