Prince unveiled a low-production but high-energy show as he debuted a new weekly casino gig, giving no indication he plans to become the next Wayne Newton.
Under a deal announced this month, he will perform shows for the next several Friday and Saturday nights in the 3121 club at The Rio casino-hotel just off the Las Vegas Strip.
The move surprised fans who have dubbed the star — now more than 20 years past his megahit album and movie “Purple Rain” — a pop, funk and soul innovator. Las Vegas, a place once known for showcasing stars in the twilight of their careers, wasn’t expected.
“I just didn’t think he was at the has-been stage, yet,” said Pat Ellen, a 36-year-old social worker from Chicago, before Friday’s show.
But organizers and bandmates say the man who once changed his name to a soundless symbol is simply taking his own tack again.
“I think he wants to bring a new element to Vegas; that’s the whole point, to bring a new, fresh vibe,” said Maya McClean, a Prince spokeswoman and half of the back-up group performing with the star, The Twinz.
The club — renamed from Club Rio — and an album released in March are named after the street address of the Los Angeles home where Prince once held intimate, private performances for the few and lucky. The new show is intended to recapture the private party feel in a small club.
The shows are expected to run “a couple of months” before the group goes on tour, McLean said.
Unlike many properties that spend millions on theater makeovers and elaborate productions for new stars, The Rio did little more than add a coat of purple paint, said Marilyn Winn, the casino’s president. The club fits about 700 people.
“Prince is all about great music. We didn’t want anything that we thought would detract from the great music,” Winn said.
Friday’s performance started at midnight and ran nearly two hours, later and longer than most Las Vegas shows. Tickets cost $125.
The show included an even mix of classics and new material, guitar solos, soulful ballads and funk. His racy hits, such as “Cream” and “Kiss,” were a contrast to the tamer songs released since the star became a Jehovah’s Witness.
“You don’t have to be dirty to be sexy,” Prince advised the Sin City audience, before launching into a sweet love song. “Let me show you.”