Prince’s four-hour funk fest

Prince’s four-hour funk fest

Photo: Victor Diaz Lamich

I’ll never know what it was like to go see Prince play through the night in mythical Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue, circa 1983. But I bet I got a pretty damn close approximation last Friday at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

At around 9 p.m., a select few local journalists were invited to Prince’s soundcheck. It seemed too good to be true and it was – kind of. After making us wait for almost an hour, first in a side street, then in the Métropolis basement and finally in front of the stage, Prince’s band, The New Power Generation, got up there to play three songs. A first taste of how incredibly tight these musicians are, and a great showcase for backup singers Shelby J. and Liv Warfield, who each did a solo number, and famed James Brown and George Clinton saxophonist Maceo Parker, who did Pass the Peas, his hit with The J.B.’s.

Prince? He never appeared on stage, though we did catch a glimpse of him briskly crossing the room five feet behind us, then standing in the wings. Based on a little chat that Métro Montréal’s Marc-André Lemieux and I had with manager Kiran Sharma, Prince wanted to show us "the art of musicianship." She also mentioned that he was a teacher and a mentor to his musicians (including John Blackwell on drums, Ida Nielsen on bass, Morris Hayes and Cassandra O’Neal on keyboards, and newcomer Andy Allo on guitar), who had to learn some 400 songs and be ready to play any of them at a moment’s notice, because His Purpleness never has a firm setlist.

Shortly post-soundcheck, the rest of the 2000-strong audience filled Métropolis, and at 11:30 p.m. sharp, Prince finally came on – thus started the most amazing show I’ve ever seen. "We’re here to please the people… Montreal! Are you ready to get pleased?"

During the main set, Prince played only five or six songs in 75 minutes (including When Eye Lay My Hands on U, Peach, Controversy and a cover of Crimson and Clover), leading his band into blisteringly funky jams, clearly getting off as much as we were on his musicians’ performance. But there’s no question that he’s the most brilliant of them all, making sweet love to his guitar with staggering skill and intensity. And that voice! At 53, the man can still reach those unbelievably high notes – he never faltered, singing, playing and dancing like there was no tomorrow, even after four hours on stage.

Oh, did I mention that the show lasted four hours? To think that I saw some folks leave after the first encore, even though the Sexy M.F. had just said, "You can leave if you want to – little Prince is gonna stay!"

While what came before was already genius, at 1:30 a.m., Prince took the party to a whole other level when he kicked off the second encore with that classic "Dearly beloved…" introduction. And then, bam! Let’s Go Crazy! Delirious! 1999! Little Red Corvette!

The third encore had him playing the awesome Laydown off last year’s 20Ten, Dreamer off Lotusflow3r, and Musicology, his big 2004 comeback hit. After that he came back on stage alone to do a sobering cover of Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You, then with NPG, Sly and the Family Stone’s Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) and Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music, as well as A Love Bizarre, his classic duet with Sheila E. (who wasn’t present).

"Don’t you wanna go home?" asked Prince. "NO!!!" answered the crowd in unison. Just before 3 a.m., the sixth encore had Prince (and everyone in the venue) singing the timeless Purple Rain, a moment of pure magic that, I was sure, had to be the climax to an unforgettable night. Wrong! Prince and co. had one final blast of grooves left in the tank, and it was a doozy: Raspberry Beret, Cream, The Time’s Cool and a bit of Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough thrown in for good measure.

Bar = raised.

MONTREAL TEEN FEST

This Saturday, the Music With Meaning organization, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, will present the first edition of the Montreal Teen Fest, an annual event featuring entertainment and music, conferences by public figures and a job fair, among other things. Featured acts will include Young Money’s Gudda Gudda, Jae Millz and Short Dawg, as well as Danny Fernandes, Pamela, M’City Solo and many more. At Palais des Congrès de Montréal, July 2, noon to 10 p.m. montrealteenfest.com

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