Prince had announced a surprise concert in Montreal, only three days prior to the show. I hadn’t heard about it. On the day of the show, Saturday, a friend & ex-band mate of mine called me up and asked: Do you want to go a Prince concert? With no hesitation, I said:
At the beginning of every super star concert, there’s always the anticipation of the star making his or her first appearance. Prince’s people teased the audience. At first, they shut off the house lights maybe 20 minutes or so after 8pm. The audience would erupt in applause and screams. Maybe ten seconds later, the house lights would come back on… indicating the show hasn’t started yet. They did this four times.
When the lights went down for real, we heard the voice of a young woman, super casual sounding (I think it might have been the voice of the super model looking blonde female virtuoso drummer). She was greeting Montreal, while nicely asking us to put away our cell phones because our devices couldn’t possibly capture the magic of the show, and if Prince decided to go crowd surfing, how would we be able to hold him up if we were holding onto our phones? She said:
“We like him, please don’t let him fall.”
ACT I: The New Stuff
With that, we heard samples from classic Prince songs, including the words spoken by a computer voice in the intro of the 1981 mega hit called ‘1999‘:
‘Don’t worry, I won’t hurt U. I only want U 2 have some fun.”
Hannah Ford Welton’s drums kicked in, for the bluesy song “Wow!”. Prince and his band, 3rdEyeGirl were looking larger than life as we could only see their shadows on the giant curtain. They were pacing themselves, repeating the verse music without Prince singing the verse, only playing lead guitar. This was a song from the 2014 album ‘Plectrum Electrum‘.
The curtains came down with the 1st verse of the song. It starts off with the words ‘Hello, how are you?’ Prince repeated the ‘hello’ part. This song, ‘Wow‘ is a promise to someone, that the past may have been great, but the present will make you go ‘wow’.
‘Remember the first time, we met?
U think that was something, well U ain’t seen nothing yet.”
The song was great, gotta say it almost brought tears to my eyes. I did meet with someone very special, earlier that day. She would have come to the show if she didn’t have to work. After my meeting, here I was, watching my greatest musical hero. This unexpected show had begun. It was gonna be a beautiful night.
After ‘Wow‘, the band seamlessly went into the intro to the 2014 song ‘FunknRoll‘ and the mood went from blues rock to upbeat funk. The first few songs of a Prince concert, usually leave me feeling the same way. At first, I feel that everyone is excited to see Prince. He usually starts off the show with songs from the current album, which a lot of the audience may not know. The first few songs go by fast, almost in a blur, people enjoy it, sort of, but I for one feel that a portion of the crowd isn’t getting what they had wanted and expected.
We heard the rocking 2007 song ‘Guitar‘, playing next where Prince sings:
“I love U baby, but not like I love my guitar!”
Donna Grantis, the young female guitarist from Toronto, played the guitar solo for the song ‘Guitar‘. Prince made sure to let us know:
“From CANADA! Donna Grantis!”
She rocked it of course. I feel her guitar playing has truly solidified ever since she began playing with Prince in 2013.
The Different Sides of Prince’s Music & The Different Fans
The two girls in front me, who were standing along with everyone else, decided to sit down after the first few songs, while everyone else around was still standing. I assumed that the two girls were not necessarily here to experience a power trio rock experience, heavy on the guitars.
There were some girls behind me, one of whom represented another type of Prince fan… she kept yelling out things like: “I want you to have my children!” Prince couldn’t hear her from where we were sitting… but good for her for speaking her mind at a Prince concert.
Around me, there was also the type of audience member that was familiar with Prince, but felt the need to exclaim during the show:
“I didn’t know Prince could play keyboards that well!”
Duh! Prince can play every instrument better than most people.
The type of fan I am… well, I am the musician that became a musician after having been inspired by his musical career. I wanted to play every instrument like Prince did. I wanted to arrange, write and perform my own songs too. I wanted to select different musicians to back me up for different shows that I had done. I also know virtually every Prince song there is to know, when it was released or not released, who played in it if anyone other than Prince, along with any other info I could find.
