Prince still knows how to rock the house and he proved it at Chicago’s United Center during his three-day residency here. This is a more PG-rated Prince, and the erotic material of his past performances is a distant memory—most likely due to his religious convictions. Although to the crowds delight (many of whom were in flat-out club mode during the days of Controversy), he did tease them with the intro to the steamy "Darling Nikki," from the Purple Rain soundtrack, during a slipstream music tracked medley of past favorites. Prince is a golden ager now, and the high-flying shirtless splits in low slung, tight leather pants probably wouldn’t play quite as well for him as it did twenty-years ago.
But nothing lacked during this week's performance and the venerable artist seemed to concentrate on the elements that made him the icon that he is—sophisticated musicianship and a hellava repertoire of Prince standards. He was high on the list of Rolling Stone's top 100 guitar gods of all time—and for good reason. His playing actually seems to have gotten better—richer and indeed more intricate.
On this night, his wood-grained Fender Telecaster stayed strapped to his shoulder for most of the evening and you can believe that it was used with much authority. A welcomed surprise was a duet with Chicago’s own Jennifer Hudson on his powerhouse ballad “Nothing Compares 2 U." Add Hudson’s voice to the sound of a tractor running and you’ll get something truly remarkable, let alone lending it to a great tune like this one. A seamless fusion of Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ with his buddy band 'The Time’s' rendition of the 80’s dance hit Cool got the crowd further out of their seats. Band? Yeah! Anybody hot? The answer is yes, because the purple-one has always assembled a cast of talented players that can burn down any arena while hardly breaking a sweat.
An 11-piece horn compilation complimented the rhythm section with precision riffs that harkened back to the glory days when bands ruled the music industry. During the first half of the more than two-hour gig, he also introduced Andy Allo, a new artist under his umbrella who performed a song from her debut recording. For those of us in the crowd who were already Prince fans (just about everyone), we appreciated this performance, well, because nobody throws a party like “P”. But for those who were new to him, the show was a welcome validation of the real power of well-played, live music.
Pop icons come and go, but the ability to arrange a really good song is lasting. To quote one woman in attendance, "Prince is still one cool brother.”