In this day of quick fixes and overnight celebrities, it’s hard to imagine an artist enjoying a career spanning more than 30 years. And yet, that is exactly what cultural and music icon Prince has done. From April 14 to May 29, 2011, audiences in the Los Angeles area were treated to a “21-Nite Stand” of one-of-a-kind Prince performances. Promoters boasted that each show would be different; and Prince famously requested that the bulk of his tickets be priced in the range of $25 – $55 – ensuring that as many fans as possible could afford to come see him. This tour, it is clear, is not about money. It is simply for, as Prince put it, the love of “real music by real musicians.”
We asked Los Angeles-based writer Marc Alexander to share some of his insights from the tour. Here’s what he told us.
Welcome To America: Inside Prince’s 21-Nite Stand
By Marc Alexander
I would say that I’m a moderately huge Prince fan: huger than some, but less huge than the real hardcore dress-up-in-a-Prince-outfit fans. Whatever kind of fan I am, I had never been to a Prince concert before May 28th. Prince, who was nearing the conclusion of his “Welcome 2 America tour,” stint in Los Angeles, was in the process of proving twenty-one times over twenty-one nights, that he has always been, and still remains, the best act in show business.
The night’s opening act was Mary J. Blige. She more than rocked the house for an hour, and her performance was highlighted by a surprise guitar soloist (Prince) who reminded the crowd, on her version of “Sweet Thing,” that he brings Hendrix-esque skills to any song he plays.
When Prince and his band finally took the stage, his first spoken words were “I got too many hits, if I played them all we’d be here until the morning.” He said it, half bragging half stating a fact. The stage was built in the shape of the iconic symbol that represented his name for several years; and as it flashed into a brilliant blue, his medley of hits played and I watched the audience go from frenzied-to crazy-to hypnotized. I considered what the purple wonder had just said, and the meaning of his words resonated.
It wasn’t a crazy claim by some American Idol winner or a You-Tube- created pop sensation that’s managed to pay his rent by stringing together a couple of successful ringtones. Prince Rogers Nelson is a throwback, an icon. He is the musically eclectic Godson/nephew/grandson of Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton, Sly Stone, Larry Graham, and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. He is the one-man melodic army who is charged with and continues the legacy of incredibly live funky musical performances passed down by his soulful ancestors. At thirty plus years in the game, Prince continues to define his own genre. He is not pop, he is not soul, he is not funk. He is Prince, and he sets his own rules and answers to no one.
When you are the grandmaster of the live stage show you can announce twenty-one nights in one city and expect no less than twenty one sell-outs. Then, to make sure that there is maximum attendance at these shows, you lower ticket prices to twenty-five dollars to encourage everybody to come get a taste. Not only is that power, that’s smart marketing, and caring that your legacy is enriched and continues.
During this Los Angeles engagement Prince has shared the stage with Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Larry Graham, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys, and the aforementioned Mary J, Blige, to name a few. He’s also covered songs by Kool and the Gang, Michael Jackson, The Time, James Brown, and Wild Cherry – further showing his love and appreciation for “Real music by Real musicians” as he said several times during the show. It seems for Prince, it’s not just about the performance, but about acknowledging his contemporaries, his influences, and assuring that the love of making music for music’s sake continues to be a focus for fans and artists.
As the greatest-concert-I’ve-ever-been-to continued, I became aware that where I was, was more than a concert. A Prince show is a keepsake, a memory that you can share and compare with others who have also born witness to his passion and genius.
Prince ended the show with three encores, the last one being a cover of Kool and the Gang’s “Hollywood Swingers” which mutated into “Inglewood Swingers” in tribute of where we were in the world and extended into a twenty-five minute jam session with invited dancers turning the stage into Soul Train. When, finally it was apparent that Prince wasn’t going to rise from below the stage for a fourth encore, I left the building along with the rest of the still-buzzing throng, grateful that I got to witness music history in my lifetime and as an even huger Prince fan than I had been three hours earlier.