Prince's Welcome 2 America "tour" (he's playing in New Jersey and New York) kicked off last night in East Rutherford, New Jersey's IZOD Center (like the pants, yes...and no, it's doubtful the Minnesnowta Yoda's full-length purple leather coat will be available at a JC Penney anytime soon). We were nowhere near the action, what with being stuck in His Holy-Molyness's home state, encapsulated in snow banks and vitamin C deficiencies.
But! A bunch of smart, Prince-loving people were, and here's what some of them shared.
Fans may have been worried, because roughly one-fourth of the arena went unsold in this - the first of five local dates in the Welcome 2 America tour. Prince postponed his first scheduled date for the event, meant to occur Tuesday. Then he barred photographers, and even cell phones, from last night's show, hoping to shift press coverage to his second date, at Izod Center Friday. (In fact, the cell phone ban wasn't enforced).
"We're taking it old school tonight." This is an extremely pleasing sentiment to hear Prince express early in a set, for a couple of reasons. One is the fact that old school Prince songs remain pretty much without peer, when it comes to the loftiest heights achievable by pop music. Another reason is, well, suffice it to say the Purple One's status as untouchable has shown signs of waning over time... It wasn't a sure thing at the start. Opener Esperanza Spalding struck an impressively sassy and bad-ass pose early on, her giant Afro shaking as she scatted through strange pop songs behind her upright bass. Her mode was jazz, or something like it, though the bite of her style was eaten up by the unforgiving arena environs...
Prince could obviously play fantastic songs you know and love for six hours straight, or bewildering fusion-medley cacophony for roughly twice that long, and half the fun is worrying about this possibility. Though other initial signs are positive tonight...'Laydown," with its double-time punk-rock breakdown and general air of insanity, portends ill.
And Rolling Stone (phew, does no one trust this guy?):
He never surrenders his fundamental weirdness. Like his Minnesota homie Bob Dylan, he knows in his heart that nobody wants a standard greatest-hits revue -- the mystique is that on any given night, he might bust out anything.
We were treated to not one, but two opening acts before Prince took the symbol-shaped O(+> stage. First up was jazz artist Esperanza Spalding who we'd seen perform at the Prince tribute during the 2010 BET Awards earlier this year. Then it was time for soul songstress Lalah Hathaway who was beautiful in a flowing blue dress. Both ladies would join Prince during his set later on - Spalding for co-vocals on "If I Was Your Girlfriend" and Hathaway sharing vocals on "Sometimes it Snows in April" and "Diamonds and Pearls".
Spinner rightly made mention of his ascendance from the floor, befitting the demon he is:
He opened the show -- the first of this winter's five New York and New Jersey appearances -- in a manner befitting his legend, rising slowly from a trap door in the center of a stage shaped like the unpronounceable symbol he once used as his name. Shrouded in smoke, dressed in a long purple overcoat, he laid down a fierce 'Laydown,' giving his Telecaster one of many workouts it would receive over the course of his 23-song set.
And he looked like he hasn't aged a day in his three different outfits for the night: a red turtleneck getup, a sleeveless black smock, and a gold satin shirt that looked a little like the butchered one that Theo Huxtable wore in a storied old episode of The Cosby Show.
Not every song was worthy of such fanfare. During another of Prince's prolonged absences, the ladies took on Sarah McLachlan's 'Angel,' raising the question of taste that has dogged Prince in recent years. Then there were his duets with opener Lalah Hathaway on 'Sometimes It Snows in April' and 'Diamonds and Pearls.' Both rank among Prince's prettiest songs, but positioned at the start of the second encore, after he'd just finished doing 'Kiss,' they had the Izod's strange assemblage of fans -- everyone from back-in-the-day diehards to Jersey moms and skinny-jeaned indie rockers -- stifling yawns.
While he's not as acrobatic as he once was, Prince is still a showman, though his foundation is music, not spectacle. Compared with his younger self, he was more loving and less leering (though hardly chaste) and more a guitarist than a dancer (not a bad tradeoff in the end). He paced himself on Wednesday, handing off two full songs to his female backup singers while he changed costumes. Prince also shared duets with his opening acts, the jazz bassist and airborne scat singer Esperanza Spalding and the sultry R&B ballad crooner Lalah Hathaway.
As Prince performed on a stage shaped like his trademarked glyph, he was in constant motion: starting a song on the piano and then climbing on top of it, or strutting all around the stage, again and again. He punctuated his guitar solos with twirls and gestures. Among rock guitar heroes, Prince is not only one of the masters; he is by far the best dancer.
?uestlove demonstrated the mercurial nature of Prince's digital age unease:
And finally, while it lasts, some incredibly bad video: