Prince and the NPG, 3rdEyeGirl, Janelle Monae, Doug E. Fresh Shine at Third Show at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut
I happened to come across two concert tickets this week of Prince and the NPG at Madison Square Garden from 3 years ago to the date that we had to eat as Gi Dussault was very sick at the time and we couldn't make the gig. So, we were more than excited to be going to see Prince at his last show of a three night stand at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. And we were not disappointed.
Funny, of all the years I have seen Prince in concert, I have seen him in our home state only two times before. NYC, Montreal, Philly and New Jersey are the usual spots. My overall take on the Mohegan Sun Arena: classy, clean, and like so many say, "not a bad seat in the house". Despite driving in a steady 2 hour rainstorm, we arrived in plenty of time to relax before Janelle Monae's set.
JANELLE MONAE: What a standout performer. With a themed presentation, Janelle and her top-notch band sizzled with touches of funk, soul, new wave and calypso. And Janelle's nonstop energy and stellar voice and dance moves were in peak form. She obviously learned from the best: Prince, James Brown and Michael Jackson and leaves us well-assured that more great concert shows are in store from the younger generations. Prince surprised us by getting wheeled on a hand cart onstage to join Monae for a verse on the song, "Give Them What They Love". Love these crazy entrances from Prince like the Jones Beach on a boat or sliding down a fire pole on the 1999 tour.
The first few songs from Monae suffered from the sound mix drowning out the horns and keyboards. But once that was worked out , everything was splendid. Janelle paid homage to Northside Minneapolis with a sleazy, funkdafied version of her "Q.U.E.E.N". Finally, Monae wowed the crowd by jumping in the crowd and riding her handler's back through an enthralled crowd.
DOUG E. FRESH with DJ: No doubt, a great decision to feature one of the best showstoppers Doug E. Fresh for 40 minutes while Prince's stage set was arranged. The place went bananas as the DJ spun classic funk from Earth, Wind & Fire, Digital Underground, and Bell, Biv, Devoe with Doug E. Fresh emceeing and hyping up the crowd all the while graciously taking pictures with fans. This brought to mind when me and the Electric Man JD Silva and I would go see The Time at Tramps in NYC. In between the opening act like Sandra St. Victor, DJ Cool Marv would let loose a 30 minute funk mix that made sure there was no lull before MD and the fellas wrecked the stage. The longest Soul Train line was rolling in Connecticut just before Doug E. Fresh introduced Prince.
PRINCE & the NPG & 3RDEYEGIRL: Having seen Prince countless times since first catching the 1999 tour, I am always looking for new twists and turns to leave more great memories to his endless touring repertoire. The start of the final Prince show at Mohegan Sun got off on the good foot with "Big City" and "Superconductor". Maybe headscratchers to the casual fan but a more than welcome treat for us hardcore fans. Prince's energy and smile left no doubt he still gets a thrill when performing in his domain: The Stage.
Some ingredients Prince never leaves home without: a top-flight band with world-class musicians and powerhouse singers. Since these shows were not a part of a proper tour, I assume the band was not rehearsing 24/7 for weeks in advance. However, Prince and Da Band have drilled so much prior and have a vast catalog to pull from at the drop of Prince's arm. As Shelby J says, "the bag is always packed by the door and when Prince calls, we'll be ready".
The first 40 minutes featured Prince orchestrating like Peyton Manning calling out the plays and audibilizing at the line of scrimmage. So much funk to handle: "Mutiny/Ice Cream Castles" mashup and a reworked "Musicology".
The 11 piece NPG Hornz were featured prominently on these funk jams and throughout the concert. Imagine two walls of various horn instruments punctuating and highlighting Prince's catalog. And all the while the brothers are stepping and playing. Another huge highlight was "Nothing Compares 2 U" with Shelby J and Prince duetting. Tons of soul and a bit of humor mixed in.
Whether letting the 11 piece NPG Hornz blast a funky groove or downsizing and having 3rdEyeGirl tear the roof off the sucka, or showcasing his amazing singers: Shelby J, Liv Warfield and Elisa Dease, Prince was the generous and ultimate band leader. Liv Warfield helped Prince make "The Sweeter She Is" into a modern day R&B classic and Elisa Dease shined on "Take Me With U". Three beautiful and talented singers with their own unique styles.
A huge element to the show and one that was handled superbly was the keyboard work of Cassandra O'Neal. Even with a massive horn section, Cassandra's responsibilities are big as Prince's music has so many intricate keyboard sounds and if that goes awry, the show suffers. But Cassandra was the glue that held together all the show upfront.
Andrew Gouche was locked in solid and gave the NPG the veteran leadership that only a bass virtuoso can. Couldn't have been funkier and never overbearing and trying to steal the groove.
Damaris Lewis, famed Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and TV host, is Prince's muse and dancer onstage. Lewis starred when "U Got The Look" kicked in.
You could actually feel the audience's relief and excitement when Prince finally plugged in his guitar to shred on "Something In The Water". The party was ON and Prince acknowledged it by saying that the audience loved the rock and roll and he asked for his guitar to be turned up louder. It was my first time seeing 3rdEyeGirl live and I was thoroughly impressed. Hannah Ford (drums), Ida Nielsen (bass) and Donna Grantis (guitar) have gelled as a trio and added a new grittier flair to Prince's recent work. The new take on "Let's Go Crazy" satisfied even the fans who dug only Prince's work from Purple Rain.
Next up was the "Sampler Set" and something which I have been wishing for years that Prince drops from his concerts. Basically, Prince singing and talking over prerecorded snippets of his tunes in the dark and last night, his mic was even muffled during this segment. Yes, the crowd gets a rise from hearing a few seconds of "When Doves Cry" or "Nasty Girl". But with all the talent Prince and his bandmates have I feel this is a wasted opportunity to flesh out more LIVE songs. Thankfully, "Housequake" (one of my all-time favorite jams) was segued into a full-blown live edition.
Connecticut got their request in with an amazing "Purple Rain" performance. Prince pulls it off every time and a sacred moment on the six string. Back to the "old school" party vibe with "Cool/Don't Stop "Til U Get Enough" with freestyle assistance from Doug E. Fresh who may have to put some money in the curse jar for inciting the "Roof Is On Fire" chant. :-))
Houselights up and surprisingly, 75 % of the crowd stayed and Prince and 3rdEyeGirl rocked the joint with the instrumental "Plectrum Electrum". I learned never to head for the exit until the soundman leaves his station. Lesson noted when I caught the Purple Rain tour at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island and was treated to "Around The World In A Day" songs performed before the record was out.
Thanks to Prince, the NPG, 3rdEyeGirl, Janelle Monae, Doug E. Fresh, Esperanza Spaulding and the Mohegan Sun for the incredible night of musicianship, performance and great fun.