I thought I was just another jaded fan. I thought Prince had done everything. I thought I knew what this night would bring. It would seem I know nothing. Prince didn’t just exceed expectations, he smashed them to pieces. It was a night where I was reborn several times, and every note and song lifted me higher and higher until I was in heaven itself. I am not one who normally talks this way, but the last few hours have been a revelation. The show finished a scant 20 minutes ago, and I am in my hotel across the road, still with the warmth of the show, and the sound of the music still dripping off me. What will follow will be from a fanboys perspective, expect no objectivity, I am still in the midst of an almost spiritual experience.
24 February, 2016, Auckland, New Zealand
Five hours ago Prince stepped out to his piano in a blinding white light, with the cheer of 2500 fans who did their best to sound like 25,000. I have seen Prince perform before, I listen to his music almost daily, I am 42 years old, and yet I screamed like a Beatlemanic school girl as he pimp walked on stage, glittery cane in hand.
Five hours ago Prince sat at his piano, and with no safety-net of a band, or indeed a stage show, he showed us the power of not just musicianship but songwriting. No glitz or glamour to paper over the cracks, it was the songs themselves that were to be the making of the show. I Would Die 4 U and Baby I’m A Star are certainly crowd pleasing favorites, but in this new arena they became more. I Would Die 4 U shone as an uplifting moment, the chords pulling us up, each one piling on top of each other and creating a platform that sounded glorious and joyful.
Four and a half hours ago Prince played one of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio, I Feel For You. Slowed down, the lyrics toyed and pulled with, the piano had a swing to it that clearly showed us it’s roots,and indeed Princes. This is music with a history, it came from somewhere, and this is ably demonstrated as the piano lends a warm timbre to a previous cool synth driving song. Yes, the warmth of the piano filled the hall and our souls.
Four hours ago Prince played Condition Of The Heart, a delicate love song that I once copied the lyrics to and gave to a teenage love. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times I have listened to it on record, to see Prince sitting right in front of me playing it on the piano was ‘a moment’. I felt a life time of girlfriends flash by my eyes as Prince’s voice dripped over the lyrics, before he floored my for the first time in the evening with a rendition of Noon Rendezvous. Can I describe it? Not a chance, it was personal moment that was shared with 2500 strangers, and something that will stay with me for a long time.
Forever In My Life is another touch stone song in my life, one readily associated with girlfriends and loves won and lost. A slight song on record, in this setting it’s a slow-burning song that smolders and glows. There is a seriousness to it, and even the “da da da” at the end sound heavy and important. The song is the thing, and Princes piano playing is very gentle, his voice carrying the weight and reminding us that there are two instruments on stage.
Three and half hours ago Prince darkened the room and played a smoking version of Thieves In The Temple. Like most Prince songs I carry associations with it from my teenage years, in this case I recall staying up late to hear it first being played on the radio back in the day. I was ecstatic to hear it played, and once again Prince upped the stakes when he started to sing the song It. I am sure I must have screamed or shouted as Prince howled into the microphone, much like the Sign O The Times film. I can’t tell you, did I scream, was my mouth wide open, did I faint? Maybe all three. All I know is I had my moneys worth right there.
Three hours ago Prince played Paisley Park, a song that swung and rocked back and forth on the motion of his left hand as he banged out the chords. Like so many of these songs the rhythm was inherent in the playing, and Prince was able to be incredibly expressive in his playing, conveying all sorts of rhythms and emotions. Paisley Park is one of Princes songs that speaks of an utopia, much like Uptown, and I think he had us all transported away with him as he played.
Just over two hours ago Prince started his second show, and despite myself I am still screaming and cheering like a fool. A slower song to start, Love Thy Will Be Done, but every bit as good opening, the crowd moved swaying as the notes fly off the piano and over our heads. No snare drum beat, just Princes delicate vocals moving up and down as the piano plays endless variations. A master class of everything in a single song.
An hour and a half ago Prince played U Got The Look, a song that normally wouldn’t warrant a mention, in this case its that honky-tonk left hand of Prince that drives the rhythm and gives the song a great Ray Charles sound, and I think he acknowledges that influence later with a considered cover of Unchain My Heart. Prince knows the piano is the thing, and often resorts to just piano along in the show, the crowd enraptured. I didn’t want to miss a single note, and I am amply rewarded later when he sings a few lines of Erotic City. I’ll say that again, a few lines of Erotic City. It’s not much, but I’ll take it. That left hand is still banging on the keys, I just can’t forget the sound of it.
