When the Artist Fomerly Known As Prince gets on stage, people listen.
When his biggest fans arrived at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club around 11 p.m. on Friday to see the former Prince, some were already looking a bit worn around the edges -- after all, many had just been at an incredible two-hour, hit-packed concert by the same guy at the USAir Arena in Maryland.
When the club's doors opened at 1:30 a.m., the most tired of the tired were virtually asleep on the club's sidewalk. But by the time the man who prefers no name appeared in the VIP balcony 45 minutes later, their energy level increased tenfold. Within moments, there wasn't a weary ass in the house.
Although the Artist has played aftershows on previous tours, none were as well publicized as those on the recently kicked off "Jam of the Year" tour. The gigs have typically lasted a half-hour, and lately have featured several classic soul numbers. But nothing about these aftershows (including the Artist's participation) is written in stone -- and that's where half the fun lies, because the audience never knows what it's going to get from this giant of the rock jam.
Friday's crowd was tipped off early that their set might be something
special. The Artist's official concert that night (See concert review in Tuesday's edition of the news) had featured several new additions to the tour set, and when it was confirmed that he would play at the 9:30 Club, speakers began blasting a rare, live cut of "Days of Wild," a butt-funky rap from the Euro-only Exodus disc.
The ex-Prince, along with his New Power Generation, at last hit the stage at
about 2:30 a.m. With drummer Kirk Johnson laying down a mid-tempo beat, the band began feeling out the club and each other. The Artist, a Lucite cane in hand, walked the stage, tapped some notes on a keyboard, and then busted out a rap known to a few diehards as "18 & Over" from the forthcoming Crystal Ball set. The song turned on the Artist's whims and vibes. He stopped the number with a wave of his hand. "Gimme bass!," he called. "Drums and bass!" Soon the crowd, sans prompting, was chanting themselves: "Play that motherfuckin' bass!"
When that charge dissipated, the Artist hit the keys again for what began
the night's classics run down. First he led the band into a sinewy version of
the Staples Singers' "I'll Take You There." From that song, it was into
James Brown's "I Got That Feelin'," and then the show-stopping "The Way
You Do the Things You Do." The Artist glided over the stage, beaming and
it was obvious that he'd probably sung this same song in his bedroom as a kid. Meanwhile, the NPG just rolled with him, like a wave on the ocean.
Once they found their groove (and it didn't take long), it felt as if the band could continue forever. But then their leader called out, "Waaaaaaiiiiiiit a minute!," and the whole group jumped into the Isley Brothers' "Shout," featuring a falsetto scat by Prince.
While the band's soul revue had set the house alight, at least a few
fans were hoping that if they returned for an encore that the Artist might
rip one of his own tunes -- a seemingly reasonable request, though one he's
largely ignored during recent aftershows. When the group came back,
the Artist spent a few minutes giving instructions to bass player Rhonda Smith, and then indeed slipped into a sly version of his own "Get Off," which he'd also played at the concert earlier that night. The NPG kept things good and quiet for the first verse, but then broke out on the chorus. With that, the Artist himself broke out with a bit of freestyling, which eventually led into another virtually unheard-of tune called "Johnny" from the band's European Gold Nigga album.
By 3:10, the jam had wound down, and the Artist once again appeared in the VIP gallery. Chants of "N! P! G! In the motherfuckin' house!" from the once sleepy crowd elicited smiles from the band, but failed to draw them back down to the stage.
They had, finally, had enough for the night.