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LIVE REPORT: Prince & 3rdEyeGirl
Ben Myers , May 19th, 2014 07:13

Ben Myers travels to Manchester from Calderdale and is wowed and wooed by yet another wonderful performance by Prince and 3rdeyegirl. He enthuses thus: "Prince has us in the palm of his hand..."

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. Electric word, life. It means forever and that's a mighty long time...

A mighty long time indeed: so long that many of us have been able to sit back and watch the many phases of Prince with wonder for our entire lives – from the strutting teen debutante who looked like he had landed from another planet to invent the 1980s, to the ruffle-wearing Paisley Park dandy of the MTV era and on to the silver screen superstar who made an entire film out of petulantly leaping onto over-sized motorbikes and roaring off through neon back-street puddles. We've seen him evolve beyond the emancipated 'slave' of the 1990s, whose opposition to the cut-throat practices music industry seemed like folly at the time, but was actually the visionary work of a man who, like Elvis before him, was simply Taking Care Of Business.Then into millennium Prince, casually embracing the internet and anonymity while others were busy embracing over-exposure and selfies.

With his teased afro, perfect skin, tight dance moves and a hunger to prove he's still untouchable, it feels tonight like 55-year-old Prince Rogers Nelson has come full circle. He's back to remind us that it's actually OK to admit that the golden age of pop and rock music – that brilliant first wave that saw a worldwide American cultural takeover by Jerry-Lee and The Big E, Iggy and JB, MJ and Chuck D – is long over. More than anything, tonight Prince reminds us that he represents the pinnacle of pop's purple patch; those thirty-odd years where it seemed like music would always be brilliant and another, thrillingly multi-talented, all-singing, all-dancing frontman would be along in a minute.

Because stardom – real stardom; real talent of his level – is dead. Instead it has been replaced by appropriation, imitation and simulacra. There is amazing music out there, but it is not to be heard on day-time radio. Into the post-golden age void stepped the Kids From Lame: Britney and Justin, Christina and Miley and Katy and Justin; Disney-endorsed graduates of the jazz hands-flapping performing arts schools. All we're left with now is the cold blank gaze of Rihanna staring down her phone lens as she raises her arm to full length to sneak in a fleeting glimpse of nipple. (Of course, Prince pranced around wearing nothing but a thong and dangling saxophone too, but the cat can write songs. In fact, tonight I'm convinced the cat is the greatest guitarist I ever seen). And Prince's every shimmy, knee-bend and finger-pop feels like a nail in the coffin of the washed-out pop of the Twenty-Teens. How many Bieber songs can you name?

Prince saw it coming – that lack of control slipping away; the closing door of opportunity to a once-epileptic, peripatetic kid from Minneapolis, Minnesota. That slow erosion of creative input; that exploitation of back catalogue. The mad puppet dance of the manipulated pop star. His greatest career move – and the thing that has already propelled both his guerrilla gigs back in February and this, the Hit And Run Part II Tour, to the stuff of legend - is recognising that the 21st Century pop star's greatest asset is not ripped abs or Kanye hook-ups or a reality show or a winning post-rehab narrative or a watermelon booty but mystery. Mystery, secrecy, enigma. Holding just enough back to keep people interested.

So from the glorious curtain drop of a laconic, glammed-up, groin-thrusting version of 'Lets Go Crazy' to the closing ticket tape explosion of 'Purple Rain', we are allowed to glimpse that enigma. In the age of over-exposure we know we are witnessing something never to be repeated. Tonight Prince achieves the near-impossible: creating a joyous atmosphere of intimacy in a huge hall by inviting each and every one of us in to get up and get down with a singular figure who, like the current American President, has come to represent so many different things to so many different people: simultaneously somehow black and white and racially transcendental, straight and gay, masculine and feminine, coy yet despotic, known and unknowable, thirty feet away yet eternally untouchable. And Prince has us in the palm of his hand. He is toying with us like a cat with a mouse. And we love it.

The effect is physical. When Prince shimmies to the lip of the stage, sustains a single bent note for five seconds and cocks an eyebrow I have to pop a beta blocker to slow my heart-rate. It's just all too much. When 'Take Me With You' segues into a thrusting version of 'Raspberry Beret' that's motorised by some fine Meters-style funk it's like watching 5 feet 2 inches of tumescent penis with a guitar strapped to it. It takes a full five songs before I even notice the forty foot screens above the stage - that's how engaging he is.

There are huge billboards signs on the way into the Phones 4U Arena – even that name is Prince-esque – that promise #GOODTIMES, so when the band open the show with drummer Hannah 'Ford' Welton politely requesting we put our phones away for the duration, the irony of playing inside one giant phone advertisement is not lost. When the laser pen-toting security try and shut down every phone user with the zeal of SS guards it seems churlish; when Prince commands "Everyone get your phones out and wave them about!" it is a stroke of showmanship that lets us know he's on our side really.

"Prince is gonna curl your hair!" he declares after 'Kiss', though such sonic follicular action would not be possible without his band 3rdEyeGirl, who are locked down to every single note as their leader orchestrates throughout: a flap of the hand killing a song dead or a click of the fingers capable of turning on the house lights to illuminate twenty-one thousand more-than-up-for-it Friday night Mancs going utterly tonto. Years back there used to be a running joke in the office of Kerrang! magazine how, at the height of Purple Rain mania in 1984, in a moment of madness they - a hard rock magazine - had once put Prince on the cover. I never understood the embarrassment; man and band play harder, louder, faster and tighter than any rock band I've ever witnessed. This is precision-playing that reaches a collective level of genius ability.

Surprises come in the shape of unexpected moments – the gently epic and emotive 'Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)' from 1982's 1999 album, the falsetto soul of 'The Beautiful Ones'. Even the dreaded line "Can we jam for you a bit longer?" is acceptable when they slip into a stunning version of Tommy James & The Shondells' 'Crimson & Clover'. The Sly Stone/proto-house collision of old Hacienda favourite 'Controversy' finds particular favour before 'Little Red Corvette' and '1999' finish us off, leaving us believing that, yes, you were right all along Prince, you really are untouchable and the pop world today with its Vocoder-overload and tweaked-to-mediocrity production is indeed utterly bereft of such enduring talent.

This is no nostalgia fest either, but rather some sort of orgiastic celebration of a lifetime's work. Because life – it's a mighty long time. And Prince is still living it. Long may these #GOODTIMES roll.