Every now and then, Prince decides to try being a normal rock star. You know, the kind who does a professional arena tour where he plays the hits. But part of what makes him such an eternally fascinating star is that he lives in his own private purple world, even when he sets out to make the house quake. 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.
"Anything" is exactly what he delivered last night, on the opening gig of his rabidly anticipated Welcome 2 America tour, at New Jersey's Izod Center. He had the crowd panting as soon as he hit the stage, rocking a seriously cool black leather trench coat and glitter in his hair. He blazed away on guitar to his new theme song, "Laydown," featuring the immortal words, "From the heart of Minnesota / Here comes the purple Yoda!" At that point, all the crowd wanted was more Prince. So naturally, he fled the stage to make his three backup singers handle the next song by themselves. (They failed.) He's a weird guy, all right.
His voice, guitar, and dance moves kept astonishing. He wailed "The Beautiful Ones" at the piano, as a ballerina in a feathery tutu came onstage to piroutte all around him. "U Got the Look" was an ass-flattening funk jam, featuring a Chuck Berry-style guitar break. He came out in red pajamas to kick off the encore with "Kiss," playing with the lyrics to sing, "You don't have to watch 'The L Word' to have an attitude!" The night ended with a master jam mixing snippets of cult-fave deep cuts — "Controversy," "Sexy Dancer," "Housequake" — along with Chic's "Le Freak." His Purple Majesty was in a remarkably outgoing mood. During "If I Was Your Girlfriend," he even asked the audience to wave their cellphones in the air — and this from the high-strung artist who famously used to ban cellphones at his concerts. But he did all the crowd-pleasing gestures — asking fans to sing along, calling for hands in the air — while shying away from his crowd-pleasing songs. It didn't always work. After saying he wanted to kick it "old school," he abandoned "Uptown" after one verse, then did the same thing to "Raspberry Beret." But a little later, he left the stage again as his backup singers did an interminable version of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel." (As a Lilith Fair nostalgia move, this couldn't hold a candle to his 1996 cover of Joan Osborne's "One of Us.")
The undeniable highlight came at the end of the main set when he torched up "Adore," the slow-burning seven-minute climax from Sign O' the Times. Not only did he do the song all the way through, he did it to death. He let the audience carry the whole first verse, then stepped to the piano, visibly blinking back tears (in the spotlight, of course). He was writhing on top of the piano by the second verse, inviting his girl to burn up his clothes and "smash up my Bentley," then seguing into an extended guitar rumination on "Purple Rain." It was unbelievably great. Do you go to a Prince show for predictable consistency? Ah, no. You go for moments of divinely inspired madness — and last night, he delivered as many of those as a fan could expect.
"The Beautiful Ones"
Medley: "Uptown" / "Raspberry Beret" / "Cream" Medley: "Cool" / "Let's Work" "U Got The Look"
"Shhh" "Angel" (Sarah McLachlan cover)
"Nothing Compares 2 U"
"She's Always In My Hair"
"If I Was Your Girlfriend"
"Sometimes It Snows In April"
"Diamonds And Pearls"
Medley: "All The Critics Love U In New York" / "Controversy" / "Sexy Dancer" / "Le Freak" (Chic cover) / "Housequake"