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PRINCE, HIT & RUN PT. II TOUR, LG ARENA, BIRMINGHAM, 15/05/14

(thanks to Wil at the 405 for the hook-up)


SO, there are those great gigs you go to. Those good gigs you go to. Those bad gigs you go to. All seem to exist on the same scale. This was off the scale in every way. This was so good, halfway through your mind was making cast-iron assurances that tomorrow you’d quit your job, quit your life, quit everything just to dedicate the rest of your paltry existence to chasing . . . this, this night, these feelings, this turning of yourself inside out. This was so good I’ve started seeing my life ever since, at least in those rare moments where the palpitations have stopped, in two distinct stages. There was my life up to this night, and now I’m starting the second phase of my life after this night. My pre-seeing-Prince years are gone now. Nothing I learned in them can help me now. I’m now in my post-seeing-Prince years. They will be productive.
   Never seen him before, never thought I’d get the chance. £75 quid a pop was too rich for my blood. Craven and shameless begging on twitter got me on the gitlist. Only found out on the morning. Whole day a dizzying exhausting mix of dealing with reality, barely able to apprehend any importance in the day-to-day shit I was doing, unable to truly comprehend what I would be going to see. I was going to see fkn PRINCE. Not just another singer, not just another gig – this man, and I count myself among innumerable ugly Asian guys in the 80s in this - wasn’t just a musical bomb in that decade and in my life, he proffered the possibility that being a short-arsed hairy brown person you could also be cut from God’s own image. On the way out of Cov we find ourselves following a massive limo, doubtless just some gig-goers who decided to make a night of it, but we convince ourselves it’s Mr.Nelson himself, hid in the back with nothing but a few copies of The Watchtower and his make-up artist for company. Something about the limo, blacked out, no decals about ‘available for hire’, had us following, stalker-like, from a safe two-second-rule distance. Eventually, halfway up the A45 it pulls into a Texaco. We debate pulling in as well, surmise rightly that if it was the Purple One stopping off for a snack it’d be his driver who he’d send in for his Ginsters Spicy Slice, so stay on the road, get to the LG, park, walk, judging our fellow fans on whether they’re wearing purple. A crush, and we’re in, and we’re waiting, heart trembling, listening to the smartly-chosen ‘Big Fun’-era Miles Davis that’s getting everyone tenser and tenser, and we still can’t quite believe that we’re here. We’re gonna wake up in a minute. This can’t be real.

   Deliberate false-starts. Third time’s the charm. Curtain drop. FUCK ME IT’S REALLY HIM. Looking stunning, looking like the kind of cat Marc Bolan would drop a couplet on. Silk pyjama jumpsuit, lightly-flared, beautiful. IT’S REALLY HIM. THIS IS REAL. AND IT’S REALLY HAPPENING. RIGHT NOW. IN FRONT OF US. From then on the thoughts, the impossibility of ‘thoughts’ – come too thick n fast n creamy to be chronologically delineated and kiss my arse if you think I could take ‘notes’ so let’s break it down thusly.


1.   The band. Fuck me what a band. 3rdEyeGirl are blazing, funky like playing pocket billiards with planet-sized-cojones, HEAVY as hell. When Ida Nielsen hits that fuzz pedal on ‘Musicology’ her bass turns into this thing of coruscating electric wonder, NOISE at stadium-sized affect. And Hannah Ford’s drumming throughout is a thing of rolling joy and bliss and drama – there’s times when she’s so funky she sounds like a dub-production is being enacted on what she’s playing as she’s playing it. Astonishing musicians, locked in from the off, no ‘warming up’, just instant white heat and black power. And Donna Grantis is Prince’s perfect foil on guitar, great enough to match him lick for lick but able to step back and provide perfect Jimmy Nolen-style scratchy backing when the man wants to get lurid and loose on the simmering ‘Empty Room’.  3rdEyeGirl are genuinely the heaviest thing I’ve ever seen at the LG, even heavier than AC-DC were a few years back and that’s fucking heavy. The loudness and the glory.



