For 90 minutes last night, Prince found the common ground between virtuosic guitar shredding and house-party funk, with the scales tipped generously toward the former. The Purple One and his backing band, 3rdEyeGirl, turned nearly every song they touched into an extended jam, reinventing some old classics and playing some unfamiliar new stuff as well. He opened with "Let's Go Crazy." He closed with "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man." Neither sounded anything remotely like the record, but those two hits anchored an exploratory, guitar-solo-drenched set that was the sound of one guy doing exactly whatever the funk he wanted. And everyone in the crowd was completely fine with it.
In fact, at the start of last night's late show—which began relatively promptly, not long after 11:30—with the Roseland's interior walls freshly painted purple for the occasion, the noise of the cheering crowd almost drowned out the sound coming from the stage, which wasn't exactly quiet. Bedecked in a skintight black-and-white shirt and a small, fuzzy fro, Prince appeared at the front of the stage as 3rdEyeGirl's sludgy, slow remake of "Let's Go Crazy" came from behind the curtains (did you know the Roseland even had curtains?), which parted as the song launched into gear. It was the "pinch me" moment of the show, with everyone in the crowd not quite believing that, yes, this is actually Prince, and yes, he's actually playing this song, and yes, you are actually in the room with him.
From there, Prince and the amazingly tight 3rdEyeGirl launched into a sort of freeform shred-fest, with fragments of songs popping up their heads here and there. A very long take of 1985 B-side "She's Always in My Hair" might have been the highlight of the late set, with some other great runs through a couple tunes from 1979's Prince nearly equaling it: There was "Bambi," a shrieking scorcher with guitars turned all the way to the red, and the slow jam "When We're Dancing Close and Slow," a woozy, candlelit ballad that couldn't keep some members of the crowd from chatting. Nevertheless, the very packed house remained ecstatic throughout the show, if not altogether rapt.
Portland's own Liv Warfield appeared for a couple songs (she killed it) and Prince even did a seemingly improvised comedy-blues number (god, that sounds awful—it actually wasn't) about a cross-eyed woman with three hands. It was good to see there's still plenty of freak in the man's funk. From time to time, Prince seemed to be struggling with a finicky guitar that kept slipping out of tune; it wasn't apparent to my ears, but it must have been to him, as he kept fiddling with the pegs during the songs, and at one point stopped the show to tune for a few minutes. Turns out even watching Prince tune a guitar is pretty great. At one point he chastised the crowd when the smell of weed hit the stage ("Absolutely no smoking. No sense in both of us getting killed"), and during the encore he pointed out to security someone trying to film him with a phone. (There was a strict no-photo, no-video policy in effect last night, which resulted in several getting booted from the purple paradise.) But otherwise he seemed in great spirits, a mischievous, playful showman in full command of the room.
Prince and 3rdEyeGirl—who are phenomenal musicians as well as being, yes, total babes, because this is Prince we're talking about—even threw in a cover of Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" (a jibe at the largely white Portland crowd?), and closed with a slow, minor-key turn on "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" that proved that even when you take away the pop sparkle, the guy still writes incredible songs. I heard he played "Purple Rain" during last night's early show, and on earlier stops on this tour he's run through a medley of hits. But a crowd-pleasing Prince seems a lot less interesting to me than a Prince-pleasing Prince, and that's exactly what we got at the late show last night. It was loud. It was funky. It was full of guitar fireworks. I still can't quite believe it actually happened. It wasn't the all-night, dance-tastic housequake I think all of us were secretly hoping it might turn into, but it was one hell of a rock 'n' roll show.