Condition Of The Heart came out again, this time the crowd in silence watching reverently as if at a classical performance. The piano was the hero for a long time, no longer being hammered, instead eyes shut moving from side to side Prince filled the hall with some playing that would be at home in any concert hall in the world. I would have shut my eyes and been transported away but I didn’t want to miss a thing.
An hour ago Prince hit me with one of the greatest 1,2,3 punches ever. The Ballad Of Dorthy Parker, Something In The Water, Strange Relationship. Each one pulling different emotions and Prince loading his piano and singing with as much heart as he could muster. The first two were stunning in their beauty, and Strange Relationship coming as the redemption, the funk so strong. And a revelation as we watch Prince play, he wrote these songs like this, sitting alone at the piano. It’s a rare thing to see their roots laid out bare like this.
He teased us and toyed with us as he played a long How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore. The crowd, me included, impatiently singing the first line while Prince was still repeating the intro, only for him to stop with a “Oh no you don’t” before starting over and reclaiming the line for himself.
Fifty minutes ago Prince played A Case Of U, a song I swore I would die if I ever heard live. I’m still here, but those minutes as Prince played and sung will stay with me for the rest of my life, and hopefully beyond.
Forty minutes ago Prince played a four songs off Purple Rain, culminating in the song itself, in what I thought would be the show closer. But then came one of those moments, planned or accidental I don’t know, that stick with you forever. Prince played the opening of Purple Rain, before something changed. The stars aligned, lightning struck and the evening became better than I could have every imagined. First he played The Love We Make, before segueing into The Ladder. Prince started to speak and sing and suddenly the concert seemed to melt away. No longer were we spectators watching Prince play his songs, now he was music personified and we were drawn into the very music itself. The music seemingly flowed out of him, all of it glorious, all of it uplifting and spiritual. People speak of the healing power of music, but here it was in action. The Ladder ebbed and flowed into Adore, the crowd singing along, but not too loudly lest we can’t hear Prince. A song that means so much to so many, here I am standing alone listening to it, and yet not alone – 2500 people sharing the same emotion and experience with me. The crowd lending their claps to the beat, and now all of us involved in making the music. The music continues to flow out of Prince, he isn’t even performing now, he is just a conduit for the songs themselves which seem to be coming from a higher place. Nothing Compares 2 U keeps the crowd quiet, yet involved, firstly clapping, and then Prince coaching us through the lyrics. Purple Rain comes quickly after, and then we get our final upswing to the finish.
The last fifteen minutes will stay with me forever. First Kiss, I will always cherish this performance more than the song itself. Prince banging the keys, the top of the piano, the floor, anything to get that beat, that sound out. Like a man possessed by the muse herself, he would do anything to convey that sound, that feeling. And best of all, he swept me, all of us, up with him. All clapping stomping, singing, Prince was giving us his gift, the gift of music, to us all. Half Ray Charles, half Jerry Lee Lewis, he was feeling it and it was impossible not to go with him. Standing and stomping behind the piano, shaking his hips, he reclaimed rock n roll from Elvis and all that came after him. He took us back to the beginning, a man who was music itself driving out the songs, the beat. Then to emphases this point further he picked up his stool and started banging it on the floor to create a new beat. Quickly picked up by the crowd I find I am a puddle of water as he plays the unreleased Purple Music. The music pours down upon us,and I am having an out of body experience, I am literally beside myself at this point. I am not alone, all around my people are singing,clapping, dance, expressions of pure joy, no one the least bit self conscious. The hall takes on the feeling of one, and this spiritual moment is highlighted as Prince plays Free Urself, the crowd clapping and chanting to Princes call of “wheres the choir?” No longer a concert, it is now a rally, a congregation singing in unison. 2500 people have now become one, and Prince is no longer performing, he is guiding us and channeling the music through us. The song goes for ten minutes, but it might have well an hour, I was so lost in the moment. Prince skips from the stage, and we sing and clap Free Urself for a good few minutes afterwards, not wanting this show, this feeling, to ever end.
Twenty minutes ago I came back to my room, opened up my laptop and tried to record every moment of the show, trying not to forget a single thing about a show that is simply unforgettable.