I have to come clean here: For a fleeting moment, I thought the guy in the banana-yellow pants, color-splashed shirt and matching guitar and jumbo shades was Jason Tenner.
You might better know Tenner as the frontman for Purple Reign, a Prince tribute band that has been tearing a purple streak through Las Vegas since 1996. These days the band headlines downtown at the D Las Vegas.
But on Saturday night at the 2012 iHeartRadio Music Festival, it seemed as if Tenner had secured the biggest gig of his career. It was during Mary J. Blige’s set midway through the five-hour show when a Prince-ian figure showed up without any formal advance notification or announcement. He just materialized onstage.
Many in the audience of 12,300 wondered, “Is he really Prince?” while I thought, “Is he Prince? Or is he Jason Tenner?”
He really was Prince. It was the first time I’d seen him live since he reduced the showroom at the Rio to rubble after a nonstop, three-hour performance back in 2006. In summoning Prince to the stage, Blige had effectively dealt a purple ace to the audience, which roared in delirium at the presence of the man who is widely considered the greatest entertainer of his generation. He played guitar on “Sweet Thing,” and at the end of the song, the crowd erupted in excitement.
“I am blessed to have you here because you have to be very particular about who you mess with,” Blige said, turning toward the legendary figure to her right. “And I do, too.” She suggested that they duet on “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a Prince-penned hit ages ago for Sinead O’Connor. He quietly consented, speaking in such a muted way that he could barely be heard beyond all the cheering.
Yep, even at iHeart, there is room for hushed brilliance.
Blige and Prince performed a lavishly soulful rendition of the song, a moment to remember as the two-night festival finished off more than 11 hours of music at Grand Garden Arena. Eleven hours is a mountain of music, and iHeart made sure every genre represented on Clear Channel radio stations across the country was represented.
Notes from the second night:
• The Cirque du Soleil Award for Aerial Artistry goes to Pink. To cap her six-song set opening Saturday night’s show, she was fastened into a heavily reinforced harness and soared high across the arena for “Rock Star.” Her supreme confidence in the rigging, and in her own ability to deliver the song while somersaulting and spinning around the venue, was extraordinary. She also sang “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” with a team of dancers dressed as giant lips.
On Friday, Pink showed up to join No Doubt for “Just a Girl,” and if she’d dropped in on every act, there would not have been a complaint from my seat.
• Brad Paisley, who never disappoints as a live act, strutted out for a surprise of his own -- the new single from his new album, “Southern Comfort Zone.” He read the lyrics from an iPhone, reasoning that he doesn’t yet know the lyrics, “but you don’t, either.” He also jabbed at Billie Joe Armstrong’s rant from a night earlier, pointing at the time monitor in the middle of the arena and calling out, “One more minute?! What?! Oh, wait -- it says 11 minutes. Sorry. Don’t make me open up a can o’ country whoop ass up here.”
• Linkin Park didn’t waste a moment of its 30 minutes, producing one of the more intense sets of the weekend. They started with “In the End” and closed with "One Step Closer” in a hard-rocking half hour.
• Taylor Swift obviously put a lot of rehearsal time in her appearance, which included an extensively choreographed dance segment for her new single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” for which she sported a shiny gold top, black shorts and a black, wide-brimmed hat. She played atop a stage reading “Red,” the title of her new album. Swift is famously polite, asking the audience if it was OK if she produced and played a banjo during “Mean.” Swift jams on the banjo, and she looks great in those shorts, too. She is going to be a star for a really long time.
• If the answer is “two,” the question is, “How many heads did Deadmau5 wear during his 15-minute electronic dance music set?” The anonymous (to almost everyone) force really did bring a second head. His first was fitted with an LED function, so his face illuminated across the arena. The second was a more traditional head with giant ears. Deadmau5 used the same flashing, circular platform occupied by Swedish House Mafia on Friday.
The best explanation for the popularity of Deadmau5 is he seems to entrance fans through the visual and audio power of his presentation. Fans in my row seemed eager to bolt from the arena and indoctrinate the masses in the splendor that is Deadmau5.
• Enrique Iglesias sported an Army cap and what seemed to be two days of stubble for his set. He is still enormously popular, especially with the females, and he ventured into the audience (as did many of the iHeart performers, who treated the entirety of the Grand Garden as a vast stage).
Iglesias also was, seemingly, the center of the festival’s most significant technical glitch. In the middle of his appearance, Usher’s “DJ Got Us Falling in Love” began playing, and Usher’s image beamed from the big screens. Iglesias waved his finger, as if trying to halt the irrepressible phenomenon that is Usher, took a seat at the steps of the stage for a bit, then conceded to the moment and sang out the rest of the song. Thankfully, Pitbull showed up to sing “I Like It” with Iglesias, and order -- or a semblance of such -- was restored.
• Aerosmith occupied the same slot as Green Day did the night before, the second-to-last position. Unlike their hard-rock brethren, the veteran band’s set was free of any incident aside from a crunching performance of some of its greatest hits. You cannot fault a set that features “Dream On,” “Walk This Way,” “Love in an Elevator” and “Sweet Emotion.” Spinning and wailing while donning a foppish hat and the familiar, silky overcoat, Steven Tyler reminded that he is better suited as a rock frontman than as a judge on a televised talent show.
• Almost any of the 20 acts over the two nights were strong enough to have closed either show. No Doubt, Bon Jovi, Green Day or Usher could have closed the first night in favor of Rihanna. Pink, Aerosmith, Swift or Blige (especially when she brings Prince to the dance) could have closed the second night. As it was, Pitbull finished the five-hour festival Saturday, and he managed to keep the audience fully rapt even as the event ended at 1 a.m.
Pitbull sprinted through "Mr. Worldwide," "Hey Baby," “International Love," "Back in Time," "I Know You Want Me," "Don't Stop the Party" and "Hotel Room Service" (subbing in MGM Grand in the lyrics).
The night closed with Pitbull summoning Ne-Yo, a great R&B star and Las Vegan, for a bounding take on “Give Me Everything Tonight.”
That is the mantra of iHeart Music Festival, a bounty of music genres and superstar acts. There was nothing left to give, not for this festival.