Prince was once a symbol but these days he’s an icon. He’s responsible for so many hits- from other artists to solo works and whatever flamboyant guise he’s decided to wear that particular day. It’s hardly a surprise that his concert attracted all types and was a true celebration of music and love. There were the diehard fans who had been around long before ’99; the guys and girls in purple; lovely ladies in raspberry berets; the dotting punks that love pop and the children of the eighties – like myself – who grew up singing his songs and thinking cream was what went on top of ice-cream sundaes. We’ve all grown up a little since then, but for most people Friday night was the fulfillment of a fantasy (childhood or otherwise) to see the almighty, purple one.
The first show of the Welcome 2 Australia Tour was in Sydney. The suspense rose as the colourful artist formerly known as turned up fashionably late. The love symbol was everywhere from the elaborate stage in the centre of the arena to a number of guitars and the large screens that were filled with electric blue lighting bolts indicating his imminent arrival. But Prince also tried to keep things intimate as the tables around the stage lent it a small-club feel. There was some golden light as he played up the role of a Vegas Reverend in a sequined suit while a beautiful bride (Damaris Lewis) walked down the almost runway-like front of the stage. The waltz was a taste of “Purple Rain” on the acoustic guitar and was a sign of the “Gold” to come while it rained glitter from the ceiling.
Prince soon established how multi-talented he is. He pulls out moves that are like a cross between Jagger and Michael Jackson. He also grooves like the latter, reaches the high notes like a camp Little Richard, is a soul man like James Brown and can play the kind of inspired electric guitar solos that Hendrix did so well. And that’s not to discount his own personal ecstatic, electric and eccentric personality. While influenced by others, he really is like no other, an untouchable living legend and tour de force.
In “Jam Of The Year” he got people clapping along and throwing their hands up high in the air. It was the perfect way to prep us for the starry-eyed pop of “Let’s Go Crazy”. There was a quick costume change with Prince now wearing a gold, leather-fringed jacket while the dancers were dressed in 1920s-flapper style white. It proved the kind of stirring, synth pop that put a stupid grin on everyone’s face, one that continued into “Delirious”.
Prince said “1999” was our song and he was right. It’s the track that’s a staple for our own elaborate, New Year’s Eve fireworks displays and tonight it had plenty of smoke and boogieing to the pounding drums courtesy of the New Power Generation’s John Blackwell. It was as big a party as an end of year (or millennium) celebration, before the sultry and stripped-back, “Little Red Corvette”. Prince then cajoled the Aussie blokes to sing it for the ladies like a rather giving and mutual musical foreplay.
The back-up singers (Shelby Johnson, Elisa Fiorillo and Olivia Warfield) then took over the reigns for a cover of “Lost & Found” by Lianne La Havas. Then Prince returned and with Johnson, the pair showed off their powerful voices in “Nothing Compares 2 U”. This was well received and was teased out a little longer than the original. It was after all, “real music” and fabulous to boot!
Messer Purple then asked us if we wanted to dance with him for “Take Me With You” and everyone did, before the mass sing-along and cartoon visuals of “Raspberry Beret”. There was another ace with “Cream”. It was so hot and sexy you almost felt like you were impregnated just by watching. The band jammed along in an abundance of colour, light and movement, plucking a group of lucky punters from the audience for a jam on stage in a scene reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s shows. This one was more about bouncing and dancing and it seemed as appropriate a moment as any to segue into a cover of “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” as the Purple posse collectively grooved like the late King Of Pop.
For “Sometimes It Snows In April” Prince noodled away on the electric guitar while NPG’s Andy McKee did a stellar job on the acoustic. It was a slower ballad with light and dark shades, like a proper winter in the arena complete with snow-like glitter. There was the beautiful funk cover of Martika’s “Love... Thy Will Be Done”. It was a careful reminder to appreciate the little things but in true Prince style he added his trademark wit and funny banter. Consider: “We should all be grateful for one another and be grateful for music- it brings people together. Why else would we all be here? Free pizza?”
The flashing piano-via-sampler was responsible for allowing The Artist to create the spine tingly, “When Doves Cry”. The star was like a crazed wizard jamming away with flashes of beeps and blops; it’s something Fishing would love to create and music that can’t be made by a band. But these weeping doves soon turned into bold eagles soaring high into the feverish stomp of “I Would Die For You,” where we had great fun with its scatterbrain-like punch.
At this stage in the game most musicians would’ve exhausted the majority of their hits. But not Prince. “Kiss” was massive and had an extended part as the spotlight zeroed in on the dancing crowd. It was then time to slow things down and get those lighters out for “Purple Rain,” all liquid drops of moonlight and soft rays swirling around to create musical confetti. The almost three-hour set was then closed by the encores: “Controversy” and after a rather long wait we received “Peach,” in something that proved well worth the delay.
Prince’s show is one well-oiled machine. He is a consummate perfectionist and professional and even though a pedant might have noticed some minor issues with his mic low in the mix and some minor technical problems with the guitar, the band and dancers (including two stunning twins) pulled off one excellent show. Plus, most of us were far too busy going crazy- singing, dancing, throwing our arms around our mate(s) and becoming absolutely besotted by the legend.
The purple one’s music had taken in everything from catchy pop to anthemic electronics, hyper beats and enthralling ballads, plus soul music and groovy funk. And all this had been packaged as danceworthy and lusty visions of pure joy. The good vibes had sent tingles down our spines one minute and then turned us into dopey children with huge grins on our faces the following one, as we all danced like our lives depended on it. You just couldn’t fight it...
Prince’s Welcome 2 Australia show was part theatre, part dance party, a musical celebration and heck, even a spiritual experience. Prince may not be a King but he proved he’s certainly a God and one worth his weight in diamonds and pearls. His first show in Oz in 9 years was rather hot and heavy and a welcome return. So all that’s left to say is lie, cheat, beg, borrow or steal, do anything you can to get yourself a ticket. You won’t be disappointed.
[Photo of Prince at Allphones Arena, Sydney, Australia – 11th May 2012 – courtesy of NPG Records.]