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A complete history of Prince's Chicago performances

Written by
Jake Austen

[Editor's note: This piece was originally published ahead of Prince's 2012 performances at the United Center. In light of the artist's recent passing, we're running a version of the article that was updated by author Jake Austen to include subsequent Prince shows in Chicago.]

There has long been a good vibe between Prince and Chicago audiences. We appreciate our Midwestern neighbors, and Prince (a fan of the blues, gospel, and Pops Staples’ guitar playing) has been showing us love with frequent visits Chicago since he started touring. When I interviewed Prince for Time Out Chicago (via E-mail, though his poetic, ALL CAPS answers convinced me it was he and not a publicist answering) he explained, “CHICAGO IS A MUSIC TOWN. MY FATHER SPOKE OF IT OFTEN AS BEING ONE OF THE PLACES HE LIKED 2 PLAY BEST. THEY HAVE SEEN THE BEST AND EXPECT NOTHING LESS.” Over the years Chicagoans had more than three-dozen occasions to truly see the best when we were fortunate enough to host the iconic genius.

February 28-29, 1980—Uptown Theater, Fire It Up/Prince Tour

After canceling the solo tour that would have seen Prince (promoting his self-titled sophomore album) debut in Chicago the previous December, the Minneapolis singer opens two shows for Rick James. Upon arriving in town Prince decides to lose Matt Fink’s prison-themed stage costume and has an assistant visit a nearby surgical supply store to buy a gown and a surgical mask, and Dr. Fink was born on the Uptown stage that night.

December 26, 1980—Uptown Theater, Dirty Mind Tour

When the Southern tour for the just-released Dirty Mind album proved troublesome, Prince cancelled the remaining dates and booked a tour-ending show at the Uptown, where he got to play his new anthem “Uptown” during the legendary theater’s final season.

March 24, 1981—Park West, Dirty Mind Tour

The triumphant second leg of the Dirty Mind tour featured Prince in bikini briefs and a trench coat playing his rawest songs with a classic lineup. For this historic concert Jam Productions charged a Princely fee of $9.50!

December 5, 1981—Arie Crown, Controversy Tour

His popularity in Chicago rising, Prince was now selling out two shows at a venue four times the capacity of the Park West. I believe he played “Uptown,” even though this is the farthest south venue gig he ever played in Chicago. The Time opened.

December 9-11, 1982—Auditorium Theater, 1999 Tour

During this three-night stand Prince raised funds and awareness for educator Marva Collins’ Westside Preparatory School. During his stay, Prince sat in on classes at the Garfield Park grammar school, stating “This is the kind of school I always wanted to go to.” In 1994 Prince would feature Collins in his video for “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.”

April 10, 1983—UIC Pavilion, 1999 Tour

In a nod to his strength in Chicago, Prince closes the 1999 tour with a return trip.

December 9-14, 1984—Rosemont Horizon, Purple Rain Tour

Riding the wave of movie superstardom, Prince puts on an elaborate five-concert stand in Chicagoland (his first suburban trip), in two-hour shows that eschew catalogue material, feature numerous costume changes, and have Jerome Bennett (Morris Day’s valet from the movie) serve as Prince’s man Friday. He also takes on onstage bath.

September 17-19, 1988—Rosemont Horizon, Lovesexy Tour

Prince’s most elaborate tour ever featured a $2 million set, our hero arriving onstage in a white T-Bird, Sheila E. elevating the musical stakes and an amazing survey of Prince’s first decade of recordings (even if he only played snippets of faves like “Controversy”).

August 16, 1991—Hyatt Regency, WEA annual convention

A mere two years before a dispute with Warner Brothers would have Prince write “Slave” on his cheek, forego the use of his own name and negotiate an “Emancipation” from his longtime record label, Prince played nice and came to town to appear at a Warner Brothers industry function.

April 4-6, 1993—Chicago Theatre, Act 1 Tour

These shows (the first featuring Prince’s future wife, and subsequent reality TV star, Mayte) were great, but were upstaged by a mighty aftershow at Metro on the 6th, which featured a Howlin’ Wolf cover, Prince reading fresh lyrics from a purple notebook, a guest appearance by the mighty Buddy Miles (playing “Them Changes”) and a rap by the Cosby Show’s Malcolm Jamal Warner(?)!

November 21, 1996—Park West

In town to do Oprah (on which he performed “Do Me Baby” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” giving housewives a thrill in the pre-50 Shades of Grey era), this show kicked off a little before 1am, and featured a tight five-piece combo doing a career-spanning set that was most surprising because it only lasted a little over an hour...a microsecond in Prince concert time.

