Concert Review: Prince - Welcome 2 Chicago - Night 1 of 3, Live at United Center - A Frustrating Evening of Entertainment and Antagonism (Monday, 9/24/12 at United Center)

Concert Review: Prince - Welcome 2 Chicago - Night 1 of 3, Live at United Center - A Frustrating Evening of Entertainment and Antagonism (Monday, 9/24/12 at United Center)

Prince covered ample musical ground Monday night at United Center aiming for more than your average concert experience on the first of his three night, "Welcome 2 Chicago" residency... But ultimately fell short of that goal due to a frustrating finish that proved to be only the beginning of an antagonistic evening and early morning The Artist had in store for his fans...

Doors opened Monday night at United Center at 5PM... and Prince took the stage just after 9PM.  Part of his "Welcome 2 Chicago" residency, this week's concerts aim to bring awareness to a number of issues and celebrate community... and Monday night, fans had plenty of time to get familiar with all of it.

Walking the United Center concourse before the show, I saw booths promoting women's rights and sustainable communities.  A band performed in the middle of the concourse as fans registered to vote just down the hall.  Other fans took time to paint signs, masks and more at another table.

A DJ spun on the venue floor as fans slowly filtered in and Sly and the Family Stone echoed throughout United Center.  The vibe was good and the idea cool.  Videos from a variety of artists associated with Prince played on the massive video screens overhanging the stage as crews made last minute adjustments.  Morris Day, Chaka Khan and more were displayed.  At one point, probably not coincidentally, I believe I also saw a Mavis Staples video.  After all, the Chicago native recorded two albums for Prince's Paisley Park label in the early nineties.

And of course the color purple was ubiquitous.  People everywhere were wearing it.  Portable lights were set up in the concourse spreading it.  And the stage itself was bathed in it throughout the night.

But Prince's idea of making this more than mere concert and into something more closely resembling an event was really summed up by the VIP packages offered to concertgoers on the main floor surrounding "the symbol" shaped stage.

Personally, I've never been one for the overpriced, "look at me!" type of packages that permeate the arena concertgoing experience these days.  This VIP experience was really something else (the perfect example of attending a concert to be seen as opposed to listen).

Fans sat immediately stage side, in a roped off area from the rest of the floor, at high tables cabaret style.  And while I don't even want to begin to think what something like that ran the 1%, I suppose Prince deserves some credit for at least giving high society their money's worth.  Fans (like George Lopez who Prince singled out from the stage) were dressed to the nines and the evening did indeed feel less like a concert and more like an event.

"We're gonna have fun tonight.  Take your mind off all the problems outside!" said an excited Prince early on in an interesting juxtaposition between $164 tickets and the aforementioned VIP treatment and the economy which I'm assuming might rank high on the list of  "problems" from which he supposedly sought to offer fans an escape.

The first of the two hour set focused primarily on covers, serving to remind those in attendance of two things:

  • 1.) Prince knows his music history.  He's always been a student of music.  He appreciates it.  He loves it.  He lives it.  This is a good thing.
  • 2.) He's been a party to more hits than most remember.  Strangely, there were times when it seemed this concert was specially constructed to make sure you remembered that fact, almost desperately so (IE: At one point, he made reference to it being a "Manic Monday."  He wrote that song for The Bangles and even though he didn't play it Monday, the mere mention of it came off as a forced attempt to remind us that he has written many, many hits.  We're aware!).

Monday night, what Prince dubbed the "NPG Orchestra" spread out across the stage:  rhythm section and backing vocalists on stage with a massive horn section stationed at the soundboard.  "Pop Life" came second in the set and placed heavy emphasis on the New Power Generation as both keyboard and then trumpet solos accented a jazz interlude therein.  Without skipping a beat, "Pop Life" became "Musicology" and saw Prince at his smoothest.  Capable of wearing so many hats while on stage, for this particular moment, Prince was pure frontman working the packed crowd from every corner of his massive stage, sporting his trademark dance moves throughout.  He took control of the festivities in a manner unparalleled and it was impressive.

Clad in a black and white suit, Prince moved deftly from full on funk to bluesy, Gospel tinged roll, channelling both James Brown and Chicago legend Curtis Mayfield early on in the first hour.

