At 11:11 p.m., Prince seemingly materialized out of nowhere, took his place at the center of Coachella’s main stage, and spoke: “Coachella, I am here. … Coachella, where are you?” Promising to rock the party only if he could choose the music, he added, “You’re in the coolest place on Earth right now,” and then set out to prove it.
After a few horn blasts, Prince — decked out in a flowing white jumpsuit with glittery trim and playing a Telecaster with a leopard-print pick guard — stepped aside and turned over the stage to his Purple Rain co-star and the Time singer Morris Day, who showed off some fancy legwork dancing along to “Jungle Love.” “What did I tell you!” Prince shouted at the crowd, pleased with his carefully orchestrated plans, before bringing out Sheila E. to play her 1984 hit “The Glamorous Life.” Satisfied that the crowd had been sufficiently warmed up, Prince slipped on a devilish grin and got the party started for real with “1999,” surrounded by a cadre of female backup singers in elaborate dresses. He next burst into the Chaka Khan version of his “I Feel for You” and after asking the crowd if they dug the Eighties, played “Controversy,” erupting into one of nearly a dozen epic guitar solos played with the conviction of a man who knows he’s the best at what he does. His fingers slipping around the fretboard, Prince let his pick hand wander, dramatically sweeping across his face or around his instrument as he unleashed remarkably exaggerated guitar faces of pure rock ecstasy.
Changing the tempo, Prince slowed down a touch for “Little Red Corvette,” then seemed to channel the spirit of James Brown for “Musicology.” “I’m so funky, I don’t even believe it myself,” he exclaimed. “Don’t it feel good to be free?” Feeling the freedom, he slipped into a sexy batch of tracks including “Cream,” “U Got the Look,” “Shhh” and “Another Lover Holen Yo Head,” switching to a light-blue Stratocaster that churned out an even bigger sound as he turned an epic sustained note into an unbelievable solo, his mouth hanging open as though his guitar was speaking for him.
After Prince stepped offstage for a brief spell, the band started to repeat a familiar chord progression — as Jack Johnson told Rock Daily yesterday, Prince had soundchecked with a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” and now he was delivering. The crowd, which seemed intrigued but not overwhelmed with the set so far, sang along cheerfully, celebrating the work of the recent Coachella headliners. For his arrangement of the song, Prince took some liberties with the lyrics (“Baby, I think you’re special”) and drew out the verses, adding his own nimble solo and a falsetto section that held the crowd rapt.
As though “Creep” had taken too much out of him, Prince slipped offstage long enough for one of his backup singers to perform a stirring version of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” that left some attendees teary-eyed. Prince returned in an orange jumpsuit for “7,” which he lent a slight country lilt, then turned contemplative. “Look around you,” he told the crowd. “So many different faces from so many different places all bonded by music. I’m tired of debates,” he proclaimed, seemingly referencing the exhausting battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. “Are you all ready to usher in a new golden age?” he asked, then demanded the crowd chant “War … no more” as he kicked off a cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together” that grooved with a twangy soul. After another ear-blowing guitar solo, he instructed the crowd to clap and sing together as a choir, “Come together, yeah.” As the mass of voices tired and faded, Prince said his first goodnight, returning moments later to encore with “Purple Rain,” which boasted yet another ridiculously impressive guitar solo (this one on a beat-up old red Telecaster), before leaving the stage once again with the crowd all pointing one finger straight up in the air.
At 1 a.m., well past the Coachella curfew of midnight, Prince admitted, “They’re telling me we gotta go, but I can’t leave,” adding, “Coachella, did we have a good time at this party or what? You deserve it. For now on, this is Prince’s house.” As the thousands who stuck it out waited anxiously under the stars Prince dropped the song they’d been thirsting to hear — “Let’s Go Crazy” — and obliged the title, jumping around in a frenzy until Prince thanked everyone for the last time and danced himself offstage for good.