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Concert Reviews:
Prince makes a welcome Detroit return at the Fox Theatre

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Friday, April 10, 2015

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DETROIT -- "Detroit, it seems like only yesterday," Prince said in greeting the crowd Thursday night, April 9, for his HitNRun Tour stop at the Fox Theatre.

It's actually been 11 years since the genre-blending icon last played in the metro area, out at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Much has changed during that interim, but the special bond between Prince and the city -- built on early career shows at the Masonic Temple and a seven-night opening run of his Purple Rain World Tour during late 1984 at Joe Louis Arena -- is intact and on Thursday was clearly as tight as ever. That's why the Fox show to sold out within minutes despite less than a week's notice, with demand high enough for scalpers to command up to $800 for upper balcony seats.

Prince made up for lost time, too, leading his 12-piece group -- built on the female rock trio 3rdeyegirl -- through a dynamic spectacle of a show that covered all or part of almost 40 songs during its nearly two and a half hours. Nobody there minded the late start (doors didn't open until 45 minutes after the stated time) nor a finish past the midnight hour; and while Prince and company had certainly made their point earlier in the evening, you didn't dare leave for fear of missing some magic musical moment.

There were an abundance of those on Thursday, too. Following an opening set by Judith Hill -- one of the singers featured in the documentary "20 Feet From Stardom," who's clearly gone to Prince school since then -- Prince and 3rdeyegirl emerged from behind a purple (of course) curtain to stomp through a leaden, hard rocking version of "Let's Go Crazy," which morphed into a bit of the Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein" mid-song. Prince told the crowd that after such a long absence "we're gonna play 17 hits in a row," and even if he didn't quite do that he did fill the night with favorites -- "Take Me With U," "Raspberry Beret," Sheena Easton's "U Got the Look" (which Prince wrote and produced), "When Doves Cry" and "Sign O' the Times" rolled out in rapid succession -- and, surprisingly, almost nothing from his two 2014 releases, "Art Official Age" and "Plectrumelectrum."

The show gave Prince an opportunity to remind the Detroit faithful of his many musical facets, whether it was virtuoistic guitar solos, playing keyboards and, briefly, bass, letting loose with his trademark falsetto whoops and executing the occasional slick dance step -- though there weren't as many of those as in previous years. Mostly, though, he was the ringleader of an off-the-hook funk 'n' roll party, guiding the band through quick-change medleys and leading the crowd in call-and-response singalongs. "I'm the DJ now, I play what I want!" he declared before "Housequake," and the show bolstered his own parade of hits with covers of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough," Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin," the Time's "Cool" and Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music, White Boy."

Prince kept the night largely uptempo but took time out for ballads such as "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore," "Diamonds and Pearls," "Nothing Compares 2 U" and the majestic "Purple Rain." "Controversy" slid into "1999," while "Little Red Corvette" was given a slower, sultry treatment spotlighting 3rdeyegirl guitarist Donna Grantis. A gospel jam gave Prince's core of backing vocalists their own chance to shine, while a final, "bonus" encore set featured a breathless parade of teases of "The Beautiful Ones," "Darling Nikki," "If I Was Your Boyfriend," "Alphabet Street," "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," Sheila E's "A Love Bizarre" and "Pop Life" before Prince closed the night on a sober note with the cautionary "The Love We Make."

As Thursday night became early Friday morning the years between Prince shows had successfully melted away. He promised a return, this time back to the Palace ("Let that other Prince (the Piston's Tayshaun) get out of there first), and asked everyone to "take care of yourselves...until we get back."

After Thursday's show, that time can't come too soon.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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