Live Report: Prince @ Paisley Park


Chanhassen, MN

24 October 2009

My sister and I heard about this show on our way back to our parents’ suburban home, when we drove by Paisley Park (Prince’s personal recording studio-slash-mansion complex in Chanhassen, MN) and noticed a crowd of people gathering outside. We had just been to Culver’s for dinner. That’s right: Butterburger, Concrete Shake, sit-yr-ass-in-a-blue-booth Culver’s. A terrible dietary choice, and I’m not proud of it.

But what unfolded from that bloated ride home, O my brothers, is the stuff of freaky-deeky concert going legend.  “Yeah, Prince is throwin’ some kinda party,” said the cop out front, diverting traffic to designated parking areas. In three and a half years of driving past, this was the first time we had seen anything of any sort happening outside the mysterious Paisley Park. A nondescript, lavender-striped monolith set against an uninspiring suburban backdrop, Prince has been recording there for more than 20 years — albums of jarring stylistic complexity — though you would never know to drive by it. Basically a Willy Wonka-type scenario, if Wonka’s had dealt exclusively in androgynous, super-sexxy candy.

Another question for the cop. Yes, the ‘party’ was open to the public. A charity one-off, actually. $40, cash only. We parked hastily, apologized for forgetting our non-perishable food item, and joined the gathered throng in the courtyard. Waiting anxiously in the brisk evening, we assessed the crowd to consist principally of (1) Lotus Flow3r fanclub members, dressed in New Power Generation-emblazoned parkas, who had received an email announcement of the show, and (2) ordinary Minnesotans who read every square inch of the newspaper, where a smallish announcement had run that same morning, bottom of page A2. And us. We were there too: a couple of twentysomethings who go to rock shows fairly often and think we know bloody everything… How far out of school would we be with Prince?

Doors finally opened around ten, and we quickly learned that we would not be given an all-access pass to the entire complex (a shame… check out the slideshow), but whisked directly to a large performance area. But wait… just before we broke for the stage… what was that in the lobby? It’s the Purple Rain motorcycle! No shit! Just sitting there in the corner! Is it the real one from the movie? The impish, fanboy security guard manning the velvet rope gave me a slight nod to say “you bet your ass it’s the one”. Daaamn! What an iconic 80’s artifact! I instantly made the first of many unfortunate Michael Jackson comparisons when I thought back to my visit to the Experience Music Project in Seattle this summer, where I saw MJ’s ‘Billy Jean’ jacket + glove encased in museum glass. And here’s THE Purple Rain bike! Just sitting here in a private studio in the southwest suburbs!

It also got me thinking about how the Prince from “Purple Rain” was really the only one I knew. I’m sure I’m not alone in this assessment. He’s the one who’s on DVD. The one with Appolonia, on the purple motorcycle, headed for Lake Minnetonka. Intensely weird, yes. But a track like “When Doves Cry”… it’s at least comprehensible… (even categorizable?)

After about an hour Prince took the stage with his band and summarily smoked my neophyte ass. “I got too many hits y’all” he pronounced more than once, laying into yet another funkified jam. The falsetto vocals, the liquid synths, the belting, buxom backup singers… it was all in full effect. And yo, I’ve seen some guitar wanking in my day (John Frusciante, Jack White), but this guy was off the grid entirely. “Can your boyfriend do THIS?” Rockstar swagger, distilled to its essence.

Most of the tunes I never knew existed. He seemed to draw from everything except “Purple Rain”: mostly early-early 80’s (as I researched later), plus some new material. Tons of covers peppered the setlist, ranging from “I Want You Back” to Sarah McLaughlin’s “Angel” (no shit!).

He played for three hours, and I was surprisingly happy to stand/dance for the duration.  A definite high point was Larry Graham, original bass player for Sly and the Family Stone, who took the stage and guested on a handful of funk classics, including “Everyday People”, “I Want to Take You Higher”, and other joints he and Sly once pulled out at Woodstock. (I learned later that Graham has been in the Prince fold for a while now, and is actually the one responsible for Prince’s becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. Eeew!)

A blistering encore of “Kiss” gave way to a tender ballad (“Sometime It Snows in April”) that I was embarrassed I didn’t know. But that Prince, he lets you down easy: “Purple Rain” for the closer. Nice and slow, building to that gospel-infused chorus. Into extended guitar + falsetto solos… all was right in the world.

A serendipitous hankerin’ for pancakes suddenly o’ertook me, but no. It’s late, and we’ve overstayed our welcome. Come along, sis. Like what you’ve done with the place, Mr. Prince. We should do this again sometime.


2 Responses to “Live Report: Prince @ Paisley Park”

  1. 1 amy
    December 28, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Oh my god, I didn’t know you saw Prince this year!!!!

    One of the best concerts EVER, hands down…it was at Coachella, and Prince announced before his performance, “Coachella, you are in the best place in the world right now!” He was so right.

    How awesome is that to drive by and accidentally wander into his show. life is full of surprises.

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