Concert Review: Prince & 3rd Eye Girl ‘Live Out Loud’ in San Francisco

Prince“Every while in a great once/there comes 2 town a show/that lives up to all your funk-spectations/no matter how high or low…”–NPG, “New Power Soul”

When it was announced in March that Prince and his new three-piece, all-woman band 3rd Eye Girl (Ida “Bassida” Nielsen on bass, Hannah Ford on drums, and Donna Grantis on guitar) would be ripping up the west coast with their Live Out Loud club tour, Prince lovers immediately began the scramble to snag tickets.  Initial releases suggested that tickets would more than likely go on sale within two weeks of the tour announcement; but to the surprise, elation, and in some cases, chagrin of purple party people from San Diego to Vancouver, the flood gates opened a mere 24 hours later and the mad dash was officially on.  The legendary Dr. Funkenberry even likened the rush for tickets to Prince’s 2000 Hit and Run tour, which elicited a similar response as fans ecstatically waited in lines and online to purchase.  With the Live Out Loud tour being decidedly smaller in scale than any of Prince’s more recent outings–with the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame inductee favoring intimate club settings over the arenas he graced during his Welcome to America, 21 Nights, and Musicology tours–it was inevitable that these shows would sell out with a quickness.  His two-night, two shows per night, sold-out residency at San Francisco’s DNA Lounge was no exception.  Thankfully, I was able to cop my ticket to the late show on April 24, the fourth and final of the San Francisco leg, in the nick of time!

The club was nearly at capacity less than an hour before show-time, so getting–and keeping–a prime spot on the floor in the standing room-only venue was a crap shoot.  Scanning the crowd I marveled anew at the diversity Prince’s fan base represents; spanning generations, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, the room was packed with people from all walks of life whose one goal was to have their faces melted properly with unadulterated funk.  A woman in the balcony chanted “I like funky music” (from 1998’s New Power Soul) while others in the audience began the refrain “oh-we-oh-oooohhh” from the classic “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night,” as a burst of smoke emanated from the stage outward into the sea of anxious music lovers.  Alas, it was nothing more than a mere psyche, as another 20 minutes or so passed before the lights finally went black and Prince and his badass band took the stage.  Guitars roaring like thunder, bass thumping like a wild heart, and drums thick, bright, and brutal, Prince and 3rd Eye Girl launched ferociously into a sleazy, nasty groove of a thing that morphed unexpectedly into “Let’s Go Crazy.”  Bereft of the gospel-tinged arrangement we’ve come to know and replaced with grinding hard rock, this was a new take on a beloved classic, a theme that would run throughout the night’s performance.  Slipping seamlessly from the Purple Rain chart-topper into 1981’s “Let’s Work,” Prince raised our collective heartbeats before switching gears into the rock-licious “Endorphin Machine” from 1995’s The Gold Experience.  To paraphrase a line from The Black Album’s “Le Grind,” Prince got us where he wanted us just in time to break out one of his newer joints, “Screwdriver.”  As the music swelled and the LCD screens flashed colorful images of the song’s lyrics, Prince teased, “Can I lip-sync one song?  Everyone else is doing it!”  A solid, no-holds barred rock song through and through, “Screwdriver” punched through the air with Prince and Donna trading guitar licks, and our intrepid purple yoda singing “I’m your driver” then demanding we respond, “You’re my screw!”

One of the many highlights from the night was Sign O’ the Times’ “Forever In My Life,” with Prince nabbing Nielsen’s bass as the song’s signature beat pulsed through the room.  Though I personally missed the song’s brilliant backing vocal line, I absolutely couldn’t have been more thrilled to hear this song–one of my favorites–played live.  And when Prince took it to church, enlisting the crowd as the choir in a call and response of harmonized “forever”s à la the Sign O’ the Times concert film, I don’t know about the rest of the audience, but my heart broke, fell out of my chest, dissolved into the floor, then put itself back together again.

