8 p.m. show
By John Wenzel
The Rorschach Test of Prince shows continued Monday night at the Ogden Theatre with an 8 p.m. concert that presented minor tweaks to the previous nights’ set lists without deviating from what made them such blank canvases of love/hate.
Seeing Prince at the 1,700-capacity Ogden was an undeniable treat for those unconcerned with a greatest-hits cavalcade or price-justifying show length. But it’s clear why some were disappointed with the other shows, given how rich and deep the man’s catalog is and how little of it he mined. (At one point The Purple One even said, “You know how many hits I got? We’ll be here all night!”)
That’s true, but it still would have been nice for him to finish the tantalizingly spare keyboard-and-drums version of “Purple Rain” with a vocal coda that didn’t lean so heavily on the audience to sing along. Or to finish the minute-and-a-half tease of “When Doves Cry” with a proper guitar solo. So close, yet so far.
But that’s just Prince. Complaining about him not playing all his hits the way they were recorded is like griping about seeing Dylan in concert these days: it’s not only short-sighted, it’s usually beside the point. The appreciable volume and AC/DC-Zeppelin shredding that Prince’s supermodel backing trio brought to the proceedings was bracing enough on its own. The fact that Prince prowled the stage and invited a dozen-plus members to dance on it during a late-set medley was bonus entertainment. We were lucky to be in the physical grace of such a musical saint.
Does that sound sycophantic? Sorry. It’s warranted. The man’s fame is a disgustingly effortless lesson in rock ‘n roll history, from Little Richard and Chuck Berry to James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. The fact that he created a genre all his own from those masters and asserted himself as one of their own is an established fact, so when his maniacal insistence on the audience not taking photos (strictly enforced with a handful of patrons getting tossed for it) needs to be taken in context. People have paid almost this much — yes, $250 per ticket — to see this dude in the nosebleeds of the Pepsi Center, so seeing him in a room that’s slightly smaller than your average first-run movie theater is like having the Rolling Stones play only their most obscure B-sides at a bar mitzvah hall.
If this music thing doesn’t work out, Prince will have an easy time getting a job as ringside announcer or drive-time DJ. Nearly every song, from “Screwdriver” to the encore medley of “Crimson and Clover/Wild Thing,” was peppered with calls of “Colorado!” and “Denver!” The man knows how to play to our geographic specificity, ’70s arena-rock style. He demands audience interaction, otherwise his genre-defying guitar and piano solos, which invoked rock, prog and jazz in equal measures, wouldn’t hit so hard.
Of course, the audience loved him. People were dancing from the start and only got more hyped as the hour-and-a-half set continued. Sure, it took a minute to recognize the reconstituted “Darling Nikki,” and the show wasn’t quite sold out (with ample room in the balcony), but the love was visceral. “Thank you, Colorado! I’m gonna have to get a house here!” Prince yelled at one point. Do you really mean it?
11:30 p.m. show
By Jason Blevins
Peel through the layers of Prince – past the 1980 synthy pop flash, beyond the flamboyant outfits and the curling symbol guitar, even deeper than the soul balladeer or the R&B bandleading funkster – and you will find a screaming rock-n-roll guitar god.
And the purple potentate let loose late Monday, wrapping both a four-show stand at the Ogden Theatre and an intimate nine-city, 17-show tour through the West Coast’s best clubs.
His house band broke the leash too. 3rdEyeGirl’s Canadian ripper Donna Grantis took more than a few daring leads on guitar – a daunting task while sharing the stage with a bona fide virtuosos. Dane deep ender Ida Nielsen thundered on bass. Southern belle-ringer Hannah Ford never lost a massive grin while pounding her triple-bass drumset. The trio fueled a mighty, trophy-shelf kind of night Monday, allowing Prince to delve deep into a multi-decade bag of tricks.
He slung his black guitar low, flinging and pointing the reverberating Gibson like a chatty diner does a fork. Sometimes spastic, other times lumbering but always stunning, Prince tapped his kit’s pedals and displayed the signature mastery of vibrato and string-bending jams, a skill that is often obscured behind his colorful façade. Some compare Prince’s guitar work to Jimi Hendrix but I hear more Frank Zappa chord arrangements in his solos, especially in the explosive “Guitar,” or the simmering “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” or the ridiculously fiery “She’s Always in My Hair” encore.
But the late show Monday wasn’t about screaming guitar. Prince spent most of the night on the keys, letting Grantis take bold jams, like an angular punk sensibility in “FixUrLifeUp.”
Asking if it was cool for him to stay behind the keyboards, the surprisingly chatty Prince promised the giddy house “we get to have a party tonight.” The crowd in the not-quite packed venue liked that. Just as much as Prince’s proclamation that “there ain’t no party like a purple party.”
The Purple One shrieked piercing falsetto in “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore.” In the brief “When Doves Cry,” a backlit Prince splashed monster shadows across the Ogden’s ceiling while howling “animals strike curious poses …”
With the stage swollen with gyrating gals, Prince pounded his midi for a medley of quick hits. The Prince potpourri saw the dance floor conductor hunched like a DJ, his Little Richard ‘do flopping along with a mashed-up medley that included the uptempo “I Would Die 4 U” and an extra funky “Hot Thing.”
Bassist Neilsen leaned into chat briefly when Prince apparently took a rare turn with a full and heartfelt “Purple Rain” that easily qualifies as one of Denver’s top musical highlights of the year. With moody lighting and an effusive crowd sing-a-long – which, while fun, there simply is no way to make 2,000 hoarse hollerers sound good singing the song’s “whoo oooh ooh ooh” refrain – “Purple Rain” capped a two-night stand that will soon be entombed in the storied Odgen’s hall of fame.
Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.