Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Prince's Welcome 2 Canada Tour

For more than half of my life I was a die-hard Prince fan.  It started when I first saw Purple Rain and was solidified when I saw Prince live in early December of 1985 on the Purple Rain tour.  Prince has released at least one album every year since 1978 and as far as I was concerned every single one of them was genius material.

Then one day in mid 2010, I was listing to Prince’s Twenty10 album I realized that the music was not good.   Then it dawned on me that the album before that was not good either, nor the one before that, I had to think back to late ‘80s to find an album that was great. 

Over the years I’ve been lucky to see Prince perform live many, many times.  He’s so good live that I’ve often travelled for his shows.  Aside from my hometown of Toronto, I’ve seen him in Montreal, Buffalo, New York and Minneapolis where on July 7th, 2007 I was lucky enough to see two of his shows in one day, first at the Target Center and then at 1st Avenue, on the very stage where Purple Rain was filmed.  That was the last time I’d seen him until a month ago.

Pince symbol shaped stage
Photo courtesy www.skinnydip.ca
On November 25th, 2011 Prince kicked off his Welcome 2 Canada tour in Toronto and I already had a commitment out of town, so I had to miss it.  I ended up catching him in Ottawa a week later at Scotiabank Place on December 3rd, 2011. 

I was super-hyped to see this show, it utilized the same amazing stage that was used for Prince’s performance at the Super Bowl four years prior.  It was shaped like the hieroglyph which Prince had used as a name for a few years. 

He opened the show with the song D.M.S.R. (Dance Music Sex Romance), from the “1999” album which was released in 1982.   The music was thumping and Prince looked more like a 20-something than a 53 year old.  I was rather surprised to see how lithe he was, considering that it was well documented that he had a bad hip from his years of high-heel wearing, however he could not take the hip replacement surgery due to his religion which forbids him from having a blood transfusion. 

Prince brought the funk throughout the night and he focused mainly on his music from the early to mid-80s.  The one exception was the song “Guitar” from 2007’s “Planet Earth” album and when he played that song it was so unfamiliar to the audience that the energy in room just deflated, even though it was a very energetic song.  It was clear that he’d lost his audience with this one and he quickly returned to the ‘80s bangers. 

This was the first time that I wasn’t familiar with the whole band line-up.  Of course I recognized a couple of the musicians that had been with Prince for a while.  The prestigious Maceo Parker was featured on saxophone.  John Blackwell, who was with Prince on 2004’s Musicology tour returned as his drummer, but not very well featured.  A newcomer to the band, Andy Allo, is a female rapper and backup singer, was stunningly gorgeous wearing a print top that featured her own face. 
Prince with Andy Allo performing at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
Photo courtesy of  www.lipstickalley.com

Andy Allo is featured on a rap during Prince’s song “Extralovable” which had been released the week before to coincide with the launch of the tour. Interestingly, the song was originally recorded in the early ‘80s, during the sessions for the 1999 album.  It was never released and finally Prince went back on re-recorded it.  In fact he mentioned that he plans to release three different versions of the song.  The original was a brutally misogynistic piece, but the new version was considerably softened.

So here’s Prince with a new song from the early ‘80s and almost every song he performed in the show was from the ‘80s. It was if he had come to same conclusion as I had about how much his more recent works lacked relevance.  Although he never did perform “Extralovable”, he did perform three songs from The Time, a group that was a prodigy of his, and it is generally accepted that he wrote most of the their songs and produced their albums.

 Prince rarely performs songs exactly like the record, his thinking is that it’s got to be better than the record, his songs are his babies and they continue to grow through years, but I was thrilled that the guitar solo ending of “Let’s Go Crazy” was a duplicate of the record, as was the guitar solo in “Purple Rain”. 

A really cool part of the show had Prince playing with a synthesizer that triggered samples of various songs.  He teased the crowd with one song or the next.  Prince’s mission with this show was to turn the arena into a dance club.  I think he succeeded.  I think Prince is one of the greatest concert performers of all time and I truly believe every other musician or serious music fan is missing out if they do not see him live.  Yet, maybe it was just me, but I couldn’t help to think that Prince failed to connect with the audience at this show.  This is one of Prince’s fortes, building a repertoire with the crowd and I didn’t sense that this time. I felt that he wasn’t totally engaged on this outing.  He had after all just played Montreal, one of the greatest cities on the planet the night before, so maybe he was tired on this bone chillingly cold night in Canada’s capital city.