Review: Prince brings his intimate club tour to the Ogden Theatre - Reverb

Prince at the Ogden Theatre day one, 5-12-13 (photos, review)

8 p.m. show

By Matt Miller

When the lyrics to Prince’s “Screwdriver” flashed across the stage of the Ogden Theatre on Sunday, “People pay money for the rock and roll,” the phrase rang all too true. Roughly half a million dollars had been dropped collectively to see the immortal artist in a rock club a tenth of the size he could easily sell out, and it was time for him to deliver.

Reviews of Prince’s second night at the Ogden Theatre

Just before the 8 p.m. showtime, a line wraps around the entire theater. Purple feathers litter the streets along with fans who are a concoction of nervous and excited. Lookalikes of the Purple One mill about, timestamps of the artist in the 1980s whom people had been waiting in some cases their entire lives to see. But the Prince who would take the stage for the earlier of two shows on Sunday wasn’t quite the man anyone expected.

In a rather modest black collared shirt with a small vintage-looking afro, the Prince on Sunday was more ’70s rocker and hardly the immortalized pop, funk and R&B god. Backed by the young three-piece 3rdEyeGirl, Prince stayed away from the hits almost entirely and instead played a set of riff-heavy takes on lesser known songs. There was no “Purple Rain,” no “When Doves Cry,” no “I Would Die 4 U.” In fact the most well-known song he played was “Let’s Go Crazy,” a chunky version he’s been opening up with on this club tour. Devoid of hits, it’s easy to get hung up on this setlist, as many fans vocally shared after the show, but that’s not what this show was about. This show was about devotion.

As the $250 price tag can attest, this Prince show wasn’t for the casual fans who only know and love the hits. Anyone in the crowd mere feet away from the mythical artist himself had already proven their devotion to the church of Prince. The reward for this devotion was a chance to see his enormous presence crammed into a tiny room. And the man was everything fans could expect — comfortable on stage, emotionally connected to every note and still a sex symbol at 54 years old.

Playing almost exclusively the guitar through tracks like “Bambi,” and (fitting for the night), “Guitar,” he barely took a break for lighter songs or to sit at the mostly-unused piano on the right of the stage. In every song he ripped through solo after solo. And though this riff-solo-riff-solo formula became a bit tired, Prince’s showmanship on the guitar was poetry. Here is Prince, a musician with nothing to prove, almost begging for the audience’s respect for him as a guitarist — a talent that can sometimes be overshadowed by his persona.

When he finally settled into a funk groove late into the night — a cover of “Play that Funky Music White Boy” — the audience lit up with some of the dancing it had anticipated. Unfortunately it was Prince’s last song in a set that clocked in at less than two hours. As fans began to file out, some visibly and vocally angry, others in ecstasy, the night had clearly become a test to some of his most die-hard fans. How well do you know my catalogue? How much are you willing to pay? How much will you beg for a hit? All are questions Prince seemed to be asking, and all posed during a show that only a lucky few will be talking about for years to come.

11:30 p.m. show

By Ricardo Baca

The way he looks so damn comfortable on stage. His unquestionable style and inimitable confidence. The trademark glitch between his deliberately round baritone and his gimme-more falsetto.

Prince’s late-night show at the Ogden Theatre on Sunday was a stunner. More rock than funk, more quirky than familiar, the brief 90-minute set trended toward album tracks and B-sides as opposed to the artist’s many ubiquitous hits. The audience didn’t seem to mind the deep grooves, the extended solos and the quick whiplash of a concert; They came, they danced, they sang along and they spilled out on East Colfax Avenue at 1:05 a.m. as a slap-happy mess.

Prince will play two more shows on Monday, at 8 and 11:30 p.m.

It was no mistake that Prince’s silhouette echoed that of a young Lenny Kravitz-Jimi Hendrix hybrid, with a slender, asymmetrical shirt hanging over pants, topped with sunglasses and a combed-out afro. This rock show had its R&B and funk and even a few ballads, but it was still a rock show – guitars, bass and a drum kit with two high, metal-ready crash cymbals.

Mind you, there was no “Purple Rain,” “Little Red Corvette,” “Raspberry Beret,” “7” or “U Got the Look.” And that was O.K.

The late-show began with a slinked-out take on “Let’s Go Crazy,” a sexy arrangement that showcased each dynamic of the four-piece. Prince threw down his new “Screw Driver” with retro graphics, and he put down his electric guitar for a noodly instrumental featuring him on the keys. (It worked because it was Prince; If it were anybody else …)

He covered part of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” and he mashed-up Tommy James’ “Crimson and Clover” with the Troggs’ “Wild Thing.” Later on, he basically covered himself in a tease of a medley that left the crowd on edge. He hinted at the whimsical hit “Pop Life” with a few measures, and then he flirted with the high-heeled intro to “Darling Nikki.” But no more than a few fleeting moments. How about the first verse of “I Would Die 4 U”? He rocked that, too. And then he said, “What a night, huh?” and left the stage.

It was as exciting as it was frustrating. But what’s worse: Avoiding those songs altogether or giving the audience a little taste, acknowledging that, yes, he did those jams too.

The late show’s highlights had Prince testing his still-legit upper register with a haunting “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” and alternating lines with the sold-out audience on “When Doves Cry.” It’s not everyday you’re invited to sing a duet with Prince on one of his most recognized, loved, valued songs, but he asked for it, and hours later, we’re still singing: “Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold.”

Much has been made about the concerts’ $250 ticket prices, and rightfully so. That’s a lot of money. Was this 90-minute set worth all that cash?

