On Saturday, Prince made some sort of history by playing three shows at three venues in one night, stopping by each of the spots inside the L.A. Live complex in downtown Los Angeles to deliver a set inspired by one of his new albums: rock (Lotus Flow3r, Nokia Live, 7 p.m.); funk (MPLsound, Conga Room, 9:30); and loungey jazz (Bria Valente’s Elixer, Club Nokia, midnight). [Read EW’s snap judgment of all three!] The Music Mix was there for (almost) all of it, and is proud to now bring you the minutes of this massive town meeting, sponsored by Target, LotusFlow3r.com, and the gods of perseverance.
6:48 p.m. Your correspondent and L.A. Times music critic Ann Powers are outside the Nokia, in long line to get past the metal detectors. Many of the women outside are dressed like strippers, or very enthusiastic Vegas vacationers. Or maybe that’s just how they dress. Your correspondent is wearing cowboy boots and feels they demonstrate she made an effort.
7:02 Finally inside Nokia. Venue resembles a movie theater designed by people who also design cell phones, complete with ushers hawking popcorn. It’s not quite full. But how late can Prince start without running the whole night behind schedule?
7:11 Prince’s Target ad runs on the jumbotrons, without sound. Instead, the DJ is pumping “Ladies’ Night.”
7:16 DJ plays “Glamorous Life.” People cheer. Target ad plays again.
7:19 Pre-show mix sounds disturbingly familiar to the pre-show mix played at the Prince Oscar party, which started three hours late. Your correspondent begins to get nervous. Jumbotron ad keeps touting tonight’s “3 full shows!”
7:22 Target ad runs again. Am now pondering deeper themes of ad. Prince is on a rock in a pool… There is a woman… His guitar fretboard whizzes past her face and buries itself in the Target logo…
7:33 Magic Johnson enters venue, receives applause
7:36 House lights go out, jumbotron begins playing the Blade Runner/Matrix-inspired video for “Chocolate Box.” Everything is very hi-def in Prince world nowadays, it seems.
7:41 Video ends with a “to be continued.” The “Purple Rain” chords tease as the curtain opens to reveal the band in front of a giant Lotusflow3r billboard. Prince enters, wearing a zebra-striped tunic, as the band plays the first of many funky jams. There are jellyfish hanging from the ceiling that look a bit like 99-cent store piñatas. “Everything you think is true,” says Prince. “Instead of hate, celebrate,” says Prince. He asks everyone to clap.
7:44 “What’s my name?” asks Prince. Then he whips off his sunglasses. The ladies go wild.
7:47 Just like at the Oscar party, the current jam is being anchored by blues-harp genius Frederic Yonnet, and once again features the backup singers with the “Also Sprach Zarathustra” aaaaahs.
7:48 Prince stops the music, then starts it again, but does not change songs. Realize we may be in for long night.
7:50 “Say one word: ‘Lotusflow3r!’” Prince tells the crowd, then begins soundchecking the kick drum and complaining about the “side fills.” “Despite it all, I’m gonna do my best,” he tells the room, “How bout y’all?” The backup singers leave the stage. Begins his cover of “Crimson and Clover” with “Wild Thing” tangents.
7:56 “1999.” The backup singers have returned. One is missing.
7:57 The sound is getting worse. Low end is crackling all over the place, and there is no middle.
7:59 Prince demands the lights all be turned out. He then vanishes from the stage. The lights are not all turned out.
8:00 Prince reappears and says, “Man, you can do what you want, but I’m gonna tear this place apart.” Rips off his zebra shirt to reveal a white tiger/hibiscus turtleneck. Begins a lite-rock version of “I Feel For You.”
8:02 The crowd is doing the Idol swaybot arms during “Controversy.”
8:03 Prince says “Somebody scream!” They do.
8:04 Becoming somewhat of an aerobics class now, with Prince leading the room through various arm exercises.
8:06 Prince leaves again. Realize that the silhouette seen sprinting back and forth behind the LotusFlow3r billboard is his guitar tech. Sound is officially horrible now, with blasts of feedback plaguing “Shhh” at every turn.
8:10 Mic has begun crackling endlessly. “What’s my name!” yells Prince. Tech sprints on stage and takes his guitar. Prince begins “If I Was Your Girlfriend.”
8:16 “What do I want to play?” asks Prince. “I don’t know what I want to play right now. You ever get that feeling that you just have too many hits? I woke up this morning with that feeling.” He throws out suggestions – “ ‘Delirious’? ‘Raspberry Beret’?” – to the rabid crowd. “Tonight, this is my celebration,” he concludes. “I don’t care what y’all want. This is what I want to play.” Plays “Kiss.”
