Prince - Manchester Arena
The comparatively tiny shows at Manchester Academy in February gave a lucky few the opportunity to observe The Purple One at close quarters and revealed two very important details: firstly, that the members of 3rdeyegirl rarely take their eyes off their leader; and, secondly, that he’s the only person in the world who can wear light-up shoes and still remain effortlessly cool.
On a bigger stage, these details are writ large, but never diminished. In 3rdeyegirl Prince has assembled an incredible three piece rock band (tonight augmented with keys) doling out slabs of hard rock on tracks like 'Guitar' and 'Plectrum Electrum', but able effortlessly switch into funk mode as the need arises. The first four songs (which included a rocked up 'Let’s Go Crazy' and a thrilling 'Raspberry Beret') would make an intense encore for most acts but they’re dispensed with in 15 minutes like they’re nothing special.
A mid-show sampler set dispenses with some big numbers rather more quickly than you might like, but there’s no shortage of hits played in full. The years haven’t taken the shine off 'When Doves Cry', and while Sinead may own 'Nothing Compares 2 U' in the public consciousness, the atmosphere when he plays it tonight is electric. Then of course there’s 'Purple Rain' – played on keyboard in February but returned to its full-strength guitar glory tonight and bringing the house down.
Prince spends the evening moving around the stage in a way that belies his 55 years, a consummate showman and musician throughout, frequently looking like he’s the person enjoying the show most. There’s room for a hint of panto in places – during a call and response section of '1999' (a song as fun as it is anachronistic), he cheekily asks the audience what year it is, then enquires “Are you sure?” and stages a conversation with a companion taking up too much of the bed during a solo piano rendition of 'How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?'
As always with Prince there’s some slightly confounding set choices. Starting one of the many encores with Marissa Jack performing vocals on the rarely aired boogie of 'Paisley Park' swiftly returns bums to seats in the tiers but with a 30 plus song setlist and plenty of hits, nobody is going home feeling short changed. His recent purple patch of good singles is under-represented tonight, but the cheeky 'Screwdriver' gets an outing as does the instrumental title track to the delayed forthcoming PlectrumElectrum album
At the end of the evening he lays his guitar gently on the floor like a workman downing tools, the smile on his face suggesting he’s satisfied with a job well done. In a week where the arena has hosted Miley Cyrus and will go on to host Katy Perry, Prince’s is a very different kind of big room show – all about the music and none the worse for it. His two and a half hour virtuoso performance brings with it very little concession to staging beyond a couple of video screens.
These blitzkrieg tours raise the tantalising prospect that Prince’s next wheeze might be embarking on his own version of Dylan’s never-ending tour, playing whatever he feels like, night on night, in whatever venues are available backed by one of the tightest bands on the circuit. It probably won’t turn out this way, but then he’s doing a few things many Prince watchers thought he’d never do – like re-signing to his former label/nemesis Warner Brothers, or playing a gig in Leeds. Whatever his plans are, it seems clear that more than three decades in there’s no end in sight for his purple reign.