Prince - Live At Electric Ballroom, London

The Purple One continues to surprise...

Never second-guess Prince.

A performer who once swapped his name for a symbol, the Purple One’s last visit to the UK resulted in a 21-night stint (count ‘em!) at the O2 Arena, performing to a combined total of half a million people.

Yet here we are, queuing up outside Camden’s Electric Ballroom to watch Prince perform to a mere 1,000 attendees. The line of fans snakes down Camden High Street, with some boasting of having spent anything up to seven hours in the wet, soggy cold.

Now operating with the all-girl blitzkrieg sound of 3rdEyeGirl, Prince is reaching back to his rock roots. At times tonight the fuzz is so heavy, so earthy, that it recalls the primordial sludge of Black Sabbath – albeit with Little Richard, rather than Ozzy, wailing on top.

With his short, neat Afro, though, Prince more directly recalls another influence. Shrouded in dry ice, throwing lustful shapes with his guitar, the Minneapolis icon is the ghost of Jimi Hendrix – hell, even at 55 this funkateer can still wail, twisting and bending his music into new shapes.

Delivering a set aimed at the more hardcore element of his fanbase – if you queued for seven hours, you probably qualify – Prince focuses on a series of new tracks and deep cuts. Radically re-worked, ‘Always In My Hair’ is a P-Funk jam with the volume turned up to 11, while ‘Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)’ begins as a tender, piano-led jazz ballad before exploring out into an intergalactic psychedelic jam.

Playing two sets – with three encores apiece – Prince teases and taunts his fans all night. It’s a stripped-back set, one not meant for passing observers, but the singer’s incredible charisma and show-stopping magnetism make this an arena show crammed into a (relatively speaking) tiny Camden hotspot.

After the drought, though, comes the deluge. With fans reaching towards the door, gently clawing at the London night, Prince brings 3rdEyeGirl out onstage for a surprise finale. Seated at the piano, he leads the group through a wry, pointed version of ‘Purple Rain’, to near ecstatic approval.

Smiling at the bedlam before him, Prince asks the crowd, “How many hits you think I got?” And then he gently gently moves into ‘When Doves Cry’. Playing a lengthy medley of classic tracks, the singer finally gives in to the crowd’s devotion with snippet after snippet of his back catalogue unveiled to the Camden roar.

It’s a curious move. After a night of continual forward thinking, of stripping back his own image to examine his roots, Prince suddenly flips the show on its head and delivers an effortless knockout blow. Where to next? As we say, never second-guess Prince.

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Words: Robin Murray

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