Purple Reign

Prince's monumental performance at the Dodge Theatre stands among the greatest shows to hit the Valley in recent years

It's been three weeks since the artist currently known as Prince helped to christen the Dodge Theatre with a show that left the sellout crowd, well, enraptured.

The three-hour performance by Prince and his band -- which included inimitable alto saxophonist Maceo Parker of peak James Brown fame -- was so powerful that the concert already has joined the coveted ranks of one of the greats.

Evidence of this is that attendees (and, naturally, some who weren't even there) are still talking about the show, in the same way that Diamondbacks fans love to regale anyone who will listen with details of an especially great Randy Johnson outing. Come to think of it, when Prince left the Dodge stage for the final time, he stood alone in the wings and thrust his index finger to the sky, à la the Big Unit.

No fewer than a dozen people of all stripes and musical inclinations have had a similar reaction when I've told them I was at the show: "A classic."

Among the components that makes a show magical is the indefinable chemistry of the band's members, a magic that may be born of past experiences together -- on and off the stage -- and of future musical dreams. It also helps to have a vast body of work from which to draw that is mind-boggling in scope and depth: Among the songs that Prince and the New Power Generation performed at the Dodge were "Diamonds and Pearls," "Raspberry Beret," "When You Were Mine," "Take Me With U" and "Nothing Compares 2 U."

Prince also performed tunes written by some of his own favorite artists and influences -- including Sly and the Family Stone, Ohio Players, the Chi-Lites, and Joni Mitchell. These came during the part of the show in which the huge visuals behind the band berated monopolistic radio station companies for their narrow-mindedness in programming music these days. Among those companies listed was Clear Channel, the corporate giant which, ironically, brought Prince to town.

Prince's belabored point was well-taken: It's got to be frustrating for the guy whose sound dominated '80s radio to find that he's been relegated to cult-artist status, hardly able to get any airplay nationally (and none in the Valley) for his generally accessible and excellent latest recording, The Rainbow Children. Meanwhile, much younger and infinitely less-talented recording artists are selling millions of records.

None of that seemed to matter at the Dodge. The multi-ethnic demographic of the gathering was intriguing: a surprisingly (considering the above) high concentration of teenagers and an equal number of those who were teens when Prince first hit the big time in the early 1980s.

Prince performed several numbers from Rainbow Children, a jazz-tinged outing whose lyrics often revolve around the bandleader's recent public embracing of the tenets of Jehovah's Witnesses. Usually, the last thing we need as concertgoers is a sermon from a new true believer, but, somehow, master showman Prince folded in his dogmatic beliefs without being overly obnoxious about it. (We heard that Prince attended a local Jehovah's Witnesses church in town two days after the show and read from Scripture to those in attendance.)

Even the Darth Vader-sounding, Jesus-selling vocal effect that had those who bought Rainbow Children scratching their heads was not nearly so off-putting in this live setting. Judging by the number of copies of Rainbow Children that were selling in the lobby after the show, the record would be extremely popular if only Prince could sneak onto a mainstream station or two.

The frequent standing ovations, the sing-alongs -- when Prince would order the lights turned on the audience, he simply would stand and watch as the throng sang his well-remembered lyrics -- and the big smiles all around just reiterated that the soulful veteran is still at the top of his estimable game.

Seems that everyone who mentioned the show as a "classic" also mentioned their own other favorites in the same breath. One 22-year-old told me it was as good as her other all-time favorites: Tool at the Cricket Pavilion, Kid Rock at the same venue and a Madonna show a few years ago.

An older gentleman listed Hall & Oates (remember them?), Simple Minds and Beach Boys shows as his personal favorites.

Yet another said his most memorable shows include Weezer, the Black Crowes and Alanis Morissette.

Now there's a potpourri for you, and it explains to some degree how universal Prince's attraction is. When his career took off two decades ago, he was labeled punk-funk, and while the tag was overly simplistic, he's certainly bridged the gap between the rock and R&B (not to mention jazz and hip-hop) crowds more than any other artist of his generation. As for me, I'll put his show at the Dodge in the pantheon of the best shows I've attended in the Valley since moving here in 1985. Here are the most memorable standouts:

Miles Davis at the Celebrity Theatre

Stevie Ray Vaughan, also at the Celebrity

Fishbone at the Mason Jar

AC/DC at America West Arena

Weather Report at the Celebrity

Tricky at Gibson's

Erykah Badu at the Celebrity

Stevie Wonder at Gammage Auditorium

King Sunny Ade at the Mesa Amphitheatre

Steely Dan at the Cricket Pavilion

And now this one.

 
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