When it comes to Prince, the old adage “expect the unexpected” is so much more than a cliché — it’s become the standard over the years. Never was this more apparent than this past weekend when the diminutive legend put on a three-night stand at Mohegan Sun Arena that featured multiple encores, deep-diving into not only his own catalog but of those he’s written songs for and artists he’s mentored. Sunday night was the final curtain, but it came with an extra special glint with the last-minute reveal of an after party; unfortunately, it left a contrasting night of major highs and yawn-filled lows.
The main show at the casino’s arena was nearly infallible. Critic’s darling Janelle Monáe proved to be a more than capable opener, energetically bounding around the stage, creating mini-performance pieces and even managed to pull Prince out at one point, as he reprised his role on “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love.” Her quick hit set also featured a cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” and, most surprisingly, a rousing rendition of “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince and the Revolution, pretty much ensuring that the Purple One himself would be omitting it from his own setlist.
The first bit of unexpectedness came after Monáe’s performance when the Human Beat Box himself, Doug E. Fresh, showed up at the arena soundboard to keep the crowd hyped while the equipment change went down. He MC’ed a bunch of old school classics that had kept the audience on its feet for 20 minutes when Prince bounded onstage with both the New Power Generation and the trio 3rd Eye Girl backing him up at various points.
Opening with “Big City” off of the upcoming Plectrum Electrum release, the set saw Prince effortlessly weave his way through well-known hits like “U Got the Look,” “1999,” and a surprising — given Monáe’s earlier version — take on “Let’s Go Crazy” that turned it from a jittery dance number into a simmering rocker. Clad in a black and gold outfit that looked suspiciously inspired by the one lead-villain Nuclear Man wore in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and sporting an afro that has surpassed Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson and has crept into ABA days’ Dr. J, it was obvious Prince kept the old-school funk alive in imagery as well as the tight horn section and multi-talented vocal ranges of his backup singers.
A lengthy medley showcased “Pop Life,” “When Doves Cry, “Housequake,” and a cover of Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl,” one of many stabs Prince took at tracks by bands he put together or ones that he wrote for other acts which he assembled. “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which first made an appearance on the debut by the short-lived boy band The Family, and later became a huge chart topper by Sinead O’Connor, was another, as was The Time’s “Cool,” which mixed in a good bit of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”
An encore of a newly restructured and more guitar focused “Purple Rain” completed the first encore was a highlight of the evening, breathing life and energy into something that had become a bit too bogged down with layered instrumental distractions in more recent live executions. A second encore was mid-80s’ pop perfection led by “Take Me with You” and “Raspberry Beret.”
Prince thanked the crowd, said goodnight, the house lights came up and people split — or about 75 percent of them did. Imagine then the mad rush when the band returned for the instrumental title track off Plectrum Electrum. Security was quickly overwhelmed as the dash for the floor and a closer view in the sparsely filled arena took place to catch the final notes of the show.
It’s worth noting that Sunday’s concert was about 30 minutes shorter than the two previous nights, but for the 300 and change that had purchased the $150 (before service charges) to the exclusive after party, held in the Mohegan Sun Cabaret, that time was expected to be made up gloriously.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
New Power Generation soul singer and Prince protégé Liv Warfield took the stage shortly after 1 a.m. and treated the cozy audience to a brief set that focused heavily on her upcoming January release, The Unexpected. Earlier in the night, Warfield told Vanyaland that she wanted to get on the road, “as soon as possible with the full band” to support the record. Toward the end of her set, she promised quite a few surprises would follow.
Doug E. Fresh was soon back on the mic, backed by DJ Dee Wiz, and the duo kept the crowd hyped the best they could as the hours passed by. Old-school tracks, new school ones, and head scratchers like Lynyrd Skynyrd spun relentlessly as the crowd grew more and more restless. Due to state law, alcohol had stopped being served before doors had even opened, so the best lubrication people were experiencing came in the form of caffeine or apple juice.
Finally, Prince showed toward half-past-three. He literally just appeared behind Fresh at the turntables in new threads and sunglasses, and delighted with a recording of another new song, “Funknroll.” He disappeared backstage where it was expected he would take to the mic shortly thereafter. The minutes stretched out longer and longer and the requisite “Breakfast Can Wait” jokes were made. It wasn’t until 4 a.m. that the New Power Generation began to perform — without Prince. He never picked up a guitar or sang a note. As 5 a.m. grew closer, people got pissed.
When the lights went up for the final time, boos and “what the fucks” started. $150 for Doug E. Fresh and apple juice — but no Prince — just didn’t cut it for many. Ticketmaster agreed and made refunds available the following day, categorizing the show as “cancelled.” It was a black mark on an otherwise amazing weekend of music, but one that still left a sour taste for some.