All the critics love Prince in North Carolina; well, most of ‘em do anyway. Parts of press row at his Wednesday night Raleigh show appeared either ankle-deep in desiccating cement, or confounded by their mulish allegiance to the hipster’s cross-armed de rigueur and ignorant of the mandate to dance at a Prince show. Critics gonna criticize, but based on the his three-show run across the Tar Heel State last week, saying an unkind word about the work the Purple Yoda from Minnesota puts in onstage seems practically inconceivable.
For real, they may still be wiping the funk off the floor of the Greensboro Coliseum after Saturday. How is it possible to carry on with normal concert viewing after getting through this thing called Prince? It’s like spending a month to watch all five seasons of “The Wire” for the first time, and then finding out the only thing on from then on is “Bridalplasty.” There are big-time performers churning out the same show night after night, and there are cult acts with wildly varying, though usually uneven set lists. There are artists like Bruce Springsteen imparting an element of spontaneity into the live pop/rock formula. Then there’s Prince, a musician transcendent of those who simply sing or dance or jam.
But this is nothing that Prince himself doesn’t already know. If he were a baseball player, he’d be a five-tool superstar. He can belt it like James, move like Michael, charm like Leonard, play every instrument under the sun and make an all-star group of players better than they’ve ever been. That he sprung a six-show addition to his Welcome 2 America tour in the Carolinas, a mere two weeks before they were to transpire, was a testament to his mercurial self-possession. That more than 50,000 combined came out for the three North Carolina shows, including Charlotte, was a predictable affirmation.
As for the shows themselves, they’re like double-stuffed chocolate sandwich cookies: it’s hard to stop at just one. Each one is a singular experience, from the soul legends playing on the LCDs beforehand (Wilson Pickett circa 1970 in Greensboro) to his encores, as anyone who stuck around after the house lights at the RBC Center went up can confirm. The lengthy “DMSR” jam that he played before roughly 400 people was picked back up in its entirety three nights later as the opener for the Greensboro performance, which may have be the crown jewel of his hasty tour addendum.
With 19,258 in the house on Saturday — good enough to rank 10 th all-time at the Greensboro Coliseum — the contagious energy in the house resonated as a near-perfect doppelganger of the Artist strolled through the crowd. When the man himself took the pulsating, “love symbol”-shaped stage — he beelined to his purple piano under the cover of darkness in Raleigh, rode a bicycle into the arena in Charlotte and arose from center stage bathed in spotlight on Saturday — it felt simply unreal.
“Y’all know how many hits I got?,” he asked. “We could be here all night.” After more than 30 years of ceaseless creative output, the hits are in no short supply. His opening salvo in Raleigh was a chaotic collage of “When Doves Cry,” “Nasty Girl,” “The Most Beautiful Girl In the World” and “Hot Thing.” The ride might have been bumpy for anyone expecting forthright interpretations of those hits, but it was also a chance for the New Power Generation to flex, and the twists and turns between each snippet were sensational. When they did take on full pieces, which he did from the outset in Greensboro, he interpolated rarities and covers into the hits and each other. His cover of the Time’s “Cool,” a staple on this tour, was bridged my Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and the sexy mantra of “Controversy” was met by the chants of “Housequake.”
The shows were so meticulously constructed that stage prompters dotted the stage’s periphery, the NPG’s pit in the eye of the symbol, and Prince’s piano. It’s a necessary evil, however, especially considering that more than 60 different songs were played in the three North Carolina shows. Considering the alternative of being a tired old hack barfing out the same show night in and night out, their existence is pretty inconsequential. Prince might be Godlike, but he’s still human.
If there’s any critique to be levied on this run of performances at all, there’s a rather contentious one to be made about his band’s arrangements since the Earth “tour” that spawned the Indigo Nights live album. The robust brass of Maceo Parker and Mike Phillips were missed, but synth master Renato Neto filled the empty space without fail.
It was difficult to think about anything lacking when the sultry chorus to “U Got the Look” rang out of Liv Warfield and hometown girl Shelby J’s huge voices. Or when the gorgeous and funky Ida Nielsen’s bass intro to “Delirious” took hold. Or even when Prince was living out the idea behind “Let’s Go Crazy” on his signature Telecaster with the leopard print pick guard. There was especially no second-guessing the brilliant “Purple Rain” that closed out each of the show’s main sets. That’s the kind of feeling a Prince performance engenders. Faultless. Effortless. If he’s not at the top of your music experience life list, he should be. Just save the errant criticism and enjoy yourself.