We’re honored to have the following dispatch from blog correspondent Mike “Punkmaster Flex” A., who attended the Prince concert in Kansas City Tuesday night. I’m officially green, or whatever color jealousy is colored these days.
Arguably the most talented musician alive hit the stage Tuesday night in Kansas City’s rickety Kemper arena. Buoyed on by 15,000+ screaming Princeaholics (my ears are literally still ringing), Mr. Rogers Nelson and his ultra-tight New Power Generation band did not disappoint.
Before I break down the festivities diary style, I need to point out that attending a Prince concert was somewhat of a 20-year “holy grail” quest for me. On two different occasions in the past, I had Prince tickets in my hand only to have something come up causing me to eat those tickets. For the 1985 Purple Rain tour, I was slated to be in Row 10 at the San Francisco leg of the tour. I should have checked with Coach Lualhati, my JuCo track coach, before purchasing because the night of the concert conflicted with a major meet. Coach L basically told me I was free to enjoy “that little purple freak”, but not to bother to show up for practice the following Monday. Clearly, Coach L didn’t appreciate fine music.
I looked to catch other Prince tours, Sign O’ the Times, Hit and Run, etc., but living abroad and grad school took precedence. Finally, a couple years, back Mrs. A. surprised me with great tix for Prince’s “One Night Only” at the Midtown. The day of the show arrives and we were hyped to attend. The sitter is lined up, I am sporting the cuff links, and we are ready to roll. Four hours before Prince takes stage, my lovely wife slips and injures her back in a parking lot. We end up all dressed up with only the ER to visit.
I navigate to the Kemper Arena Will Call to pick up my tickets. I joined the Prince/NPG fan club a while back for this very moment. You see, fan club members get to purchase Prince tickets for any show before Ticketron sells them and are guaranteed seats up front. Just how close was a mystery. There is a small line of fan club members and I hear their seating discussions as they leave the window: Row 12, Row 9, Row 14, etc. I anxiously hand the Kemper worker my driver’s license and receive back a white envelope. Row 3, Section G, front left/center floor seats – right in the nook of the cross-shaped stage. One fan congratulates me, another calls me a female dog.
I am having trouble focusing at work and keep thinking something will happen to disrupt my plans: one of the three A. giblets will fall ill, my boss will order me on a plane to North Dakota, a cube wall will cave in and crush me.
After a romantic dinner in the lobby of my work building, Mrs. A. and I are about to arrive at Kemper when an interesting conversation breaks out:
Mrs. A: With Prince all religious now is he going to play any of his down-and-dirty stuff? The naughty ones are his best songs.
Mr. A: Umm…no dear
Mrs. A: No Erotic City? Get Off? Sexy M.F.? Le Grind?
Mr. A: No, but I promise it will still be funky.
Mrs. A: Let’s go home.
After navigating through the scenic Kemper parking lots, we find a spot and begin walking the grounds which featured tents set up by several KC-based radio stations. As I looked around at the eclectic crowd, I was reminded of a line from “Controversy”: Am I black or white, am I straight or gay? The crowd was all that with folks from every walk of life – black, white, Asian, Hispanic, gay, young, old, and very old. They were all on display.
Mrs. A and I had a wonderful time people watching outside the arena. You had the uber-fan artist in one area giving out Prince prints. You had the “purple hat club” of women in another area sporting bright purple “Kangol styled” berretta hats (think Samuel L or Quentin T). You had a cross-dressed man in a purple boa. You had an All-Star “victory for the common man” moment with a 5’6″ average Joe wearing cowboy boots walking hand-in-hand with a 5’10” silicon-enhanced Hawaiian Tropics looking girl. You had skank, conservative, redneck, pimped-out, and everything in between. It was beautiful.
We entered the arena, were handed free Musicology CDs (nice touch), and started toward the floor. I admit feeling pretty fresh in my all black gear being escorted by security down toward the stage. Once in our section, we immediately bonded with fellow fan club members. The folks we stood next to were a mid-40ish couple from Eureka Springs, Arkansas. He owns a restaurant and she is his companion and pastry chef. They are following Prince around on this tour and plan to hit five total concerts. How would it be to have no financial worries and follow your favorite musician from city to city….
House lights go off and the crowd starts buzzing. The band takes the stage and begins to jam. A spotlight shines in the middle of the stage and Prince does the old rise up out of the ground stunt. He is fully tricked out in his black three-quarter length, one side longer than the other, coat and sparkly studded boots. He merely stands center stage for a few moments, with his fedora pulled down and that patented smirk on his face, and the crowd goes ballistic – louder than a crying baby (you will see soon DDB just how loud that can be), louder than a jet overhead, and even louder than Arrowhead during a Chiefs/Raider game.
