Thursday, September 6, 2012

FUNK WARNING ISSUED FOR CHICAGO: PRINCE RETURNS

Friday, August 31, Prince announced he would take up residence at the United Center in Chicago. It will be his first concert here since 2004. Buckle up, folks. 

Usually, one's teenage years really shape music preferences. Mine were in the 1980s. It was the time of Duran Duran, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Journey, U2, Madonna, Guns 'N Roses, and if you were from Chicago, the start of house music. Remember this one?


There was something for everyone in the 80s. For me, the decade introduced me to the music of Prince. I was hooked pretty quickly. My older sister was listening to the title track from the 1981 album Controversy and it was unlike anything I had heard before. Then the album 1999 came out with songs like Little Red Corvette, Delirious, and the title track. These songs were like chocolate chip cookies--you couldn't just consume one. What the music world didn't know was that these weren't dessert, they were appetizers getting us ready for what was to come next.

Things really took off with the 1984 release of the movie and soundtrack album for Purple Rain. It was a feast of funk and rock. You couldn't go anywhere that year without hearing When Doves Cry, Let's Go Crazy, and Purple Rain. (The solo at the end of Let's Go Crazy made teach myself how to play guitar.) What followed was the psychedelic fun of Around the World in a Day which featured songs Raspberry Beret and Paisley Park. Prince was challenging himself and his audience to come along for the ride as he developed as an artist.

Prince took things to the next level late in the 80s as he started adding jazz and folk elements to his creations. Though his father was a jazz musician, much of this new element to his music came courtesy of musicians he was working with--Lisa Coleman, Wendy Melvoin, and Eric Leeds. Prince added horns to his live performances and they became increasingly present on his studio recordings. His compositions became more complex and he seemed to save some of his more pop-focused songs for other artists (e.g. The Bangles' success with Manic Monday). He became less reliant on electronic drums and started featuring Sheila E. or himself on an acoustic kit. Into the 1990s Prince's music continued to evolve--the compositions matured, the live bands were stacked with prolific musicians, and he still had time to create hits like Gett Off, Cream, and The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. Beyond 2000, Prince continued to release music despite a high-profile battle with Warner Bros. records. He has also given legendary live performances around the world.

Unfortunately, many people dismiss Prince because of his public persona--the outlandish clothes from the 80s, eccentric behavior, etc. They assume he's just a pop music figure. It's a tremendous misconception. Doubt his value as one of the most significant contributors to modern music? None other than jazz legend Miles Davis was both a big fan and a collaborator. According to Alan Leeds, who worked in high-level management positions with both Prince and Davis, Miles once said Prince was destined to be the Duke Ellington of his generation. What an incredible compliment. If you're interested in Prince's jazz creations check out the album N.E.W.S. or try to find his performance from the Montreux Jazz Festival.

So, why am I going on and on selling you on Prince? Because you owe it to yourself to see him in concert (there's a reason he's one of the most bootlegged artist around). In a live setting the music truly comes to life and he expands upon his compositions with new arrangements. I was thrilled to get the news he was setting up residency in my hometown. Not only will there be United Center area shows but there's bound to be an aftershow or two. Having seen Prince live more time than I care to admit, the most memorable have probably been at Chicago's Metro and Park West venues in the wee hours of the morning. Both places are small--capacity of around 1,000 and little to no seating. Being just a few feet from the stage allowed me to really appreciate his musicianship and command of his band. The guy simply lives and breathes music.

The other thing people do not know about Prince is how charitable he is. This is because he does not seek to publicize it each time he contributes to a cause. Though exact figures aren't available, Prince was a huge financial supporter or the Westside Preparatory School in Chicago and last year contributed large sums of money to the arts in New York City. During his Chicago concert dates, he will be supporting the Rebuild the Dream organization founded by Van Jones.

My final word on Prince--he is both a national treasure and a living legend. Don't miss the chance to see him live. You may regret it if you do.

Here's to the true funk soldiers. See you at the United Center.

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