A lot of people that like Prince’s music, like certain styles of his, like perhaps only his pop & r&b stuff for example. This is an important issue to raise, when it comes to Prince, because Prince was considered a cross-over artist, back when he started. He was reaching out to the audiences that loved R&B, as well as reaching out to rock fans. Prince himself, was a fan of both Led Zeppelin and James Brown, so naturally, sometimes he sounds like Led Zeppelin, sometimes like James Brown. Sometimes he sounds like both.
Prince music also happens to have more sides than just funk and rock… He’s released instrumental jazz albums, an acoustic guitar album, a mostly solo piano and vocal album, there’s a 28 minute live rock funk song called ‘The War’ out there somewhere. He’s done nothing but experiment throughout his career and myself and many other connaisseurs have been seeking out all of these treasures whether officially released or not.
Prince & 3rdEyeGirl rocked the house with the 2014 rock instrumental piece ‘Plectrum Electrum‘, with all sorts of rockstar guitar poses and choreographed cool stuff from the musicians.
The band also played the chilled groovy but still rock version of ‘Let’s Go Crazy‘ with Hannah Ford Welton’s awesome drumming and the fuzzy bass solo from Ida Nielsen. It was the same rearrangement that Prince & 3rdEyeGirl debuted when he had won the Icon award in 2013 at the Billboard Music Awards.
I am such a fan that I had taken the music off that televised performance back in 2013 and listened to it on my iPhone. In fact it was as though several of the music playlists that I made to listen to was being played on this night by none other than Prince himself, with the three gorgeous and talented women of his band 3rdEyeGirl, as well as Joshua Welton, Hannah Ford Welton’s husband, on keyboards, three back up singers and three horn players, appearing now and then on stage for various songs.
The Trouble With New Songs
I had sensed there was some angst with the audience. Even myself, a die hard Prince fan, wondered if the show was going well at this point. The band was flawless, and the songs amazing, but the energy in the room was, maybe, lacking.
They touched on a few of Prince’s pop classics, ‘Controversy‘, then ‘Raspberry Beret‘ and then ‘U Got The Look‘… all songs I still listen to among the new stuff.
Maybe Prince felt something. He asked the audience during a thumping song if we were happy to be here, and he immediately said that he was happy to be here. Yes I was happy. I felt like this was Prince reminding us: hey! It’s me Prince! I’ve come here to play for you… I’m happy to be here, aren’t you?
Prince Does Michael Jackson
Then Prince and the band played ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough“, the classic Michael Jackson song. He played this in 2013 when I saw him, and then again this Saturday night. I loved hearing him do it again. I loved remembering Michael Jackson again with Prince. Throughout their careers, the public always asked the question who was better. I found that to be representative of the small mindedness of the world from the 1980’s… “Two black American artists… let’s compare them” (there weren’t that many black artists that had achieved their level of fame, back then).
In 1986-87, Prince was approached by Michael Jackson’s people, they invited him to sing on Jackson’s song ‘Bad‘. In later years, Prince joked saying he turned down the offer because he didn’t want to sing a duet with another man where the first line of the song is: “Your butt is mine…” It’s true. The first song of Jackson’s number one hit is indeed: “Your butt is mine.” But of course, Jackson meant it in a sort of threatening way, like a gang member would say while being ‘bad’. Anyway, back to 2015…
“Keep on, with the force don’t stop
Don’t stop till you get enough!”
After the Michael Jackson tribute, like Prince did in 2012, in Montreal, the song seguewayed into ‘C.O.O.L.’ , the song he had written for the band The Time in the ’80s. Ida Nielsen’s bass guitar was super funky, she was the back bone of the band but I wish her bass would have been even louder. There was the repeated call and response part in the end of the song:
“Are U hot?”
“Do you know why?”
“Cause you’re cool!”
The crowd was warming up. I feel Prince often tests his audiences in the beginning of his shows. It’s always been this way. Then he wins eveyone, or almost, over. In one of Prince’s concerts in Montreal a few years ago, the first 45 minutes of the show consisted of Prince and the NPG improvising instrumental music that no one has ever heard. Prince didn’t even sing! After that they had disappeared to the back stage, came back and started playing the hits, with Prince asking:
“Who was that before?”
