|Prince at the American Music Awards, 2015.|
We toss the word “legend” around fairly willy-nilly in New Zealand. I guess if we call our mates “legend” when they buy us a drink or give us a ride somewhere then it’s little surprise we extol far too many musicians with two albums and three hits with the same word.
Cutting to the chase, New Zealand witnessed a legend this week. A legend I’d love to shout me a beverage or give me a lift. “Pick you up 7pm, Tim?” “No worries, Prince – legend!”
And not a “legend” with just a handful of albums and hits* who we’re desperate to say nice things about (so often local musicians get called “legend” by way of well-meaning, misplaced patriotism), but a legend. As in, you can call this man a genius, a freak, an all-time great, amongst the elite of the elite or indeed, a legend, and it would never be hyperbole.
Prince. A name you’re not even allowed to be christened with in New Zealand (no titles permitted as first names in NZ, as in no “Saint,” “Justice” or “King” etc. allowed either). He didn’t just seem un-New Zealand-like on Wednesday night at his second of two sold out Aotea Centre shows, he seemed unworldly. Which in this sense is usually described as “otherworldly.” With nothing more than candles, a bad-ass cane as a prop, kaleidoscopic lighting, a grand piano (with occasional synth flourishes) and that insane voice – from deep baritone to supernatural falsetto – 57-year old Prince Rogers Nelson did not seem of this world.
If I occasionally wished there were a fraction less of the free-form jazz deviations, it’s only because what Prince can do with piano keys and his whopping back catalogue of hits and brilliant album cuts is a thing of joy. Little Red Corvette and I Wanna’ Be Your Lover were early crowd-pleasers, but it was How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore that was the real show-stopper. That falsetto, that rhythm, that control.
Sometimes Prince would stand up and strut away from the piano with James Brown-like theatrics as if to say, “This is too hot I gotta’ stop! I need to stop but I can’t! I’m Prince!” And then the magnetism between man and instrument would get too strong and they’d be pulled together again.
That is some charisma. Even Prince just lying on top of the piano had the crowd in a near state of hysteria. There were songs Prince only tantalising touched on that reminded not just of his star-power, voice and playing ability, but the simple beauty of his best melodies: the intro to Diamonds & Pearls; the chorus of The Most Beautiful Girl In The World; the repeating final stanza in The Love We Make. He promised he’d be back in New Zealand one day and whether with full-band or only the one instrument, I’ll be there in a (pricey) heartbeat again.
I leave you with one of Prince’s countless B-side gems, She’s Always In My Hair, as performed a couple of years ago on the Arsenio Hall Show. And as Prince’s current tour is just him and a piano, here’s his genius on the electric guitar on full display:
*Prince has had more than 50 different top 40 hits around the world and released somewhere in the vicinity of 40 official studio albums.