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Well, I saw the future of music last night from a front-row seat at a Prince concert. And I'm not talking about the show; it was brilliant but mostly a retrospective revue, including performances by Morris Day and Sheila E, with everyone looking exceptionally good for their age.

But here's the deal: Thanks to shunn's timely pointer, I paid $25 to join Prince's fan club and bought tickets through a reasonably scalper-proof system (show ID to get tix at the will-call window and proceed directly into the show). The tickets were not cheap ($90 each) but considerably less than I've paid scalpers in the past for good seats (but not front-row) at concerts by Bowie and others.

Here's the kicker: on the way into the show, everyone was handed a copy of his new album, for free. Without trying too hard, you probably could have gotten two. He's figured it out: People will pay to see you, will in fact pay for the opportunity to pay to see you, and the recorded music can take a back seat. Jam bands like Phish have been doing this for a while, but recording in general is less important to them, and I don't think any mainstream pop star has tried this yet. (One big question is whether it would work as well were he giving away his older music; you sure didn't see him handing out free copies of Purple Rain from which he performed more songs than he did songs from his latest album.)

But I find it heartening that "real music from real musicians"...
And what musicians! Rhonda Smith sold me her solo album as I watched her play last night. Locked in with monster drummer John Blackwell, moving from beautiful jazzy almost-fretless playing to slamming funk that made my thumbs hurt just watching her (she didn't use a pick at all, as far as I can tell, but played down and up strokes with her thumb).

And then of course there was Maceo Parker kicking ass, leading the horn section (at one point, deservedly, in a professor's gown), and then playing a gorgeous version of "What a Wonderful World" alone with the piano player.

Best of all, the band worked as a unit, having great fun with each other, giving each other space, and all working their asses off to support whomever was in the spotlight, whether it was Prince or any of the other band members. Everyone got significant time to step up, usually with Prince off to the side looking genuinely happy and admiring -- the thrill he feels in working with musicians like that was palpable.

And ... let's not forget Prince himself. Underneath all the stagecraft and performing skills is a hell of a musician. Plenty of screaming guitar solos and pyrotechnics (and a kickass bass duet with Rhonda) but also some great funk playing ("Is that me?" he asked at one point, over a itchy rhythm straight out of James Brown's '70s bands), and a stunning acoustic set where his playing really shone -- beautiful jazz playing, sweet chord progressions interspersed with lightning single-note runs, but also funky grooves that had people dancing on "Little Red Corvette" and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man." Once upon a time, entire roomfuls of people danced to acoustic guitar; watching Prince, you think that the real Robert Johnson, who entertained violent drunks in juke joints for a living, might have been much closer to what we saw last night than to the reverent playing of blues revivalists.
...can be a good business model even with a fan base that doesn't get stoned enough to think 25-minute guitar solos are a good idea.

Current Music: Prince, "The One"

29 comments or Leave a comment
bobhowe From: bobhowe Date: July 15th, 2004 12:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sounds like a great show. But you didn't get stoned first?
From: shunn Date: July 15th, 2004 01:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Only by passing Rethuglicans who thought we were a gay couple.
bobhowe From: bobhowe Date: July 15th, 2004 08:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
How many Republicans, really, are going to see a performer of mixed race and ambiguous sexuality? I mean, you and Ken make a lovely couple...I'm just saying.
(Deleted comment)
From: shunn Date: July 16th, 2004 10:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Bad certificate, no donut

Dude, that site where you linked the lyrics tries to get you to install a certificate, and if you don't it tries again. There's no way to get out of the loop, at least when I tried, except by accepting the certificate or trying to get to the back button quickly enough between dialog box displays.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: July 16th, 2004 10:59 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bad certificate, no donut

Yikes. It didn't try that on the Mac. (ActiveX control, I suppose). I deleted the comment, and here it is again minus the link.

Actually, Prince's act (and music) is a lot less sexual nowadays, and a lot more religious. He didn't sing many of his raunchier songs and changed lyrics in songs like "D.M.S.R." He quoted Matthew and told people to go home and get out their bibles. However, I think that Prince's politics would still put off most Repugnants ("Dear Mr. Man," for instance, which he performed on Wednesday night, although "Ain't no sense in voting" line pisses me off every time I hear it).
From: shunn Date: July 16th, 2004 11:10 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bad certificate, no donut

Active X, no doubt about it.

