With two sold-out shows at the Warner Theatre on Sunday night, Prince wrapped up a weekend in Washington that began with him playing for the Obamas at the White House on Saturday. I attended the earlier of Sunday’s “HitNRun Tour” shows, and here’s what I learned from the experience:
In 2015, Prince loves to rock out.
Prince opened the show with two tracks (“Funknroll” and “Plectrumelectrum”) from the pair of albums he dropped last fall, then mainly focused on his deep catalog of hits. He ignored his first three albums, but played almost everything else you’d want to hear: “Take Me With You,” “When Doves Cry,” “Controversy,” “1999,” “Kiss.” “How many hits we got?” Prince kept asking the audience. Several times, he tweaked the arrangements of classic songs to suit his backing band, 3rdEyeGirl (which was augmented throughout the show by a keyboardist, horns and singers Judith Hill and Liv Warfield). “Let’s Go Crazy” became a heavy metal song, “Little Red Corvette” featured a bluesy guitar solo and “Purple Rain” had an added rock edge.
Intimacy really is everything.
Having attended Prince’s “Rally 4 Peace” in Baltimore last month, I had an idea of what to expect at the Warner, but it wasn’t until Prince started playing that I realized just how big of a difference a venue can make. In Baltimore, Prince played a 14,000-capacity arena where the sound was a bit of a mess and the pacing was off. At the Warner, he delivered the same arena-sized show in a venue that holds 1,800 people, but it was tighter, and more focused. The set was shorter than Baltimore’s by about an hour, but it also felt like there wasn’t a minute wasted. The sound also excellent — clear, loud — and Prince’s voice sounded great, particularly his falsetto on a solo piano version of “The Beautiful Ones.” You could also actually see Prince dance around the stage and make out his facial expressions, all of which is almost as entertaining as listening to him play.
Prince is a master of audience engagement.
Before you even walked into the Warner, there were signs warning fans that if they recorded audio or video during the performance, they would be ejected from the venue, a policy at Prince shows. I didn’t see anyone get the boot, but the ushers hassled fans who pulled out their phones just to check the time. This led to a strange phenomenon in 2015: 1,800 people fully engaged, actually watching the performers onstage. When Prince asked fans to wave their hands in the air, they did, with not a cellphone in sight.
If Prince is playing late, stay up late.
Here’s how these shows came to be: Last Tuesday evening, Prince announced he was playing an 8 p.m. show at the Warner on Sunday. Tickets went on sale Thursday at noon and promptly sold out, so a second show was added at 11 p.m. That put the early show under a bit of a time crunch: Prince took the stage at 8:30 p.m. and the show wrapped less than two hours later at 10:15 p.m. It was an amazing concert — watching Prince perform for even 15 minutes would beat almost anything else you could do on a Sunday night — but when the show ended with an extended “Purple Rain,” you couldn’t help but feel like Prince was just getting going. It turns out he was: At the 11 p.m. show, which I did not attend, he brought out a special guest on keyboards and vocals: Stevie Wonder. The pair had jammed together at the White House on Saturday and decided to reprise their collaboration for Sunday’s late-show crowd. Lesson learned: If Prince is playing late, stay up late.
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