James Brown may be gone, but there’s a new “Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” Prince, the impish 55-year-old dynamo, took over L.A. last week, following up his performance on “The Arsenio Hall Show” on Wednesday night with a pair of “secret shows” at the Palladium that were the worst-kept surprise in town. On Friday night, he turned up about an hour after a performance by protege Liz Warfield (he executive produced her recently released solo album, “The Unexpected”), fronting the 11-man New Power Generation Hornz and his latest band, the all-female 3RDEYEGIRL, on a 60-minute jam session that came across like a combination of George Clinton and Frank Zappa, with hairpin turns that stopped on a dime, starting with “Days of Wild,” a track from his 1998 “Crystal Ball” album. In whiteface and wearing a brimmed hat, Prince looked like a refugee from Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Tour; he was joined by Warfield and her sister Shelby J., running through a brisk, seven-song set that featured a medley of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” “Northside” (Stargard’s theme song from the 1977 Richard Pryor comedy “Which Way Is Up?”), the “Batman” soundtrack’s “Partyman” and Graham Central Station’s “It’s Alright.”
The only puzzlement was why there were only 1,000 or so people spaced out in the 3,700-capacity venue. With word that he would be “upping the ante” the following night, Prince came on at 10:22 for the scheduled 8 p.m. start, after an old-school DJ set from legendary rapper Doug E. Fresh, who spun OG classics like “Rock the Bells,” “Play That Funky Music” and “Walk This Way” as the crowd, filling up less than half the venue, paid $100 each for tickets. This time, Prince was resplendent — with his puffy Afro now unadorned, a purple smoking jacket, a gold chain around his neck and a glittering silver pimp walking stick in hand — and ready to dazzle us with what he repeatedly referred to as “live music played by real musicians.” He put the 20-piece, 11-man horn band through its paces, mostly eschewing guitar, launching into a 55-song, four-hour-plus, five-encore set that wouldn’t end until 2:30 (3:30 if you count the time change).