Long before record companies signed people who appeared on TV talent shows, Warner Brother Records signed a 19 year old musician, singer-songwriter from Minneapolis called Prince Rogers Nelson. Nearly 40 years later Prince, a global superstar, embarks on his 1st tour where he just performs with a piano and a microphone and it all begins in my home city of Melbourne, Australia.
My Prince Concert History
Since 1978 Prince has released 39 studio albums, written and recorded thousands of songs and has played thousands of concerts to millions of people who left his concerts feeling exhilarated. I attended my 1st Prince concert when he came to Melbourne in 1992 as part of his “Diamonds and Pearls” tour. After performing for nearly 2 hours I was stunned. How was that I didn’t get into his music before this concert I thought to myself? The answer was simple. I spent my teenage years listening to the music of The Beatles, George Michael and Michael Jackson. But now after seeing Prince perform, things changed. The music at the concert was brilliant but his live show was phenomenal. That night changed my life as I considered myself to be a fan of Prince and thus began my real appreciation of his music.
Since 1992 I’ve been to every one of Prince’s shows in Melbourne. In 2003, as a member of the NPG Music Club I attended his 2 concerts as well as the sound checks (shows in themselves) and the after parties in which on 1 night he played another gig at the Metro nightclub. I also attended his 3 concerts in Melbourne in 2012 as part of his “Welcome To Australia” tour. Those shows were in the round and from the minute the house lights went down and the show started people were on their feet. In those shows Prince created a party atmosphere and again all those who went to those shows saw the mastery of Prince as a live performer.
Prince Announces New Tour of Australian Cities
My latest Prince adventure began on Friday February 5th 2016. I was working in my studio and when I stopped for lunch I decided to check my emails. There in my Inbox were emails from friends and family members advising me that Prince was touring in Australia in…February. I turned on my mobile (cell) phone and there were a few messages from clients, family and friends telling me Prince was touring Australia. I checked Prince’s twitter account and sure enough it was true. I felt excited but also grateful that so many people contacted me to let me know about the great news.
On February 9th, I bought tickets to all of Prince’s concerts in Melbourne, that is, 4 shows. The tour called “Prince: Piano and a Microphone” was going to be special. Prince had never performed in this way anywhere in the world except at Paisley Park (his music complex) in late January 2016. Now Prince was going to start a new chapter in his musical journey in my city.
Prince – The Pianist
As expected all 4 concerts were exceptional and each concert was different. The only constant in each show was Prince’s virtuosity and versatility as a pianist and the fantastic songs he performed. Throughout all of the shows he effortlessly played the piano in a variety of styles ranging from boogie woogie, blues, jazz, pop, classical and of course funk.
Prince has a very deep understanding of harmony and uses intricate chord voicings. As a result, he segued from one song to another beautifully. For instance, he played the 1st verse and chorus of “Little Red Corvette” and then would go into the 1st verse and chorus of “Dirty Mind”. He would go from the pop of “Strange Relationship” to the rhythm and blues of Ray Charles’ “Unchain My Heart” and then end the medley with a beautiful, classical instrumental version of “Question of U”.
In terms of the set list, I don’t think any die hard Prince fan would be disappointed. Sure Prince did not play all of his hits (he has so many) but he did play many of them that were suitable for an intimate show. What Prince’s fans got during these shows were so many songs that spanned his nearly 40 year career and 39 studio albums. Were his fans happy to hear “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore?”, “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”, “The Max”, “Paisley Park”, “Black Sweat” or “Sometimes It Snows In April”? Absolutely! These songs were not chart topping singles but these are fantastic songs which further highlighted Prince’s superior piano playing skills during his concerts.
Another great element of the song choices was that Prince played several new songs such as “Rock n Roll Love Affair”, “Black Muse” and “Big City” from his latest album “Hit n Run Phase Two”. More importantly, Prince played many of his popular songs such as “Raspberry Beret”, “Nothing Compares 2 U”, “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, “Cream”, “Kiss” and “Purple Rain”. With all of these songs, Prince could clearly hear the audience enthusiastically singing along with him.
Speaking of singing, Prince’s voice was exceptional in every concert. His trademark falsetto was so strong in songs like “Do Me, Baby” and “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore?” especially the crescendo in the bridge of the song. Even his lower register on songs like “Diamonds & Pearls” was spot on. As Prince fans know, he has a powerful voice and when used with full emotion in a song like “The Beautiful Ones” he can move an audience. You could not fault Prince’s vocals in any of the 4 concerts in Melbourne.
Prince’s Openness at the Concerts
One of the most interesting aspects of the 4 shows in Melbourne was Prince’s openness and honesty with his audience. The death of one Prince’s former girlfriends and protégé, Vanity (real name Denise Matthews) only a few hours before the 1st show in Melbourne did affect Prince. Her death did not mean that Prince performed badly. In fact, he performed beautifully because as he admitted he was trying to stay “focused”. He did dedicate “Little Red Corvette” to her and made references to Vanity in various parts of the 1st show. I’ve never heard Prince talk about his personal life at any show (even on DVDs) but towards the end of the 1st show he told the audience that he loved Vanity and that when they were in a relationship (in the 1980s) that they fought a lot. He said that during one fight he asked her to “stop” and that if she wouldn’t he would throw her in the swimming pool. She replied that he couldn’t do it because he was “too little” and so Prince got his bodyguard Chick Huntsberry to throw her in the pool. The audience responded to this story with laughter and applause and then it hit me how much Prince was sharing with us…something he doesn’t do except through his music.