Remember the one Lyrics Server that used to exist in the old days, before it got sued to a shadow of its former self? Nowadays, almost every lyrics server you can find incorporates some ActiveX control that does God knows what to your system, and they're always the ones that rank highest when you do a Google search on lyric snippets. Gotta be very careful surfing those sites on a PC.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: July 16th, 2004 11:29 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bad certificate, no donut

I don't use Windows for surfing or anything else, except at work, where corporate firewalls sort of protect me, and the risk of (personal) loss is minimal.

All these pictures are putting my harmonica to shame. Well, that's not true. Harmonicae are shameless. And I don't have enough patience to play digital Mr. Potato Head.
From: couscous1021 Date: July 16th, 2004 12:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bad certificate, no donut

I like your harmonica. Make no mistake- I don't have so many icons because I'm patient. I have them because my job is very very very boring. :)
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: July 16th, 2004 12:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bad certificate, no donut

Ah. I'm still curious about the timer, though. What's that about?
From: couscous1021 Date: July 16th, 2004 08:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bad certificate, no donut

Ah, I forgot that I made 90 percent of my entries friends-only. :)
I've friended you, though feel free to ignore my entries. I started up on the LJ to chronicle my ongoing struggle to learn how to drive, but after the novelty wore off none of my entries ended up fulfilling this purpose. I used to work with Bill and like the way he writes, so I've been keeping up with his goings-on this way. His post got me here for the alternate review of the Prince show.

My office of 16 people has now initiated a time clock program attached to microsoft outlook. As of Monday we'll be expected to account for our day much the way lawyers do, and the bosses will then take our weekly data and figure out which tasks they can bill to clients.

It is a bit dehumanizing in such a small office, but at least it's better than having the boss sneak up on each of us to look over our shoulders several times a day.

It's a bullshit job with no potential, which sort of explains (but doesn't excuse) the icon madness.

steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: July 17th, 2004 05:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Bad certificate, no donut

Wow, everyone in the office is using a time clock program? Ouch. My company instituted one for the software developers a while back, mainly in order to count their salaries as capital rather than expense, but it's basically just a form you fill out online once a week, not something built into Outlook. But perhaps you could figure out a creative (and billable) way to describe your iconizing. Personal branding studies? Employee representation analysis?
From: shunn Date: July 16th, 2004 09:26 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't know, they seem to like Colin Powell.
From: couscous1021 Date: July 15th, 2004 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Great reviews, both. But you have not mentioned the crowd, were they polite and enthusiastic or dead fish?
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: July 16th, 2004 05:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Great crowd

Definitely not dead fish. All the poeple in my section were on their feet singing and dancing except during the instrumental intermission. Not a tremendously wide age variation -- everyone knew the words to his older songs, and the fact that almost every single woman in my section was singing along with his (charming, acoustic) cover of "Sweet Thing," the Chaka Khan cover, tells you how old this crowd was and when they were listening heavily to R&B radio. Everyone, both crowd and security, were very polite.

The wristbands Bill talked about meant that people who pushed forward to the front were politely asked to return to their seats. Before the show, someone from Prince's crew came over and yelled at us all to listen up: "At one point in the show, I won't give it away, but Prince is going to throw something into the crowd. I will be coming to get it back, so y'all be good and hand it back, OK?" It turned out to be a blanket Prince covered himself with while pretending to go to sleep at one point, and it was handed back promptly.

One woman in the next section over was trying to clamber up to join all the women dancing on stage during the end of the main show. It's not easy to climb unassisted onto a platform five feet off the floor; Prince briefly gave her a hand but he had other things on his mind. The people sitting around her gave her a boost and she finally made it, at which point Prince said, "Oh, you gotta sing now" and handed her his microphone (the gun-shaped one from the cover of New Power Soul -- what is that about??). So she sang the chorus of "Take Me With U" or as much of it as she could between the excitement and being out of breath.

Keep in mind, of course, that I think this entire section was sold only through the fan club, so the sample was quite deliberately skewed. Worked for me!
From: couscous1021 Date: July 16th, 2004 09:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Great crowd

Wow, they handed it back? That is a good crowd!

