I would guess that most people think that Prince is an eccentric artist. Laura and I would lean more to seeing him on the batshit insane side of the spectrum, presented rather eloquently in a lengthy anecdote from Kevin Smith. I suspect being exceptional and living so insularly for decades can augment mental health issues. At the end of the day, with Prince you have to take the genius with the batshit. Having missed Prince when he performed in Winnipeg nine years ago because the tickets were too expensive for my then university student self, I vowed we were going to get some decent tickets to his December 8 Welcome 2 Canada show. We ended up with sixth row floor tickets on the south side of the stage. In preparation for the gig, Laura and I ate purple food while watching all three Prince films—Purple Rain, Under the Cherry Moon, and Graffiti Bridge—ending up only mildly mad after attempting to follow Prince down a rabbit hole that ultimately winds up being his own ass. All of those films, and Prince’s value itself, comes down to some of the most charismatic live performances of all time. His incredible music and stage presence mesmerize you into forgetting just how insane he is. Or at least convince you that it’s not worth worrying about.
We staggered through the -26°C night on our platform shoes to get to the MTS Centre for about 8:00PM. A claw of massive screens hung directly above the centre of the stage, which as many will already know, was in the shape of Prince’s love symbol. The $400/person “purple circle” sections were set up like mini-cabaret clubs at each stage corner, and were illuminated by purple, naturally. At roughly 8:30PM, the lights came down and Prince’s singers and band walked by us on the floor, wheeling a Prince-sized box; I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking that it contained the tiny artist. It frankly wouldn’t be any weirder than the rest of the things he does.
The only half-decent photo I could take before security got to me.
When Prince finally emerged from within the stage, His Royal Purpleness had gone monochromatic in a sartorial move that befit his 53 years. His black suit included an asymmetrical jacket, and pants that draped over his ever-present heels. He acknowledged all of the audience by strutting that strut that makes 5’2” look like 6’2” to every side of the stage and basking in the ensuing screams. Then he stood behind his LED-rippling piano and opened with “When Doves Cry,” getting the audience to sing half of the lyrics without him. He then did a bit of “Sign O’ the Times,” and apparently followed it up with parts of “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and “Forever in My Life.” I don’t remember those last two all that clearly since that was the point at which I was warned by security that I would be kicked out if I tried to take any more photos. This was to be expected since I had already been lectured by the security guard checking my bag at the door and then had to sit in the venue staring at a scrolling red banner along the arena perimeter announcing the fact you will be removed if you try to take photos or video footage. This kind of practice from Prince had already warranted a rant from me in 2008—there’s no point rehashing it here. If I had been thinking more clearly, I would have waited to attempt a better shot when he actually walked around to our side while free of fog. If I ever get the chance to see him again, I’ll act more prudently. After this jarring interruption, Prince went on to play the rest of a megamix of sorts, which included just the tantalizing opening bars of “Darling Nikki,” “Hot Thing,” and “I Would Die 4 U,” before proclaiming we weren’t ready for that; apparently, we were ready for longer versions of “Raspberry Beret,” “Cream,” “Take Me With U,” and “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which were played throughout the set proper. However, I’ll always be ready and waiting for “I Would Die 4 U.”
A photo I found online but for which I couldn't find the credit.
After some jumping about to “Housequake” (of course we know about the quake), a smooth rendition of “Joy of Repetition,” and his introduction of Maceo Parker, the legendary saxophonist who used to play with James Brown, and Larry Graham, the equally legendary bassist with Sly & the Family Stone, Prince picked up his telecaster and launched into a three-song funk jam session covering “Everyday People,” “Stand” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” sneaking in a snippet of his own “Alphabet Street.” Unlike the strange ADHD sampler set, this segment did feel like proper music played by passionate musicians. We were also treated to a cover of The Time’s “Cool,” which segued into a bit of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”
Throughout the show, he made the expected comments (if you had been following the reviews of previous Canadian tour stops) of “Call the babysitter, I’ve got so many hits we could be here ‘til tomorrow” and “Real music played by real musicians.” We saw a fair amount of the powerful backing singers since most of Prince’s attention faced the opposite direction. The times that he did make it around to our side, I marveled at his face; perhaps he wears a placenta mask to bed every night, or maybe he made a deal with that intimidating god featured on Around the World in a Day’s “Temptation.” Or it could have also been a fantastic make up job. Knowing Prince, it was probably all three.
