Without intending this all to coincide, I’ve been plunged into a world of 1980s music nostalgia this week. I saw Rock of Ages Thursday, I began reading a book called Talking to Girls about Duran Duran (possibly more on that later), and I saw one of my favorite artists of the 1980s, Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson, in concert on Saturday, at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
I’ll cut to the chase on that last one: This was quite possibly the best rock concert, category “Hockey Arena”— that I’ve seen. The only real competition is U2 back in Montreal during their Joshua Tree tour. As my memory is not quite good enough for a true comparison, let’s call it a tie.
Prince has continued to record quite prolifically, up to two years, but I have to say I stopped listening to the newer material after 1992. But this show obviously focused on that earlier material, because I knew almost every song.
It started about 45 (?) minutes late (no opening act), immediately got us up singing and clapping along to “Purple Rain”, and never really stopped. The seated moments were few, as the energy coming from the stage kept compelling us back to our feet to dance and attempt to sing along to Prince’s complex vocal gymnastics. It’s difficult to believe this guy is 53 or whatever, as he pretty much looks, sounds, and moves as he did in the 80s. He can still hit all the high notes, his dance moves don’t let up, and he remains a guitar virtuoso.
And despite the focus on older (and therefore better known) material, it never felt like a nostalgia fest. He often reinterpreted the numbers, bringing an added soulful-ness to “Little Red Corvette”, and even more funk (who knew it was possible?) to “Kiss”. He also often mashed songs together, segueing from one to the other in interesting ways, thus covering even more of his impressive canon of hits. He even included a version of “Nothing Compares to U”, written by him but made famous by Sinead O’Connor, which reminded me of the many other artists who had hits with Prince songs (Manic Monday, I Feel for You, The Glamorous Life, When You Were Mine, and on, and on…).
I’d heard that he wasn’t doing his “dirty”songs anymore, and I kind of wondered what would be left, but he seems to have a pretty loose definition of what’s “dirty”, since Controversy, Raspberry Beret, When Doves Cry, Take Me With U, and Cream were included. And he also simulated a great deal of, um, passion on the floor during Little Red Corvette. He even played the intro to Darlin’ Nikki during the encore—though did stop there with a “Nah-ah! You don’t get that!”
His band was wonderful, and I loved that now as always, most of them were women. (Prince seems to truly love women, not just sexually, but also spiritually and musically. Three spheres I don’t think he separates.) They also got to shine at times, including in a cover of Sarah MacLachlan’s “Angel”, one of a number of covers he included—such as Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough.”
The stage was in that male / female symbol shape that Prince once used as his name. We were sitting facing the round end, 22 rows up, which were pretty decent seats. Prince and band made their way around to all points throughout the evening, and we could always look up at the screen when they weren’t at our end. (I wish I could include a picture, but they made me check my camera, which seemed pretty peculiar, since nobody had to check their smart phones… But anyway.)
Friday night, from what I understand, he did six encores, resulting in a 3 hour, 15 minute show. We had to be content with just one encore (though an awesome and long one it was), and a show that was probably only, 2 and a half hours? There was an after-party at a bar, though. My sister and I decided not to attempt attending that, though, because a) We figured the crowds would be insane b) We don’t have the energy of Prince, so we were tired and c) We really couldn’t make out the name of the bar, which was announced on the loudspeaker at the end in a bid to get us to leave, already.