October 01, 2014
With only an hour to go before firing up a livestream from Paisley Park on Yahoo's Live Nation channel, @3RDEYEGIRL issued a single-word invitation to the music community at large: "COME."
The last-minute event was intended to celebrate Prince's pair of new albums, which both arrived in stores (and on iTunes and Spotify) on Tuesday. And although there was no guarantee that Prince himself would perform, a flyer featuring the three women in his band 3RDEYEGIRL, the lack of a cover charge, and the purple spotlights that bathed the outside of Paisley Park in its trademark ready-for-a-party glow were enough to get fans migrating toward his Chanhassen lair.
While Yahoo's camera crews were allowed unprecedented access to roam around the back hallways and various rooms of Paisley Park (with, I would learn after watching a re-broadcast of the livestream, seemingly little supervision and a meandering agenda), the fans who turned out to the release party in person were brought into the complex's two adjoining performance rooms. In the larger room, a stage containing 3RDEYEGIRL's gear and a microphone bearing Prince's signature glyph sat bathed in cool blue lights, while a small crowd bounced around the dance floor to a steady stream of songs from Prince's new solo album, ART OFFICIAL AGE. In the smaller room to the right, Paisley Park's house band laid down smooth saxophone and keyboard grooves while a caterer at the back sold slices of vegetarian pizza, tacos, and La Croix fizzy waters.
Of the few public events I've attended at Paisley, Tuesday evening's was by far the most laid-back and laissez-faire—at one point a security guard in the lobby admitted he wasn't even sure what the plan was for the evening. Attendees moved freely between the rooms, perused merch, and lounged on the array of plush purple chairs scattered about, and anticipation lingered heavily in the air. At one point, the Yahoo camera crew entered the smaller of the two rooms to conduct an interview but the house band quickly drowned them out; the focus seemed to stay trained on creating an enjoyable experience for the people who were attending the event in person, and the cameras were noticeably scrambling to stick to some kind of schedule.
About an hour after doors opened, most of the roughly 200 audience members had wandered into the main room to congregate in front of the stage, and then all of a sudden, there was Prince—hovering, casually, at the back of the room, and watching with bemusement as the crowd moved to his new songs. He raised his arms up to the DJ to tell her to turn the volume way up, and then a few moments later he vanished and the three women in 3RDEYEGIRL marched through the audience and up to the stage.
As the lights came up Prince reappeared again, this time at center stage, and led the band into an extended jam around the song "PRETZELBODYLOGIC," the lead single off his album with 3RDEYEGIRL, PLECTRUMELECTRUM. Cameras were trained on the band from every angle, and it was immediately clear that this was a big moment for the trio—maybe their biggest moment yet as Prince's backing band, as countless fans tuned into the livestream from around the world. Hannah Ford Welton, especially, looked downright ecstatic as she banged away on her drum kit, and Prince was sure to offer each player a chance to solo, at one point abandoning his guitar all together and stepping over to a keyboard to give Donna Grantis the spotlight while she wailed away.
After a brief pause—maybe to allow for some kind of segue in the video stream, maybe because no one really knew what might happen next—Prince ran to the back of the stage and motioned for Kendrick Lamar to emerge from the shadows. Of the 200-odd people at the show, maybe a third of them cheered in recognition of Lamar, and with no introduction of any kind he launched into an intense, measured rap over the heavy groove of the Prince deep cut "What's My Name."
"Tell me you love me," Kendrick insisted, and it was an especially ironic line given how little fanfare was made for such a major, impressive surprise cameo. (To add to that oddness, on the Yahoo livestream the host didn't appear to recognize Lamar when she happened upon him in the studio, and at one point even discussed him in the third person with producer Joshua Welton while he sat behind her, slightly off-camera.) After Kendrick's first verse Prince stepped up to the mic and sang at a quick, almost rap-like pace himself, spitting out lines from "What's My Name" like the oh-so-poignant "Never woulda drank my coffee/If I wouldn't-a served you Cream," and then riffing on a few new lyrical variations to the Crystal Ball track. Kendrick came back for another turn at the mic and then the song exploded in a fiery guitar solo from Grantis, creating the most riveting moment of the short 15-minute set. Prince was so energized that he literally pranced across the stage.
Lamar and the rest of the musicians left as the crowd cheered for more, and after another somewhat awkward pause 3RDEYEGIRL and Prince returned with Liv Warfield to power through a cover of Sly and the Family Stone's "Thankful N' Thoughtful."
And with that, the show was over. Or was it? Yes, probably, but no one could be sure, so there were plenty of people lingering on the dance floor as the DJ fired up more songs from the two new albums. A whole new wave of curious fans seemed to arrive just as the livestream ended, and an especially hopeful row of devotees remained clustered at the edge of the stage for at least an hour after the show. With the cameras turned off and a handful of local musicians milling about, the vibe became even more relaxed; it was easy to forget that we were all loitering around Prince's place wondering if something else might happen.
Once the clock struck midnight and stagehands started packing up microphones and cords it became clear that nothing else would be unfolding that evening, so I walked out the door and bid adieu to another unpredictable, funny night at Paisley Park.
Or so I thought—driving away in my car, with the purple spotlights still fading in my rearview mirror, a squad car suddenly pulled up behind me and flashed its own red and blue lights. I dutifully veered over to the side of the road and rolled my window down to talk to the police officer as she got out of her car.
"I pulled you over because you have a tail light out," she explained. "Where are you coming from?"
"Paisley Park," I replied.
Her eyes immediately softened into an apologetic expression. "Paisley Park, huh? I heard the show was disappointing tonight."
I shrugged and smiled, not sure how to explain it all. She let me go with a warning. I turned on my blinker, slowly pulled back onto the road, and made my way back to the real world.
Find archived videos of Prince's performances with 3RDEYEGIRL, Kendrick Lamar, and Liv Warfield on Yahoo's site.