Prince and the NPG are fiercely tearing through Musicology’s title track to open the set. Any song shouting out Chuck D, Jam Master Jay, James Brown, and Sly Stone is destined for greatness and Musicology is no exception – funky horns, slappin’ base, and Prince vocalizing like only he can. “Don’t you hear this old-school joint?” Yes Prince, I do and I like it.
The artist formerly known as a symbol is in the midst of whipping the crowd into the proverbial frenzy by belting out the classic Purple Rain era hits: Let’s Go Crazy (complete with confetti streaming into the crowd, I Would Die 4 U, When Doves Cry, Baby I’m a Star, etc. All the classic hits are on display including 1999 and a couple singles he wrote: Sheila E’s “A Glamorous Life” and Chaka Khan’s “I Feel 4 U”. Just after deftly performing the overlooked gem “Shhh”, Prince playfully does a bit of “Crazy in Love” and busts out the Beyonce’ dance moves. He does these surprisingly well and throughout the evening shows some incredibly nimble dance moves.
Prince closes the first act with searing versions of DMSR and Controversy. During this fifteen-minute jam, the crowd is allowed to marvel at the brilliance of the band: Candy Dulfer and Maceo Parker on sax, Renato on keyboard, Rhonda on bass, and the sensational John Blackwell Jr. on drums. I have never seen such fine musicianship….as Prince said repeatedly during the show, “we play real music here”.
I hadn’t mentioned it yet, but when Prince ventured to the portion of the stage nearest our section he was literally six-feet away. The lovely Candy spent most of the night there as well blowin’ that sax. At 45-years old, Prince looks amazing…no wrinkles at all. He clearly doesn’t use Jacko’s plastic surgery team.
After a short break, Prince goes solo on an acoustic set for 45 minutes. Just the man, a swivel chair, and a pitch-perfect purple acoustic guitar. It is during this session that you appreciate Prince’s songwriting ability. Little Red Corvette, Nothing Compares 2 U, Sometimes it Snows in April, Alphabet Street, and Sweet Thing are all lyrically strong and catchy as hell. All of the women in the crowd sang along during Sweet Thing. For a spell, he let the crowd go at it without him…very cool.
At this point I need to mention the guy with the easiest job on tour: “The Ax Man”. This nappily dressed Asian fellow magically appeared on stage throughout the night for the sole purpose of providing Prince with an array of guitars. Once Prince finished with one, Ax Man would stoically grab it and disappear below stage until Prince was ready for a new one. How does one apply for a job like that? With everything else he does so well, it is easy to forget that Prince can indeed really shred on guitar. He had several solos during the evening that had the house quaking.
The acoustic set is over and its time to bring the band back and turn the mutha’ out during the third act. My favorite Prince ditty, “Sign of the Times”, is done to perfection and is followed by a rump-shakin’ rendition of “U Got That Look”. I took a few minutes to survey the crowd during that song and let me tell you, there is something surreal about 15,000 diverse individuals swaying to a beat. Up in the balcony, folks were silhouetted and dancing in unison – just like in the club scene from Purple Rain. That moment alone was worth the $76 ticket.
Boys and girls, here is a tidbit. Even if you are consuming beverages at a concert, under no circumstances should you decide to arbitrarily remove clothing. Clearly bested by a tall can of Bud, a 50ish gentlemen near us figured it would be nice to share his flesh with everyone and “strip right down to his underwear”. To say he had body odor would be a disservice to body odor. Needless to say, his concert neighbors were not impressed with his stench, body hair, or beer gut.
The highlight of the evening commences with “Let’s Work”, yet another funkalicious Prince classic (by this time, Mrs. A. is deliriously shaking her bon bon for all its worth and forgetting about our car conversation). Prince brings at least 15 women on stage and two men. They all gyrate while the band blends “Let’s Work” into “Soul Man” into “Kiss” into “Take Me With U”. I must say that of the women on stage, the sistas definitely shook it like a Polaroid picture much better than the soccer moms.
In the middle of this final jam, Prince calls on stage an eight-year girl and dances with her. I figured she would be scared to death, but she more than held her own even playing Candy’s tambourine in perfect rhythm.
After deafening applause for ten minutes, Prince and the NPG return to perform the full version of Purple Rain. Out come the lighters and the entire crowd is singing. While I can’t say PR is one of my favorite Prince songs, the moment was undeniably magic. After the song, Prince flipped a couple of guitar picks to the crowd and Blackwell tossed out his drum sticks.
With smiles we couldn’t quite shake, we left the arena with Musicology blaring on the car stereo. For one night in the Heartland, school was definitely in session and conducted by a musician’s musician. Play on Prince, play on.