June 29, 1997—United Center, Emancipation Celebration

Prince’s last Chicago appearance before Larry Graham’s spiritual mentorship would eventually lead the artist towards the Jehovah’s Witness faith, and a cleaner repertoire. This show featured a section so dirty Prince stopped the set to give parents a chance to take children outside. He made an appearance at the afterparty at Excalibur, but didn’t perform.

April 24, 1998—Aragon Ballroom, New Power Soul Tour

Prince’s Chicago-iest show, in that he featured local diva Chaka Khan. The show also spotlighted Larry Graham, whose influence may have resulted in Prince’s lengthy lecture about the historical inaccuracies concerning the crucifixion before launching into ”The Cross.”

November 16, 2000—Riviera Theatre, Hit N Run Tour

Though Prince joyfully was able to play “Uptown” in Uptown again, this show featured a musical low point in Prince’s Chicago concert history when an extended portion of the evening is given to smooth jazz saxophonist Najee’s circular breathing exercises. No such histrionics at the thrilling Metro after show, in which Common rapped over “D.M.S.R.”, and Macy Gray dueted with Prince.

March 30, 2001—Park West

Billed as party for his new website, there was no concert promised, but Prince and his band played a thrilling career-spanning set that included “Uptown,” “Controversy” and “Housequake.”

March 2-3, 2002—Chicago Theatre, One Nite Alone Tour

In addition to the shows, Prince invited fan club members to a soundcheck, where he polled them on whether he should license “Little Red Corvette” for a Chevrolet commercial.

July 22-24, 2004—Allstate Arena, Musicology Tour

Performing in the round, Prince not only challenged Jordan-era Bulls fans by wearing a Pistons jersey in concert (mainly because it bore NBA Finals star Tayshaun Prince’s last name across the back), but also snuck into the crowd during Maceo’s solo to distribute Jehovah’s Witness literature. There was a House of Blues afterparty on the 25th where Prince invited seemingly half the crowd on stage to dance, and an additional tour date on August 3rd.

February 28, 2006—Congress Theater

Prince appears as a sideman for his protégée Tamar (a member of the earliest incarnation of Destiny’s Child, and subsequently a frequent Tyler Perry stage play star). Tickets were $31.21 (tying in with Prince’s 3121 album) and the 1am set featured bandleader Prince on guitar, some vocals and included covers of Ohio Players, Aretha, Sly Stone and because he always shows our region some love, songs by a couple of our neighbors from Gary, Michael and Janet.

September 24-26, 2012—United Center

The "Welcome 2 Chicago" three-night stand featured an ambitious production and number of highlights, most notably a late portion of the lengthy show with Prince as lounge singer, sitting behind his piano and playing along to programmed backing tracks of seemingly every song he ever recorded (including the naughty “Darling Nikki,” an unexpected inclusion for Jehovah’s Witness-era Prince). The third show did not sell out so Prince offered free tickets to CPS teachers, who enjoyed seeing Prince perform with Ledisi, Maceo and Janelle Monae (Chicago’s Jennifer Hudson joined him for the second show). The three after shows at House of Blues proved contentious, as Prince never took the stage for the first one, letting his band rock out, and the venue apparently was not too happy with that situation. That said, the night I went he played guitar spectacularly, and then turned the stage over to Monae and her amazing band, who improvised late into the morning.

June 29, 2013—Promontory Point

Prince plays a set at Hyde Park’s beautiful peninsula-esque park district locale Promontory Point (not at my venue, The Promontory, alas), rocking the South Side for the wedding of local-gal-made-good Mellody Hobson to aspiring museum curator George Lucas. Although the concert is limited to the A-listers and aliens in attendance (including Rahm, Jesse Jackson, Mork and Luke Skywalker), the loud, funky big band is audible to the Prince-loving peasants who line the perimeter.

June 30, 2013—City Winery 

With House of Blues off the table, Prince does his last Chicago gig at City Winery. The spectacular two-hour, 22-piece band set kicks off at 2am and the Purple One pays tribute to our city with a fine Impressions cover. Although one would have to make a tangential stretch to call his last song of his final encore a salute to our city (one of Prince’s Batman-themed songs played a mile away from sets for Christopher Nolan’s recently completed Batman trilogy), it is fitting that a city he partied with so thoroughly for over three decades got to dig one of the greatest musicians of all time end his history here with the joyful strains of “Partyman.”

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