Its 8.45pm, Prince is already 45 minutes late and the restless crowd claps and whistles which turn into foot stomps and intensified banging. The lights go out, 20,000 fans in Birmingham’s LG Arena erupt. The lights then come back on, met by a chorus of boos; it was pure theatre, with the anticipation constantly building. When the lights go out for the third time it begins. ‘Welcome to Funk’ reads the screen, the white and purple curtain drops leaving Prince centre-stage as he and his band 3RDEYEGIRL launch into new track ‘FunknRoll’ with gusto under smoke and purple lights.
The Minneapolis musical genius reels off a blistering Jimi Hendrix-style guitar wail and disappears in a cloud of smoke. He uses every inch of the stage and makes the audience feel part of the performance.
With his fantastic new band 3RDEYEGIRL songs are slowed down, stretched out or totally reinvented as they rampage from Sly Stone funk to psychedelic pop. Prince’s music and back catalogue spans decades and genres.
The first few songs almost become medley-like, with the third song a grenade-flash burst of ‘Raspberry Beret’. Once Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL settle into a more deliberate tempo and lock into a smooth groove things truly awaken. Prince switches between strut-funk guitar twangs and flicks and sprawling, monstrous guitar assaults that allow screeched, elongated notes to float through the entire arena.
His Hendrix like ability to let a single note hold out, hanging and squealing, squeezing all the life out of it, is as riveting as it is intoxicating. When finished he simply holds his guitar out, waiting for a roadie to collect it, oozing attitude.
The jaw dropping moments keep coming as his unquestionable talent as one of the finest musicians ever shines through. Prince doesn’t just play guitar, Kiss is an opportunity to bust his dance moves with the flair and arrogance of James Brown in his heyday. The Love We Make showcases his piano-playing, and Nothing Compares 2 U is his vocal and lyrical master class. He even does live DJ-style mixing.
But his true calling is with his symbol shaped guitar, as throughout the night he plays a six string, slide, and rounding off with the bass which is like a crash course in funk. The only instrument he didn’t play were the drums but probably only because it meant he wouldn’t be able to dance and play at the same time.
1999’ explodes like a firework and the effortless transition directly into ‘Little Red Corvette’ is seamless and poetic of Prince’s ability. Of course the other classic were played too, squeezed into a remarkable two and a half hours. “Ya’ll ain’t ready for this, I got too many hits” Prince says half way through, and truthfully we were never ready, no venue or audience will ever be. Raspberry Beret, U Got The Look, and a particularly James Brown channelling Musicology lead the way, and Sign O’ The Times followed. My favourite ‘When Doves Cry’ was perfect for audience to sing along to the chorus to which Prince duly obliged.
With a back catalogue that puts the Beatles to shame, more riffs that Hendrix, moves to rival MJ and the showmanship of James Brown, it’s hard to argue against the opinion that Prince is the complete package.
It was a night of funk jam, a barrage of hits and magisterial showmanship proving there is no one in the world quite like Prince. Savour, enjoy and appreciate him while you still can. A true musical genius and an icon of our times, the purple one is still in his prime.
Peace, love and happiness