Prince believes in God and Prince believes in sex. Perhaps the most timeless dichotomy in the rich tapestry of pop music and rock ‘n’ roll. The mismatch of the Elysian fields and smokey back rooms have been the backdrop to Prince’s decades of musical activity. His 48 hour takeover of Manchester Academy was an exercise in how to find a euphoric equilibrium between the two. Through a tiring mixture of queuing outside the venue for 10 hours, begging publicists and rinsing iPhone battery on various fan-led Twitter accounts, Shuf managed to catch both installments of the pop-up residency and affirmed the view that right now - in 2014 - Prince is the greatest live performer in the world.
A total of almost 70 songs were played across the two nights and Prince spent almost 6 hours on the stage with a collective sum of 10 encores. Photography was banned throughout and the Purple emperor and his micro-army of fire-starting dauntless ladies, 3RDEYEGIRL, built an experience that was just as heavenly as it was dirty. His lordly showmanship was juxtaposed with a guerrilla ethos that made everything feel shared. The build to the crescendo of ‘Purple Rain’ felt like a joint effort that ended in a blissful high. At one point, after inviting some of the crowd to dance with him he leaned in to the mic and said, “Show them some love, that’s better than Mumford and Sons”. A snide afterthought from the host of the party of a lifetime. Then cuts like ‘The Beautiful Ones’ and ‘Diamonds and Pearls’ demonstrated something that often gets forgotten- Prince’s vocal ability. It is inarguably amazing that he can (and does) pick up any instrument from the band and play it like he’s devoted his life to it, but when the opening “Baby, baby, baby” of ‘The Beautiful Ones’ silences the crowd like it does in the 1984 movie, it’s his pipes that leave audiences truly wide-eyed.
In terms of other hits, we got our fair share. ‘Alphabet Street’, ‘Take Me With U’, ‘Raspberry Beret’ and ‘I Would Die 4 U’ were all executed with a style and finesse but, more importantly they were being played because Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL wanted to play them. There’s a reason the setlists were different both nights. Skeptics might call these surprise shows little more than PR-driven jaunts ahead of lucrative festival appearances later in the year but this was the least robotic or mechanical live show we had ever seen. If anything, it was superhuman. The new material from the band ahead of upcoming LP, ‘Plectrum Electrum’ were just as airtight as the favourites and they gave off an unmissable sensation of vitality and spirit. At one point, Prince said “I’m doing this for you, for me, but also for them” and pointed to the trio of females that have fuelled this purple renaissance. Their relationship is built upon Prince’s undying commitment to excellence in the live sector. Rather than enhancing it or worsening it, 3RDEYEGIRL have simply reshaped it in to something new. Stadium Godliness has become musical reeducation in it’s most urgent but most spectacular form. Thanks to 3RDEYEGIRL, Prince has gone from the distant preacher to the commander of the revolution. The manifesto hasn’t changed, but this time you have to listen.
Every time he leaves the stage for one of his signature faux exits, nobody even considers leaving in order to “beat the crowds”. The Prince live experience is one that continues to raise the bar in to unforeseen galaxies and always leaves you wanting another taste.
Since touching down in London earlier this month, Britain has been given a reminder of why there is an upper rank in music reserved for individuals like this. In an interview recently, Prince talked about the lack of hits in music. He means hits. Songs that transcend genre, background and the zeitgeist without even trying. These kind of sonic landmarks don’t exist at the moment but Prince isn’t one to just mouth off in an interview then scuttle back to the comfort of Minneapolis. This residency was a deafening prompt for woman, man or that which we might never understand. This can happen. And when it does, it will never go away.
Words: Duncan Harrison