Prince's "Rehearsal" at Dakota Jazz Club, 1/16/13
Prince's "Rehearsal" show, late set
Dakota Jazz Club, Minneapolis
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
The first of Three Nights with Prince at the Dakota Jazz Club proved to be as sumptuous as skipping the main course and heading straight to dessert. The entertainer can pack out United Center in Chicago and still be one of the most compelling specks to the folks in the back, but on this night, the diminutive man loomed large in the intimate confines of a seated club that can only hold a couple hundred.
Wisely, Prince insisted that we all check our phones and recording devices at the door, because the Instagram instinct when a famous man is less than a couple feet away would have turned this into a showcase of adults behaving badly. Still, no one who was in the room for either the 8 p.m. show or the one Gimme Noise attended at 11 p.m. should have any trouble remembering a jam session putting the most accomplished musicians the world over to shame.
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Prince strutted out from backstage twirling a sparkling cane promptly at 11 p.m. trailing a six-person horn section. He did a lap of the entire floor plan of the Dakota Jazz Club, upstairs and downstairs, as if to prove it was really him. Even the moments leading up to his entrance signaled that his presence would be felt as DJ Rashida slipped "Money Don't Matter 2 Night" into the funky playlist welcoming fans to their seats, and highlights of his Welcome 2 Chicago performance played on the room's video screens. His 3rd Eye was already observing all of us.
Our bandleader wore the large, circular-framed shades and puffed-out afro that has become the signature of his current moment. Over his old-school shirtsleeves, with buttons extending up his neck, was a cream-colored hooded sweater that looked just as comfortable as the stage set awaiting him. Decorated with colorful flowers in fishbowls, scented candles, and even ornate, hand-stitched throw pillows, the performance space was prepped for a night much like the Paisley Park hangouts of years past.
But there were no stories or veiled come-ons uttered from Prince's lips. Instead, this "Rehearsal" gig was strictly a conversation between virtuosos. With no phones to check the time, it was easy for the audience to let each lengthy, free-form expression coat the air around them. With the horn section leading the way, and drummer Ronald Bruner "auditioning" in the back, solos were passed through the ensemble, and run back through the night's master bandleader as he seamlessly progressed from keys to guitar and back numerous times. All the while, he'd cue his team when to start and stop on the initial, jazzy number.
Without speaking to the crowd, he got the band started on another piece, organ-led and minus the horns. The grinning, shimmying, and slow elevator moves on and off his seat he exhibited while experimenting with a wealth of fuzzy effects were magnetic. Bitches Brew-style psychedelia entered into the third composition, and Prince exhibited an unholy guitar solo in the middle of it all. While the man doesn't curse anymore, he's still fine with conjuring evil out of the strings of an instrument.
All of this pleasure on Prince's part didn't come without a bit of mock-ruthless stage management. Following a particularly sick sax solo, he playfully shoved the guy offstage to regain the spotlight. And not long after, there came the closest thing to a recognizable melody from the Purple Yoda's oeuvre. He began a tease of the opening riff of "When You Were Mine," but then thought better of it and laughed it off. Being in his kingdom for a night, especially in such close quarters, means giving up any semblance of control. The room ate it up.
Next came a funk-soul medley that proved as stupifying as any actual Prince creation. In it, Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You" and James Brown's "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I'll Get it Myself)" ceased to belong to their original performers once the face-contorting master got a hold and worked his supporting cast into a lather -- and the crowd to their feet. He sang sideways into the mic during the Brown section, but mostly seemed to want to get the crowd going. "Thank you all, thank you!" was as much interaction as we'd get, and he didn't even bother stopping the song to say so.
A brief break followed, and then one final burst of power from the full band. The horn section hopped and slid in sync while Prince hit the keys, and suddenly there were vocals! Well, prerecorded vocals. The recent remix of "Rock N Roll Affair" that popped up online last week via a mysterious 3rd Eye Girl social media presence was suddenly thudding through the speakers, and the band slowly exited to backstage, guarded by off-duty Minneapolis Police, as the song took over the room.
Overheard: "Love you guys. Play Minneapolis more often."
The Crowd: A mix of Uptown and Downtown, young and old, and definitely a few who had greased the hinges in their hips enough to shake them.
Random Detail: After the show, DJ Rashida played some more funky creations ranging from Zhané to Steely Dan. Meanwhile, a couple of women cautiously made their way to the stage and swiped the coffee mug positioned on a table next to Prince's keyboard.
Personal Bias: First Prince show, and definitely not last. A performer who can enrapture an audience without playing a single song from his/her own catalog can do anything. This was a funky night to behold.
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