by Elliot Davies
1. This review is titled “Prince & 3rdEYEGIRL – Manchester Arena”. Prince actually played at the Manchester Phones4U Arena, but I do not want to use that name. Not now, not ever.
2. This is a review of the first of two nights Prince played at the Manchester Arena, on May 16, 2014.
3. There will be no photos in this review. As the sign to the left demonstrates, Prince specifically requested that no photos be taken for the duration of his performance. To which I said: Fair enough.
The night before the show, I received an email from See Tickets, kindly requesting that I refrain from even thinking about taking a camera to the show. My bag was searched before I was granted entry to the arena, possibly so as to make absolutely sure that I wasn’t packing any photography equipment. Prince really didn’t want his photo taken.
So I’m sorry, but there simply won’t be any photos.
This tour, entitled Hit & Run Part II (Part I being a series of intimate shows in February), is Prince’s first UK arena tour since 1995. Tickets for tonight sold out in six minutes. I was actually in the digital queue for a standing ticket, but I took too long entering my card details and was thus obliged to sit.
In the time it took me to click “seating” instead of “standing”, the first 800 rows of seats sold out. At least I didn’t end up in the back row. Instead, I was in the second from back row. Upper tier.
So even if photos were allowed, all I could have offered from my position was a distant beacon of light and funk swimming in the midst of a dark crowd. Prince, as you know, is a very wee man. On my photos, he would have been but a pixel.
When I got to my seat, I was cursing. Not just because I had just climbed hundreds of steps, but also because I was this close to having a standing ticket. And now, here I am, second from back row. Prince, I thought, will be but a pixel to me. He’s a very wee man.
I was up with the gods, and the gods even saw fit to mock me by dangling the false possibility of a standing ticket swap, there and then. The young women next to me said that they had a relative, all on her own, in the stalls. I struggled not to let my voice crack with excitement as I gallantly offered to swap with her. Surely she’d prefer sitting here with you two?
Perhaps! They gave her a call. It was not to be. “To be honest,” she said, “I’d much rather be down here. I’m 10ft from the stage.”
Sat as I was a mile or so from the stage, I couldn’t blame her. Never mind. Don’t ask, don’t get.
I tried to tell myself that it was surely better to be sat at the back than it was to not be there at all, but it was no good. In the ninety minutes before he came onstage, I was very nearly gloomy.
But of course, I need not have worried. Halfway through his first song, everyone stood up, and all would largely remain standing for the remainder of the night. Dancing, too. Prince got us dancing. We were powerless to resist.
The best performers are those with the power to make everyone feel involved. I have never seen a more engaged, energised, alive and amplified arena crowd. From my vantage point, I could see pretty much everyone else in the room. Tens-of-thousands of them, all stood up, dancing, grinning and genuinely happy to be alive. At any given moment, our heaving multicoloured cathedral of funk and positivity felt like the single best place to be on Earth.
Because Prince is a self-proclaimed Sexy M.F, the first half hour of his show was filled with the sort of international megahits that every single other performer would save for the encore. The show was always going to be devastating, as Prince kicked off proceedings with the same irresistible one-two punch that opens Purple Rain – Let’s Go Crazy and the utterly sublime Take Me With U. This was followed by two more knockout blows – Raspberry Beret and You Got The Look.
Soon would come Kiss, by which point Prince had us all exactly where he wanted us. We did exactly what he said. He told us to put our hands in the air, and we did. He told us to dance, and as if we’d do anything but. He told us to make some noise, and we screamed.
Also under his complete control were his crew. He’d variously shriek for the houselights to be raised and lowered, playing variously in a blinding glow for an utterly life-affirming 1999, and variously in almost total darkness for heart-stopping solo piano renditions of Diamonds & Pearls and The Beautiful Ones.
With Musicology, the funk arrived. During this song, images of what must be Prince’s idols were flashed on the screen behind him – James Brown, Aretha Franklin et al.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Prince belongs amongst these masters.
But tonight isn’t just about him. Receiving equal billing are his new all-female backing band, 3rdEYEGIRL. Jesus Christ, they’re incredible. When tackling the older songs, they’re every bit as mercurial as The Revolution, and even more effervescent than The New Power Generation. In their alchemical hands, songs that were already immortal take on a whole new life. Let’s Go Crazy is recast as a languid yet insistent funky slow jam. I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man is given a key-change to become an arena rock epic. The haunting, minimal Something In The Water becomes a world-conquering showstopper.
And then there’s the new songs, Funknroll, Plectrumelectrum, FixUrLifeUp. Should the 3rdEYEGIRL album ever get a release, it could well prove to be Prince’s most vital release in decades.
Prince leaves the stage after an incandescent Purple Rain. After the confetti cannons, he returns only to release a bunch of balloons into the rafters.
And I’m afraid that’s a little bit irritating.
We got 25 songs across two hours. The night before, in Birmingham, Prince had played an additional 12 songs and two encores on top of this. He would go on to do this once more the following night, again in Manchester.
For a short while, this made me really quite annoyed. What did we do to upset him? Why did we miss out on an entire third of a set?
Soon, though, perspective set in, and the memories. We got an unbelievable, incendiary performance. And it was Prince. Prince! Ruddy Prince! On his first UK arena tour since 1995! He’s over 50 years old and he’s still got it! He’s got an afro, and he’s better dressed than anyone else in the room – nay, the country.
Yes, for the duration of his short UK tour, Prince was the best-dressed person in Britain, and he blew every single mind he encountered in every single city he visited.
What sort of entitled moron am I to demand any more?
Prince now owns a significant portion of my heart and my mind, and his influence is starting to invade my very wardrobe.