Prince played a surprise show in Los Angeles on Thursday night — and Billboard correspondent DJ Skee was there. Below, his inside look at an intimate night with the Purple one.
It all started when someone whispered to me, asking if I wanted to check out Prince’s secret show. Despite my typical allergy towards Hollywood events, feeling a little sick, and being jet-lagged after coming back from the presidential debate in Boca Raton, I didn’t even have to think before my mouth opened and screamed yes. I mean, it’s Prince, or whatever he prefers to go by now since modern keyboards don’t have a symbol for the symbol, so I didn’t have an option, right? I would have regretted it the rest of my life.
To set the stage, a month ago in Las Vegas, the biggest moment of the massive iHeartRadio music festival, that I was also the DJ for, was when Prince came out as a surprise guest. I watched as every artist backstage literally ran out to catch a glimpse, just to watch him play guitar for Mary J Blige for a few minutes. To now have the opportunity to see him for the second time in a month, but this time in an intimate setting all by himself, would be priceless and impossible to turn down no matter how I was feeling. By the time the night ended just past 2 a.m., I was magically cured from all of my ailments thanks to one of the greatest artists of our time.
The mystique around Prince and the evening didn’t just start with that initial whisper invite. He has remarkably kept a unique brand secrecy in this day and age where every typical star’s movements are not only shadowed by paparazzi or other press but also broadcast on social media — good luck finding Prince on Twitter. Before arriving, I asked his team what time Prince actually hit the stage, as I’m not a fan of standing around for any amount of time waiting for anything, and was told to arrive at 10:30 as all bets were off when he was to hit the stage- it was simply a matter of when he felt like it. (His manager would later tell me the band’s schedule once I arrived, but echo that no one had any idea when Prince would join them, as it was all on his mood.) I was already all in, so I headed down to Hollywood hotspot/speakeasy the Sayers Club, where surprisingly the line and crowd outside weren’t as crazy as I expected. The room had a capacity of about 150, limited to celebrities and the creme de la creme of the entertainment industry (not to mention the half of the room which would be taken up by Prince’s band — more on this in a second). I guess most people didn’t even waste their time trying to name- or dollar-drop at the door, and with good reason as everyone trying to get in seemed to be turned away instantly alongside the legion of paparazzi flanking Wilcox Ave.
Once I made my way inside the room, my iPhone was immediately confiscated (I did snap one picture before!) and checked into a huge box that surprisingly wasn’t under better security due to the nature of potential content, contacts, and secrets on phones in the box. In the crowd were not only the biggest names in the entertainment business, but current number one paparazzi targets Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, who definitely enjoyed each other’s company for those wondering. The stage backdrop was simple and elegant with the lone production enhancement being a spot line with the Prince symbol displayed behind the stage in white; a far departure from today’s shows where it is all about production elements to hide pre-taped tracks. Oh yeah, about half the room was filled with Prince’s musicians, who cradled through the VIP section on the right.
The atmosphere building up to the show was electric. Prince has mastered the art of branding, and as I passed the two hours before he actually felt the timing was right to perform, I was taken into incredible conversations I can’t repeat amongst friends who had experiences performing or working with the icon that just seemed to make his legend build. The allure of Prince only seems to grow with time, making him bigger than life. No matter if they were true, made up, or just slightly exaggerated, these stories only made his persona and being in attendance that much more magical.
As the band started to fill the stage just after midnight, and when I say fill, I mean fill, the intimate crowd instantly dropped its conversations and got as close as possible. Luckily I made it to the front of the stage, although even the worst seat in the house was no more than 30 feet from the stage. Earlier in the day I had the pleasure of meeting Prince’s new protege, Andy Allo, who not only plays guitar and sings backup in the NPG band, but is an incredible artist in her own right. The tone was instantly set for the evening not only by her performance of “People Pleaser” to open the show as well as our first glimpse at the amazing band in action, but by looking at the back of the stage and realized the man hiding on guitar with the sunglasses behind the drummer was the legend himself, his small stature carrying the huge persona.
When Prince made his way to the front of stage he introduced his band to the crowd simply as “TMP, for Too Many People,” with laughter. In raw numbers, I counted well over 20 musicians including a huge horn section, several drummers and guitarists, and back-up singers all inside a venue so small the brass players were literally in the middle of the crowd. Amazingly, the sound quality was second to none with just the right amount of everything. The proof Prince is a true musical genius is beyond the music itself, but the way he meticulously prepares, even bringing in some of his own sound equipment to upgrade the already stellar room and elevating the experience for everyone. With a band so big and songs flowing well past the few minutes they were orginally recorded as and turning into full-blown 10-minute-long jam sessions, as a musician myself I was waiting and looking for even one note or beat to be off during the hour and a half long set, and failed to find one flaw. The feat of this alone is stunning and can’t be understated as I have never seen a band as in tune as NPG was last night under the guidance of Prince.
As for the show itself, the audience we treated to one of the greatest experiences that everyone will tell stories about for years and decades to come. There really isn’t much to say about the music and performance other than, yes, he really is that good — still. Never knowing what songs you’ll hear at his shows, the audience was treated to an array ranging from classics such as “U Got The Look” and “Pop Life” to covers of Sly and the Family Stone before finishing the night on his second encore to Parliament‘s “Give Up The Funk,” tearing the roof off of Hollywood. Oh yeah, and for kicks, Prince also not only reminded us why he is one of the greatest guitar players of all time with an amazing showcase, but also spent time on stage playing the bass and keys, showcasing his musical diversity while he also conducted not only the band but the audience, with his palm having the whole Hollywood crowd sing, clap, and dance along in unison.
More remarkable than the show was the fact that an A-list and elitist Hollywood crowd, who I am so used to seeing stand in a corner or sit back at a VIP table and not move for ANYTHING, seem to throw inhibitions out the window and enjoy themselves. Every single person in the venue was dancing, singing, clapping, moving, and most importantly, having fun. Mixed alongside the secretive nature of the event, Sayers Club atmosphere, legendary myths that surround the artist, and amazing musical display, the night truly felt like something from a different era. Think Fela taking place in a Hollywood speakeasy. It felt so good that you almost were waiting on someone to come in and bust up the place for being illegal.
As the night ended, it all dawned on me what made it so special. It wasn’t the name, the mystique, the celebrity-filled audience, the venue, or even the songs themselves. It was as Prince yelled on stage while he took his mic around to each individual player for a solo showcase, “real music, and real instruments!” Sometimes simplicity even with all of the intricacy is the best formula, and Prince proved that there is nothing better in this world than great music.