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Always bet on black: Prince plays Mohegan Sun

John Brodeur | 1/9/2014, 10:10 a.m.
Prince's Dec. appearances at the Mohegan Sun Arena offered up special guests, including Janelle Monáe and Doug E. Fresh.
Prince plays at the Mohegan Sun.

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Prince performance on Dec. 29, 2013.

If you’ve never been to a Prince concert, what exactly are you waiting for? It’s a foregone conclusion that one is going to be dazzled in the presence of the self-dubbed Purple Yoda. Prince is the kind of dude who can command an arena with a smirk. He’s got the songs, the personality, the history. No matter what band is backing him up, you can expect an eclectic mix of hits (what would a Prince show be without “Purple Rain”?) and surprises (he’s equally likely to cover Radiohead or Sly and the Family Stone), and it’s all gonna be great. And, as you might have heard, he’s not so bad at the guitar. You buy the ticket, you get all of that stuff. It is always worthwhile.

The man deserves major credit for keeping it fresh after 35 years. His Dec. 29 , 2013 appearance at the Mohegan Sun Arena, the last of a three-night stand, offered up special guests, including Janelle Monáe, who also opened, and Doug E. Fresh, and a cool deep cut in “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute),” which also contained the night’s one genuine guitar hero moment.

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Prince performed at the Mohegan Sun on Dec. 29, 2013.

But what was truly surprising was how much this show focused on the music rather than the artist. In contrast with the 2010-11 “Welcome 2 America” shows, where he was backed by a small, guitarless group on an oversized stage, this night found Prince and the all-female trio 3rd Eye Girl, along with New Power Generation and their 11 horns and about a half-dozen other musicians, crammed onto a comparatively intimate end stage. The closeness helped make this casino arena feel more like a nightclub or a rehearsal space. Commendable.

With his signature riffs transcribed for two guitars and a massive horn section, Prince was free to stand behind his podium and be a bandleader. This made for a high-energy, revue-style first half of the show that had band members shuffling on and off stage, and Prince himself dancing quite a bit—he mostly repeated the same five or six moves, but so did James Brown—and frequently disappearing behind the horns as if to immerse himself in the funk. No one has more fun at a Prince concert than Prince, after all.

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Prince performs alongside Singer Janelle Monae.

The aforementioned “Something in the Water” solo was out of this world—seriously, go look it up on YouTube—but it was just Prince’s first time playing the guitar for the night, 10 songs deep in the set. Most of the guitar glory was left to Donna Grantis, who, along with 3rd Eye Girl members Ida Nielsen (bass) and Hannah Ford (drums), brought a groovy nucleus to a laid-back rendition of “Let’s Go Crazy.” Prince underlined his love of rock guitar by returning to the stage with 3rd Eye Girl to play the grungy “Plectrum Electrum” at the end of the night, 15 minutes after the houselights were raised.

The highlights of the evening, though, were the roof-raising renditions of “1999,” “Musicology” and “Nothing Compares 2 U,” all of which worked the big-band dynamic to emotionally satisfying heights, and any of which would have made for a spot-on closer.