With a discography that spans 32 years of enormous hits and colossal misses and a predilection for bizarre, grandiose public announcements, Prince is an ego of mythic proportions. Prince is still waiting for the rest of the world to realise, like he has, that the internet is a ridiculous fad. He thinks suing his fans for taking photos of him is an OK thing to do. He thinks people should be banned from covering his songs, yet a significant proportion of his catalogue is considered borderline unlistenable by most sane people. But hey Prince, it’s cool, you can say whatever you like, because you’re a freaking genius.
There was an intense feeling of fanlove in the crowd at Friday night’s Welcome 2 Australia concert at Allphones Arena. When the beglittered one finally emerged from within the Love Symbol shaped stage, 40 year old women shrieked like schoolgirls. All of us were there because we love Prince and wanted to tell him so at the top of our lungs. But, speaking purely for myself here, as someone with tremendous admiration for his musical talents and an affectionate fascination for his egotistical rants, I really don’t believe he has any obligation to tell us that he loves us back.
Prince proved he is still one of the world’s most formidable performers. No, he’s not the limber purple pocket rocket he was 20 years ago, but he still struts, he still swaggers, and when he rips into bangin’ versions of Jam of the Year, Mountains and The Cool he still funks the house down like nobody else. What sat uncomfortably with me was Prince’s insistence on patronising, stereotypical stage banter. Sure, he appreciates his fans in his own way, and he probably figures he’s just dishing out what the crowd wants to hear, but his straight-faced “we love you”s and his repeatedly insisting that “Sydney, we on a first name basis tonight” just felt kind of insulting, and the audience quickly seemed to tire of it.
When Prince isn’t singing, dancing, or shredding (and by God, to watch him manhandle that telecaster is to bear witness to one of the true wonders of nature) his stage presence is flat out weird. At one point, about a dozen audience members were invited on stage to dance, and by Prince’s total lack of interaction with any of them, it was clear they had been warned to keep a respectful distance from him. Awkward. You get the feeling the man is constantly conflicted by a sort of throwaway contempt for the large majority of his fans, and the burning need to evangelise to us. He prostheltyises to us in the form of Love Thy Will Be Done, the unremarkable gospel song he wrote for Martika in the early 90s which would have been one of the low points of the night if it wasn’t so amusingly overzealous.
It’s these odd, somewhat ill-timed song choices that made the flow of the evening falter a little. Gold is a big, burning stadium ballad, but it wasn’t the jamming hot opener everyone was hoping for. The 10 or so minute sans-Prince intro to Purple Rain was truly agonising, but when Prince finally took the mic, he sang it as well as he ever has, and his soul searing guitar solo made the wait oh so worth it.
The best bits of the night were the parts that were pure posturing, pure tremble-before-me, ego stroking indulgence. “How many hits Prince got?” he boomed as he triggered a string of backing tracks to hit songs from his disco light flashing, piano shaped synthesiser. “These songs can’t be recreated by a band… because I am that band” he proclaimed, launching into a medley including When Doves Cry, Hot Thing and Sign O The Times. The band returning to the stage to bust out the deliciously spare funk of Kiss to a display of age defying Prince dance moves will go down as one of the most exhilarating concert moments of my life.
He may be past the days of singing lewd, cuss-word peppered sex anthems, but when he’s on stage, in complete control of his band and his own unparalleled musical prowess, Prince is still a total badass. He made us wait almost 20 minutes in the dark for an encore – a rocking but all too brief version of Peach. But in exchange for almost 3 hours in his awesome presence, it’s the sort of punishment I’m more than willing to take.
Prince, we’re not worthy! You don’t need to pretend to suck up to any of us – just play the hell out of those songs, and nobody will forget you’re still the funkiest MF around.