During the 2nd show (played on the same night of the 1st show) Prince told the audience he loved his mother and his father. He said that he learnt to play the piano by watching his father play. He also told a story of how when he was a boy that he loved the movie “The Wizard of Oz” and how he learnt how to play all the songs from the movie. While he was telling this story Prince played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. Prince also told the story of how he learnt songs by watching TV shows and then played an intense version of the theme song of the TV show “Batman” as it was one of the 1st songs he learnt how to play.
Interestingly, during the 2nd show Prince apologised to the people who attended the 1st concert because he was “distraught” by the news of Vanity’s passing. However, because Prince gave an amazing performance in the 1st show, the audience applauded him as a sign of their appreciation for his efforts and honesty. Even though Prince said he was distraught, he still proved that he is a master showman.
In all 4 concerts he knew how to work the audience. When he asked where his choir was, the audience sang louder. When he wanted finger snaps, he got them. However, Prince didn’t need to ask for hand claps. The audience provided the beat with their hand claps with nearly every song he played.
During the 1st 3 shows, the audience would get up to dance on the up-tempo songs and then sit down during the ballads. However, from the minute the house lights went down for the 4th show the audience were on their feet…for the entire show. In all 4 concerts, Prince, through his songs, musicianship and interaction with the audience showed that he is the ultimate live performer.
Why go to 4 Concerts?
Leading up to his concerts in Melbourne and even after the shows people have been asking me why do I like Prince so much. “Why go to 4 concerts?” The answer is simple. I love beautiful music and each Prince concert is different. I love music that is honest. I love music that cheers me up and I love music that makes me think, smile, cry and in general makes me feel good and inspires me. Prince’s music does that for me.
Prince – A Pioneer in the Music Business
I also admire Prince because he is a pioneer in terms of the music business. At the time of signing his 1st record deal with Warner Brothers he was the youngest person ever to be given full artistic control. He’s always owned the copyright to his songs by creating his own music publishing companies. He built his own state of the art recording studio and soundstage in the 1980s called Paisley Park where he could record albums, shoot video clips and rehearse and stage concerts. He set up his own record labels like Paisley Park and NPG Records. He was one the 1st artists to set up a website to sell his music, merchandise and to interact with his fans. After his contract with Warner Brothers expired, Prince signed pressing and distribution deals with other record companies which meant that he owned the copyright to his recordings and the record companies were responsible for the marketing.
Furthermore, Prince led the way of getting his music to his fans without the use of retail outlets. For instance during his “Musicology” tour of 2004, all ticket holders received a copy of his “Musicology” album (Steve’s review) which led the album to be a Top 5 hit on the Billboard charts. In 2007, Prince signed a deal with a UK newspaper “Mail On Sunday” whereby every copy of the paper sold would have a copy of his album “Planet Earth”. Not surprisingly, that edition of the paper, according to Time magazine, sold an extra 600,000 copies.
In regards to concert ticket sales, Prince wanted his fans to get tickets to his current concerts and not scalpers. As a result, people could only buy 2 tickets per show for the current tour. Furthermore, only the person who bought the tickets could personally collect the tickets after they showed their receipt, photo ID and credit card. Only then did the purchaser and their guest get the tickets and a wristband to enter the venue. Will this be the new way people collect their concert tickets in the future for every artist? Time will tell.
If you had the chance to watch or learn from Michelangelo how to sculpt, would you do it? Would you welcome the opportunity to hear Mozart discuss how he created his classical masterpieces? If you could go back in time and see great musicians like Miles Davis, The Beatles, B.B King (Steve’s concert review) or Jimi Hendrix perform, would you do it? The answer for me to all of these questions is “yes”.
If I as a musician and music teacher have the opportunity to see Prince perform in my city now, then I will go to as many concerts as possible. Prince is a musical genius. This type of person does not come into our lives every day. Examine the music business of the last 10, 20 or 30 years and tell me which artist do you think comes anywhere near Prince in terms of the number of albums released and concerts performed? Can you name any current artist that can play multiple instruments at the high level that Prince does? Can you name any modern artist who is writing the words and music to their songs by themselves without a team of producers assisting them? Can you name an artist who is consistently respected for their musicianship by other musicians who have been or are at the top of the music business?
Prince is the complete package. He is a superstar who continually works hard at producing great music that is appreciated and brings happiness to millions of people around the world. In the future, when people write books and university courses about the music of the 20th and 21st century, they will discuss the music of Prince and his career and within those discussions they will reference the amazing shows he performed in Melbourne February 16th and 17th 2016 just with a piano and a microphone.
If you get a chance, go and see Prince perform with a piano and a microphone. It will be a wonderful experience for you as it was for me.
By STEVE YANKO
© STEVE YANKO 2016
About the Author
Steve Yanko is a Music Teacher, Musician, Song Writer & Consultant who loves working in the world of music.
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