This night, I wanted to see Prince win over the crowd, create magic, an unforgettable night, and show us, the crowd that shelled our 65-200 or so dollars on a moment’s notice, why a lot of us believe he is the best in the business.
After the song ‘The Breakdown’, a slow song from another 2014 album Art Official Age, performed really greatly mind you, the lights on stage went off and Prince and the band dissapeared for a few minutes. My friend asked me, as if things were not going well:
“What if the band slipped out?”
I replied, resenting the implications:
“Don’t worry, they’re coming back. The show isn’t over till the house lights come back on.”
ACT II: Remember the ’80s?
Prince eventually came back on stage, by himself, and told the crowd:
“Sometimes the band and I get in 2 arguments about which songs 2 play…”
Immediately we heard the guitar intro to ‘When Doves Cry‘ and the audience went wild. Everyone stood up, including the two girls in front of me. We all heard Prince play this classic in the old school way, with the old school beat, but with some new twists. I immediately remembered two women in my life, that would have flipped out if they had been standing there with me.
“This is what it sounds like, when doves cry.”
I had seen Prince do something similar in 2012. Back then, he did a show in Montreal where during one part he was all alone on stage, played samples of his hits on a keyboard, like some beats and other parts, while singing bits of the song, and it was incredible. It was like a D.J. / musician solo performance.
What he did this night was a more refined version. This performance included the whole band. What’s really cool about this is hearing the old beats as they sounded in the original recordings. They also played ‘Sign o The Times‘ and ‘1999‘.
“They say two thousand-zero-zero, party over it’s out of time.
So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999″
It was a party indeed. Prince also played a full ‘Hot Thing‘.. so funky… oh man.
“Hot thing, barely 21. Hot thing, lookin’ ‘4 big fun.”
Prince kept saying: ‘It’s Saturday night!’ He invited members of the audience on stage to dance. He told the audience in the balconies:
“I want 2 see guys and girls dancing!”
There was a quiet section, with Prince on keyboards, alone. He started with ‘Diamonds and Pearls‘. Then he played ‘How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore‘. Near the start of her career, Alicia Keys had done a cover of it and it became a hit. This solo piano and vocal performance was so beautiful, it really hit me. We saw stars on the big screen behind him. Of course I thought of the girls I’ve known that at one point or the other who stopped calling me.
Prince sang ‘The Beautiful Ones‘. Oh no.. I thought. I don’t want to be a dude crying at a concert. I have loved a beaufitul woman too… lol.
“The beautiful ones, they hurt U everytime”
After that I heard the very familiar drum machine beat from the 1987 song ‘Forever In My Life’, with only Prince’s vocals over the beat. Then came ‘Little Red Corvette‘, in a rock ballad style completely different from the original, but a song everyone in the house knew and loved. Prince’s guitar playing on this was just incredible.
At this point, two pretty ladies that were very late to the show, made their way to the two empty seats on my left. One of the girls asked me as I let her pass to the seat beside mine:
“Did he play Purple Rain yet?”
I smiled and said: “No.”
Then there was ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’
In this version, we heard a church organ playing in the beginning, while Prince sang the first verse.
“It’s been 7 hours & 13 days… since u took Ur love away”
The whole band with the horns and back up singers too joined in, and the audience sang along during the famous chorus:
“Nothing compares… nothing compares… 2 U.”
My friend later commented on this song being a Sinead O’Connor song. I schooled him on that of course… Prince wrote this song. One of the bands he had produced in the ’80s called The Family had done a version and then Sinead O’Connor did a version a couple of years later and it became a massive world wide hit. Back then, Sinead, who was partly famous for being a female artist that shaved her head completely bald, met with Prince once. I heard that apparenty, during the meeting he said she ought to grow her hair and after being offended by Prince’s comments she vowed to never sing that song again. Who knows… Anyhow, Prince rearranged that song many times for the stage, and this night was as great as it has ever sounded.
And then there was ‘Kiss‘… On the big screen behind the band, we saw the giant image of Prince wearing shades from the original 1986 music video, doubled as though they were facing each other.
