Prince's three night stand in Chicago got off to a rocky start, to put it kindly. Sound problems marred the opening night at the United Center, and a $75-a-ticket aftershow never got off the ground before police shut the House of Blues down for the city's 4 AM curfew. Reports said Prince himself was roundly booed when he took to the stage and attempted to deflect the blame to the police, despite the fact that he had left the United Center stage around midnight and couldn't find time in the ensuing four hours to show up sooner.
In a truly classless move, Prince, via his mouthpiece at drfunkenberry.com, posted the name and a picture of the audio technician he felt was responsible for the night's unsatisfactory sound. Dr. Funkenberry himself had the good sense to quickly remove the information, but it came across like a spoiled rock star throwing a hissy fit when a simple pre-show soundcheck could have solved the problem before it even occurred in the first place.
By all accounts, Prince made it up to his fans last night with an extended show, replete with numerous encores, and a 90 minute follow-up set at the House of Blues. He also offered free tickets to tonight's finale at the United Center for anyone who held tickets to Monday night's afterparty fiasco - a classy move.
Good on Prince for making it up to his fans, but there are bigger issues here. I think it's fair to say that Prince has been more or less coasting for years. Perhaps it's foolish to expect the same kind of work ethic from his prime, when you knew you were going to get an amazing performance every night, but it's sad to see that it takes getting roasted in the press to force it out of him now.
Make no mistake, his shows are still entertaining, but anyone who claims they're on par with the concerts of the 80s and 90s is kidding themselves. His religious beliefs have watered down his lyrics, and his nasty streak, and age has taken its toll on his body. He can still give 100% in his current incarnation, but he only gives it 15% of the time. The majority of his shows are by-the-numbers greatest hits reviews - entertaining and enjoyable, but also largely forgettable. We've all seen these songs dozens of times before, and in most cases, the new arrangements sound more like Vegas-style showroom versions instead of the raw, funky, and often mindblowing versions from earlier tours.
The bigger problem is Prince's behavior is excused in the event of a good show. Almost immediately, my Twitter feed was flooded with fans asking where all of his critics were last night. Let me just raise my hand and let you know that I'm in Detroit.
Let's be clear: Prince is a musical genius, and most geniuses are eccentric at the very least. However, being good at something does not give you license to treat other people like dirt. For an artist who preaches "love 4 one another," Prince had no problem publicly humiliating a blue collar sound tech after Monday night's debacle. I know he's a perfectionist, but that's no excuse. Through age and laziness, he opted not to do a soundcheck, and that places the blame squarely on his shoulders. I've never seen an artist of his caliber have so many sound problems, or any of the local artists I've seen in dumpy little clubs for that matter.
Look at all the bridges Prince has burned with former bandmembers. Eric Leeds has told fans he won't work with him anymore, and most recently Sheila E. announced on Twitter that she would no longer be joining him. Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, Prince suddenly performed "Old Friends 4 Sale" - not the first time he has used his music to send a message to former associates. He refused to let The Time or The Family use their original names for their latest albums, and instead plays "Cool" and "Mutiny" in his own shows once more. I know he wrote the songs, but that doesn't make it any less of a giant F.U. to the bands he wrote them for.
Then there are the stories of all the goods and services Prince has received, but never paid for, ranging from custom made canes to guitars. And let's not forget serving fan sites with cease and desist letters, threatening legal action, and scouring YouTube for what he deems copyright infringement. No, folks, a good show does not excuse this kind of behavior.
Prince's musical genius is matched only by his arrogance. Don't think for a second that even last night's gesture of goodwill and scintillating performance served any purpose other than healing his bruised ego after the lambasting he received the night before. I still applaud him for doing it at all, because he could have done nothing and still had a packed house, but I've been on Team Prince long enough not to be fooled by a smile and a freebie.
It's no secret that Prince lives in a bubble and surrounds himself with Yes Men who support everything he does, no matter how bad the idea. Sadly, there is a sect of fans who do the same - all of whom were gloating last night. You people are part of the problem. Prince deserves praise for his actions last night, but only on equal scale with the criticism he earned on Monday. One doesn't negate the other, and ignoring or blindly forgiving his bad behavior only enables him further. Take the purple blinders off once in a while and show some objectivity.
People need to understand there is a difference between liking someone's work, and liking the person behind it all. Through the years, Prince has proven he is not a very nice man to friends, associates, girlfriends, fellow musicians, and yes, fans. One good action does not erase a lifetime of bad ones, nor does a lifetime of great music.
The events of the last two nights are a perfect microcosm of why it is so frustrating to be a Prince fan. For all my blustering, I know I will still pay to see him if he comes to my town. No artist's music excites me like Prince's, but no artist frustrates me as much either. I try to separate the man from the music, but he makes it incredibly difficult, and quite frankly, his music isn't what it once was either. He will always be the greatest musician I've ever seen in my lifetime, and that's why it's so infuriating when I see him take people for granted. On the flipside, kudos to him for doing the right thing last night, and here's to hoping he not only puts on another outstanding show to close out the residency tonight, but he comes to Detroit where I too can experience Good Prince/Bad Prince.