For a long time I wasn’t sure that I was a stadium show person. I often found myself let down by costly international acts and blockbusters at Rod Laver Arena, attending shows by definitive artists more for the sense of ‘being there’ than for enjoying their exhausted musical talents. I pegged myself as more of a sticky-carpet, local-band-at-The-Tote girl. Then late last year I attended Dolly Parton’s Rod Laver performance and was Dolly-drunk for days. And now, after seeing the legendary enigma that is Prince, in all his stage-spectacular glory, I realise my reluctance was misplaced. So here I confess, in purple ink with a post-Prince buzz, I now understand that a good stadium show is just a giant party with 12,000 new friends (except for you, drunk guy who vomited in our aisle). And I love it.
Five years ago I found the best Prince badge at an op shop for 50 cents. Since then, I’ve been waiting for the perfect time to wear it, holding off for that special moment. Then, in true seductive form, Prince announced a 2012 Australian tour a mere month before his arrival. The time had come.
I was too poor to attend his 2003 gig, but I knew I had to go this time around. I was lucky to nab tickets to the first show, which sold out in a few minutes, but I had instant buyer’s remorse. Don’t get me wrong, I was still rapt that I’d get to see Prince, but was concerned about having only spent $99 a ticket. It felt like too much of a bargain for a seven-time-Grammy-award-winning, decade-spanning music icon. I was concerned we would be lodged behind a pole unable to see or relegated to the carpark.
On Monday night, I discovered that my reservations were unfounded, because no matter where you were seated at Rod Laver, you were treated to a pure pop sermon by the purple preacher. ‘I am blessed,’ Prince declared under the spotlight. ‘Look around … you are blessed.’ And I’m here to tell you, with my 50-cent badge over my heart, friends by my side and Prince on the stage, I sure did feel it.
A sell-out crowd meant pre-show anxiety was high; people jostled to find correct entrances and get to their seats, adding to the palpable tension. Before the show, I was unable to tear my expectant eyes away from the 360-degree-visibility, Prince Love Symbol-shaped stage. The crowd was already electric and the atmosphere spiked as a storm – featuring cracking lighting and rolling thunder– appeared on the multiple screens. A guitarist played a haunting acoustic rendition of ‘Purple Rain’ – and then Prince emerged.
It never ceases to amaze me how a man so small in stature (at 5’2″) has so much presence, wields so much power and, at 53 years old, has so much stamina. Like a surreal dream equipped with glitter, lighting trickery, quips, dancers, shredding and outfit changes (hello, white sequins and bling!), the show lasted over two hours, with endurance testing encores. Surrounded by his mostly female bandmates, Prince proved why he sells out shows.
In his element, showing off his powerful pipes and guitar majesty, Prince pumped out most of his hits, including ‘Raspberry Beret’, ‘Cream’ and ‘Let’s Go Crazy’. ‘We just have too many,’ he called from behind his glowing piano-sampler-machine. He wasn’t wrong. After an exciting cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’, Prince didn’t stop, and I couldn’t get enough. Continuing with a fun one-man-medley-cum-mash-up that included ‘When Doves Cry’ and ‘Pop Life’, he also slowed the tempo with the enchanting ballad track ‘Sometimes It Snows in April’.
An egocentric enigma, Prince is still intense and sexually charged – fingering his guitar and stroking his face in a titillating manner. A gyrating elf, he commanded the crowd’s attention, flirting outrageously – ‘Have you missed me? I’ve missed you!’ – and regularly calling for audience participation (‘I Would Die 4 U’, the audience called to him). In ten-inch heels, he busted quite the hypnotic move during ‘Kiss’ and frequently brought up the houselights to see the audience during the act. Even fully exposed it was impossible to stop dancing like no one was watching – but no one was because in a trance, all eyes were fixed on the purple one.
My only quibbles were the non-appearance of personal favourite ‘Diamonds and Pearls’ – which was dangled before us during the second encore, but not played – and the length between the second encore and his final reappearance caused a little confusion. But then again, it’s hard to complain when the result was more Prince time. The lyrics teleprompter was a slightly distracting reminder that His Holy Purpleness isn’t infallible and I had a few cultural cringe moments (Mexican wave, people? It’s not the cricket, it’s Prince!). But really, these are nit-picky gripes – I otherwise partied like it was ‘1999’ (yeah I did).
Towards the end of the evening, Prince pleaded with the crowd to come back to his other shows: apparently the set list changes each night. Alas, as a cheapskate I could only afford the one time around, in the cheap seats. But as I clutch my badge to my chest, I console myself with the fact that while sometimes it snows in April, this week in May I did some serious dancing in the purple rain.
Stephanie Van Schilt is a writer, editor and Kill Your Darlings’ Online Intern.