Prince may be a diminutive 53-year-old, but he has a stage presence that puts most of the world’s performers to shame. He has always been one of those artists that I’ve somehow looked over for one reason or another. Not for any legitimate reason. But you can’t listen to everything, right?
However I have some friends living in America, and they began raving about Prince last year, as he toured venues around the States, playing 3+ hour shows for little more than $30. Even though I only knew a few hits – though at the concert I realised I knew far more than I thought – I was jealous, because how often does a critically acclaimed artist tour for that cheap and put on that much?
His tour was announced and I bought a ticket, albeit for $100. At Rod Laver arena, I was sitting in row NN, behind the drum kit, so I couldn’t have been much further away. One of his more talented band members, a guitarist, played a couple of intricate tunes on an acoustic that doubled as a bass guitar, then Prince slowly ascended to the stage.
Opening with “Controversy”, it was a hot ‘n’ funky dance fest from the very beginning. I hate sitting down at concerts so by halfway through Controversy I had moved to an empty seat in row OO where I remained standing, dancing awkwardly by myself, for the next three hours.
He then launched into four funk-ified covers of “Le Freak”, “Theme Song From Which Way is Up?”, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” and “Play That Funky Music”, which included a snippet of Public Enemy’s “911 Is A Joke”, as Flavour Flav and Chuck D were in the house, the former joining Prince and the band on stage for some typical hype-boy banter.
“Let’s Go Crazy”, “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” came next, bringing every member of the crowd to their feet (it wouldn’t be the first time). “1999” was ecstatic, the crowd lapping at up. By this stage I was an unstoppable dancing machine, dripping with sweat.
“Little Red Corvette” was a particular delight, Prince extending it past the studio version’s run time, instructing the crowd to hand-clap as he passionately sang “sloooow down…” amid a sea of deep red lights.
One of Prince’s back-up singers, Shelby J, was a highlight of the show. Her soulful voice had an incredible range, and she brought big screams of approval when duetting with Prince on “Nothing Compares 2 U”, snidely introduced by Prince, who said “people think this is a cover… let’s see what you think.”
“Take Me With U”, “Raspberry Beret”, “Cream” rounded out the first set to rapturous applause and cheers. The first encore began with “Make You Feel My Love” sung by the three back-up singers, before Prince introduced the show’s centrepiece, the otherworldy “Purple Rain”, with a refrain of its unmistakeably powerful oooh ooh oohs. Reports from Sydney had the tune – almost nine minutes on the eponymous album – lasting for more than 40 minutes but evidently Prince was not feeling as passionate about it this night. It still went for about 15-20 minutes, showcased Prince’s great guitar virtuosity, and was as emotionally gripping as one could have hoped, but I couldn’t help but feel slightly shortchanged. Self-indulgence is more than okay by me if the artists can pull it off, and Prince is one of those.
The second encore saw Prince play 30-60 second snippets of some of his more well-known tunes – “I’ve got so many hits!” he cried – including “When Doves Cry” and “Sign o’ the Times”, but they would have been better fleshed out. The third, fourth, and yes, fifth encores saw things get decidedly funkier, but with the time between encores growing ever longer, the crowd became impatient, with many leaving well before the show had officially finished. At some stage during one of these encores, a particularly lively middle-aged gentleman caught the eye of Prince, who invited him to continue his dancing on stage. I could only wish from so far away that it was me. He joined a little girl who had been dancing by myself for about five minutes after Prince bought her on stage and then forgot about her, the poor little thing.
After the fifth encore, the lights remained off with the edges of the stage – the symbol – lit up for at least 10 minutes, before the house lights were switched on and roadies began dismantling the setup. It left a bad taste in some people’s mouths, but you can’t deny how thoroughly entertaining the show was. The Herald Sun’s music guru – Cameron Adams, not the rumourmonger Nui Te Koha – summed it up well. “If you’re a music lover and you’ve never seen Prince you must remedy that this month,” he tweeted. He’s coming back to Rod Laver on May 30 – buy, beg, borrow, steal, do whatever you have to do, to get a ticket. He may never come back, and your life will be just that little worse off for it. The exhaustion, sore body and litres of sweat I lost should tell you that.
Sexy Dancer / Le Freak (Chic cover)
Theme Song From Which Way Is Up? (Stargard cover)
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again) (Sly & Family Stone cover)
Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry cover) / 911 Is A Joke (Public Enemy cover)
Let’s Go Crazy
Let’s Go Crazy (reprise)
Little Red Corvette
I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man
Nothing Compares 2 U
Take Me With U
Cool / Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough (Michael Jackson cover)
Make You Feel My Love
When Doves Cry / Nasty Girl / Sign O’ The Times / Hot Thing / Darling Nikki / Pop Life / A Love Bizarre (Sheila E cover)
I Would Die 4 U
The Dance Electric
Love… Thy Will Be Done
Days of Wild