Sunday, August 12, 2007

prince at 02 arena, 11th august 2007

you're filthy cute and baby you know it

I had a rather restless night’s sleep, waking up warm and dazed and remembering yet another song that Prince played last night. I came home slightly disappointed after two and a quarter hours of music was compressed into the disappointment that he never made it onto the chorus of Little Red Corvette. This was compounded by the twenty-minutes mooching time on the Jubilee line home, and drifting around thirsty in London looking for somewhere, anywhere, still serving, that wasn’t a club. I’ve actually listened to Little Red Corvette this morning and it gave me grumpy pangs. I fear it may take some time to get over this.

That’s not to say the concert wasn’t wonderful, of course.

Nestled in the core of the millennium dome, the 02 arena is actually much smaller than I expected, which makes for a better arena show. The outer circle of the stadium is a collection of passively generic restaurants and bars, lined up along a paved boulevard like Braintree’s outlet shopping village. There are video bubble centres to record yourself dancing, an artificial beach with safe sand and fibreglass palm trees, and a Kubrick-style martini bar. The ceiling rises up like one great cathedral arch. It is, as paddington commented, “more Ballard than Ballard”. For me, it was like Murray Jay Suskind’s euphoric trip to the supermarket in DeLillo’s White Noise, a place that ‘recharges us spiritually, it prepares us, it’s a gateway or pathway. Look how bright’.

Beautifully, and horrifically fake.

As we took our plastic seats, steam began to shoot out from all four corners of the arena. We eagerly watched our corner of the stage, positive that Prince would emerge from there, and indeed he did, albeit sealed in a box. From the minute he and the ubiquitous Twinz took the stage, the rest of the concert is a blur. He opened with Purple Rain, a bombastic, plump epic of a love song, and as silly as this may sound, it was rather dreamlike. Seeing somebody you feel you’ve grown up with, singing probably their definitive song first, is a bit hard to grasp. I have vague memories of watching the Twinz’s pert little bottoms wriggling to Cream, and although we were in the back of an in-the-round show, Prince did deign to come out and see us occasionally, while the band often performed to us.

There was a mildly cringe-inducing moment when members of the audience were pulled up on stage to dance with the band, and one lovely man in a leather jacket (in August) pulled some classic white-man moves. Prizes go to the girl in the purple Beyonce booty-shaker dress – a true star. Unfortunately, the dancing is my only major criticism of the main show. I know Prince isn’t as young as he used to be, and that he’s a bona fide musician and so has a guitar slung around him, but I was hoping for a little more spectacle and James Brown dance action. You can’t tease a generation of teenage girls with the Get Off video and then not provide just a little bit of grind.

A lengthy lung-busting saxophone solo of What a Wonderful World provided ample time for a wardrobe change. A gooey crowd-pleasing version of Nothing Compares 2 U didn’t make me cry as I’d hoped. U Got the Look was smokin’. Kiss was a giggle. Controversy was funky. As was Musicology. If I Was Your Girlfriend was sublime – I think it’s one of Prince’s most beautifully complex songs lyrically and woke up in the middle of the night having remembered it in my sleep. Thus, the first hour and a half disappeared.

Opening the encore with a thumping version of Let’s Go Crazy was a cruel trick to play on all those people who needed the loo, but almost made up for him not playing I Would Die 4 U (not that I was reeeaallly expecting it). Sadly, the encore was disappointing. Taking the keyboards, Prince proceeded to coyly play opening bars of some of his greatest hits – and then stopped. What began as cute teasing quickly became frustrating, especially when he halted Little Red Corvette before the chorus. Imagine watching a Prince show where you almost hear Raspberry Beret but fail to reach ‘the rain sounds so cool when it hits the barn roof’ bit; get teased with the anticipatory beeps of Sign of the Times; have the first minimalist chimes of When Doves Cry squandered, are denied the spangly glitters that begin Diamonds and Pearls and only begin to get all warm and fuzzy to The Beautiful Ones. He didn’t finish a damn track.

And then he plays a Princed-up version of Le Freak. Huff.

Hot and thirsty and unable to get a beer anywhere in central London without a cover-charge, I think Prince’s teasing encore ended up marring the night in the initial after-buzz. And it was never going to live up to my starry-eyed expectations, which have been building since 1994, when I borrowed my big sister’s copy of Diamonds and Pearls and a VHS of Prince videos.

But it came close enough, and so, in the sunny light of day, I ask you, “Are we gonna let de-elevator bring us down? Oh, no let's go!”


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