Prince at Myth, 5/25/13

Prince didn't allow photographers at Myth, but here's a shot from SXSW 2013.
Prince didn't allow photographers at Myth, but here's a shot from SXSW 2013.
Photo by John Sciulli

Myth Nightclub, Maplewood
Saturday, May 25, 2013

You didn't really need to wait until Prince's cover of "Even Flow" -- the last song from the last set of his double-header at Myth on Saturday night -- to know that his performance was a little unpredictable. That fact had long since been established. But the song choice sure as hell gave the night a nice bit of synchronicity.

After all, a man like Prince has no need to fall back on a cover (much less an instrumental grunge one) to put an exclamation point on one of his concerts. Nor was this the kind of finale that was destined to bring the house down. But on a night where the Purple One let his guitar do most of the heavy lifting, it might have been the only appropriate way to end things.

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Almost from the moment these Maplewood shows were announced, there seemed to be a touch of the surreal accompanying them. Or was it skepticism? Before this winter, it had been almost four whole years since Prince last played in the Twin Cities. But that hardly mattered given that he then played a three-night stand at the Dakota just four months ago. For a man so adept at maintaining local demand through the sheer rarity of his appearances, it seemed a curious decision.

The wild card with the second show was just that: that it was the second show of the evening. When Prince and his all-girl backing band, 3rd Eye Girl, came out to take their bow after the first encore, the girls teased that he was complaining about "not having a voice." Sure enough, "Even Flow" -- the only song of the second encore -- didn't require any singing. But how much of that was a matter of strain, and how much of it was simply his being flat?

Judging by the comparative set lists, the former certainly had something to do with it. The first show had noticeably more songs, many of them his most popular; the second show drew substantially on '90s cuts and newer. But even putting that fact aside, the second set wasn't particularly lengthy: barely an hour and a half, including both encores. In any event, it felt a little too short, and even then, not consistently inspired.

Then again, Prince has always been one to give his fans whatever he himself happens to be in the mood for, and on this occasion he was in the mood to play guitar. That was abundantly clear from the first song of the show, "Let's Go Crazy" (which, ironically, he started off without his guitar on): at one point he dropped in the riff to Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein," and later built his way up to finger tapping with one hand, while gesturing to the crowd with his other.

From there, most of the fireworks came courtesy of Prince and fellow guitarist Donna Grantis, who traded off solos throughout the set and ventured frequently into proggier territory. ("So Far So Pleased" had some particularly tense exchanges in that regard.) Grantis held her own, too, while also doing her best to stomp around the stage and strike rock-star poses. But inevitably she was upstaged by Prince, whose solos were often searing, full of shredded licks and squalling feedback -- lest we forget just how good he is.

Such displays shouldn't be taken for granted, but as a result, most of the rest of Prince's catalog felt like it took a back seat, which wasn't necessarily for the better. The band's funky take on "She's Always in My Hair" was especially enjoyable, and it provided one of the few instances in which the rhythm section did more than just hold the beat down. It was also an unfortunately fleeting glimpse of Prince's dirtier, dancier side, which otherwise mostly came through during the breakdowns and his spoken-word come-ons.
The slower songs, however, tended to be downright tentative -- a function, perhaps, of his supposed voice trouble. Granted, "Free," played early on in the show, was every bit the tearjerker it should have been (check out the "Overheard in the Crowd" in the Notebook section), but the same couldn't be said for "Purple Rain." What saved it was the appearance of Bobby Z on drums, who Prince gave a heartfelt salute to, but the Purple One himself didn't exactly drop to his knees when he was singing; in fact, he stayed behind his keyboard the whole time, which was its own problem.

In a more complicated manner, perhaps it was just that set of circumstances that was most revealing about Prince's latest fling with his hometown. There was the sentimentality for his past, in the form of Bobby Z, and the impossible expectations of his own legend, in the form of "Purple Rain" -- a song that embodies that legend more fully than any other. Besides, it was never going to rain inside Myth while he played it, nor was he ever going to play until four in the morning. So how could we ever be fully satisfied?

Most likely, we couldn't, and whether he actually delivered a stellar show or not was but part of the equation. Ironically, it all helped to reinforce just how special Prince's run at the Dakota had been, with its improvised sets and intimate setting. That's cold comfort, perhaps, but it's also a reminder that magic moments are always a function of being in the right place at the right time. And with Prince, you never know quite what you're going to get -- which is half the magic, isn't it?

Critics' Bias: It's Prince. Duh.

The Crowd: Looking to spend a lot of money.

Overheard in the Crowd: "And that's why I don't wear mascara."

Random Noteboook Dump: Once again, no photos from this show. In fact, cellphones weren't allowed, which led to the strange throwback sight of people raising real lighters in the air, rather than using an app.

Let's Go Crazy
She's Always in My Hair
I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man
Plectrum Electrum
Fix Ur Life Up
I Like It There
So Far, So Pleased

Purple Rain
The Max

Second Encore:
Even Flow

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