8:20 Begin to realize this show is basically a pale, collapsing replica of the Oscar party when Prince again starts into “Play That Funky Music,” complete with audience member dance party on stage and normal looking white dude who happens to know all the words and sing them perfectly “randomly” on the mic. “Thank you brother,” Prince says to the guest vocalist. “Now get off the stage.”
8:25 Prince’s mic sound has gotten even worse, if that’s possible. “Funky Music” is reprised as he leads us in snaps and claps, then a “Hey hey hey! Whatchoo got to say/Hollywood swingin!” call and response. Ann Powers astutely points out that we are not actually in Hollywood.
8:30 Mic distortion is now horrific. Possible it’s the speakers?
8:31 Prince finally stops the singalong and walks off stage, leaving only dry ice and a giant billboard of the bottom half of his face behind.
8:33 Frederic Yonnet solo. Everyone sits down.
8:36 Frederic Yonnet solo ends. Prince returns. He has changed shirts. Everyone stands back up. “We’ll play through it,” he says of the sound. “Y’all all right?”
8:37 “I don’t ever want to give this up, music,” Prince says. Says a friend recently told him “music is something that you do.” “I don’t think so,” Prince answered. “I told him, ‘I am music.” Says something about “Jehovah God” being an “amazing creator.” Tells us the next song is about “loving each other,” as is this night. His mic has totally stopped working now, so he moves into backup singer row for “Come Together.”
8:41 Prince asks that the lights be turned off on stage, and on in the house.
8:45 Begins “Purple Rain” with an off-kilter, slightly wrecked chord structure that appears to perfectly suit his mood.
8:52 Finishes “Purple Rain,” begins shaking hands and blowing kisses good night. Leaves stage.
8:54 Returns to stage. “Let’s Go Crazy.”
8:58 Brings home that song’s still-heart-stopping guitar outro. Thanks “Hollywood” again. Leaves stage.
9:00 Returns to stage. Adjusts levels on “side fills” again.
9:01 “The Bird.”
9:04 “Jungle Love.” Ann Powers and your correspondent begin doing backup dancer routines at our seats.
9:06 “I like Hollywood,” says Prince. “I just like Minneapolis a little bit better.” Begins “Glamorous Life,” and suddenly Sheila E. is on stage singing it. She looks amazing.
9:09 “Thank you so much! Good night!” says Prince. “Sheila E.!” Curtain closes.
9:12 “That was Sheila f—ing E.,” says one audience member as she files out.
9:14 We walk across plaza to next venue. There is a dance party happening outside.
9:22 Inside Conga Room, a tiny salsa club. White acoustic tiles on ceiling give it a geodesic dome vibe. DJ is playing “A Love Bizarre.”
9:26 DJ is playing “Glamorous Life.”
9:29 Announcement: “The best way to get kicked out of the Prince show is to take any kind of picture at all. You will be escorted out of the building.”
9:33 Your correspondent orders a bourbon.
9:34 Lights go out on stage. Then they come back on.
9:37 DJ plays “Kiss”. Realize it takes a special kind of balls to play your own songs as the warm-up mix.
9:40 DJ plays “A Love Bizarre.” Again.
9:52 It’s hot in here.
10:03 We are all going to die.
10:06 Announcement: “Welcome to the Conga Room! Check out our website, conga room dot com!” New band takes the stage: Sonny Thompson on bass, Michael Bland on drums.
10:10 Prince takes stage in outfit no. 3, kind of a golden neck collar thing.
10:12 Prince is still soundchecking the mic. Asks for a fan down front, and requests that people not smoke.
10:16 Prince asks that the lights be turned down. Plays “I’m Yours.”
10:20 Slows it down. Asks for the lights to be turned off. “Do you mind if I play my guitar?” he asks the crowd. “I didn’t get to, last show. There were some crazy people, though.”
10:32 Bluesy take on “With A Little Help From My Friends.”
10:36 Prince the comedian has come to this show. Intros “I Like It There” with a story about his rather large drummer crashing into his kit, complete with sound effects.
10:41 Does rapid-fire version of “All Shook Up” with rat-a-tat vocals and lots of crowd assistance on chorus.
10:44 Prince asks that the lights be turned off. Plays echoey, modern rock version of “Empty Room.”
10:53 Some sped-up Memphis blues give way to Jimi Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic.”
10:56 “When You Were Mine.” Your correspondent briefly thinks it might be “Barracuda.”
10:59 “Guitar.” Realize this song sounds a lot like U2’s “I Will Follow” in certain places.
11:03 After longest b.s.-free segment of music so far, Prince says good night.
11:05 We are apparently not making enough noise to bring Prince back. Announcer asks us to make more noise. One last push gets us Prince, plus a keyboard player and Frederic Yonnet.
