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