When it was announced this past Saturday (May 16) that the enigma born Prince Rogers Nelson set a Toronto date for his "pop-up" series of spontaneous concerts across North America, fans hoped it wasn't a replay of last November, when a Massey Hall show was seemingly set to go but was abruptly yanked out from under our collective noses. Luckily, this Prince appearance and show was for real. It happened and it was funked up. Appropriately titled the Hit N Run Tour, the sellout evening consisted of two back-to-back performances.
There was a palpable, tense energy at the start of the early show: Is this truly happening? Is he going to show up? Is this early performance just a warm-up for the later one? The Purple One — rocking his "third eye" sunglasses and blowout afro — arrived onstage just a little after 8 p.m. In tow was current backing band 3rdEyeGirl — drummer Hannah Welton, bassist Ida Kristine Nielsen and hometown hero Donna Grantis on guitar. At age 56, Prince hasn't lost a step; his musicianship and vocal ability are still on point. The relatively stripped-down stage featured a large screen playing trippy psychedelic images and a band of five to eight performers, depending on the song.
That nervous energy, however, didn't dissipate as the first half of the show was committed to newer tracks — post-millennium output like "Dreamer," "Rock And Roll Love Affair," "Guitar" and the recent "Funknroll" from last year's Art Official Age project. In between his struts, guitar wails and repeated encouragement for crowd participation, Prince made repeated references to Toronto, giving extended solos showcasing the stellar skills of Toronto-by-way-of-Mississauga's Grantis (his "alien sister from another mother," according to him). Which is cool and all, but it was clear the crowd was here for more canonical material. The rock-heavy vibe was much welcomed and celebrated, but an hour in, the crowd was clearly getting antsy for Purple Rain-era material.
It's not hyperbolic to note that Prince is a musical genius and as such is not to be rushed — the older hits could wait.
It was at the start of two extended encores that that the sheer number of hit material Prince has created in the course of a decades-long career became apparent. An eccentric rendition of "Love Me Tender" and a syrupy version of "Let's Go Crazy," set off a free-flowing barrage of '80s-era crowd-pleasers like "Raspberry Beret," "U Got the Look," "Sign o' the Times," "When Doves Cry," "Pop Life," "Kiss" and "Purple Rain," to name a few. It was a party in the house at this point.
The sensual capper to the night was the slowed down "The Love We Make," followed by a sparkly rendition of "Nothing Compares 2 U."
At this point in his career, Prince can do what he wants, but he poured everything into his performance, and the show was a treat. His songs — and his delivery of them — haven't lost their impact. While his newer material is unlikely to resonate with the public consciousness as much as his older stuff does, it's unclear if he's peaked, and it remains to be seen whether such a thing will ever truly happen to him.
"You're gonna remember this tomorrow, Toronto!" his Purple Highness shrieked at the end of the show. We will indeed.