Prince - First Direct Arena, Leeds - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Prince - First Direct Arena, Leeds

by Rich Morris Rating:10 Release Date:2012-05-12

It begins with a plea from the three women who make up 3rdEyeGirl, who emerge from behind the curtain to ask us sweetly not to use our camera-phones to record footage of tonight’s performance. Nothing we film will live up to being here in the moment, they tell us. Well, they’ve got that right.

After this short introduction, his Purple Shortness is suddenly among us, churning out a monster riff which suddenly, completely unexpectedly, resolves itself into ‘Let’s Go Crazy’. Possibly the classic example of a great pop song hamstrung by bad 80s production, tonight it’s radically remade in the hard-rock image of both Hendrix and Guns N’ Roses.

We’ve read a lot about Prince’s new guitar-heavy sound, so is this riff-arama what we’re gonna get tonight? Well, no… For the most part. Because, surprisingly for a man who seemed to spend most of the last 15 years trying to duck his substantial musical legacy, Prince is actually quite up for playing his hits.

So we, his screaming, rejoicing audience, get ‘Raspberry Beret’, ‘U Got the Look’, ‘1999’, ‘Controversy’. This seems to be Prince’s approach for the evening – bang, bang, bang; each solid gold classic reminding us exactly who we’re watching. Unfortunately, this avalanche of pop genius is somewhat hampered by sound problems. Prince’s guitar is twice as loud as anything else on stage, including, annoyingly, his voice, which on the early songs is reduced to a tinny, static-y buzz.

Thankfully, these faults are rectified pretty fast, but it reflects badly on First Direct Arena, which is being touted as the best big concert venue in the UK. But never mind, because Prince and his band have just launched into ‘Kiss’. Many artists come to view their biggest, most enduring hit as something of an albatross (like when I saw Gary Numan a few years back and he swiftly tossed off ‘Cars’, annoyingly).

No such shoddy showmanship for our Prince. While 3rdEyeGirl stretch the song out into funk behemoth territory, Prince lets loose with those impeccable dance moves, still jaw-dropping to witness. For someone who has allegedly undergone hip replacement surgery (or refused it due to his faith, depending on what you believe), the man can still out-dance anyone. And he looks like he’s loving every minute.

A perfectly realised ‘Little Red Corvette’ is followed by ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, the Prince song made famous by Sinéad O'Connor. Unfortunately, Prince still doesn’t seem to get what’s special about the stark bereavement in his lyrics, over-egging the soul revue pudding drastically. It’s the one bum note in tonight’s performance, and even then, he almost pulls it off thanks to sheer charisma alone.

Then the stage goes dark. “Back in the day, this was the sound,” intones Prince. The elemental guitar wig-out which introduces ‘When Doves Cry’ starts up. We erupt with joy, howling along. Prince, the little trooper, shouts “Leeds!” He does that a lot. Almost every song now has “Leeds!” somewhere in its lyric. He also seems a little too content to let us sing the hits at times. I didn’t pay all this money to do karaoke, Prince.

Oh well, fuck it, cos the awesomeness shows no sign of ending. During the minimalist funk of ‘Sign O’ the Times’, Prince suddenly stops the beat. “Do you know how many hits I’ve got?!” he hollers. We scream back. Yes, we do. “Do you wanna hear some more hits?!” We scream. “We’ll be here all night!” Louder screaming. “Do you wanna be here all night?!” We explode.  

We get ‘I Would Die 4 U’ and ‘Alphabet Street’, and then ‘Purple Rain’, which is just as huge, overblown, luscious and perfect as we all want it to be, during which plumes of purple confetti are unleased upon us. Then Prince releases some purple and white balloons, which rise swiftly right to the top of the venue and stay there, which probably wasn’t intended and might have resulted in someone getting sacked.

The lights go up. We clap and yell for what seems like an age, but is actually about 10 minutes. People start leaving. Idiots. Prince comes back on and sits at the piano, doing a soundcheck. Without acknowledging us, he performs some ballads solo, including ‘Diamonds and Pearls’.

He vacates the stage once more. We cheer and clap. He returns with his band and tells us he’ll play one more song, maybe two “if you dance with me”. Then he plays a load more numbers, culminating in a wonderful, and wonderfully off-the-cuff sounding version of Wild Cherry’s classic ‘Play That Funky Music’.

He leaves. He returns. “Seriously?!” he asks us. We’re delirious by now. We grin like the blissfully unencumbered. Prince tells us he loves his guitar more than God, and then plays a song about it, which sounds like The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary’. Which is to say, it’s very good. Finally, after a guitar-heavy ‘Sometimes It Snows in April’, he leaves and it’s all over.

I assume. He may have done another five encores after I left the building. But I was exhausted. He was amazing. What else can I say?

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