21 Hours Alone … with Prince … and 21 000 others – From Amsterdam to Manchester to London

s week saw two marathon trips to see Prince and 3rdEyeGirl. The first 21 hour round trip started with a train journey to Manchester from Kent and an overnight bus ride where I sit in darkness and solitude writing this review after meeting with 21 000 Prince fanatics.

I went to two of the shows from Prince’s “Hit and Run” tour in February. It’s quite clear that his new band 3rdEyeGirl have gone from strength to strength since then. The pop-up gigs in London were pretty rocky but this week’s concerts were decidedly more funky. The girls were augmented by keyboard players tonight and Marissa Jack on vocals.

18.5.14 Funk’n’Roll in Manchester

Peter Amsterdam

The entrance to the Phones 4 U arena is via a train station!!  The usual hours of queuing despite having tickets – after all, this is Little Britain.  Anyway, we started with the ‘funk and grind’ version of “Let’s Go Crazy”, featuring the simply magnificent Edgar Winter “Frankenstein” segue in the middle.  Prince is a master of improvisation and gets the band to extend or shorten the songs with the wink of an eye or a simple hand movement.  3rdEyeGirl now look like they’ve been playing music with him all their life, with the powerhouse combination of Hannah Ford and Ida Neilson on drums and bass plus the superb guitar work of Donna Grantis.  Gone are all the guitar leads replaced by radio mics. The leads caused me some amusemenet on stage in February when the band almost looked like they had a pub rock setup as Prince stretched his curly guitar lead and curly hair across the stage and Donna nearly got trapped by her leads interfering with her array of floor effects and high heels.  A lot of work has gone into tightening up on a list of all the small things, which make a huge difference to the overall professionalism and performance.

Every Prince show is different and tonight was no exception.  He asked:

“Can I play some blues for you?”

Yes, we replied.  We got a smooth soul version of “The Ride”, the like of which I have never heard at one of Prince’s concerts. Simply sublime. On the previous evening he performed a version of “Electric Intercourse”, a song he has allegedly only played once before live in the 1980’s.  Some of the people attending seemed to switch off when these less familiar songs were played.  Did they not read what it says on the tin “Expect the Unexpected”?  For myself, I could just as easily stay at home and listen to the records if the concert is to be a ‘karaoke’ performance.  This is real music played by real musicians.

 

We got some other rarities – a full version of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?”, a swing version of “Paisley Park”, “Pop Life” and a full version of “The Love We Make”.  I had not heard 3rdEyeGirl do “Nothing Compares 2 U” and it was indeed without comparison. For those not in the know, Prince gave this song to Sinead O’Connor.

Prince seemed extremely playful this evening and gave us a few extra treats during his sampler set. He would set up a groove and then rapidly switch to the next one. This was clearly too much for some as he moved through less familiar pieces – Remember, with Prince you don’t get a blueprint performance every night.  After all, in his own words, he does have “too many hits” and this enabled him to get through a lot of them.

Prince is also a master of engaging his audiences in his performances, using the lighting to enable him to make an arena show as intimate as a small club. The audience become part of the band at various points through the use of call and response routines on Little Red Corvette” and other numbers:

The fellas called to the ladies “You Gotta Slow Down”

The ladies’ choir replied “Woo, Hoo”

After a while of this Prince quipped “You gonna make me pregnant”

Prince and I are the same age and it is always a life affirming moment to see him give a performance, which knocks the spots off people half his years.  Prince demonstrates effortless mastery of his music, his performance and his ability to engage an audience, whether it’s just 75 people at the Electric Ballroom in Camden or 21 000 people at the Phones 4 U Arena in Manchester.  I’ve written previously on my blog about his approach to improvisation and performance and am always amazed by his stamina, mastery and flexibility.

 

StageIt’s Sunday 25 May and the start of another marathon to Amsterdam today.  A 7 am start to Gatwick just in case of traffic.  On my arrival at Gatwick, “The Beautiful Ones” pumped out of my car stereo set on random play.  I met a fellow traveller in the queue for the plane, who identified me from my Prince T-Shirt.  I saw these as signs and signifiers for what turned into a beautiful nite.

Well, it’s a very different show tonight.  The Ziggodome is a superb venue.  Compared with the UK, we have no queuing to do, there are a variety of superb food and drink stalls offering healthy and some less healthy treats, again with hardly any queues and a sound system as good as an intimate club. The first part of the show is similar to the Manchester show as Prince jests “We’re gonna do 16 hits back to back”.   He does exactly what he says on the tin!

But this is no repeat performance.  Prince has been playing a testosterone-guitar-fuelled version of “She’s always in my hair” on piano.  Tonight we get a piano version which shows just why Prince is a continuously creative artist, like my friend Bill Nelson, who also refuses to be categorised as an artist and who Prince admires, so I am told.

Prince is really enjoying playing in Amsterdam, a place that holds a special place in his heart from 1987 when he made the “Sign ‘O The Times” film.  So much so that he plays on and on, not taking a costume break until the first encore, unlike the other shows I’ve seen.  We get an early piano set with some playful use of repetition using his keyboard sampler and several bass solos.

 The Dutch people had called on Prince to break away from his hits and he could easily do several sets of these.  He responded to the call and tonight we got a chillingly great version of “What’s my name?” from “Crystal Ball”, featuring the cool, calm and collected bass funk from Ida, who strolls around the stage as if she is at a flower market, pumping out the most cool and confident bass.  Indeed the key to 3rdEyeGirl’s success is in the rhythm section.  We also got a healthy selection of 3rdEyeGirl material played live and also as a prelude to the show, unlike Manchester where we stood and waited passively.  The Dutch audience knew they were only getting one show at this point and they responded in kind.  We got “PretzelBodyLogic”, “U Gotta Get Ur Groove On”, “The Breakdown” and others including three endings of “Groove On” with each one faster than the other.  So this was in part a show for people who wanted to hear all of Prince’s music and not just the hits.

 

In terms of my own private joys, this was the first time I heard Prince perform a FULL version of “The Beautiful Ones”.  As I mentioned, the song came on randomly on my player as I entered Gatwick airport on my outward journey and this ‘sign ‘o the times’ was echoed with Prince’s performance of the song.  I should explain that my wife and I chose this song as the first dance at our wedding many years ago so it holds a special place in my heart.

 

But it was the finale that brought me to ecstasy.  Not because it was “Purple Rain”, after all I’ve heard the song played so many times.  It was the particular version of the song that came directly from Prince’s heart.  Starting with piano, we got two verses and then an extended conversation leading to the paradigm solo that sounded as fresh as a daisy.  I did not want it to stop.  Nor did Prince and we continued three more times until we were brought to orgasm in the same way that Prince promised everyone in Glasgow a spiritual experience.  We have all been invited to come to Prince’s house next year and I must say that I make a pretty damn fine omelette, so Prince, I would fry for you …