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Prince & Tamar: It Takes Two
Congress Theater-Chicago, IL

by Anthony Kuzminski

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The last time Prince graced Chicago with his presence, he was in the midst of reengaging his long time fans by performing close to 100,000 people over a five nights, proving that he still had the magic to rock with the best of them. In fact, I'll go on record that his 2004 "Musicology" trek found Prince at his prime live power with the finest backing group of musicians he ever assembled. A little over a week ago, on a very cold Chicago night, lines wrapped around five city blocks as people waited to see Prince's return in a theater around 1am. Instead of being front and center in the spotlight, Prince's job was musical director and guitarist. The spotlight shined brightly on Prince's latest protégé, Tamar (pronounced "Tay-mar"). In the past, Prince has usually picked his protégé's who were heavy on sex appeal and deficient in musical talent. Does anyone really think that if not for Prince that Carmen Electra would still have men slipping dollar bills into her g-string? Because of Prince's past choices I forked over my $31.21 in the hopes of seeing Prince astound me with his axe work. However, to my astonishment, I walked away with more. 

Regardless of Prince's past choices, his newest protégé will sweep you off your feet with her soulful voice, sultry demeanor and magnetic stage presence. Right from the start Tamar performed like an industry veteran. Price was to Tamar's right as he let his fingers flow freely across the frets for close to two hours. One song into the show it was evident that Tamar has all the makings to be a star. She lit up the stage as she prowled across it with confidence, backed by the two twin backing singers (in school girl outfits) who moved in carefully choreographed seizure-like moves. Besides running through material from Tamar's new album (due later this spring) other highlights of the main set included a killer rendition of "When A Man Loves A Woman" where Tamar soared as her voice reached new heights on this R&B classic before Prince stepped out at the end for a killer guitar solo. Tamar nailed every note vocally while the crowd cheered her on. I've seen A-grade acts try and bring up and coming acts on tour with them only to see crowds treat them like a virus. Tonight was not one of these nights as they embraced Tamar and did not seem disappointed that Prince was there in a support role. However, when Prince did appear in the spotlight, his guitar playing was trancelike. His playing takes me to another world as he's arguably the most talented man to throw a six string around his neck since the great and late Jimi Hendrix. As a musician, Prince is unmatched by anyone on this Earth and the grace and ease with which he performs leaves me in complete and total awe. 

In the encore Prince, Tamar and the twins ripped through a classic pair of tunes from the Jackson family. First up was Michael's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" which segued right into sister Janet's "What Have You Done For Me Lately". Both songs sounded magnificent as Tamar handled lead vocal duties while Prince brought the funk. However, I found the performance to be bittersweet, as I saw an 80's Pop God shine under the lights proving he is as relevant as ever, while the person who wrote "Don't Stop" has sadly drifted from the musical greatness he once possessed. Whether one loves Prince's new music or not, they can not deny that he truly loves music more than anything else. No sooner did "What Have You Done For Me Lately" wind down before "Partyman" kicked into full gear to the sound of elation from the sold out crowd. Prince's "Batman" soundtrack from 1989 is a power pop masterpiece. It was not meant to be a serious piece of art, but it served its purpose marvelously as it is a fun album and a misplaced classic for Tim Burton's classic comic noir. It's been years since Prince has recognized any of this material from the concert stage and it was a welcomed return. 

When the band kicked into "Play That Funky Music" Prince brought about twenty fans on stage with him as they danced, sang and proved to me that there is a vibrant night life in Chicago on Monday nights after 2am. By the end of the show the Congress Theater felt more like a communal gathering rather than a concert as the band needed the crowd as much as the crowd needed the band. Two nights previously in Minneapolis, this was where the show came to an end. However, the Chicago crowd willed the band back to the stage. After a little teasing between to two they decided on a slow number off of Tamar's album, "Stay With Me Baby". However, if one thought the evening would end on a slow number like this, they would be mistaken as "I Want To Take You Higher", the Sly & The Family Stone classic, brought the house down. The lights were glaring on the audience as the band tore through the number as if it would be the last song they ever perform. Prince wailed on his guitar as if there would be no tomorrow. The finale was completely off the hook and when the music finally faded most of the people felt their money was well spent for a nearly 2-hour funk and soul review by one of the greatest acts of the last quarter century and a up and comer who held her own against this legend. It may not have been a proper Prince show, however, it was the first chapter in what is shaping up to be an extraordinary year for the purple one. Regardless of whether or not his new album ("3121") and tour come close to matching his previous trek does not matter, as tonight Prince proved he can command an audience at any time as long as he has a six string in his midst. 


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