Prince isn’t the kind of guy to toy with your emotions. Not this time, anyway. After last fall’s heartbreaking Massey Hall ordeal where dozens of fans lined up outside the venue for a concert that never happened, the purple one made good by announcing two shows in one night at the Sony Centre.
Prince’s long-time relationship with Toronto is well-documented. He’s lived here before and as of last night, he’s moving back here soon. He’s rocked every major venue this city has had to offer. He loves us and (judging by the shrieking, sold-out crowd), we love him right back.
Last night’s shows were also a homecoming for Donna Grantis, shredtastic guitarist for 3rdeyegirl, the latest iteration of Prince’s backing band. Prince went to work immediately with a grinding, Sabbathesque rendition of “Let’s Go Crazy”. Andin case you forgot, Prince does scandalous things with a guitar, which he was only too eager to show us.
It should be noted that, with two shows to play in one night, Prince could have easily played the same setlist twice. Nobody would have judged – the man is 56. But of course not. This being the later of the two, talk of a curfew and a shortened set filled the air. Prince took those rumours head-on: “I’ve been known to break a curfew or two, Toronto.” More shrieking.
As of March, Prince debuted a brand new single, “What If?” He didn’t play it. In fact, in this set, he steered clear of almost anything outside of his run of 1980s masterpieces. Oh, with the exception of covers, of course. Lots of them. As influential as he is, Prince is also a conduit for his influences. At various times, he’s James Brown; he’s Jimmy Page; he’s Howlin wolf; he’s Elvis. Prince seeded covers of “Love Me Tender”, the Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein” and a version of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop till you Get Enough” that set the entire room ablaze.
He also gave plenty of solo time to 3rdeyegirl, including playful interludes from essentially every instrument, lodged solidly between songs like “Raspberry Beret”, “U Got the Look” and “1999”. With a singalong rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U” (which he wrote for Sinead O’Connor), Prince and the crowd took the first (of 3) encores to catch our breaths. The workhorse he is, Prince managed to create a superjam of hits in about seven minutes including “Nasty Girl”, “Darling Nikki”, “Pop Life”, “A Love Bizarre”, “17 Days”, “Mountains”, “Love”, “U Know”, “If I was your Girlfriend”, and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”.
After that came encore number two, followed by “Diamonds and Pearls” and “The Beautiful Ones” alone on the piano, seemingly bathed in moonlight. After that, 3rdeyegirl returned for the finale – a seemingly unending (and who would even want it to end?) rendition of “Purple Rain” with a special, extended finale that he left up to the crowd.
Before the curtain went up, Grantis addressed the crowd, telling us how good it was to be home and how special the night would be. She implored us to leave our phones in our pockets and just stay with them for the night. Prince shows are notorious for their no-cameras policies, but one has to wonder if it’s for the sake of vanity, or for the sake of being fully immersed in an unparalleled live experience.
Which is to say, they just don’t make ’em like Prince anymore.