First Night: Prince, Hammersmith Apollo, London

MC, Romeo, guitar hero. And most of all, a great showman

Review,Gavin Martin
Wednesday 25 December 2013 05:33

Many music business commentators maintain that Prince lost the plot around the time he painted the word Slave on his face and began plotting his escape from the industry. Last night's performance suggested something quite the opposite.

The venue may be smaller than the places he played during his 1980s heyday but the atmosphere was every bit as celebratory. Dressed in an immaculately tailored suit, silk tie, and 'kerchief he looked great, a modern-day Valentino with an impish smirk. He exuded ebullience. As indeed he should, fronting a ridiculously fluid and versatile band he has patently found the musical freedom he so dearly coveted.

For those expecting him to relive the glory days he had a message: "If you come here to get your 'Purple Rain' on you're in the wrong building. I'm not interested in what you know, I'm interested in what you can learn.''

In its early stages the show was a cross between a smokey after-hours jazz session and a modern-day rave. One of the greatest multi-talented showmen of his generation Prince played a variety of roles. One minute he's master of ceremonies, the next a forlorn Romeo singing a knee-drop soul ballad, the next he's a fully-fledged guitar hero. He organised an on-stage dance contest between three New Power Generation members, while the band laid down a hot bed of scorching funk. He followed this with his take on a slow burning delta blues. "How slow do you want me to go, I've got days,'' he twinkled suggestively.

Some of his new songs may not be of the calibre of his most famous hits. But it hardly mattered. The warmth and infectiousness of the performance carried all before it. The ferociously on-form Mayfield Parker, a key member of James Brown's classic era band provided a potent link to one of Prince's many musical routes. But the band was just as capable of revelling in Duke Ellington-style swing or psychedelic heavy metal on a careering version of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love". In the latter stages, he even dipped into his illustrious back catalogue. "Strange Relationship" was dedicated to the media, "Take Me With You" swaggered effortlessly and "Raspberry Beret" was an exercise in pure joy. But a new song which featured Prince adopting the voice of Thomas Jefferson was weird but powerful stuff. It has never been wise to write the Prince off, all the evidence is that's as true now as it ever was.

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