Live Review: Prince at Myth
Listen, there are a few things you can be sure of when you see Prince in concert:
1- There’s going to be a near-dickish prohibition on cell phones, cameras, video, and recording devices.
2- Prince’s band is going to be pretty (and) spectacular
3- He’ll play an array of classic hits and obscure tracks
4- It’ll be one of the best shows you’ll even see in your life
Saturday’s show at Myth in Maplewood lived up to many of those expectations, in sometimes interesting and confounding ways.
Minutes before the show started, Hannah Ford, the drummer for Prince’s all-female backing band, 3rdEyeGirl, popped out from behind the curtain to remind us that we should put our phones away. We were not to take pictures, videos or record the show. Our attention and focus, she noted, should be directed toward the show that’s happening on stage. “We want to see your faces,” she said, “not your phones.” She helpfully reminded us that people caught with phones or otherwise recording the concert would be “asked to leave.” As she stepped back behind the curtain, a dude behind me yelled, “I’M FIFTY YEARS OLD AND I WANTED THIS SHOW TO START AT 8 PM!” Ahem.
Prince’s new backing band came out smoking with a pounding kick drum that led to a vamped up version of “Let’s Go Crazy” that interpolates the riff from the Edgar Winters Group’s “Frankenstein,” which is a pretty kick ass way to open a show. Since the more-intimate shows earlier this year at the Dakota, the band has found a new gear and a deeper groove with Prince’s catalog. The setlist was largely the same as their premier night back in January, with 1995’s “Endorphinmachine” and the new “Screwdriver” anchoring the opening of the show, a slinky version of “She’s Always in My Hair” and a minor-key jam around “I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man” powering through the mid section. A new, instrumental version of Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow” took the crowd by surprise – it took people a few minutes to figure out what was happening. On the other hand, the band’s version of Billy Cobham’s “Stratus” was epic, pounding, delightful, and funky. Donna Grantis, 3rdEyeGirl’s co-lead guitarist, stood her ground against Prince, ripping strong solos and holding long, slow jams together with her artful arpeggios. The aforementioned Hannah Ford’s power on drums meshed well with bassist Ida Nielsen’s funky, deep bass grooves.
Prince moved back and forth between his guitar heroics and the piano; at one point he begged the soundman to “turn the guitar up in the house.” His request went unheeded until near the end of the show. Maybe because he was frustrated with the sound, he pulled out a “Sampler Set,” a common Prince trope where he presses buttons on a sampler filled with digital versions of his classic jams and runs through a verse and a chorus of a handful of tunes.
I hadn’t seen a Sampler Set live before, and was wondering what I’d think of it if I ever saw one. On the one hand, I’m not coming to a Prince concert to watch him crank through cursory versions of his greatest hits – I mean, it was cool to hear “When Doves Cry” and “Sign O’ the Times” live, but, really, it was like super-good Prince karaoke, verging on self parody. The hammered suburbanites, though, loved it, screaming half-remembered lyrics into their husband’s faces, and yelling “WOOOOOOOO!” when they recognized the riffs they heard on pop radio back in middle school.
Myth lived up to its reputation as a challenging place to see a live show. The cavernous room was filled with a mix of die-hard Prince fanatics, casual 80s music fans, and people who won tickets on Le Current, KFAN, and Cities 97. The original $249 tickets didn’t sell out, so $99 and $149 tickets were made available over the final few days before the show. The crowd around me fell into two main camps: drunk people from the suburbs and cool, chill people who knew what they were in for and were comfortable with the series of transactions that occur in the shared space of a concert venue. I positioned myself behind the soundboard, at the back of the $149 section. A guy behind me cracked, “You paid $50 more to stand – literally – six inches in front of me. I hope it’s worth it!” He and I bonded over his dual affections for KISS and Prince. If you’re reading this now, dude, it was nice meeting you.
At 50-some years old, Prince is still the dynamic performer, genius musician and cultural icon he’s always been. He’s still got the moves and the magic to be the most compelling artist of his generation, and his new band can completely keep up with him. The show was for the most part, abstracted from its venue, amazing. It’s unfortunate Myth didn’t measure up to the performer’s mythology.