Even after all these years, when Prince calls, people come running. Saturday night, responding to an announcement made just two days earlier, nearly 2,000 people lined up around an out-of-the-way block in suburban Chanhassen, Minnesota, to catch the Minneapolis icon in a home game at his Paisley Park studio. They were treated to a career-spanning funk blowout.
Entry ran $50 – cash only – for the chance to visit the long-reclusive star’s $10 million home studio. Cameras and cell phones were forbidden, but no one was stopping you from touching the Purple Rain motorcycle in the lobby if you were so inclined. The process of getting past the facility’s outer gate and into the building was glacial (as was the evening temperature after a couple of hours in line), but the excitement of the occasion kept spirits up even as people fretted over whether they would get in. As it turned out, there was room enough for everyone in a space that listed its capacity at 1,850 and packed in pretty close to that number.
Backed by the combined heft of his 3rdEyeGirl and New Power Generation support groups, Prince muscled his way through an opener of “1999” just before midnight, throwing down a full-bore party gauntlet that carried through the night. The 18-piece band’s stout horn section powered the infectious funk of “Musicology” and the robust “Mutiny,” an insistent extract from Prince’s long-ago side project the Family.
Prince at 55 didn’t exhibit the breadth of skills he flaunted so boldly in younger days, rarely strapping an electric guitar over his puffy afro as he left it to Donna Grantis to handle most of the evening’s licks. He also refrained from testing his hips by sticking to cool stepping rather than flamboyant dance moves, but he could entertain tied to a chair (and probably has). His voice was warm, limber and full of character as he oozed over the silky “Breakfast Can Wait,” and barked authoritatively at “Something in the Water (Does not Compute),” right up to unleashing his well-preserved falsetto wail.
The song selection was all over the place, in a good way: the quirky 1990s sway of “Dark,” the swelled drama of onetime bootleg favorite “Old Friends 4 Sale” and a dip into Prince’s 1989 Batman work for the buoyant “Partyman.” The vault-track-turned-recent-release “Extraloveable” was an irresistible reimagining of old work, while his take on “Purple Rain” offered his powerful shriek that times they are a-changin’, followed by a saxophone solo in place of the tune’s classic guitar crescendo as a reminder that they don’t always change for the better.
After a little more than an hour, Prince was escorted out of the room by bodyguards, which led many to head for the door even as the band rolled through “Act of God.” Prince rewarded those who stuck around by returning to his cavernous soundstage with a hearty duet of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and he polished off the party with a fired-up offering of the Time nugget “Cool,” a quality that hasn’t faded in him even slightly in the 30-plus years since he wrote the song.