So. Prince at the Hydro. I’ve seen Prince before, but never in a venue that looks exactly from the outside like the newly-grown 70’s ‘fro on his funky little head. Being my first visit to the Hydro, I was largely impressed; decent leg room and comfy chairs with a terrific view and a beer for £4, although I felt slightly detached from the whole thing. The standing area was clearly the place to be and from our not-so-lofty postion in Level 2, you had the feeling of watching people at a gig, rather then being the people at the gig, if that makes sense.
Musically, Prince is on a whole other level to any other act on the planet. He and his band 3rdeyegirl have the knack of firing off riff-heavy rock tunes, tear-soaked soul ballads and elastic band-bass funk monsters, often within the space of the same song. And if all that has you breaking out in a rash of Red Hot Chili Pepper proportions, fear not. He has one of the greatest back catalogues in popular music (“D’you have any idea just how many hits I got? We could be here all night!”) and over the next 2 and a half hours much of it gets a good airing.
Beginning with the double wham-bam slam of a slowed down and sludgy, Stooges-heavy Let’s Go Crazy and a bright ‘n breezy Take Me With U, Prince sets his stall out from the off. Tonight is going to be very heavy on the hits and even heavier on the guitars. Raspberry Beret, U Got The Look and Kiss all fly by in an anabolic rush of thundering drums and Hendrix guitars. Now and again he’ll shout for “Donna!”, 3rdeyegirl’s axe wielder, all outgrown Phil Oakey 80’s haircut and sprayed-on lycra to take the lead, and she’ll oblige with a screaming tantrum of a solo. The crowd (and Prince) lap it up, but part of me grimaces. “Eurovision power ballad,” I say at one point to Mrs Pan, and for once she agrees. But that’s a minor complaint as the hits keep a-comin’…..
Little Red Corvette, a sublime full band version of Nothing Compares To U, 1999 (Mommee! Why does everybody have a bomb?” (He did that bit!)). Mid way through, the band exit, Prince takes to stage right, “House lights down, please!”, fires up a primitive drum machine and blasts out shards of white-hot skeletal funk into the darkness – Sign ‘O’ The Times, Hot Thing, I Would Die For You. The whole thing is fast becoming one of my top 3 gigs ever when he stops to talk to the audience. “30 years ago, this was the sound of the summer…” and right on cue the shredding electric guitar intro to When Doves Cry rips the roof off. I have an immediate Pavlovian rush of listening to a warped and stretched old C90 playing the same track on my Grundig music centre through my headphones when I was supposed to be sleeping. Jesus! He even hits the falsettos like it’s 1984 again. Prince is on fire. His voice sounds strong and exactly like the records. Better, even. He’s clearly enjoying himself throughout, dropping to his knees, James Brown style at the slow parts, dancing the mashed potato during the more groove-based musical interludes or walking out to one of his two podiums to rattle off another effortlessly flash solo at lightning speed. For me, the whole gig hung on a terrifically inspired cover of Tommy James and the Shondells‘ old bubblegum hit Crimson And Clover. Prince dragged it out, adding psychedelic flourishes at the slow bits and Hendrixifying it here and there with the odd Wild Thing riff. “I think I love you….but I wanna know for sure…” Unexpected and totally magic.
Tommy James & the Shondells – Crimson And Clover
Before the gig there were heavy handed notices and announcements warning you not to use cameras of any sort (clearly flouted by a few – all the pictures here were taken from the audience) so when, during a souped-up Controversy, Prince shouts “cellphones out!” the whole place lights up like a Christmas tree. Cheesy? Yes! Just like one of those lighters aloft 70s stadium shows, but my goodness it’s great to be a part of it. I even sneaked a wee clip of 1999 on my phone, but if I want this blog to remain in hyperspace forever, I’ll resist the urge to post it here.
The piano interlude towards the end had him (a wee bit frustratingly) play snippets of some of his hits – Diamonds & Pearls, The Beautiful Ones, Alphabet Street, before Prince settled on Sometimes It Snows In April. Yes! Whodathunkit? Beautiful! He closed the show with it in Leeds the next night, so clearly, it’s a song he holds dear. Almost inevitably, the main set closes with the opening chords to Purple Rain.
The band walked back on at the appropriate moment and for the next 10 minutes the whole room is awash with confetti from hidden cannons and filled with the sound of the greatest power ballad ever. Did I really just type that?
Encores? Of course. Housequake. Housequake! Wow! Who expected that? More covers- a snippet of Sly’s Dance To the Music with dirty fuzz bass and Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music before coming to a sweaty end with the Isley’s Live It Up, the stage full of gyrating hand-picked audience members of various Glaswegian shapes and sizes. The big girl at the front was clearly having the time of her life. The two guys at the edge looked like they’d rather be anywhere in the world at that particular time. “If you were asked up, how would you dance?” asked the missus. “Like the rhythmically challenged white man from Ayrshire that I am,” I replied. Cos that’s what I’d been doing all night anyway.
Here‘s a Funkadelic track that kinda sums up Prince and his band at the moment. Catch them if you can. Worth every penny. (And they cost a lot of pennies).
Funkadelic – Who Says A Funk Band Can’t Play Rock
I’d like to credit the photographs used – if any of these are your photos please get in touch and I’ll add your name below. Or remove them if you’d rather. Thanks!