IT'S HAPPENING. It's really happening.
The grumbling of a few—over the unsurprisingly high ticket prices, naturally—quickly receded, leaving the rest of us to bask in the phenomenal news: Yes, Prince is coming to Portland. Yes, Prince is playing two shows, including a late set that probably won't kick off until after midnight. Yes, Prince is fronting a pared-down, all-female trio called 3rdEyeGirl, ripping out heavy fuzz-rock jams like "Bambi," a shredder that appeared on Prince's 1979 self-titled album. And YES, Prince is playing a venue that has a smaller capacity than Minneapolis' First Avenue, the club where the infamous live scenes in Purple Rain were shot.
For naysayers, it's easy to focus on Prince's idiosyncratic quirks: that overtly, femininely sexual persona. That diminutive stature. The odd, shocking marriage of religion and sex in his lyrics. The lost years when he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in protest against his record company.
But none of this matters when you listen to his four perfect albums: 1980's Dirty Mind, 1982's 1999, 1984's Purple Rain, and 1987's Sign o' the Times—not to mention all the just-as-perfect singles: "I Wanna Be Your Lover," "Controversy," "Raspberry Beret," "Kiss," "Cream," "Sexy MF," "P Control." Prince redefined funk by adding synths and Linn drums; he redefined R&B by making it blatantly, juicily pornographic. He redefined rock simply by being better at it than everyone else, and he redefined pop by effortlessly making all of his sex-hungry, art-damaged weirdness sound contagiously good. What David Bowie was to the '70s, Prince was to the '80s—a chameleonic songwriter and performer, prolifically turning out platters of inventive, strange, iconic pop that busted through genre demarcations, allowing in their wake no room for vacuous imitators, but plenty of inspiration to go around. When Prince had the world's ear (1982-1989, roughly), the global music conversation was better directly because of him.
So what keeps this tour from being a greatest-hits retread? (Not that there would be anything wrong with a set of Prince's best-known songs.) In a telephone interview, 3rdEyeGirl guitarist Donna Grantis told me, "It's been a long time since Prince has really built a show from scratch. His previous shows were more centered around the greatest hits, whereas this 3rdEyeGirl show is like a darker, more stripped down, rock 'n' roll outfit. We'll be playing some songs that have never been heard live before, but have been part of Prince's catalog for years."
Grantis, a well-established guitarist with a long résumé of jazz, rock, and fusion under her belt, was asked to come to one of Prince's jam sessions after 3rdEyeGirl drummer Hannah Ford saw her shred on YouTube. She's understandably giddy about playing next to Prince—who's no slouch on the guitar himself. "It's mind-blowing and awesome and so inspiring," she says. "I feel like I have front-row tickets to witness some of the most phenomenal guitar playing of all time." She adds that the live show will be very freeform and improvisatory, playing to Prince's strengths as a "master bandleader" as well as allowing Grantis, Ford, and bassist Ida Nielsen show their chops.
Of course, Prince's chops will be front and center, Grantis says: "For anyone who has really wanted to hear Prince just wail on guitar, this is the tour to check out."