Prince Brings Rally 4 Peace to Baltimore With Miguel, Doug E. Fresh

NPG Records/Ralston Smith 

Prince during his Rally 4 Peace concert at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, Maryland on May 10, 2015. 

The song "Baltimore" was written by Randy Newman, but given its full potential through Nina Simone, a singer, who -- despite disavowing the record of the same name her cover appeared on -- avoided Newman's tendency towards Dr. Seussian coloration, bringing his song into real, sad life.

The city of Baltimore is, as described in that song, a "hard town by the sea." On an unreasonably humid Sunday, with the sun peek-a-booing through overcast skies, the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood where Freddie Gray was from looked blighted and bleak, every other building boarded, in ruins, surrounded by people with "nowhere to run to," as Newman wrote and Simone sung. (Indeed, as David Simon explained to Bill Keller, there was practically nothing a resident of these neighborhoods could do to avoid getting arrested.)

Since the death of Freddie Gray on April 19, the national conversation around race and policing and more generally the treatment of disadvantaged minorities by the government has begun to lay more and more blame at the feet of its institutions, with Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby bringing nearly unprecedented charges to the officers involved in Gray's arrest and the launch of a civil rights investigation of the Baltimore Police Department by the U.S. Justice Department almost immediately following.

Andrew Flanagan
The CVS Pharmacy on W. North Ave. and Pennsylvania, which was burned and looted during riots on April 28 in Baltimore.

This climate of division, violence, mistrust and mistreatment was what Prince wanted to try and provide a balm for Sunday night (May 10), with a trademark marathon of hits he named the Rally 4 Peace concert, held at Baltimore's Royal Farm Arena, coinciding with the release two days earlier of his own song titled "Baltimore." It was Prince's first time playing the city in 14 years, according to the Baltimore Sun.

The mood was noticeably jubilant and celebratory just before Prince took the stage, as his recorded music played on the overhead speakers, his face on just-purchased t-shirts.

"To all the families that have lost loved ones... tonight we are your servants," Prince exclaimed, wearing a grey frock and tri-lensed sunglasses as he and backing band 3rdEyeGirl took the stage, turning "Let's Go Crazy" into an extended jam, the first of many. Shortly into the set, playing his new tribute song, State's Attorney Mosby and her husband were brought out, to a wall of applause.

Listen to Prince's Moving Baltimore Tribute Song

It's often that a stadium show can disappoint -- lack of intimacy, muddiness of sound, the expense of beer. But when the artist performing is larger-than-life, only a large-scale venue can contain them, which the Royal Farm barely managed. Playing "The One," Prince, peerless guitarist, issued a solo that may have been the crescendo of the night, fusing Chicago blues to Hendrix to flamenco to the Dead Boys back to blues -- straight heartbreak. It was the moment his virtuosity was concreted. Same for a short trio of songs performed solo, holding the attention of a nearly sold-out arena with little more than an electric piano and a microphone.

Returning from an encore break (one of three), Prince mused that he "wants to play more songs, but I've run out of hits -- oh, did I make a joke?"

NPG Records/Ralston Smith 

Across two hours, Prince brought out Miguel (guest on "When Will We Be Paid?" and met with an underwhelming welcome), Doug E. Fresh (whose beatbox accompaniment to Prince's bass was a late show high mark), Judith Hill and Estelle. Throughout, Prince was able to shift from world-ending guitarist to dancer to keyboardist to bassist to singer to humble (-ish) servant, like the legend he inarguably is.

We should all hope that the final result of Prince's concert is an injection of positivity for Baltimore, something they can look back on fondly at a time when sadness reigned. But, at the end of the day, a concert is a concert and the system of oppression is the same. "The system is broken," Prince said very near the end of his Rally 4 Peace. "The way we fix it is to build a new one." Music may not heal these wounds or hold a hammer, but it's still a helpful thing to have love when you're in pain.

Set list:

"Let's Go Crazy"
"Take Me With You"
"Raspberry Beret"
"U Got the Look"
"The One"
"Little Red Corvette"
"Nothing Compares 2 U"
"When Doves Cry"
"Sign O The Times"
"Hot Thing"
"I Would Die 4 U"
"How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore"
"The Beautiful Ones"
"Do Me, Baby"
"When Will We Be Paid?"
"Purple Rain"