Over the course of his long, storied, and downright weird career, Prince has proven he can make just about any room his home—from the teeny (dig his epic sets at New York’s tiny City Winery earlier this year) to the gargantuan (he played the greatest Super Bowl halftime show of the modern era in 2007—sorry, Beyoncé).
But the Purple One’s ideal stomping ground is an arena, which he proved yet again Friday night (December 27) when he stampeded through the first of three shows at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Those rooms are intimate enough for Prince to individually invite women onto the stage to dance with him, but also large enough to contain his royal histrionics.
Decked out in an all-yellow suit and situated behind a microphone stand bearing the glyph that once stood in place of his name, Prince treated the first night of his three-night stay like an old-school soul review. “We’re just gonna jam tonight,” he told the crowd while introducing the New Power Generation, and he lived up to his word. The early part of Prince’s two and a half hour set featured him teasing out extra-long versions of staples both classic (“Let’s Go Crazy”) and modern (“Musicology”), and vacillating between being a living avatar of James Brown and the greatest descendent of Jimi Hendrix.
The most remarkable thing about seeing Prince live is the fact that the guy is a ridiculously great guitar player (or, as one bearded dude said to another during the solo that highlighted “Something In the Water (Does Not Compute),” “That motherf—er can shred!”). His guitar heroics showed up early and often, especially on the slowed-down, Zeppelin-ized version of “Let’s Go Crazy.”
When he wasn’t melting his six-string, he was holding court as the ringmaster of a sprawling funk band whose numbers seemed to keep multiplying (there were at least 18 other musicians on stage). There, he rapped, sang, cajoled, conducted, and danced in the midst of extra-long funk jams that were as much a showpiece for his sax players as it was for Prince himself. It led to a deliciously slinky variation on “She’s Always In My Hair” as well as bold reclamations of Prince-penned tracks made famous by other people, including “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Jungle Love.”
Still, with all that help, the evening’s most definitive moments came during the concert’s first encore, which began with Prince alone onstage, coaxing the slinky grooves of “When Doves Cry” and “Sign O The Times” out of a single keyboard. The fact that he was totally compelling in those moments is a testament both to his incredible songs and to his singular charisma. Indeed, it was almost disappointing (but ultimately thrilling) when the bulk of his band returned for sweaty passes at “Let’s Work” and “U Got The Look.”
The evening ended with a swirling, pulsating run at “Purple Rain,” easily one of the best songs ever written in any genre. From the fuzzy-headed guitar introduction to the cooing verses to the jaw-dropping solo to the track-ending “Ooooh ooooohs” in the refrain, it was an overwhelming eruption of molten sonic power, and Prince harnessed every minute of it.
He didn’t play “Raspberry Beret” or “Little Red Corvette” or “Darling Nikki” or “Cream” or “Diamonds and Pearls,” but that didn’t matter. He doesn’t go on the road very often, but when he does, it’s something special. See Prince now, because eventually he’ll just retire to Paisley Park and beat Paul Dano to death with bowling pins. Until then, we can bask in the glory that the last scion of Brown, Hendrix, and Mayfield is still teasing his afro and marching his heels across our stages.