Billed as a Rehearsal/Audition, the second of six shows at the Dakota was a funk-filled, joyous affair, with Prince seeming to have as much fun as the sold-out crowd.
The 11 o’clock show actually started at 10:55 with a six-piece horn section leading Prince through an very surprised audience. Once on stage, they segued from New Orleans second-line funk to a 70s sound, with various members of the band soloing throughout the next 20 minutes. The band also included Cassandra O’Neal playing a second set of keyboards, bassist Andrew Grouche, and the auditioning drummer, Ronald Brumer.
Prince was mostly at the electronic keyboards while directing the band and parceling out solos. At one point the horn players huddled to figure out some fills. The way Prince directed the horns, their sound, and their synchronized movements displayed an appreciation for Tower of Power. Prince’s keyboard playing often recalled the Fender Rhodes sound of the 70s. When he moved from the keyboards to guitar, his playing and sound both had very jazzy overtones.
After the first song, the horns left the stage, leaving Prince at keyboards, where he proceeded to use two chords to establish a medium funk tempo anchored by hard-hitting drums and bass. The tension built until Prince let loose with a distorted keyboard solo with the same form and texture as some of his guitar solos.
The third song started out with the bass and drums sounding like a freight train rumbling through the gates of hell. With Prince on guitar, it turned into a heavy metal rocker before devolving into a soulful piano break from O’Neal. Then Prince returned to the keyboards and brought out the tenor sax player, who sounded very hard-boppish. Prince delightedly jumped up and down in his chair during the solo. When drummer Brumer took another solo, Prince looked at the audience, shook his head in appreciation, and grinned.
Prince was clearly enjoying himself. Though he didn’t sing, or even speak into the mike, he often turned a beaming face to the audience and made short, off-mike remarks. It was reported that this was an audition for a Brumer, and judging by Prince’s reaction, as well as the audience, the drummer passed with flying colors. Kudos as well to the sound crew, for pristine, though not overly loud sound in the relatively small room.
Fourth up was another funk number, with Prince often “chicken scratching” ala Jimmy Nolan of James Brown’s band. Once again he turned to the audience, smiled, and indicated applause for the drummer laying down a heavy solo. The “cold,” precise ending seemed to belie the “rehearsal” aspect of the shows billing.
The horns came back out for a medley of tunes from Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin, and a blues, featuring impressive (as always) fretwork from Prince. Then he counted off, “One, Two, Three, Four” and the band tore into James Browns “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I’ll Get It Myself).” At this point the crowd leapt to their feet with a roar and danced in the aisles. After a blistering solo from the baritone sax, Prince used the mike for the only time to chant the song’s title and urge the audience to sing along. Finally, he said “Give the drummer some” to end the song with another drum solo from Brumer. After a thank you and goodnight, everyone walked off the stage.
Neither the crowd nor Prince was finished, however, and while the bass/drum track of his new song (Rock and Roll Love Affair) played, the tenor sax player came out and played on top of the track. The rest of the horns and Prince soon joined him. At one point the horn section performed a Time-like bit of choreography, complete with little jump. Another exit left the crowd still standing and screaming at 12:10.
After a bit, Prince once again came out, waved to everyone, and went backstage, leaving the audience in a giddy state of amazement.