This is a review, except maybe it isn’t. The word review implies critical objective analysis. How can you criticize perfection? How can you be objective about genius? How can it be that one man, who I’ve already witnessed on 9 other occasions that were all stellar, can somehow still exceed every expectation?
With Prince, all things are possible. So it came to pass that he delivered the greatest show I’ve ever seen on 09/02/14 at the O2 in Shepherd’s Bush, London. A friend from prince.org who has seen Prince 200 times put last night in his Top 3 – an impressive statistic.
Prince’s band, 3rd Eye Girl – a ridiculously tight female three piece of drummer Hannah Ford-Welton, guitarist Donna Grantis and bass player Ida Nielsen, announced this show that same day at midday. With a capacity of 2000 people, I immediately called a friend and we zoomed down to London. Ticket prices were said to be £70, yet this was a ploy to ward off casual fans – when the tickets went on sale at 7PM they were just £10.
There were too many incredible moments in the 2 and a half hour set to mention them all, but in the first part, definite highlights included “She’s Always In My Hair”, “Colonized Mind”, “Chaos & Disorder” (one of Prince’s most under-rated songs), and a beautiful version of “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”, slowed down to a poignant, wistful, beautiful ballad. The hard-rocking studio version of that song from 1987’s classic “Sign O’ The Times” record is one of my favorite Prince songs – the fact that he can completely change the style and vibe of the whole song in a way that possibly even exceeds the original is just one testament to his genius.
I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man (Live from Sign O’ The Times Concert Movie) 1987
For the next section, 3rd Eye Girl left the stage while Prince sat down at a piano. It’s a cliche that many critics have called him “a modern day Mozart”, but when it’s just him and a piano, that comparison certainly seems justified. His fingers danced over the keys in a symbiotic manner, his mastery of piano, just like his mastery of guitar, removes any barrier between man and instrument. There were visible tears of emotion and joy across much of the audience, as he invoked the strongest feelings of nostalgia and personal memories for many through “The Beautiful Ones”, “Purple Rain” and “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore?” For me, the highlight of the piano set was the rendition of “Do Me, Baby” – if the collective experiences of the most sensual erotic encounters in the history of the human race were distilled into song, I believe they’d sound a lot like that song.
Prince – Do Me, Baby
Next, the sampler set, in which Prince played a combination of DJ and vocalist, using the sampler keyboard to bust out with some of most iconic electrofunk grooves, including “When Doves Cry”, “Housequake”, and “I Would Die 4 U”. I was thrilled when he (briefly) started playing the groove to “777-9311” by The Time, which he wrote and produced back in 1981. But the definite highlight of this section was when he looped up the drums of “Forever In My Life”, then proceeded to pick up the bass and cut loose with some of the funkiest licks you’ve ever heard.
Prince & The Revolution – “I Would Die 4 U”
After no less than three encores with the whole band, including the most stellar version of “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” that I have ever heard, it seemed like Prince might be done. But we weren’t ready to let him go. We clapped, we cheered, we whistled, we chanted, we stamped our feet for another 10 minutes…and he was back! It was here that the show upgraded from “Great” to “INSANE” levels. Maybe Prince was mad about something. Maybe it’s because funk icon George Clinton was there watching from the balcony. Or maybe Prince gets off on making 2000 jaws drop simultaneously.
For this final section, he picked out 5 of his hardest rocking songs, and worked them like a possessed demon rock god. This portion is what makes this show go down in history. The grin on the face of the cameraman zooming in on the fretboard as Prince’s fingers were lit up all over it said it all – he performed “Endorphinmachine”, “Dreamer”, “Screwdriver”, “I Like It There”, with a long drawn out crowd participation chant in the latter, and just when you thought he was done ……….. His Royal Badness pulled out a barrel of oil, doused the whole venue, and lit a match.
Prince – Bambi (live in Tokyo, 1990)
I’m referring of course, to “Bambi”, the scorching hot blistering rock ode to a lesbian that Prince wants to sleep with, from his 1979 second album. Somehow, with a band of gorgeous, young and insanely skilled female musicians this song becomes even more powerful than it has ever been, and when Prince screamed in falsetto – “I know what you need – Bambi, maybe you need to bleed!” – in combination with rocking that throwback afro, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you might have warped back to 1980 to witness him at his raunchiest. If there’s anything on the planet that could convince a lesbian girl to sleep with a straight man, it’s Prince singing this song. It’s cool though – he’s not a woman, he’s not a man – he is something that you’ll never understand.
He is, quite simply, Prince – the greatest musician alive.
Words | Casey Rain