Partway through the set, Prince gave a cheeky signal to our side of the floor, beckoning us to the stage. Like other pint-sized commanders before him, including Marc Bolan and Napoleon, he knew what he could do to an audience. After a split-second of uncertainty, people ran for it, and started grooving directly in front of the stage. It got quite farcical as one woman actually tripped and fell on the floor during the scramble forward. Of course, because it was a Prince show, security wasn’t having any of this harmless, impromptu dance party. And like all royalty, Prince had abandoned us in our moment of strife with authority. I felt a dizzying rush of mini-rebellion, a mini-revolution would perhaps be more apt in reference to Prince, as it took some time before the couple of security guards on that side of the stage forced all of us back to our seats.
The last song of the set proper was, of course, Purple Rain, which ended with Prince conducting the audience in the obligatory “woo hoo hoo hoos” and arm waving, and confetti cannons released a shower of purple and gold over each stage corner just in time for his epic guitar solo.
Prince returned for the first encore in a white suit, just as sharp as the black one, and performed the “Let’s Go Crazy”/“Delirious” medley, “1999,” and “Little Red Corvette.” He slowed down the verses to “Little Red Corvette” to a jazzier pace, keeping the chorus at its regular tempo. Near the end of the song, he led the audience in a call and answer session with males singing “Slow down” and females responding with “hoo-hoos” that emulated the guitar figure during the bridge of the original song. Though it was an interesting arrangement, I would have preferred a version closer to the original if only because “Little Red Corvette” was my favourite Prince song in high school. Then again, he did tell us earlier that he was the DJ and that he was controlling the music we would hear tonight. And as per Jonathan Richman, if you want to leave the party, just go.
Then the house lights came on, but knowing that he had done four encores on average during this tour, Laura and I were not to be moved, and neither were a large number of the audience who waited out the break. As predicted, Prince came back on for two more one-song encores, performing “Kiss” and “Controversy”; the former featured an extended spot of dance moves at its end. There were no frenetic movements or splits, but there was some more ass-waving. Somehow during these last couple of songs, Laura and I had attempted another coup of the stage along with other people in our section, but got pushed back to a row that was one further back than our initial seats. In my crazed concert brain (the condition I suffer when at exciting gigs), this was unacceptable, especially since so many people from the rows in front of us had made the mistake of heading home after the second encore. Despite the hindrance of my three-inch green platform shoes, I climbed over two rows of folding chairs to land in the fourth row. By the time Prince began his fourth encore with a sensuous performance of “The Beautiful Ones” at his piano, I had hurdled my way to the third row, and Laura had decided my plan might be worth pursuing and joined me. A cover of Sylvester’s “Dance (Disco Heat)” morphed into “Baby I’m a Star,” and the wrenching of my lower back from chair hurdling paid off. This time when Prince beckoned to our side of the stage, I wasn’t pausing for anything. Security gave up as those of us still left on that side of the floor ran full-tilt at the stage and ended up dancing a few feet under Prince for the next minute or so. At this point in the show he was sporting a more casual, long-sleeved shirt with black-and-white images on it, white pants, and a black fedora. I could see every detail of his smug, placenta-coddled face. And I was in love with him for that space in time. That’s the uncanny power of Prince: sometimes he makes you feel a bit like Unity Mitford. The song ended with backing singers and members of the band throwing drumsticks, tambourines, and raspberry berets into the crowd.
Despite saying that he had the day off tomorrow so he could go all night, the show did end here as he was lowered back into the bowels of the stage. And perhaps into his small box. The house lights and house music came on, and an army of stage crew came down the aisles to dismantle the spectacle. The fans were scraping up little mounds of the purple and gold confetti off the floor and taking it home as considerably less expensive souvenirs (and probably better value than a $40 tambourine or a $40 raspberry beret that makes you look like an overgrown girl scout).
Unsurprisingly, the YouTube videos of his Welcome 2 Canada performances appear to be in the process of being taken down, so watch them while you can to get a glimpse of why Prince will always draw enormous crowds to his live shows. I could have done with longer versions of his own songs and a few less covers, more movement from Prince to the south side of the stage, and less security nonsense, but I’m very happy that I finally got to see him live. He may not believe in the Internet. He may have some sketchy attitudes toward women. He may no longer grace the top of the charts. But he did put on a show. For two and a half hours, we were in the infinite dance party of Prince’s brain, and it was an unforgettable experience. And unlike Bono, at least he keeps his crazy preaching for offstage. And for heathens like Kevin Smith.
Little Red Corvette – Prince (Live in Dublin, July 30, 2011)
Controversy – Prince (Live in Dublin, July 30, 2011)