- April 26, the Joint
I’ve watched Prince play a Las Vegas nightclub (Studio 54), headline a major music festival (Coachella) and turn an off-Strip casino room into a historic residency (3121 at the Rio). But until Friday night, I’d never witnessed the man twice in a single venue on a single night. I wouldn’t have waited out a 90-minute break to see the “same” concert by most musicians, but one Prince gig is never quite like another, so I caught the 8 p.m. show, hung around the Hard Rock Hotel and then filed back into the Joint for the 11:30.
For these Live Out Loud Tour dates, the 54-year-old performing marvel is backed by power trio 3rd Eye Girl, and together the foursome sounds something like Jimi Hendrix’s 1969 Band of Gypsys—funked-out rock with plenty of space for soloing. Prince, one of the all-time great live guitarists, did lots of that, as did 3rd Eye’s Donna Gratis, who, surprisingly, seemed to be mixed a notch louder than her idol for the early show.
The opening number, a slow, bluesy take on 1984 single “Let’s Go Crazy,” set one narrative for the near-capacity crowd: You’ll hear a few songs you know, but they might not sound the way you know them. A few numbers later, a killer version of 1985 B-side “She’s Always in My Hair” established another: The tunes you don’t know by heart might make the most impact. That song’s extended breakdown highlighted both shows, featuring some of Prince’s jazziest guitar work, (along with his most animated dance moves, at the nightcap). Other big guitar moments included a nicely updated "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" off 1987's Sign o' the Times and new instrumental jam "Plectrum Electrum."
Outfits aside—the afro’d headliner began in a black vest open down the front, then returned in a light-blue tunic that ran up to his neck—the two shows weren’t wildly different. Both were relatively short by Prince standards (around 90 minutes), and both included a segment that had Prince on electric piano, stitching together bits of his biggest hits (“When Doves Cry,” “Pop Life,” “I Would Die 4 U”) for a medley that was more fun romp than sonic success. “Purple Rain” was also a centerpiece of both setlists, though the room never built to a full crescendo during the sing-along coda, Prince’s usual “Hey Jude” moment whenever the song gets played.
I figured 11 p.m. would be the more energetic of the two, but Prince and his fans actually seemed more revved-up at 8. Sound could have had something to do with that: The first show was ultra-crisp from my front-floor vantage point, with Prince’s effortless-as-ever voice and both guitars easily floating over the heavy rhythms of bassist Ida Nielsen and drummer Hannah Ford; the second set felt strangely muddy by comparison.
I exited the Joint, for the second time in five hours, around 1 a.m. feeling exhausted, physically and musically. Even so, Prince played the venue twice more on Saturday, and if I’d had tickets, I’d have gone back for both.