11:08 Prince plays a track from LotusFlow3r. Your correspondent learns this from reading over Ann Powers’ shoulder. (Ann Powers has heard the albums.) One of the lyrics may or may not be “Peanut butter logic.” If the first show was the hits, this show was the wtfs. This show was better.
11:11 Prince asks that the lights be turned off.
11:14 “Thank you, good night!” Prince kisses his pick, tosses it into the crowd.
11:28 Outside in plaza again. Resources are sparse. A famished Ann Powers is eating old cake out of a Starbucks bag.
11:38 Five music critics stand at the end of a very long line to get into Club Nokia.
Midnight Ann Powers has walked three blocks to a Famima, gotten a sandwich, and eaten it on her way back to the line. Am now tremendously jealous of Ann Powers.
12:09 a.m. Five music critics stand at the end of a very long line and fight about Katy Perry, Lady GaGa, and Taylor Swift.
12:23 Still outside. Your correspondent realizes she is standing on a concrete plaque commemorating the 1989 Grammys. Song and Record of the Year? “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Album of the Year? George Michael’s Faith.
12:47 Finally inside after being rescued and walked to front of line by nice publicist. Lights go out.
12:52 Though it seems impossible to believe after all we have been through, the band on stage is now playing some sort of new age living room jazz fusion.
1 a.m. Prince takes the stage in a black glittery jacket. Introduces band. Your correspondent’s ears have stopped functioning, and so she writes down “Bernard Arnetto on keys.” This may or may not be right. It is freezing inside Club Nokia.
1:04 We walk to the other side of the room. Notice the bar is selling the following themed drinks: Purple Rain, Purple Hooter, Purple Haze, Raspberry Beret. Wonder if they know “Purple Haze” is not a Prince song.
1:12 “We have to fix these microphones,” says Prince. “Don’t take my picture,” says Prince.
1:17 Convinced he is not even singing lyrics now, just whimpering in falsetto. “Bernard Arnetto” is doing most of the heavy lifting for this show, mustering Hammond, flute, vox, horns, strings out of his massive synth setup. Am told this is what the Bria Valente record sounds like. Bria Valente never appears.
1:20 “Bernard Arnetto” plays a slow piano lullaby with sparkle-charm accompaniment that reminds your correspondent of the music they play at her acupuncturist. She is currently sitting on the floor in the corner by the ATM.
1:28 Prince starts singing again. Your correspondent stands back up.
1:36 Prince asks that the lights be turned down.
1:38 Perhaps the most expert Prince follower among our pack of critics admits he has yet to recognize a single song in this set.
1:42 Prince finally begins the rant we knew was coming all night. Tells us to blame Randy Phillips – chief of venue owner AEG Live – for the bad sound. Tells us he saw Alicia Keys at this venue, and it was the worst sound he’d ever heard in his life. (WHY ARE WE HERE THEN PRINCE???? your correspondent types furiously into her blackberry.) “If you fix the sound, I’ll be here every night,” Prince promises. “I’ll be here for free. I won’t charge you.” “Wooooo!” says the crowd. “But now I gotta go back to my $3 million a night,” says Prince. Then tells us “We are all in this together,” requests that the lights be turned up, begins “She Spoke 2 Me.”
1:46 Clarifies that he is mad at “AEG,” not “AIG.” Has the crowd chant “AEG,” just to be on the safe side.
1:47 Prince asks that the lights be turned down, leaves stage again.
1:52 Prince returns. Introduces band again. “Bernard Arnetto. John Blackwell. Rhonda Smith. And my name is Randy Phillips. Thank you. Good night.” Drunk girl in audience: “Prince can suck my butt.”
1:53 Band returns, after little to no encore applause. Prince begins singing something with a lot of shadoop-da-das. Requests that the house lights be turned on.
1:55 Throws his bedazzled maraca shaker into the crowd.
1:57 Plays his first and last short, angry, nonsensical guitar solo of the set, perhaps just to work through the rage.
2 a.m. Chaka Khan appears out of nowhere, says “Namaste,” and begins singing “Sweet Thing,” punctuated by one last moan of feedback.
2:06 Prince asks crowd what they want to hear. Someone yells out “Freebird.” Prince says we should not tease, that if we want to be here all night we will be here all night. “I got the Kingdom Hall at one o’clock, but that’s it,” he says. Seems to be building to something awesome. Returns immediately to falsetto-space-chime-lite-jazz groove.
2:10 Your correspondent has made for the exits. In the stairwell, a man is helping his angry drunk girlfriend – who now hates Prince – navigate the way down. “I have nothing against jazz fusion,” he is saying to her. “But just let me know that’s what I’m getting.”
2:22 According to the music critics your correspondent left behind, Prince concluded his set with a very nice version of “The Beautiful Ones.” Your correspondent has no regrets, and is looking forward to all those free Prince gigs once AEG fixes the sound. Namaste!