- At Métropolis Concert Hall
- Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
- In Montreal on Friday
Any way you cut it, the mighty Prince's concert at Métropolis on Friday night will be remembered for ages as a monumental event in the annals of the international jazz festival. As a colleague at the online newspaper Rue Frontenac put it, years from now, if you were one of the lucky 2,000 to have been in the hall, you'll proudly say, "Yeah, I was there."
To proclaim the concert awesome is simply to state the truth.
And it's not just because the concert became a marathon. After saying good night at the close of a very hot 80-minute set - a totally respectable offering - he and the band gave half a dozen encores, not letting up until close to 3:30 a.m. He did warn the audience, though. Some 20 minutes into the first encore - while asking "Is this the funkiest band in the world?" and "Is this the funkiest town?" - he told folks "this Prince isn't going anywhere" and "we're all staying around." Who knew he meant it literally?
It was clear within minutes that Prince and the band felt a rapport with the audience. Why not? You could tell right off that people were thrilled to be so close to the man they adore.
The venue was part of the equation. Métropolis has a capacity of 2,300. "Intimate" might be a stretch, but it's certainly not an arena and it has a funky ambience with a storied past. It had been a theatre before it became movie hall in the 1920s. It's a place where you can party - and party people did.
The other key element, part of Prince's genius, is pulling together a stunning array of musicians. The fullness of their artistry, and the generosity and intensity each performer brought to the stage and to each other, was infectious.
The concert began at 11:30 p.m. sharp with a thumping drum and bass funk rhythm leading us into a collage of Prince originals and stunning covers.
To imagine the epic reading of Tommy James and the Shondells' Crimson and Clover that somehow wove Jimi Hendrix guitar riffs into the mix and evolved to guitarist and singer Andy Allo's take on Bob Marley's Waiting in Vain - well, there's a fiercely brilliant exploration of the music of our time.
Then there's Maceo Parker. The renowned soul and funk saxophonist would pull you into whirling improvisations with Danish bassist Ida Nielsen laying a pulsating groove behind him. His segue into the James Brown classic Pass the Peas during the first encore was sublime.
The virtuosity of drummer John Blackwell, who has backed Patti Labelle and P. Diddy but is perhaps best known for his work with Maze, framed complex rhythm shifts with superbly modulated punctuation.
Morris Hayes and Cassandra O'Neal were on keyboards. Hayes's pedigree as a musician and composer is vast and O'Neal, a relative newcomer to Prince's New Power Generation, brought her rich voice into the vocal mix.
While Prince might have used back-up singers in the past, Olivia Warfield and Shelby Johnson were principals, front and centre. Both have stunning control and that resonant gospel/blues range.
Prince was clearly the bandleader, the creative driver, but he brought to the Métropolis a formidable array of talent that grooved along with some of the most amazingly purposeful improvisation likely to be played here, or anywhere. As the song goes, I get delirious whenever you're near. This time, for sure.
The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal continues through July 4th.