Based on last night’s performance, Prince is an artist whose recording career could benefit from the kind of back-to-basics shift that so often breathes life into rock’s flagging elder statesmen. His Yas Arena show, performed over two hours with five encores in front of a 30,000-strong crowd, was built on a clear love of two key things: live performance, and live performance of a little thing called funk. Stick to this agenda, and I reckon he has at least an album or two of quality material left in him.
At 52 years of age, the Purple One has already delivered 23 studio albums and an envious cannon of hits under his many and varied names. It was telling, then, that the majority of his Abu Dhabi show drew on tracks from his late ’70s, early ’80s period, coupled with a series of apparently improvised, lengthy funk workouts. Only his 1991 anthem ‘Cream’, and the bonafide soul classic ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, penned for Sinead O’Connor, acknowledged that he’d had a ’90s career at all (though, those that recall his nameless period will still argue that he didn’t).
Largely free of stadium gimmickry (a bog-standard light show; a couple of big screens only) , the artist formerly known as TAFKAP whipped his paired-down rhythm section through tracks as early as old as ‘Controversy’, ‘Little Red Corvette’ and ‘Raspberry Beret’, helped on by the immensely talented Shelby Johnson on backing vocals. Wearing his trademark purple, he worked the crowd effortlessly, the years of rigorous touring and self-training engrained in every funky strut as deeply as the creases forming around his eyes. Nearly every song contained some form of audience interaction, culminating in a mad free-for-all with 50 fans dancing onstage (including UK chart botherer, Gabrielle), an impromptu duet with Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls (and, er, Lewis Hamilton), with the funk maestro himself conducting proceedings from the top of a purple piano. Abu Dhabi simply hasn’t seen anything like that before.
Indeed, it’s rare, these days, to see a performer anywhere in the world as dedicated to his art, and so masterful at it, too. You might find similar workmanship at a BB King gig, or that of some other similarly devoted blues fossil, but you’d have to walk a long mile in painfully high stilettos to find a man as agile in the ways of funk as Prince Rodgers Nelson. Our advice: see him before his hips give out.
This blog entry originally appeared on Time Out Abu Dhabi