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Prince – Live in London (Gig Review):

In the 1980’s, there was a playful rivalry between Michael Jackson and Prince Rogers Nelson. In fact, like the Beatles’ own one-upmanship contest with the Beach Boys (it’s famously documented that Paul McCartney’s contributions to ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ were a reaction to hearing ‘Pet Sounds’), the story goes that, whilst recording the 1987 album ‘Bad’, Jacko initially wanted the title track to be a duet with Prince. After a meeting, Prince declined the opportunity to appear on the song, stating that it’d be a hit without him. It was. Now, decades later, MJ has moved from music icon to a figure of fun who sporadically releases mediocre albums. It’s such a shame, considering both his past legacy and the impact he has made on the modern music scene. In fact, Michael Jackson hasn’t released a decent album since 1991’s ‘Dangerous’; I’m afraid the patchy ‘HIStory’ from 1995 and 2001’s lukewarm ‘Invincible’ (regardless of how ‘You Rock My World’ great is as a comeback single) don’t really count in all honesty, because they pale so heavily in comparison with his 80’s output. One could argue that MJ’s star has pretty much all but descended now.

Prince, on the other hand, has steadily released album after album, regardless of sales figures or popularity. Be it under the moniker of “Prince” or that strange squiggly sign thing, under pseudonyms such as “Camille”, or with other bands like The Time, The New Power Generation, The Rebels, The Revolution, etc. He’s released internet-only albums, instrumental albums and his new ‘Planet Earth’ album was even given away for free (!!) in the UK as a cover-mounted disc with a Sunday newspaper. I can’t ever see MJ doing that. This new album is also given away tonight, included with the price of the £31.21 ticket price: a knowing nod to the title of the Prince album that was released last year.

Prince is infamous in the music biz for recording numerous albums and shooting music videos that never see the light of day; hidden away from the public in Prince’s archive vaults. His work-rate is genuinely astounding. Not only because he produces, composes, arranges AND performs his songs, but also due to the amazing proficiency of the instruments he plays. It’s pretty cool that his 21-night London residency is so full of genuine Prince fans, and it’s an exciting prospect to see a musical genius performing live. And, yes, he is a genius. Fair enough he’s a slightly odd genius, but a genius all the same. The pre-gig warm-up video even says so, before he arrives on a hydraulic lift from the middle of the stage.

The stage itself is shaped like his squiggle-shaped sign – complete with rainbow lights – and, at 49, he looks great for his age as he bounds around, dancing like Michael Jackson and playing guitar like Hendrix. Plus the man sings. It’s not fair really is it? After the 3-song explosion of ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, ‘1999’ and ‘Cream’, complete with choreographed dancing twins and full band, Prince is clearly enjoying himself. Think of any of the covers of Prince’s albums and you’ll find it difficult to find an image of him smiling. Not so here. He’s grinning madly, and so are we; it’s hard not to enjoy yourself when he has the audience in the palm of his hand: “Hey London, are you ready for me yet? Y’all ain’t ready for me!” he says in mock-annoyance.

There’s a slow jazzy interval, which gives centre-stage to Prince’s band, as he exits the stage for the pre-requisite costume change. Saxophone player Maceo Parker earns himself a standing ovation for a solo rendition of ‘What A Wonderful World’, whilst the pianist performs a brief bit of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ and the back-up singers sing a heartfelt version of Alicia Keys’ ‘Fallin’’. When they exit, a single piano-keyboard is set up with just a spotlight on Prince as he launches into stripped down versions of ‘Little Red Corvette’ and ‘Diamonds And Pearls’ amongst others. Moments of intimacy (in venues as huge as this) are actually quite striking. All the hits are out tonight: ‘Kiss’, ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’, ‘U Got The Look’ and a teasing minute-long ‘Sign O’ The Times’. The funny thing is, in an hour and a half concert, you feel dizzy with the amount of well-known songs that this guy has released, and how familiar they feel to you. Prince jokes with the audience (after a looooong standing ovation) that he’s overwhelmed, so much so that he can’t remember what to play next because, naturally, “I’ve got too many hits to play them all. There’s just too many”. For someone who seems so serious, he’s pretty funny in his tongue-in-cheek immodesty.

A purple-lit stage sees a show-stopping ‘Purple Rain’ (seriously, that solo is just amazing) end the first hour, and the entire band leave the stage. But it can’t be the end of the gig, because even though he’s played a load of his greatest hits, there’s still an awful lot left to get through. A second costume change sees Prince wearing a black and white shirt with the 3121 logo emblazoned on the back and singing a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’, ‘I Feel For You’ (made famous by Chaka Khan) and then a soulful audience-led ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, followed by a raucous ‘Black Sweat’. An encore calls for Prince and his piano-keyboard again, loudly declaring that, even though many more acts will play in the venue after him, “this is my house!” The man’s case is hard to argue with, as he hits the audience with a medley of hits: in about 10 minutes you hear ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’, ‘Pop Life’, ‘Alphabet St.’, ‘When Doves Cry’ and ‘Raspberry Beret’. Prince’s star is still ascending.
By J. M. Ross