The end of a week in which our country's economic picture looked more bleak than ever perhaps was not the ideal time to charge $1,000 per ticket for a concert. But it's not every day that one gets to see the enigmatic legend in a setting as intimate as his two New York performances on Friday night: the rooftop of the Hotel Gansevoort, for about 250 people each (the late-night party could be had for the "bargain" price of $325).
The shows celebrated the release of a new multimedia book, "21 Nights" (Atria, $50 — head over to the Newsroom blog for photos and info on that), chronicling Prince's 21-night run last year at the O2 arena in London.
The photo book also includes a CD of exclusive material, and proceeds from the launch party were to go to two charities, Love 4 One Another Charities and Urban Farming (both with connections to Prince's beloved hometown of Minneapolis). Needless to say, economic strife or not, both shows were packed and Prince did not disappoint.
Prince acknowledged the sign of the times as he opened his first set, kicking off with an improvised blues jam that riffed on the bleakness of the economy and technology, before ramping up the energy level with his most famous end-of-days anthem, "1999." Prince even tweaked the lyrics to the decades-old hit when he sang, "stock market crashing" instead of "sky turning purple." Backed by just a drummer (Cora Coleman-Dunham), a bassist (Cora's husband, Joshua Dunham), and a keyboardist (Morris Hayes), plus at times two backup singers (Marva King, Shelby Johnson) and a harmonica player (Frederic Yonnet), Prince seemed comfortable in the small setting and in good spirits, effortlessly running from one song to the next.
The two-hour opening set featured mostly well-known Prince hits — like an extended medley of "I Feel for You," "Housequake" and "Controversy" — punctuated by cover songs like the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" and Chic's "Le Freak," and songs he had written for other artists, like "Nothing Compares 2 U," which was made famous by Sinead O'Connor. Prince was affable with the crowd, at one point joking with the room that sometimes, when he's at the airport, people call him by the name "Purple Rain" (which he also performed). Celebs like Spike Lee, Howard Stern, Dave Chappelle and Anderson Cooper could be seen enjoying both the music and the banter.
Like most Prince appearances, the early show was followed by a much later — and looser — afterparty, which had a start time of 1 a.m. People often forget about Prince's inimitable guitar-playing, and he showcased his chops throughout the three-hour set, which featured a wider spectrum of his hits that weren't a part of the night's earlier show: "7," "Girls and Boys," "Alphabet St.," plus recent singles like "Musicology" and "3121." His cover songs, too, got the room bouncing, like when he turned the Cars' "Let's Go" into a funk-filled mantra for the evening ("I like the nightlife, baby!"), or turned both the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" and the Beatles' "Come Together" into celebratory soul jams.
Midway through, Prince left the stage for an extended period — at which time Dave Chapelle came up to "fill time," telling half-done jokes about flying coach and a recent trip to Africa. One of the world's most famous comedians, Chapelle appeared to be just as excited as the rest of the room by the intimacy of the night.
At about 3:15 a.m., Prince asked the crowd if he could play one more song (the answer was a resounding "Yes!"), but that turned into a 45-minute jam that rolled two Prince-penned hits for the Time ("Jungle Love" and "The Bird") into two more Prince-penned hits for Sheila E ("Glamorous Life" and "A Love Bizarre") to finally close out the night.
"Don't tempt me, I gotta lotta hits!" he boasted from the stage. "We could be here till tomorrow afternoon."
Economic downturn or not, everybody in attendance would have enjoyed that.