Without question. The draw here is Prince in a room 1/10 the size he normally plays, right? And his powerful sway translated so vibrantly in the tiny Ogden that it was impossible to not glimmer in his glow.

Watching him wield that guitar, strike a pose, hit that note – all so seemingly effortlessly – is a moving experience, one that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

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Reverb Managing Editor Matt Miller has a really common name so please use these links to find his Twitter account and Google + page. Or just send him an email to mrmiller@denverpost.com.

Ricardo Baca is the founder and executive editor of Reverb, the co-founder of The UMS and an award-winning critic and editor at The Denver Post.

Evan Semón is a Denver freelance writer and photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work.

  • MattK

    Agree totally with your early show review. I was disappointed how poor the lighting was, I’ll go so far as to call it anti-crowd. It was clear nobody was to take a picture of the almighty Price, but we should have at least been able to SEE him play. I was at the front of the first elevated section right in front of the stage, and when I wasn’t getting blasted with blinding interrogation strobes, the stage was dimly back-lit with the band in shadows. These were clearly to discourage/thwart photos, and it made the show less enjoyable. I’m a guitar player, and paid that much to see him play guitar, and barely got the chance. At one point very early in the show, he even demanded spotlights turn off, and they never returned. And hey, I’m not all about the hits either, but a nod to the tunes that made you famous would have been nice, especially if you’re planning on a 1:20 set and charging $250.

    • Ryan Scott

      Spot on MattK

  • BillT

    Under two hours for the first show? Try an hour and 15 minutes. I could live without the hits, and enjoyed all of the funky guitar work, but an hour and 15 minutes? That was ridiculous for $250.

  • Jay

    Geez what a bunch of whiners and complainers. Just count yourself lucky to see a living legend in this small venue. The ticket price is hardly worth discussing cause as the more apt reporter said above… was it worth the cash. Absolutely!

  • thelaw955

    I touched the man the legend and the artist PRINCE. The concert was for the true die hard fans! He is amazing and can play the hell out of his and anyone songs! This is an experience that I will never ever forget. Me and my daughter on mothers day singing and feeling the electricity is PRICELESS! We wanted to go to all 4 shows and I loved the Ogden feel!!

  • Ryan Scott

    MattK is ABSOLUTELY CORRECT! No one is saying play the Purple Rain soundtrack start to finish, but I have rarely heard of an artist of his musical catalog playing more covers than original works. I am a lifelong Prince fan, even suffering through projects like Under The Cherry Moon, and loved seeing him in this venue, but to play a 80 minutes and only two “popular” prince hits (let’s to crazy and I could never take the place of your man) each at half speed brought the crowd within spitting distance of what they were aching for last night. Then, when he returned for his Encore, he actually said “how about something old school” and the crowd erupted because they felt they would get some old school prince. No such luck. Amazing performer that continues to be an all time favorite, solid guitarists (so so and disinterested bassist) but maybe just toss in some of the music that made you famous for the mostly 40+ crowd who dished out about $3 per minute for this show. In short, this artist, this venue and this band could have made this the best show I’ve ever seen…however that was thwarted by a setlist so tragic that is should have been written by Shakespeare.

    • gmcb

      There’s no pleasing everyone and this tour is definitely not for the casual fan. For this lifelong Prince fan, this was the show I have always wanted to see. I’ve heard the hits hundreds of times. I didn’t mind not hearing them again. He played a few songs last night that I have never gotten to see live and I loved every minute of it. Was the show too short for what we paid? Yes…kind of. (How long of a show really makes $250 worth it? hard to say.) But I wasn’t paying to see a long show. I was paying to see a great performer in an intimate setting. For me, being three feet away from the man and watching him perform some of my favorite songs was worth every penny. Even though the show was short, I was on sensory overload for the entire time, so I felt feeling very satisfied. It was literally a full frontal assault to my ears and eyes from the moment the bass drum kicked in behind the curtain. I’ll be at the late show tonight and can hardly wait. As for the covers go, he only played a couple of songs that weren’t his own. He does that almost every time I see him live, so it was no surprise and I always enjoy the fresh spin he puts on those songs. The rest of the songs were all his. The band was tight and the funk/rock was delivered with precision and power. Loved it!

  • Mole555

    Agreed. The first song of the night, Let’s Go Crazy, all slowed down and rocked out, and ending with Play That Funky Music White Boy were perfect bookends to a non-stop show. Not once did the band stop and take a breath, it was one song to the next, changing tempos and styles every step of the way. While I was hoping for more of the funk hits, his band was stellar (surprised no one has mentioned how takers and hot 3rd Eye Girl was backing him up.) Donna on lead guitar was amazing! Mad props to the girls! Prince looked like he was enjoying himself, it never looked like “work” and I’m glad I was there to be part of it. I will probably never be able to see Peince that close and intimate again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.spillen Jeremy Spillen

    I saw the first show and it was amazing. I’m a lifelong musician and it’s how I make my living… that being said, it was an honor to watch a master at work. I’ve never seen anyone deliver music more emphatically or more gracefully. Every moment is honed and intentional. I was in absolute awe.

    If you went to see Bob Ross paint live, it wouldn’t matter what he painted. It’s the inspiration of seeing another human being be at one with their craft. This type of artist doesn’t debate what they can or cannot do, they just grab their tools and do what they do.

    I wish I had gone to more than one of the shows. I’ll certainly never forget it, and I’m going to ride this inspiration as long as I can.

    Nice… I got into picture #20 in this album.