The covers continued but this time in a more upbeat fashion and one that was certainly more familiar to Prince as he dabbled in the works of his former proteges:  first with both "The Bird" and "Jungle Love" from Morris Day and The Time and then via Sheila E.'s "The Glamorous Life" (though it should be noted that unlike his last Chicagoland appearances at Allstate Arena in 2004, when she was a member of the band, on this occasion Miss Escovedo was not in attendance... which made the performance seem kind of strange.  Great... but strange).  Slower material followed as Prince was joined by vocalist Shelby Johnson for nevertheless strong renditions of "Nothing Compares 2 U" and Sarah McLachlan's "Angel."

"Check me out... This is my guitar!"  Finally at 10:15PM, over an hour into the show, Prince picked up a guitar.  And from there the show gained momentum as he moved to the hits for hour two.  The stretch of songs that included "Raspberry Beret," "Cream," and a swinging rendition of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Till you Get Enough," closed the main set in stellar fashion.

Prince introduced a version of "Purple Rain" that was surprisingly light on guitar (though certainly still good) to open the first encore.  And the second encore started strong too opening with "Kiss."

But from there, things misfired.

Sans his stellar band, Prince sang brief snippets of some of his biggest hits ("When Doves Cry," "I Would Die 4 U," "Sign 'O' the Times," etc.) over samples rolled out by his DJ.  His band was nowhere to be seen... which was a shame.  As a student of music, Prince is clearly quite aware that electronic dance music is all the rage right now.  This felt like a calculated effort to show fans that he gets that, that he's "hip."  But the thing I've always admired about Prince is that he made that seem effortless.  The moment Prince steps on a stage, that much is obvious.

And in what's been touted as a series of shows with a hyper-local focus, "Sign 'O' the Times" would've been better served in all its glory as opposed to a forgettably brief snippet.  A full performance could've served as an apropos statement on the level of youth violence that has plagued the city of Chicago this summer (especially lately and at times with music at its root).  This was an opportunity missed.

From there, things got worse.

"Chicago, I don't want to preach but we need to love one another... See how easy that is?  I don't need to be here, I want to be here.  I want your love.  The American dream from us to you.  Listen!" said Prince as he introduced "Purple Rain."

So clearly, right now, Prince believes he has a message and wants to be heard.  The "Welcome 2" series of local residencies account for some of his most high profile shows in nearly ten years and he's taken uncharacteristic steps like opening up to local media to spread the word.

And repeatedly, that message seems to be something like this:  Things are tough, we have a lot of work to do as a society and people need to help one another.  Fantastic in theory and kudos to Prince for putting it forward.

But then he left the stage following his second encore and that message was lost.

Any concertgoer knows the show ain't over 'till the lights come up.  So fans stood screaming and cheering.  And screaming and cheering some more.  And some more.  This process started at 11:05PM when Prince left the stage.  It continued as I had had enough and walked out of the United Center to head to work around 11:30PM.  And from what I can tell from the reactions on Twitter, it continued until nearly midnight at which point Prince finally returned to the stage in front of a largely empty audience apparently playing "Little Red Corvette" and "1999."  Seriously?  An hour encore break?

So Prince tricked half his audience into leaving his show early.  Classy.

And yet for some, the evening was only beginning.

Earlier in the encore, Prince encouraged concertgoers to join him at House of Blues for what was being billed as the "Official Purple After Jam" ($89-164 in advance, $114-164 at the door).  To be fair, the event never mentioned Prince as a performer... But from Prince's own words on stage and an assortment of media reports over the last week, it was certainly implied.

Doors were scheduled to open for that event at 10PM.  According to a variety of Tweets that I read from extremely disgruntled concertgoers at 4AM this morning, Prince "protege" Andy Allo took took the stage for a few songs backed by members of the NPG at some point between 2:30 and 3AM before Prince finally graced the crowd with his presence around 3:45AM to announce that the Chicago Police had supposedly shut the show down.

At one point at House of Blues, it seems Prince appeared in an opera box.  And apparently he peeked through the stage curtain once too, teasing fans.  So the antagonism displayed earlier at United Center continued.

Which brings me back again to the message and lofty goals Prince clearly had for these "Welcome 2" concerts... Because it's pretty difficult for me to put any stock in something like that when it's delivered by somebody who really doesn't seem to have much respect for his audience.

If you're heading to either United Center or House of Blues on Tuesday or Wednesday there is one thing you can put some faith in and that's the fact that Prince prides himself on delivering radically different shows night in and night out.  So hopefully the next two nights will be a more pleasant experience... Because, really, Prince's goals for this residency are admirable and there truly were some amazing moments Monday musically... But at the end of the day, spending money to go to a concert shouldn't result in a challenging or frustrating experience.  In fact, it should've been the very escape Prince himself referenced early on Monday from the United Center stage.

