By// Deanna Martin-Osuagwu
Prince’s first installment of his Welcome 2 Chicago residency rocked a sold-out United Center last night, but left some of the 20,000-plus attendees disappointed by a confusing show climax.
The Windy City has waited eight years for Prince to return since his Musicology tour. The singer treated the crowd to a celebration of live music— complete with three backup singers (Shelby J., Elisa Fiorillo and Liv Warfield), a rhythm section and an 11-piece horn section. Also in tow was Prince’s latest protégée, Andy Allo, who joined him on stage for a rendition of “Take Me With You.”
“We got too many hits, but I’m gonna try to play them all tonight,” declared Prince, dressed in a half-white, half-black suit, wearing 4-inch heels and sporting a pompadour. He catered to fans who came to hear his Top 40 smashes from back in the day, and also gave his backup singers a forum to show their range in songs like Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up.” The headliner took it back with tracks he penned such as “Jungle Love,” “The Bird” and “The Glamorous Life.” He even gave a nod to the late King of Pop with a rendition of “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.”
Prince has been performing in the same manner during his concerts for several years now, strutting across a giant, stage replica of his love symbol (the glyph people indentified as his name during his “Artist Formerly Known As” years). The symbol is placed in the middle of the arena so that he and his ensemble can move around easily and engage the audience from multiple vantage points.
Rather than play the usual, intimate interlude of his songs, sung to his piano or guitar mastery, Prince chose to deejay his own music for part of the show, as though he was sharing his personal vinyl collection. The crowd erupted when the first chords of “Darling Nikki” filled the venue, and the Jehovah’s Witness turned to the crowd and playfully shook his head no. He continued playing short snippets of fan favorites but only sang a line or two before cutting off each track and moving on to the next one.
“I don’t need to be here. I want to be here,” Prince said, revving up for his beloved ballad “Purple Rain.” “I got a lot of love in my life. I don’t need your love; I want your love,” he added, while the crowd cheered.
In anticipation of a final encore, concertgoers waited with the lights down, while stagehands swept away confetti from the lit stage— only to be disappointed when the house lights came on 30 minutes later. Many disgruntled fans left wanting an explanation. But some stayed in the arena and remained hopeful for Prince’s return.
“I was tense, but optimistic,” explained Nikki Wilson, a 36-year-old Chicago fan who waited it out for a possible encore. “I was in a skybox so I joked around, ate and drank until it was time to scream some more.”
Those who stuck around for an extra half hour were treated to an additional two songs when Prince emerged in an all-black outfit on a bicycle. He sang “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” for a sliver of his original audience before the floor opened and he descended into the stage.//