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Prince & the NPG at Paisley Park, 10/5/13

No photography allowed at Paisley Park
No photography allowed at Paisley Park

Prince & the New Power Generation
With 3rdEyeGirl, Shelby J, Liv Warfield & Elisa Dease
Paisley Park Studios, Chanhassen
Saturday, October 5, 2013

"Real music played by real musicians" was Prince's repeated mantra Saturday night at Paisley Park. To help make his case well into Sunday morning, 20-plus performers criss-crossing his past and present took the stage and laid down a set of soul, funk, R&B, and rock 'n' roll.

Aided by purple-tinted lights, some smoke, a good bit of stage direction, and dramatic tension, the evening showcased the now-revived New Power Generation with Prince's newly formed rockers 3rdEyeGirl woven into their rowdiness. When the 55-year-old Purple One applied his Midas touch to the room, time alternated between slowing to a halt and feeling like it was going back to past musical eras.

See Also: How to purify yourself before a Prince show at Paisley Park

Earlier in the day, hundreds of devotees who got Gimme Noise's tip about the show had congregated and tailgated around the Purple One's multimillion-dollar complex. At about 9:45 p.m., a long line snaking across the street was shuffled inside, past the carefully manicured bushes next to his private lot, through an entryway with white-tiled bathrooms nearby and the Purple Rain motorcycle on display, and into the 1,200-capacity soundstage. The room featured a 30-foot love symbol painted on a wall and a ceiling high as an airplane hangar.

Packing more shiny metal instruments than a dental hygienist, the slickly dressed New Power Generation graced the stage after a few minutes more, and began working overtime to justify holding the crowd rapt. Vocalists Shelby J, Liv Warfield, and Elisa Dease took turns working the stage with shades of neo-soul, jazz, and spaced-out rock. With no alcohol to buy and no phones to fiddle with, the audience got caught in a distraction-free stranglehold.

When Shelby dabbed droplets from her shaved head, remarking "Women, we don't sweat, we glow," there was nothing to watch but her. When demolition woman Liv Warfield tore into "Why Do You Lie?" like Aretha Franklin backed by Stevie Ray Vaughan, there was nowhere to go but deeper into the groove. By the time the trio teamed for three-part bliss on Etta James's "At Last," backed by their 3rdEyeGirl teammates, the place was buzzing. But when the stage went dark, and the DJ launched into vintage Outkast, Snoop Dogg, and (obviously) Prince, the sobering, claustrophobic, Twitter-free break made 20 minutes feel like 20 hours. It was as if Luddite Louis C.K. was laughing at the packed room from on high.

Then Prince finally made his entrance. In a vest that turned into a cape behind him and a tight purple gown and pants, the impressively afro-ed star emerged as the NPG accompanied young Brianna Curiel in an efficient and expressive reprise of James's "At Last." Jokingly, he snatched the mic away from her, but not before letting his face show how impressed he was with her voice. And this would be the tone of the rest of the night. Prince would jab the microphone (and spotlight) onto his featured players, and then he'd contort his lips in obvious pleasure.

"What do you wanna hear? I love asking a crowd that," he eventually said with a grin. "Chaos ensues." To the great benefit of everyone in the room, each sax, trombone, and trumpet soloist from the NPG fold tried to top their predecessor as the night went along -- even incorporating an elaborate pantomime of one guy getting funked to death. And like the master ping-pong player that he is, Prince elevated his game even further to stay ahead. From his flawless falsetto on "Dark" as psychedelic projections danced on the walls behind the crowd, to his limber dance moves, to the emotional outpouring that was "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)," the program showed a different side of him on each song.
 
Whenever his 1980s hits spilled into the set, the room sang lustily along as nostalgia swelled. It was easy to forget that our host wasn't working his guitar game on the night, but he didn't need it. "Purple Rain" had such a molten sax solo by Marcus Anderson that his bandleader had to fan him with a towel, and the heat between Shelby J and Prince for "Nothing Compares 2 U" during the encore felt like eavesdropping on something sweet and forbidden.

This was by far the best of four Prince shows Gimme Noise attended in 2013 because it was the most balanced. With a set touching Jackson 5 up to this year's "Breakfast Can Wait," the NPG navigated their musicology without prejudice up until 1:30 a.m. Anything that could be expressed in funky fashion fit, especially the back-and-forth between "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Cool" to leave everyone knocked on their mental hind ends. Paisley Park's roof was already plenty high, but we all still raised it anyhow.

Critic's Bias: Comparing venues where Prince has played locally this year, Paisley Park is better than the Dakota is better than Myth, but the southwestern Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen is still a strange locale. Buses were shuttling fans from a gargantuan Lifetime Fitness building down the road, and the city is choked with chain restaurants.

The Crowd: Some "Chads and Brads," a lot of folks who own extremely tasteful Prince merch, and some covert weed smokers.

Random Detail: Liv Warfield and Shelby J also chose Perkins as their after-concert meal destination.

Setlist

1999
Diamonds and Pearls
Old Friends 4 Sale
People Pleaser (Andy Allo) > Ain't Gonna Miss U When U're Gone > F.U.N.K.
Dark
Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)
Musicology
Love Rollercoaster (Ohio Players) > Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry)
Extraloveable
Purple Rain
Breakfast Can Wait
Mutiny

Encore:
Act of God > What Have You Done for Me Lately (Janet Jackson) > Northside > Which Way Is Up? (Stargard) > Dancing Machine (Jackson 5)
Nothing Compares 2 U
Cool (The Time) > Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough (Michael Jackson)


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