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  • fb_avatar

    i seriously couldn't agree more. i'm thoroughly disappointed.

  • In reply to Dakota Stanley:

    Hi, Dakota... First off, thanks for reading and even moreso for chiming in. I can't count the amount of times in the past that I've written in this space something along the lines of "Rock n' roll is at its best when it's unpredictable." Well... love him or hate him, Prince was most certainly that last night. But in my humble opinion he took it far beyond unpredictable to something more closely resembling the term "idiotic." Regardless of the venue, his fans deserved better. Were you at United Center, House of Blues... or (gasp) both (Oh, how I feel for the people who did both)? I have tickets for tomorrow's show at House of Blues and quite frankly, at this point, I don't even want to go.

  • Last night's show was boring. Prince used to be about great songwriting, last night was an extended funk jam. Couldn't agree more that he has no respect for his audience, or the cause he was meant to support. I was volunteering for Rebuild the Dream and we lost nearly 2 hours of time to educate the fans about our projects because Prince didn't bother sound checking until 6:00. Further, this was the same setlist as the MSG show I was at two years ago, so the fans tonight and tomorrow shouldn't expect anything different. Besides, it was too choreographed with the lights and the band for him to shake things up...hope y'all like repetitive funk jams!

  • In reply to schillfactor:

    So even though they advertised doors at 5PM, I imagine they made everyone sit outside until he was done with soundcheck?

  • fb_avatar

    so disappointed it was such a waste of time and money, all would have been forgotten if he would have performed his own songs instead of giving the show to his back up singers and being in the dark majority of the night- where do i sign up to get my money back!!! :(

  • Did Prince perform The Beautiful Ones?

  • In reply to Vaga:

    Nope... Here's the setlist from Monday night's show: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/prince/2012/united-center-chicago-il-43ddeff3.html

  • It sounds like anyone with a ticket for Monday's House of Blues show can exchange it for a 300 level ticket to Wednesday's United Center show. In other words, you can trade what should've been an up close and personal look at Prince for the worst seat in the house two days later... So I take it there's a good amount of unsold seats for Wednesday's UC show. Regardless, here's the details for anyone curious. Curiously, I can't find anything about this on the House of Blues site but alas... http://bit.ly/PX8li8

  • Hey Jim. I was one of those concertgoers who attended both events at UC and House of Blues on Monday night. AND I had one of the table seats by the stage. I'm not part of the 1% and most of the people there did not appear to be either. It wasn't about 'look at me' as you mentioned but an opportunity to attend a Prince concert as up close as you can be. The sound in UC sucked. With the added brass to the band, it really was difficult sometimes to even discern the song they were playing. While many aging singers rely on their band for more instrumental stretches, singing by the backups or guest stars and having the audience sing for them, Prince relied on that more for the Monday concert than expected. The lack of guitar playing was also disappointing and quite frankly so were many of the chosen songs, especially with the merging of multiple songs into one montage. Loved his energy and he looks amazing but too little signing and not enough guitar-playing. Worth noting that most of the people invited up on stage to dance as a group from the 'look at me' seats all appear to be part of the performance and are not just anyone sitting there. One of the crowd dancers was actually the woman singing later at House of Blues. As for the absurd encore delay, when the house lights came up, I asked a security guard if that was the end. He said they were told that Prince had left the buillding. So, we headed downtown to the House of Blues for the Purple After Jam... which UBERsucked. It was marketed that Prince would perform. Starting 3 hours late and with the backup singer/dancer as the performer (not to mention way too many hours to consume extra alchohol) created a fairy disgruntled mob. You are correct that anyone who purchased a ticket for the Monday night Purple After Jam has been offered to swap that ticket for a concert ticket for tomorrow night. Hopefully it will be better than Monday. Can't be too much worse.

  • In reply to JustPJD:

    All excellent observations. Thanks for chiming in. I suppose I may have been a little rough on the VIP section.

    Have you read anything about night 2 yet? Sounds like he went above and beyond to deliver a better show (apparently he started a half hour earlierat UC, brought out Jennifer Hudson and did five encores) but that doesn't change the fact that so many people kind of got the shaft Monday night. And from what I'm seeing on Twitter he was already onstage at House of Blues at 1AM this morning.

