Well, he owed Toronto this much!
No, Prince Rogers Nelson does not really owe anything to anyone, of course, but after speculation and confusion over two rumoured shows at Massey Hall last November that never happened and sent hundreds of disgruntled fans home after waiting in the rain for hours, there was an almost palpable feeling of anticipation and excitement as more than 3,000 concertgoers filled the Sony Centre on Tuesday for Prince’s second sellout show of the night, perhaps sensing that the singer would try to make up for that disappointment.
Prince & 3rdEyeGirl (which includes Toronto’s Donna Grantis on guitar) took the stage shortly after 11:30pm, opening with an 8-minute “reloaded” version of “Let’s Go Crazy” that included some heavy blues riffing and a nod to the Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein”. While his powerful trio of backing singers and the audience did the heavy lifting on vocals during “Raspberry Beret” and “U Got the Look”, Prince seemed happy to let his fingers do most of the talking, coyly asking, “Can I play my guitar?” during the latter before unleashing one of several jaw-dropping solos on the night. More hits followed in rapid succession: “Controversy”—”I need you to dance!”—into “1999” into “Little Red Corvette”. The sensational 45-minute jam came to a close with a showstopping vocal on “Nothing Compares 2 U”, which also spotlighted Grantis’s own impressive guitar chops. The set was heavy on classics, but Prince also found the time to include a medley of fan favourites “The Question of U” and “The One” (complete with an interpolation of Muddy Waters’s “Electric Man”) for the hardcore, his soulful guitar tone unexpectedly recalling Gary Moore’s classy, lyrical playing on “Still Got the Blues” or “Parisienne Walkways”.
After a short break, Prince & 3rdEyeGirl returned for a second set that briefly transformed the usually staid Sony Centre into the world’s coolest nightclub. “I have been known to break a few curfews!”, said the singer as the band broke into “Kiss”, its minimalist funk still a fine showcase for Prince’s ageless falsetto and some flashy dance moves—now in his mid-fifties, Prince’s ability to glide across the stage remains unmatched. The trademark “sampler set” can be divisive—some fans see it as a clever way for Prince to incorporate elements of electronic music and DJ-ing into a live concert while others would rather have that time devoted to playing a few full songs or material from his most recent albums (both of which were ignored on Tuesday)—but a floor-shaking “Housequake”, a frenetic “Hot Thing” and samples of more than a dozen other songs left the crowd a sweaty, exhausted mess.
And yet, all of this almost felt like a simple prelude to the real main event once Prince sat at the piano for a mesmerizing, heart-stopping encore that included a few bars of “Diamonds and Pearls”, a reinvention of Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender” that turned the song into a classic Prince bedroom ballad sung in his purest high falsetto, and a mesmerizing version of “The Beautiful Ones”. He brought back the band for one final song—an epic, magnificent 14-minute “Purple Rain”—and then he was gone.
Before the show, members of 3rdEyeGirl had politely asked that the audience put away their cameras and cell phones. While this is the kind of request that usually goes ignored, on this night—and for Prince—Torontonians were more than happy to oblige. They were rewarded with a spectacular display of virtuosity and artistry that proved once again that, in addition to owning an absolutely unimpeachable back catalogue, the Minnesota native remains one of the most dazzling live performer of his—or any—era.
Let’s Go Crazy (Reloaded)/Frankenstein (Edgar Winter Group)
Take Me With U
U Got the Look
The Question of U/The One/Electric Man (Muddy Waters)
Little Red Corvette
Nothing Compares 2 U
When Doves Cry
Sign “☮” the Times
Forever in My Life
Nasty Girl (Vanity 6) (sample)
Darling Nikki (sample)
A Love Bizarre (Sheila E.)
17 Days (sample)
U Know (sample)
If I Was Your Girlfriend
I Would Die 4 U
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough (Michael Jackson)/Cool (The Time)
Diamonds & Pearls
Love Me Tender (Elvis Presley)
The Beautiful Ones