Saturday, August 18, 2007

Prince - 21 Nights and it's like Viva Las Vegas!

Prince is currently winding up his 21-night concert engagement at the 02 centre in London. The pint sized 49-year old wonderboy is performing to 21,000 people a night. It's a remarkable achievement for an artist who really hasn't released a decent studio album since 1987's Sign O' The Times.

The O2 gigs follows a major publicity and promotional stunt where the Purple pied piper gave away his new album "Planet Earth" free with every copy of the Mail on Sunday newspaper. The upshot, one great pop rock song "Guitar" on an otherwise lacklustre studio album.

The 02 Concert was impressive but also showed a lot of significant flaws in Prince's onstage perception of what a solid concert should be like. Although he's a great showman and he put on a sold performance, the Prince symbol-shaped stage was way to big for him (and his ego). It was like watching Prince running around the symbol, performing to different parts of the audience in the arena, while the rest of the band was performing like hired hands.

To fill out the vast stage, Prince was flagged by four female backing vocalists and dancers, who were only there to justify some kind of eye candy. The girls kept leaving the stage (there were were lots of costume changes). The idea of performing the show in the round was an exciting one, but soon came apparent the stage was too big for Prince to fill.

I remember seeing Prince on the Sign O' The Times tour where he performed on a normal stage, and as part of a real band that had character. Perhaps Prince's recent residency in Las Vegas has rubbed off on his O2 shows. It was like watching a Prince-by-numbers concert. The only problem was, the dots were not connecting.

"What would you like to hear," Prince asked the audience, "new stuff or old stuff?" "I could play "Sign O The Times" or "Raspberry Beret". Instead, he launches into a sing-a-long version of "Kiss". Why was I constantly thinking about Tom Jones?

"I have so many hits," says Prince. We didn't have to be reminded. He performed "Cream", "You Got The Look (minus Sheena)", and started off the show with the explosive crowd-pleaser, "1999".

The show lagged halfway through, when Prince performed songs from his new album "Planet Earth". The standout track, the infectious "Guitar" failed to translate live in concert, while the recorded version on the new album remained superior. To make "Guitar" work live, Prince would have to 'share' the stage with a real rock and roll band, but sadly, he's working the stage while his 'backing band' are running through the motions at the other end of the stage.

Interestingly, for "Black Sweat", Prince takes to the funky bass guitar and comes up with an infectious groove that really drives things home. For me, it was one of the highlights. Great funky kick ass song. Loved it.

He ends the first hour with a blistering "Purple Rain" which kind of makes the concert worth it (an amazing song). His guitar playing was phenomenal.

Although he played 21 concerts at the 02, he never performed the same set each night. Instead of playing "Sign O' The Times", Prince performed "If I Was Your Girlfriend". Perhaps the idea of the 21 nights is to get the same fans buying tickets to multiple shows.

Did I forget to mention that everyone who bought a ticket to the shows received a free copy of the "Planet Earth" CD when they were give their ticket stubbs at the door? Did I also forget to mention that the merchandise stand featured Prince tamborines on sale for only £55.00, and that t-shirts were £25.00. The tour programme was similar to putting a downpayment on a mortgage. The only thing missing was Prince ice cream.

Two days after the concert, a friend of mine put on the Greatest Hits album. I couldn't help but thinking how brilliant the classic hits were when they were originally recorded all those years ago.

Whatever happened to Wendy and Lisa? Prince had chemistry with those gals. I could never understand why he broke up the original band and went on to form the dreaded New Power Generation. For me, his best albums will always be "Parade" and "Sign O The Times". Diamonds and Pearls was the begining of the end of peak Prince.

Today, Prince's live show is a victim of it's own success; making it, in many ways, the ultimate sign o' the times. Elvis may have left the building, but I think Prince has become too comfortable in Vegas. The London audiences probably don't know any better, and in their eyes, Prince can do no wrong. Thankfully, he didn't perform any songs from his 1990 movie "Graffiti Bridge".