by Aaron Burch
The Louisville Palace’s night sky blue ceiling, the gold flourishes, the ivory statues: they all come together to make something uniquely timeless. A venue opulent and gaudy, classy and cringe worthy. Yet the Palace’s reputation is nothing but outstanding. It’s THE venue in Louisville for an intimate, timeless performance.
This palace was built for musicians like Prince. The man is a living legend, a lover, a fighter, a provocateur, a symbol and a color. On Saturday night in Louisville, he was a swirl of all his best qualities. He was a rock star.
At 11:15, the lights went down. Prince had already rocked the palace once that night, but it was time for round two. It was strange standing in a place where Prince had just finished playing a show an hour earlier. It kind of felt like sloppy seconds.
But in music, as in other things, Prince asks you to keep an open mind.
He was wearing bronze, and only bronze, from head to toe. Over-large sunglasses and a giant off shape afro made his head look vaguely alien. Prince is a tiny person. Without the huge hair, there’s no way he is much over 5 foot tall. Not to mention rail thin. When he turns to shake his ass at the audience, it’s weirdly boney. And yet, not one of the thousand plus women in attendance seemed to care.
Flanked by 3rdEyeGirl, his all-female backing band featuring Hannah Welton of Louisville on drums, Prince’s songs were leaner, meaner and fluid. They melted into each other and shifted from the album versions in radical ways. Opening with a near metal version of Purple Rain’s classic opener, Let’s Go Crazy, Prince let the 2,700 screaming fans know the night would be relentless and bold.
A love letter to fans of his 1980s creative peak, the show encompassed countless classics. From “Crazy,” the band shifted straight into Purple Rain track two, Take Me With U.
The one flaw of the night came early as the sound was muddied for the first 15 minutes or so. When the less well known single, U Got The Look was played next, I could barely make out the vocals. But, by the end of speedy new rocker “Funknroll,” the ship was righted and the night was set to be legendary.
The band was muscular and capable, following Prince’s lead through vague arm raises and vocal cues. They blasted through a breathtaking run of 1999, Little Red Corvette and the slow-burning Nothing Compares 2 U, made famous by Sinead O’Connor but written by Prince, before climaxing with a hard rocking, funky version of the typically threadbare classic, Kiss.
Kiss was perhaps the best example of the bands strengths. On record, the song is airy. The beats skitter in the background and are dragged along by Prince’s seductive falsetto. Live the track was huge, featuring a sparkling guitar solo and thundering drums which changed the interpretation from foreplay to climax.
It was in set two when Prince really let his playful side show. Half the band left the stage, allowing for a key and drums version of perhaps his biggest song, When Doves Cry. As the whole crowd sang along, Prince abruptly dropped the beat to a different classic, Sign O’ The Times, before the first was even halfway done.
Sitting on keys in the right corner of the stage, Prince had his way with the audience for the next 45 minutes, playing extended jams and tiny pieces of whatever caught his fancy. He continued the “Sign O’ The Times” love with two songs from the same album, Hot Thing and Housequake. As the Palace turned into a night club, fans flooded the stage at Prince’s request.
Soon 30+ were dancing just a few feet away from the Purple One himself. Some forgot to dance, standing in awe with mouth wide open at the reclusive musician in front of their eyes.
A few seconds of Darling Nikki sent a ripple of excitement through the crowd before Prince laughed and flipped the script, playing I Would Die 4 U in its stead to wrap up the main show just before 1.
The stage was cleared and the band brought back out to keep the crowd moving with a cover of Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop til You Get Enough. The homage to his former rival was amazing, proof that the two were two sides of the same legendary funk coin. But their differences were on display moments later when Prince played a 15-minute extended rock jam.
Setlist.fm says it was a combination of two songs, the 1980s funky “Cool” and Prince’s own new Plectrum Electrum, but it really didn’t matter. It was musical heaven for the entire length of the performance. He could have played that same jam for another hour and the crowd would have gone home happy.
Sadly, the night wrapped up soon after. But it ended just as it had to, with Purple Rain. As the opening keyboard notes filled the theatre, I felt a pang of sadness knowing the show was at its end. But what a way to go! For two hours plus, Prince had that theater in the palm of his hand. He could have played anything he wanted, but he played the crowd pleasers and the jams.
For a man notorious for doing things “his” way, Prince and 3rdEyeGirl put on a classic show and reminded everyone what made the man so damn great in the first place.