    I bought tix for tomorrow at HoB so I'm cautiously optimistic. But I can't even imagine how overserved that crowd must've been by 4am on Tuesday morning though. You've got my sympathies.

    I suppose the exchange offer is better than nothing... but you could've bought a 300 level UC ticket for significantly less had that been your choice. The whole thing remains quite disappointing from a performer of Prince's stature.

  • I posted this on another site, but wanted to repost for all those dissappointed fans on Monday, and to reassure those with any doubts about Prince's remaing Wecome 2 Chicago concerts. I can unequivocally say that Tuesday's show was AWESOME.

    I'm sorry that things didn't go so smoothly on Day 1, because Day 2 was absolutely DA BOMB, AWESOME, GREATNESS, PURPLE MADNESS, whatever you want to call it!

    I am soooo happy that I had the chance to see Prince in concert for my first time ever - he left a great impression on me, it was that good. Prince was great - his voice was absolutely great on the classics and on his newer songs, and his guitar skills and singing of Purple Rain was unbelievable. AND his duo with Jennifer Hudson was amazing. They both sounded so great and had such energy.

    I just got home from the concert and I'm STILL geeked about it!

    The energy of the crowd was so great the whole night and Prince came back out for two encores performances. The only problem early on during the concert was that Prince's mic was turned down too low, even though the band was coming through loud, so for a while it was hard to clearly hear the words he (and another woman in his band) was singing. But Prince humbly apologized for the few glitches, somebody miraculously fixed the mic and the show went on without a hitch!

    It was awesome and was for a great cause that Prince is part of, the Rebuilding the Dream project, and my understanding is that all proceeds go the the project.

    And by the way I was in the 300 level seats (330) and had a great view! My friends and I were positioned with a completely unobstructed view of the entire stage which didn't feel to far up, and coupled with the large video screens the effect worked perfectly.

    Loved it - YAY Prince, for utter awesomeness!

  • In reply to AnikaJ:

    Yeah, from everything I've read, it sounds like night 2 was outstanding. Even on night 1 there were great moments ("Raspberry Beret" for example). It's just a shame the show was so uneven with arguably two of his biggest hits being performed in front of hardly anyone after the whole encore fiasco.

    The show I saw him put on at Allstate Arena in 2004 is one of my five favorite concerts ever. He's a terrific performer and tremendous musician so I had a feeling the rest of the "Welcome 2 Chicago" shows would be better.

    I'm going to hit House of Blues on Wednesday and plan on posting a full review on Thursday... I'd love nothing more than to eat my words a bit.

  • fb_avatar

    It seems we saw different shows -- I notice the reviewer thinks he ran through the highlights of hits without his band - somehow apparently he missed the 12 piece band seated on 3 tiers right in front of the DJ! Prince is still a fabulous guitarist, has class, dance moves, never lost a beat, never waivered, and I thought it was an excellent show.

  • fb_avatar

    I am one of those embarrassed and infuriated fans that went to both the UC concert and the House of Blues "aftershow". I was read this morning that he played the final encore at the United Center. Seriously, I waited the entire time until the lights were turned on and the United Center announcement thanking people for attending was made and now I find out that he came back on??? Enraging.

    You hit the nail on the head that his peekaboo stunt at the HOB was a complete spit in the face of the fans waiting there for 3 hours. I've been a big fan for nearly 30 years and really wanted this to be the ultimate Prince experience. Instead, I've now vowed to never give Prince another dollar.

  • fb_avatar

    This reviewer was spot on about the concert except...the doors did not open until after 7 pm! We were standing outside in the wind and cold for 2 hours! Then... another 2 hours inside waiting for the concert to begin. Huge disappointment! I bought presale tickets for $170 for what was supposed to be the only show and feel completely shafted. Does it make me feel better that all the late comers for the other shows got their money's worth? Absolutely not!

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    Jim Ryan has written about music in print and online for a variety of Chicagoland publications for over fifteen years. In addition to duties filling in as Traffic Anchor on CLTV or in the helicopter on NBC 5, you can also catch him Sunday nights at 6PM central as host of "The Rock N' Roll Radio Program" on AM 1420 WIMS and AM 1060 WHFB (streaming at wimsradio.com and via the TuneIn Radio app for the smart phone or tablet). Jim has also worked locally for WXRT-FM, lives within walking distance of the Metro and is an avid White Sox and Blackhawks fan whose first live concert experience came at Comiskey Park in 1984 during the Jacksons' "Victory" tour.

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