I am happy the two of you got such a great night- its wonderful when a show can exceed your expectations. And thank you for posting the mechanics of getting tickets- it seems like such a fantastic idea that i can't help but wonder why Bowie isn't doing it, too.
From: shunn Date: July 16th, 2004 10:22 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Great crowd

Bowie does have an online fan club through which you can purchase concert tickets before they go on sale to the general public, at least.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: July 16th, 2004 10:30 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Great crowd

But his policy is to do entire fan-club-only performances, such as the one he did at Roseland to preview HEATHEN. You don't get in unless you're in the club, but you don't get good seats. Hell, this is Roseland. You don't get seats at all. You may not even get to see.
From: shunn Date: July 16th, 2004 10:44 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Great crowd

So pissed I let my Bowie membership expire before that one. Even without a seat.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: July 16th, 2004 11:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Great crowd

I can't help but suspect that one reason other mainstream stars aren't doing this is that their contracts may forbid it. Record companies like to have good seats to give away. There are probably fewer than a hundred front-row seats even at a show in the round like Prince's, so if various A&R people, management company types and so on each get a cut, that doesn't leave much for fans. I don't know the details but it sure wouldn't surprise me.
From: couscous1021 Date: July 16th, 2004 12:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Great crowd

Things look rosier for the Purple One

I never thought of the position on Billboard as a fortunate benefit. Now I'm even more impressed.

Ken, I'm looking for some information on the industry's reluctance regarding fan-club seating, but all I can find out is that Bowie, Dave Matthews, and Fleetwood Mac are all offering some form of what Prince is doing. I shall let you know if I stumble open any meaningful critiques.

steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: July 16th, 2004 12:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Great crowd

Prince seems to have gone way beyond simply reserving good seats for fans. He's showing that you can be a major mainstream success without a record company behind you. I don't know much about the business of music at that level (nor do I really want to -- it seems to function at a skeeve level approaching that of waste management or vending machine rental) -- but the entire operation contradicts the labels' insistence that they provide valuable distribution/promotion/etc. for artists. The fact of the matter is that they seem to function more as extortion rings; if you don't sign with us, you'll get nowhere. Prince has the luxury of having already got where he needs to go, and now maybe he's using his position to challenge what I think is a bankrupt business model.

I was blown away by his giving the album away. Is that the ultimate answer to file-sharing or what? Forget about the casual fans who probably wouldn't spend that much on your product anyway. Focus on the ones who will pay a hell of a lot more than $15 ($1 to you by the time the various middlecreatures get their cuts) and give them what they really want. They'll pay, and keep paying, file sharing or no. I think it's a great concept. (You could also turn it on its head and include, say, a code for ticket access in every CD sold, but the main point is that by kissing off the major labels, he's free to experiment.)
From: shunn Date: July 17th, 2004 06:46 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Great crowd

Is Sony not distributing Musicology though?
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: July 17th, 2004 07:44 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Great crowd

Yes, but it's only a distribution deal, which means they get a (much smaller than normal) cut of retail sales and nothing whatsoever from the concert distribution. More importantly, they don't own the music or the CD. The Hollywood Reporter went into it in some detail.
From: shunn Date: July 16th, 2004 09:33 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Great crowd

I will point out that there seemed to be rather younger fans sitting in our part of the fan club section. Early on, introducing I forget what, Prince walked to the end of one of the platforms near us, leaned over, and said, "Now we're going to go back fifteen ... eighteen years," with a mock-startled look on his face. He pointed down to one of the girls right below. "You're seventeen. You don't know this." But she did.
From: shunn Date: July 16th, 2004 09:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Okay, now I have to ask where everyone is getting *these* cool user icons.
From: couscous1021 Date: July 16th, 2004 09:32 am (UTC) (Link)

Portrait Maker

Portrait Maker for Bill I don't know why I keep doing this crap; maybe I'm regressing and secretly want to get one of those Barbie heads you put makeup on? In any case, the icon looks nothing like me but its quite difficult to get a good icon out of this thing- for all the options they give you, it's still very tricky. Perhaps you'll have better luck?
From: shunn Date: July 16th, 2004 10:21 am (UTC) (Link)

My name is...

Hmm. Not great, but serviceable. And it took more time than I wanted to invest. I came out looking like Eminem. :)
From: couscous1021 Date: July 16th, 2004 10:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: My name is...

It doesn't look bad at all, though your earrings are missing. Kind of like Eminem- that actually fits rather well.

Today is local East Side day of slacking. On Monday I get monitored by a timer during office hours. If you had fun, it was worth the time :D
From: shunn Date: July 16th, 2004 11:07 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: My name is...

I tried it with earrings and I just looked like a woman.

You get monitored by a timer? What kind of timer? Does it measure how much time you spend online?
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