UNCASVILLE, Conn. — It happened twice. Prince was deep in a groove, maybe lost in it, when the urge suddenly hit him.
“Somebody come dance with me,” he called out, prompting one, occasionally a few, women to emerge from the audience to bump but not really grind alongside him.
He looked pleased to see them, accessories on a stage already jammed with more than 20 musicians, singers, and a dancer who weaved in and out of the chaos. Prince stood front and center, in a snug pantsuit the color of buttercup. He was the mad scientist conducting a supremely funky sideshow that sprawled to nearly two hours and 30 minutes.
It was Friday night, the first of Prince’s three shows at the Mohegan Sun Arena, his only run of New England concerts this year. (It wraps up Sunday; tickets are still available, and you should really consider a road trip.)
His interactions with the crowd were loose and impromptu and right in line with the way Prince described how the show would unfold.
“Listen, we’re going to jam. Nothing fancy,” he said right after “1999.” “Just an old-school party.”
That was his shorthand for his approach: old-school. He uttered those words a handful of times, and it was an accurate description for the sheer energy and electricity he channeled throughout the night, often leaving you breathless. As one woman remarked on her way out, “I don’t know how he’s going to play another show tomorrow night.”
As recent set lists prove, no two Prince shows are alike. There were the hits — “When Doves Cry,” “1999,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “The Glamorous Life,” and “Purple Rain” as the long and seductive swan song — but there were plenty of curveballs, too. Friday was for the diehards, the sort of serious Prince fan who always wanted to hear “She’s Always in My Hair,” “Days of Wild,” and other lesser-known songs from his dense catalog.
You could quibble with the fact that several of his signature songs were left out — hey, where was “Raspberry Beret,” “Little Red Corvette,” [insert your favorite hit here]? — but that would be missing the point of his performance. This was clearly about the joy of music and the pleasure he derives from playing it.
A freewheeling vibe made the arena feel like a club, even with 10,000 in attendance, as Prince estimated from the stage. With his head back and the spotlight hitting him just so, Prince often looked (and sounded) a lot like Jimi Hendrix as he led his powerhouse band through a dizzying set list. His horn section added blasts of brass, and his core band, an all-female trio named 3rdEyeGirl, cut a monstrous presence, particularly Hannah Ford on drums.
“Ask me if I like it here,” Prince asked in the middle of an extended, James Brown-like vamp. No one did, but he answered the question, anyway: “Yes, I do!”