2.  HIM. I never got to see James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Earth Wind & Fire, T.Rex, My Bloody Valentine, Kraftwerk, This Heat, New Order, Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis, Sly & The Family Stone, Merzbow. Doesn’t matter now. I saw HIM. At various points Prince recalls all of them, smart enough to leave enough space to let the funky moments really get inside your bones and make your toes curl, genius enough that when he plays guitar he really does recall Hendrix/Hazel but still puts across nothing but his OWN blend of what he’s listened to. And still a brilliant, bewitching dancer. In a sense, Prince is the last living relic we have that directly touches back to those aulden times in music, crucially though every time he plays a note he propels us into the future. ‘Musicianship’ is something it’s become incredibly difficult to defend or respect or acclaim anymore – so often does it mean the tedium of wanky solos, empty showboating. In Prince the whole concept gets opened up to the full possibilities perhaps only Miles & Jimi ever touched before – every moment of Prince’s guitar playing is a juddering jolt of electric wow that pushes your jaw just that extra inch closer to the floor. And he’s not frowning or sweating, he’s looking like the coolest motherfucker you ever saw in your life, he’s looking like he’s ENJOYING it, like he’s just as turned on by the sheer psychedelic outrageousness of what he’s conjuring from his battle-axe cum magic wand. ]#
   Two utterly astonishing moments as well where he entirely slips the rock-god leash and transmogrifies into utterly contrary identities– one a gorgeous medley of songs where he’s at the piano, pure Donny Hath/Joni style and you realise his voice is somehow older, but still immortal, his voice this thing that, like his playing, can seemingly DO ANYTHING, flying from the most sultry depths to the most shattering falsetto in the space of a syllable. Another moment where he steps behind what looks like a straight-up DJ set-up (samplers, decks), and pushes buttons and ‘Hot Thing’ and ‘Sign Of The Times’ happen LOUDER than you’ve ever heard ‘em, heaviest harshest electro beats you’ve heard live since Public Enemy. And you dance and you scream and you swear down you’re getting that logo tattooed on your FACE tomorrow – this guy can fucking do ANYTHING. Brum crowds are slow but in a way entirely free of gimmickry or hoodwinkery he stirs them, times it, paces it, builds it, like no-one else on earth. Greatest showman I’ve ever seen in my life.


3. The songs. The setlist is incredible, as you’d imagine from someone with so much to pull from but it’s the variety that’s key, the quixoticness/suprasmartness of his choices, the little surprises, the odd turns & twists & tweaks it takes that make it not quite a greatest-hits package, and then the glorious moments when he unleashes a monster like ‘1999’, ‘Kiss’ or ‘Beautiful Ones’ on your intensely gratified ass. The way he turns ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ into a monstrously bruising Sabbath-style grind of heaviosity, the way ‘U Got The Look’ and ‘Controversy’ come barraging in to the crowd’s total delight and surprise, the way ‘Diamonds & Pearls’ and ‘I Would Die 4 U’ get spun out and yet abruptly killed with brutal chutzpah, sky-high panache. This whole night is a master class in how to fuck with your past with just the right amount of irreverence and reinvention AND just the right amount of respect to not piss on people’s memories. It’s only on the way home that I think “man, no ‘Dorothy Parker’ or ‘Girlfriend’” but by then, like everyone else, I’m a sticky sated mess with his name in my heart and rattling in my brain with the ear-ringing deafening frenzy of a new-convert. Beforehand I was thinking – there’s no-one alive or dead I want to see play for 3 hours. At the end, I want to go see him again. And again. And again. NOW.


Finally, a thought that can’t be added to a list because it’s too important, a thought that occurs at 4 in the morning, cos of course, after this, I can’t sleep, I’m still buzzing, my head full of undeniable inarguable HIM. It strikes me that the most important thing about what I’ve just seen isn’t about skill or technique or songs or showmanship, it’s not about something you can learn or fake. It’s about generosity. Generosity of spirit in your music. At all times Prince does the incredible things he does FOR the people. At no point is this merely flash. If it was, my god WHAT flash. But there’s something about the way Prince puts his music across that’s about love, about love for us, and our love for him – he never scowls, he never moans if the crowd don’t sing back as loud as he wants them to, he never makes us feel like we HAVE to do anything. He starts a party and he keeps that party going and it’s the greatest party you’ve ever been at and you feel blessed and honoured to have been there, bear witness, got DOWN with the man. He just gives us his songs with a total openness of spirit and heart.
   That’s the thing, perhaps the only thing, that links all true artistic immortals, that deep intrinsic instinctive unselfishness, and Prince exudes it out of every pore. There’s moments tonight where it’s as if he IS music, in some way a living avatar of music’s true liberating spirit, the openness, the freedom, the suggestiveness, the abstractness, the horniness, the transcendence that has us all hooked our whole lives made flesh. He’s everything. Incredible moment when he thanks us for not using our phones, then gets everyone to turn on and transform the place into a sea of stars. And then, during ‘Purple Rain’, which is the most moving moment of my entire life of gig-going, you realise not just that you feel you’re part of that film’s closing sequence but also that that kind of fantasy is precisely what Prince makes real, right here and now. In a time where it’s become orthodoxy that there’s nothing new under the sun, Prince gives you back a new you, under a new sun, dancing a new dance. He makes your life, in seeing him, feel that big, that worth it. That’s an incredibly rare and precious gift, to be able to make people feel that life is worth pushing on with. Utterly inspirational. Totally mind-blowing. It’s amazing what a person can do with music. The pivotal moment I feel the rest of my life will be spun out from. I don’t care if that’s delusion. It’s the best delusion I’ve ever felt.

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