Slowing the pulse down ever so slightly, Prince slid behind the keyboard for “Purple Rain” and “Adore,” before resuming his post at the front of the stage for a slow-jammed version of “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.”

Prince and 3rd Eye Girl treated us to an instrumental groove called “Plectrum Electrum,” which is also rumored to be the title of the collective’s forth-coming album.  Among the many surprises for the evening was “I Like It There,” from 1996’s Chaos and Disorder, and “Bambi” (Prince).  Unlike his performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, where he smashed Roots member “Captain” Kirk Douglas’ guitar at the end of the song, this time Prince playfully offered his guitar to the audience before setting it down gingerly on its stand. From there, he returned to the keyboard to give the audience a medley of familiar hits, including “Sign O’ the Times,” “When Doves Cry,” “Pop Life,” and “Housequake,” the latter of which he teased with a loop of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.”

Throughout the night Prince shone the spotlight on his musical cohorts, giving each musician ample time to show off her chops.  As an artist who has consistently featured women musicians in his bands, it wasn’t particularly shocking that this new group would consist of artists who could more than capably handle playing alongside him with masterful precision.  Nielsen, Ford, and Grantis, perhaps more than the other women musicians who’ve graced the stage with Prince, bring an edge to the mix that adds a fresh spin on his classic tunes and leaves plenty of room for exploration with their new material.

The show ended a bit abruptly with an unfamiliar instrumental (yes, I was stumped!), and Prince and 3rd Eye Girl ascended the stairs behind the stage while the audience waited, somewhat confused, to see if they would return for one more quick set.  But when the house lights came up and the techs began to strike the stage, it was clear that the show was over.  The slightly anti-climactic end did nothing to diminish Prince and 3rd Eye Girl’s showing throughout the night, however, and the promise of what’s to come when this newest musical outfit finally releases a full-length album.

At one point during the show, I’d made my way to the ladies’ room to freshen up my lipstick and ensure that the evening’s glam was still in full effect.  A young(er) woman said to me, “When do you think he’ll start playing his hits?”  I smiled and glanced at her in the mirror, and replied, “Oh, honey, he’s been playing his hits all night.”  In reflecting on this exchange, I realized that these Live Out Loud performances are emphatically not meant to be the (commercial) hits-driven shows Prince has done over the past few years, but a journey into new territory that uses familiar songs and fan favorites as a bridge to connect the known with the as yet unchartered.  From the stripped down instrumentation to the deconstruction and re-imagining of classic tunes, Prince is ever at the cutting edge of creative innovation, and this latest initiative is no exception.  So if you’re expecting to hear the same songs the way they’ve always been played, you may want to adjust your expectations accordingly; this is not your standard-issue Prince concert.  And that is a good, good thing.

Prince and 3rd Eye Girl have dates coming up in Vegas, Tempe, AZ, and San Diego, with the tour wrapping up in Anaheim.  For more information, check out 3rdeyegirl.com.

–Rhonda Nicole

Rhonda Nicole is an independent singer/songwriter, lovin’ and livin’ in Oakland, CA, currently performing with San Francisco-based soul band Midtown Social.  Download her EP “Nuda Veritas” on CDBaby and iTunes, check her out on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @wildhoneyrock.

3 Comments

  1. Max says:

    NO, NO, NO! Fans of true artistry want to experience the growth of art and the artist presenting that art. Buy the record, download a bootleg of the concerts if you want the same old “hits” concert. I’ll take “The Artist” being just that – boldly, creatively, and surprisingly.

  2. It’s not a “good, good thing.” People pay $250 a pop and they have a certain expectation. They want the hits. Playing “When Doves Cry” and “Purple Rain” is not enough. We want “Raspberry Beret,” “Kiss,” “Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” “Little Red Corvette,” and many others! He may put on a great show, but that’s not the point. We come in with a certain expectation and he either needs to deliver on that expectation, or lower the ticket prices (which lowers the expectation).

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