Of the three shows, the early 90-minute set at the largest venue – the 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre – was the crowd-pleaser, though it was dogged by technical problems from the start. Opening with "Old Skool Company," from the "MPLSound" disc of "LotusFlow3r," Prince telegraphed the tone of the set. Yet he didn't truly get the crowd going until he launched into "1999" two songs later. He complained of sound problems but vowed it would not stop him. "I don't know about you, but I'm going to tear this place apart," Prince promised. He made good on that with "Controversy," one of his earliest hits that's as valid now as it was nearly 30 years ago with its "stop the hate" message.
Unfortunately, the sound problems continued. Rather than let it ruin the set, Prince turned the show into an old-school house party, inviting fans to the stage to dance and sing covers of "Play That Funky Music" and "Hollywood Swinging." He went back to performing, earnestly sharing the mike with a backup singer on a version of the Beatles' "Come Together." Rousing takes on two some of his biggest hits, "Purple Rain" and "Let's Go Crazy," followed before he dipped into the catalogs of his co-conspirators, performing the Time's "The Bird" and "Jungle Love" and hosting guest Sheila E. on the set-closing "The Glamorous Life."
At the far more intimate 1,000-capacity Conga Room, Prince employed a power-trio format during an hourlong set that allowed him to showcase his more rocking side. The set featured the new track "Colonized Mind" and a scorching version of the Beatles' "A Little Help From My Friends," complete with Prince's Hendrix-style guitar theatrics. Other highlights included a funky version of the Elvis Presley classic "All Shook Up," broken down with a killer clap-along groove that would have made songwriter Otis Blackwell proud.
The hour-plus show at the 2,300-capacity Club Nokia, which began shortly after 1 a.m., was the most challenging of the bunch, with Prince turning to a jazz trio and offering instrumental versions songs like "Under the Cherry Moon." When Prince appeared, he continued with the largely obscure song selection, highlighting his falsetto, guitar pyrotechnics and the musical prowess of his band. Those who only attended the final show were heard grumbling about the song selection, but for fans who saw the previous two, it just showed off another side of Prince's sometimes frustrating but nonetheless impressive musical genius.
When additional sound problems occurred, Prince called out executives of AEG (the owners of L.A. Live) by name but again vowed to work through it. And again he delivered: First, it was with a guest spot by Chaka Khan on Rufus' "Sweet Thing," and when he finally dipped into his own classics, he brought his musical tease to a climax with awe-inspiring versions of "The Beautiful Ones" and "Nothing Compares 2 U." The latter was an appropriate nightcap to a long but unique night that proved nothing compares to the Royal One's talent, range and ambition.
Venues: Nokia Theatre, the Conga Room and Club Nokia, Los Angeles (Saturday, March 28)