Prince’s performance at Mohegan Sun was just as James Brown as it was Jimi Hendrix and if by some chance, someone in attendance doubted his status as one of the most freakishly talented musical minds alive, they left knowing sure well where the Purple One stands amongst the greats.
What made Prince’s second of three nights at the Connecticut-based Casino so remarkable was the variety in the skills he demonstrated. You’ll find Minneapolis’ native son pretty high on most any greatest guitarists list for good reason, but he didn’t even touch a guitar until 45 minutes into the show. He spent the start of the night directing his 21-piece band, the New Power Generation, taking lead vocal duties and romping around the stage with swagger while whoever was taking a solo did so in front of his mic stand. This chunk of the show featured party-hits like “Take Me With U,” “1999,” Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” and he even worked in “Partyman,” a tune from the 1989 Batman soundtrack you might remember hearing while Jack Nicholson’s Joker trashed an art museum.
When Prince strapped on his guitar, the New Power Generation took a break while the all-female trio, 3RD Eye Girl, backed him as the set morphed from neo-Motown into fuzz-heavy rock territory. A revamped, slow-burning version of “Let’s Go Crazy” featured a lengthy tease of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein,” and guitarist Donna Grantis wowed the audience, not for her own style but because of her adaptability. Grantis’ guitar tone, technique and showmanship could have been confused for that of Prince himself with eyes closed, demonstrating how tight the musicians in his band are.
While his long virtuosic solo on “Purple Rain” is the stuff of legend, hearing Prince go off on his less renowned material really drove home the elite nature of his guitar playing. He has the technical proficiency of guitarists like Kirk Hammett and Joe Satriani but wields tasteful style like Jimmy Page and Jack White. But even compared to greats like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, Prince’s showmanship puts that of the aforementioned guitarists to shame. His command of a room would make a cult leader jealous and when he told people, “this ain’t the circus, put away the phones,” his audience did as they were told post-haste.
The first encore placed the Purple One behind the piano to show off his ivory key chops on a rearranged version of “The Beautiful Ones,” before he left the stage again prior to the set closing “Purple Rain.” The previous night’s show ended on the same note but this time, the audience wouldn’t let up. Long after instruments were unplugged and house lights were raised, the capacity crowd cheered and chanted for about ten minutes before Prince and co. returned to the stage for an instrumental number that morphed into another half-hour long mini set, featuring a take on Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody,” and a guest appearance by Janelle Monae (the following nights opening act).
As people walked out of the venue, there was a collective appreciation for how exceptional this performance was. Whether it’s as a singer, guitarist, songwriter, producer or performer, Prince might not be the hands down best at any one of those, but he’s the only artist who belongs near the top of every list. Seeing him bring those talents together like he did at Mohegan was to see the best of the best in top form. Long live the Purple One!