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Too Little Prince at Too Big a Price?

04/16/2013 11:24 EDT | Updated 06/16/2013 05:12 EDT
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VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 15: (Exclusive Coverage) Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL perform at Vogue Theatre on April 15, 2013 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

It wasn't sheer enthusiasm that kept Vancouverites on their feet clamoring for more long after Prince and his new band 3rdEyeGirl left the stage on Monday. The insistent demand -- all 15 minutes of it -- was also shock that this tour-opening gig had ended so quickly.

Expectations were high for two reasons. Firstly, we're talking about a star known for playing on long after the curtain is set to fall. Then there was the ticket price. $275 a pop is rich pickings -- even up in the ranks of musical icons, and even when the venue is an intimate 1,200-seater.

A two-for-one offer appeared over the weekend ahead of Monday’s first gig, then full price ticket-holders were offered another pass to the performance of their choice -- gratis -- to compensate. Later, we learned that a bunch of tickets were sold off at $50 each, proceeds heading for charity.

Even though Prince was booked for two shows a night, so couldn't play forever, the promoters had overreached and, when the set wrapped after 100 minutes, the audience understandably felt short-changed.

And then there was the playlist. Not only devoid of almost any classic tracks, this night was an homage to the guitar, in all its wailing, grinding, jamming glory. At such a hefty cost, fans could have been forgiven for expecting something more familiar.

Prince could spend the rest of his career playing nothing but his back catalogue and it would still be a different show every time. And it would probably rank among the best gigs you've ever seen.

His 2011 tour was a testament to that: a marathon of greatest and even greater hits that saw him resplendent in top-to-toe sparkles. He was the host of the best party in town, and he was having a blast.

In contrast, the opening night of this Live Out Loud tour revealed, once again, that Prince is a true musical chameleon. The man who's given us raspberry berets, little red corvettes and purple rain has shed another skin. He's stripped out the pop, the sparkle, the unbelievably catchy chorus and emerged, funk-fuelled and rock-propelled. This was a night of grinding riffs and Zeppelin-esque guitar flights, accompanied by stunning psychedelic backdrops and mind-blowing strobe effects. The man was even dressed head-to-toe in black.

There is something undeniably exciting about watching a long-established star put the crowd-pleasers to one side and throw a bunch of new material at the audience. But it's a risky move. There have been plenty of gigs where the audience has shown up for the chart-toppers of yesteryear and become more disaffected with every previously unheard of track.

Yet, despite the exorbitant entrance fee, the endless line to get in, the non-assigned seating... the audience never turned. There were no screaming pleadings to hear "1999," "Cream" or "Kiss." Yes, OK, the rather cheesy Elton John moment at the piano with footage of flowers blossoming was pushing it. But even the rather excessive security presence policing the use of cell phones (expressly forbidden) made for an evening blessedly free of LED screens waving in the air searching for a YouTube moment.

Prince is a powerful stage presence, and to be up close and personal to an icon -- to be able to see his face clearly -- is not an everyday experience. It was an unforgettable night -- it's just a shame it didn't go on for longer.

Prince Album Covers