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- Posted on Nov 26th 2011 2:15PM by Joshua Ostroff
Kevin Winter, Getty Images
And so Prince long ago left the pop world behind to become timeless, and that was evident by the sheer diversity of the crowd at the first of two nights at Toronto's Air Canada Centre, where he kicked off his current tour.
Yes, he played 'Purple Rain' -- in a restrained-for-Prince set-closing rendition that merely doubled the song's length to 15 or so minutes -- and countless other "hits," amongst many obscurities, but people were there to see him perform, not to hear certain songs. (OK, I was hoping for '7,' but Prince has hundreds of songs in his purple bag and changes up his setlist nightly, so fans know they're never guaranteed their personal fave.)
With an in-the-round set-up in the middle of the arena -- the stage was shaped like his famously unpronounceable symbol, natch -- the elfin sex god emerged from below the stage looking preternaturally fit and ready to deliver what he dubbed "real music, y'all."
For the first section of the show, that meant funk. Despite more than enough charisma to fill an arena on his own, Prince acted more like a bandleader than rock star. His latest iteration of the New Power Generation, bolstered by alto sax icon Maceo Parker, was impeccably tight and away they jammed. Songs ranging from 'Musicology' and 'Pop Life' to 'D.M.S.R' and the Cars' 'Let's Go,' were stretched out, folded back and broken down. (And occasionally handed over to the three female back-up singers so Prince could take a break and the audience could grab a beer).
Prince brought the house down with the sentence, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today...," mashed 'Cool' into Michael Jackson's disco classic 'Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough,' reclaimed 'Nothing Compares 2 U' from Sinead O'Conner with a heart-rending rendition and turned 'Let's Go Crazy' into a '50s-style rock 'n 'roll rave-up. Then after rousing the crowd with '1999' (it's awesomely meta in 2011 to hear a song about the then-distant millennium), he unleashed 'Little Red Corvette.'
Now that song was always a trifle, but Prince is about reimagining, not recreating, his catalogue, and so he slowed it down and amped it up, turning it into a 'Purple Rain'-esque epic fueled by the first of many mind-blowing guitar solos.
After tearing apart Bob Dylan's 'Make You Feel My Love' (yes, kids, that's the one Adele covers) and showering the crowd with purple rain, er, confetti, Prince spent another hour on six (!) encores. In fact, the only problem with the show was that he quaffed the close.
The first few encores were electric -- after 'Kiss,' he did a thank-you-very-much medley that included 'When Doves Cry,' 'I Would Die 4 U,' 'Darling Nikki,' 'Sign O the Times' and 'The Most Beautiful Girl In the World,' and then came back to drop some Morris Day and the Time songs (before busting out 'Jungle Love,' he announced, "I wrote these, too!") and climbed up on the piano rock the joint with a cover of 'Play That Funky Music.'
But then he came back three more times, getting increasingly obscure before ending with 'Let's Work' off his 1981 album 'Controversy.' This was cool for completists, but after having to cheer for him to come back six times, the concert really needed to conclude on a singalong smash.
But maybe leaving us wanting more was on purpose -- as Prince said earlier in the set, "Y'all come back tomorrow!"