It’s 15 years since I last went to a Prince gig, on the Diamonds and Pearls tour in 1992. I confess to being a fan back then, and whilst I’ve not bought much stuff since he ’symbolised’ himself after the Come album the following year, it’s still all good stuff.
So, it would have been daft not to grab the chance, especially at the Â£31.21 ticket price, to see the current tour at The O2. (The venue’s good: visibility is great, the drinks prices are no higher than average for London, the staff all seemed friendly, there’s plenty of stuff to do outside the arena, and queuing was minimal.) It took half an hour of badgering the Ticketmaster site on the day of release before I could find a date with a ticket, but I got a pair for Saturday’s gig.
And, bloody good it was too. The show is pared down compared to previous tours – just him and the NPG and four dancers on a central stage – and even the guitars seemed more sedate, mostly Stratocasters, although the incumbent novelty axe made an appearance for Purple Rain. The band’s as tight as a Prince band ever is, which is incredibly so, and the inclusion of Maceo Parker on the tour is a real bonus.
To be honest, though, a lot of people would have left diasappointed by the length of the set (and judging by the boo at lights-on, they did) which, even including the three milking-it-a-bit encores, only stretched to an hour and a quarter. But those people would be the ones who didn’t pick up on the several hints dropped during the show and went home without buying a ticket to the aftershow.
Now, having a small stash of bootleg tapes from years ago, there is one thing that’s always true of Prince, and it’s this: the recorded material is good, but it’s totally overshadowed by the concerts, and – here’s the important bit – whilst the concerts are as good as it reasonably ought to get, they’re totally overshadowed by the aftershow gigs. It seems he’s always preferred jamming in a small club to doing the stadiums; one – maybe the only one – of the few big names who’s always done it. It’s just that it’s generally been in unpredictable places, not an advertised venue right next to the exit from the main event.
So – gambling though it was, since there’s no guarantee of him appearing – we managed to bag a couple of the last few tickets to the Indigo2 (which inexplicably hadn’t sold out).
I have one tip: Go to the aftershow, do not just go home. Buy two nights’ worth of tickets if you have to, in case he doesn’t show on one night. If he doesn’t, you’ll get some other live music plus an evening of great funk through the speakers. If he does, it’ll be the best gig you ever see.
It kicked off with Superstition and Higher Ground and then so much stuff followed – including (if I recall) Chelsea Rodgers, plus a 15-minute jamming instrumental, solos all over the shop, the sort of musicianship that just blows your mind – and a blues number Learn to Operate the Toilet Seat. Prince’s bands are always tight enough to jam better than most bands can play their rehearsed stuff, and it shows. He often starts a jam by beatboxing, the drummer picks it up, and only the occasional vocal command or gesticulation conducts the proceedings after that. And the results are gold. An hour and a half it was, and despite the sustained appeal for an encore, no-one went away disappointed by the lack of one.
Best. Gig. Ever.