Last night, a 50-something, 5’3” guy from Minnesota absolutely melted my face off. It’s not often that you get to see a one-man show that is equal parts old-school R&B crooning, brass-band backed funk and metal-style guitar shredding; in fact, you almost never see it. But that’s what Prince has done for the past 30 years. I suppose that’s why he was able to play a sold out Madison Square Garden with an audience as eclectic as he was. Let’s look at a picture of me:
This was the girl who was sitting in front of me:
And then factor in that the other 60% of the audience was black. It’s the aforementioned and unparalleled mix of rock, metal, funk, soul, R&B and pop that allows the King of Minneapolis to reach such a wide, insanely dedicated fanbase.
Playing on a stage built like his “namesake”, Prince opened up his show standing on top of a piano, in the darkness, his silhouette lit up by only camera flash (his first words were “Have you got enough pictures?”). He started to play snippets of his volume of singles (“Darling Nikki”, “When Doves Cry”), before saying “I’ve got too many hits” and finally settling into “Kiss”. The audience absolutely exploded and the 40 year-old fellow next to me jabbed me in the side with an elbow in his euphoria. It kind of hurt. The most amazing thing? The crowd was like this the whole damn night. He could claim ownership over every person in the building.
For the next 2 ½ hours (yes, really), I was most taken aback by:
1) His dancing. I really didn’t know that Prince could get down, let alone get down like that. The guy has dance moves for days and truthfully made me feel bad because he was more limber than me despite being twice my age.
2) His vocals. He sang every song and every note to the same exact pitch they were recorded almost 30 years ago. Perfectly. Stunning.
3) Hit guitar work. The guy is one of the most underrated guitarists of modern rock n’ roll. On Rolling Stone’s 2007 top 100 guitarists of all time, Prince was left off altogether. He showed that he could not only play funk, metal, classic rock and pop guitar, but he could destroy all of them…handily.
Also, the stage. That thing was ridiculous. There was a hydraulic lift in the middle that took him down below, a piano to the right and lights surrounding the outline of the stage.There were video screens everywhere (from about half a dozen camera angles), a lighting show that looked like Times Square on New Year’s eve and at one point, confetti cannons. It was like the goddamn circus. Despite all the insanely intricate production, Prince conducted his band and the show as if he were playing a small club on Sunset Boulevard. He changed up the songs mid-stride, was asking for the sound engineer to turn up instrument levels and started and stopped songs when he pleased. I did a little online-research and found that he changes up his set list every night. Every night! Performers with that type of production rarely change up their sets – I don’t think Britney says 2 hours before her set “Hey guys, let’s play that B-side from ‘Hit Me baby One More Time’. That shit will play well with the hardcore fans”. No. She just plays the same songs in the same order night after night for months on end.
I’ll be honest with you – I would never claim to be the world’s biggest Prince fan. I own one album (Purple Rain) and a handful of assorted singles. I don’t know his real name, I can’t draw his symbol from memory. I knew 1/3 of the songs, was familiar with another 1/3 and then there was the 1/3 that I had honestly never heard before. Usually during a concert like this, I find myself disconnected with the music, unable to get into the rhythm and flow of excitement of everyone else around me. But Prince is a rare musician – he is the type of performer and plays tunes that are able to transcend your familiarity or love of them, and bring you into the moment. Regardless of whether you have the lyrics to the song tattooed on your right shoulder or you have never even heard the chorus, Prince has a way of making them completely accessible to his audience. This is probably the trademark of the best type of performer – someone who is able to draw in the crowd under their terms, with something that everyone can still connect to.
The bottom line? Prince was fucking incredible. Highest recommendation.