BY NOW, THE HEADLINE story about last night’s two-set Prince show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom is out there: it happened; people queued from midday in a mounting typhoon; it was unbelievably visceral and exciting. MOJO, too, were there, and at the risk of stoking even more resentment than did our intemperate Tweeting from the venue, there follows an attempt to unpick some conclusions from the blur of starstruck warm-fuzzies.
Not easy, of course, to step back from a Prince show – any Prince show. The stage is his back yard, more so than ever since his albums became lower-profile, and the gravity of his charisma, especially at close quarters, has the power to bend your brain. He’s here! Look – that’s him! Look at his afro! Marvel at his cheeky eyes! See what I mean – gibberish.
“The gravity of his charisma has the power to bend your brain.”
Clearer heads will note that there’s much at stake in Prince’s guerrilla campaign of intimate shows – namely the credibility of this whole 3RDEYEGIRL project. However much he may talk of his three-quarter-female “garage band” as a new act doing new act things like playing small London venues, Prince is not a new act. That said, he is playing this game to the hilt, and playing, in every sense of the word, is what Prince is best at.
He’s also helping to make it easier to accept his latest wheeze. Last night he opened both sets (8pm-9pm; 11pm-12.50ish) with a radically reworked Let’s Go Crazy, a brutal, riff-sodden bridgehead between the imperial Prince of Purple Rain and the classic-rock configuration of the 3RDEYEGIRL set-up. There was a ‘Dylan Moment’ when we weren’t quite sure what he was playing; then we got it. “Y’all ready for some funky rock?” he asked, before heading into new song FUNKNROLL. Well, we’d better be.
Live, these 3RDEYEGIRL songs were in their element. The rollicking FixUrLifeUp was received like an oldie, and Prince virtually glowed with pleasure at the response. Guitar solos pealed out one after another – each more excitable than the last – and if anything underlined the organically evolved quality of 3RDEYEGIRL it was the Hendrixian reboot of the Sign “O” The Times album’s I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man. Still, if there was a manifesto moment, it had to be Planet Earth track Guitar with its telling lines “I love u baby / But not like I love my Guitar”.
3RDEYEGIRL songs were made to be played in poky, grungy places like the Electric Ballroom – but the environment and approach also favoured some overlooked recent material. The psych/rock-leaning LOtUSFLOW3R was not embraced outside Prince’s hardcore fanbase, but the roots of 3RDEYEGIRL and their pending album PLECTRUM ELECTRUM can be found there, in the grinding cover of Tommy James & The Shondells’ Crimson And Clover (interpolated with snatches of Wild Thing) and the terrific Dreamer (“Eye was born and raised on the same plantation,” sings Prince against a raging riff, “in the United States of red, white and blue…”). Prince played both songs last night, and vindication was theirs.
“The Advanced Level wailing put you in mind of Frank Zappa.”
Will some Prince fans be nonplussed by this new direction? Probably. There were moments in these sets when the skintight grooves and Advanced Level wailing by Prince and guitar consort Donna Grantis put you in mind of none other than Frank Zappa, so there’s a potential Marmite factor. And yet, none of Prince’s damp, slightly foot-sore army looked short-changed, especially when the “reward” for being knocked bandy by a whirlwind Prince with a new bit between his teeth was an astonishing piano-led closer of Purple Rain and a hilariously fun medley incorporating When Doves Cry, Sign “O” The Times, Hot Thing and I Would Die 4 U.
After two sets, the second even tighter, harder, faster and more intense than the first, Prince was pushing the venue’s 1pm curfew and looked like he could easily have gone again. Maybe he did. Maybe he’s still going strong in a lock-in at the Boston Arms, or downstairs at the 12-Bar Club or in Lianne La Havas’s front room.
LOOK OUT FOR MOJO’S EXCLUSIVE PRINCE INTERVIEW, ON THE COVER OF NEXT MONTH’S MAGAZINE.