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Prince's 21 Nights in LA - The Story So Far

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Prince is now at roughly the halfway mark of his planned “21 Nights” stint, with eleven shows at the Forum and two sets at the Troubadour under his belt. We thought we’d check in on That Skinny MF With The High Voice once again and see how his extended LA residency is progressing.

Having witnessed opening night (see full review here) as well as the last Forum show on May 7, and followed the daily reports on fan site prince.org and setlist.fm, we can definitely advise that this extended engagement has been no exercise in repetition. While a core set list of eighties hits and his current favorite cover tunes has started to emerge - no matter what else he does, you’re still likely to hear “1999” and “Controversy” along with his version of “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” - each night has offered at least one unique song not repeated during the run. Some nights have veered wildly off track once the five or six biggest hits have been dispensed with, inspiring him to dig into obscure corners of his back catalog. He’s been dusting off off hardcore fan favorites like “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute),” “She’s Always In My Hair” and “Endorphinmachine”, and spent a good chunk of one night playing the best songs from last year’s 20TEN, an album he didn’t even bother to release in the States.

Having compiled the setlists from the Forum shows and the first set at the Troub, and crunched the numbers, here’s how the statistics played out:

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* Eighty-seven songs have been played by the band, at least twenty-three of which are covers (we’re not counting his nightly “sampler set,” in which he plays mash-up DJ with samples from six or seven of his own hits, sometimes singing along for a few lines, interspersed with a few seconds of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”)

* Of those, forty-one have only been played once, and fourteen played only twice, during this run.

* There does apear to be a “starting point” setlist of about fifteen songs, made up mostly of Prince’s most popular eighties singles, that get played virtually every night. But even this isn’t written in stone - “Little Red Corvette” had been played every night at the Forum until it was skipped for our second visit.

* Twelve special guests have popped up on ten different nights: Cassandra Wilson, Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani, Nicole Scherzinger, Faith Evans, Chaka Khan, Nikka Costa, Missy Elliot, Andi Allo, Stevie Wonder, saxophonist Mike Phillips and Family Stone bassist Larry Graham. We’re not even counting Sheila E, who shows up so often she seems like part of the band now.

* Opening acts have included a number of his vocal guests - Khan, Wilson and Sheila E’s E Family unit, along with Esperanza Spalding, who didn’t join him during his set, though he showed up in the middle of hers. Live Nation hasn’t been announcing the names of the openers prior to show day, but it hasn’t been that hard to find them out - Janelle Monae herself tweeted the news that she was opening the shows this weekend.

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* Set lengths have varied from a little over ninety minutes to the three and a half- hour marathon seen on opening night, with an average duration just over two hours. As Sheila E told the LA Weekly, “It all depends on how he feels.”

* While the majority of seats are still priced at $25, ticket prices for the seats closest to the stage have been fluid throughout the run, ranging from a high of $750 for VIP tables on the first weekend, to an unbelievably low walk-up price of $10 at the box office for one of the under-sold Thursday shows. Fans hoping to score good seats for $25 have had the best luck on weeknights, checking Ticketmaster close to show time when any unsold VIP seats have been getting released at a significant discount.

Last week’s appearance at the Troubadour for two sets made no attempt to replicate a normal show in a small venue, so people who paid to hear “Purple Rain” up close and personal may have walked out disappointed. But the hardcore fans were in heaven for these sets, which dropped all of the number-ones, instead giving Prince and the band a chance to try on a new vibe. The first set was mellow and jazz-inflected, with keyboardist Renato Neto and guest saxophonist Mike Phillips stepping to the forefront for extended improvisations on deep cuts like “Colonized Mind” and “Power Fantastic”. The late show was described as an orgasmic Hendrix-style barn-burner, filled with high-energy guitar workouts ala “Anotherloverholeinyohead.” Small venue shows always bring out a different side of him, and anyone who makes it into one should be prepared to jettison most of their favorite songs and instead, attempt to open themselves to whatever Prince feels like laying down in the moment.

With inexpensive and widely available tickets, and an anything-can-happen spirit still visible after a month in town, we strongly encourage all Angelenos to participate in this glorious experiment. The Kid’s still working it like he wants to be the only one you come for.

Prince appears at the Forum May 14, 27, 28 and 29 at the Forum, tickets $25 to $425, at Ticketmaster. Additional dates are expected to be announced.