By Jeremy D. Larson
There are tales of Prince parties in which he orders flapjacks for everyone just before dawn. Sometimes the story’s fake, and sometimes the story’s real. So when it’s 4:30 a.m. and Prince is dancing to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check the Rhyme” about eight feet away from you wearing some kind of vegan-yellow leather bell-bottoms, yellow heels, and some kind of vegan black fur fest, there’s always a chance that this isn’t surreal enough.
Before Prince showed up to his own post-Super Bowl, post-New Girl listening party at The Darby in Chelsea, the focus wasn’t really about the celebrity of Prince and his five body guards that moved in perimeter around him at all times. It was ostensibly about getting a sampling of his long-in-the-works album, Plectrum Electrum.
Led by Damaris Lewis, an ESPN swimsuit model who has been dancing with Prince on tour for two years, his new band 3rdeyegirl took the stage. The lean trio, composed of Donna Grantis (guitar), Hannah Ford (drums) and Ida Nielsen (bass) strolled up on to the tiny stage in a line just after midnight, and began to coyly demure about the new album, with their excitement bubbling just beneath.
Listen: Prince – “Pretzelbodylogic”
“This is the first time anyone else other than us has heard it,” said Nielson. “So come on we really want to know what you think!”
To the corps of press people and VIP friends of friends who really didn’t know what to expect of the evening, the songs we heard aligned with much of the rock-heavy one-offs that Prince has been leaking out through his website over the year, 3rdeyegirl.com.
There was a running theme to the night. Whenever someone got up on the mic, whether it was one of the 3rdeyegirls or hip hop legend Doug E. Fresh on the decks, we heard a similar refrain like what was surrounding Random Access Memories: This is real music by real musicians. For Prince’s 36th official album, he sounds stripped down, back to the essentials, and definitely back to the guitar.
“The album was completely recorded live, analog, old-school,” said Nielsen. “It’s going to pull something inside of you that you may not be feeling listening to music these days.”
The first single “Pretzelbodylogic” is emblematic of the album: thick low-end, with a big focus on overdriven guitars, riff-based funk rock. I wrote down “Lenny Kravitz” but I also wrote down “Jet?” during it. It is assuredly the meanest-sounding Prince song in a while, all snarls and leather jackets and pants (with heels). This will probably be said a lot surrounding the album, but the motto for PlectrumElectrum might be: Lose Yrself 2 Funk Rock.
By the time Prince’s crew previewed the second track, “FunkNRoll”, there was a more noticable din thanks in no small part to Prince covering the bar bill for the crowd. Another image for this album is that it has a very L.A. studio feel to it, like ripped from the Sunset Strip or a particularly sexy night at The Roxy. Maybe that was just the vibe of the evening, with a variety of celebrities and musicians milling about including Keyshia Cole, Tyson Beckford, Liv Warfield, and apparently NSACAR driver Jeff Gordon was there (there were also murmurs of Dave Chapelle showing up, but unless that happened after 5:00 a.m. (which is entirely possible) I didn’t see him).
Then Prince showed up, glided past me feet not touching the ground, and was transported up to the DJ booth with Doug E. Fresh dancing to DMX and Busta Rhymes.
Much later in the evening at about 3:45 a.m. sitting at a table in the basement of the club, waiting for anything else to happen, a song came through the speakers that was gently then aggressively turned up.
At the same time, I looked over to the booth where Prince was sitting with his band and a small entourage. It must be easy for Prince to rest on his purple laurels of his success in the ’80s. But the new song that played through the speakers sounded like his work on his debut album, like an extended study the genius of 1979’s “Bambi” with some room to examine 1991’s “Gett Off”. Earlier in the evening he played a concert video with him and 3rdeyegirl doing re-worked versions of Prince classics like “Let’s Go Crazy” which is now a half-time boot-stomper and “She’s Always In My Hair” which has for my honey-dripping rock sex than every before.
Thirty-six albums into a career and “prolific” barely seems fitting to describe it. As the band sang along to the new song (I’m going to guess based on words repeated in the hook that the song’s called “SoMuchFun”) Prince danced in the booth and sang too with a grin on his face. It sounds like Plectrum Electrum is party music, sexy, masculine, with a kind of gilded grit. If Random Access Memories dug into Chic, it sounds like PlectrumElectrum gets into the into D.N.A. of Jimi Hendrix or maybe AC/DC. All I know for sure is that I’m watching Prince loving his music, and at that point in the evening that’s good enough for me so at 4:45 am I head on home.