‘U don’t have to b rich 2 be my girl, u don’t have 2 be cruel, 2 rule my world
Ain’t no particular sign, I’m all compatible with
I just want ur xtra time and ur…
Prince gave a performance worthy of his status as a show biz legend, a final Broadway style pose and he said ‘goodnight’!
ACT III: The Purple Confetti
After some waiting, cheering, the band came back on. They began with a cover song “The Sweeter He Is“, by the band The Soul Children. Prince’s three back up singers had a verse and they each sounded amazing. And then came Purple Rain.
I’ve heard the song countless times, seen him play it live in person at least six times (and viewed his various filmed performances of this song countless times too). I was enjoying it, Prince and the band did the song justice. Confetti was being blasted up into the air, as the guitar solo began. The little pieces of paper flew across the venue, reaching to audience members all across and people tried to catch them.
The pretty girl to my left kept trying to catch one of the little rectangular pieces of paper, but failed. I managed to catch one. As it came to a point where there was no more confetti floating our way, Prince was playing his most famous guitar solo, I turned to the girl beside me, smiled and offered the piece of paper I caught. She was the girl that had come in late and asked me: “Did he play Purple Rain yet?” She smiled, took the paper and gave me a genuine thank you. I turned and there was Prince starting to sing the part of the song where everyone in audience sings along.
Prince and the band said goodnight again, and left. The audience wouldn’t have it and kept cheering. At one point, the audience started singing that ‘Ole… Ole Ole ole’ chant. Eventually Prince came back.
A Song For Me
They began with the song ‘Mountains‘. I can’t tell you what this means to me personally. ‘Mountains‘ is a song from the 1986 album Under The Cherry Moon, the same album as the song ‘Kiss‘. ‘Mountains‘ had been one of my favorites since I was a teenager. The kind of favorite that it was, was a ‘guilty pleasure’. I would never put this song on for my friends, or recommend it to anyone.
“It’s only mountains, and the sea
There’s nothing greater, than U & me”
Not only did I listen to this song regularly this year, but I would listen to the rare extended version of the song, with several minutes of Prince and the Revolution jamming. It’s a pop song, kinda funky, but not particularly cool as ‘Gett Off‘ or ‘Sexy MF‘.
This night, Prince and 3rdEyeGirl were reviving this song. They played it in a very very funky way, but still true to the original arrangement. This performance took the song to a higher echelon of funk. I was speechless. My guilty pleasure of a song, that I never listened to with anyone, was now being played on stage.
This had turned into a very ’80s night, with Prince sometimes saying things like:
“Remember the ’80s?” and “Any ’80s babies out there?”
…but we also visited the ’70s, with a complete version of the classic funk song by the band Wild Cherry “Play That Funky Music” with the famous lyrics:
“Play that funky music white boy!”
It turned into an extended jam. At one point I wanted to turn to my friend, with whom I played funky music years ago, and say to him: “Now THIS is FUNK!” Instead, I just relished in the awesomeness.
‘The Dance Electric‘ followed. This was one of Prince’s lesser known songs from the mid-80’s. Even I don’t even have a decent recording of it. Prince asked the audience to take out our phones! He was doing that thing where the audience holds up there phones shining a light each. Prince said to us:
“See what we can do with just 3 days notice!”
“Does anybody know about the ‘quake?”
If you ever get the chance, get a copy of the live 1987 concert movie ‘Sign O The Times‘ and if you only watch 5 minutes, watch the performance of ‘Housequake‘, by Prince & The Lovesexy Band. This was one of the funkiest performances of all time. If you watch that, then perhaps you will know about the ‘quake. This night, Prince was doing an updated version of ‘Housequake‘, asking the audience to jump up and down, and that original beat sounded funky! There were solos from the girls, man can Hannah Ford Welton play those drums, Donna on guitar & Ida on bass.
The final song was one of Prince’s many past ‘radio staples’: ‘I Would Die 4 U‘, from the Oscar winning 1984 album ‘Purple Rain‘. Excellent (with the original beat).
After saying goodnight and leaving the stage, the house lights came back on. Finally we knew it was time to leave.
On a later day I asked my buddy who told me about the show and who went with me, what he thought. He said it was one of the best shows that he had ever attended. What a night. Prince had won…. again and hopefully always.