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Prince: A lust for live

Prince Rogers Nelson, who died at his home yesterday aged 57, will be remembered as a pioneering live performer who changed the face of the concert industry forever

By Jon Chapple on 22 Apr 2016

Prince, Instagram

image © Instagram.com/prince

Prince, who died yesterday, was many things to many people: A sex symbol who defied social, racial and gender norms; a self-taught musicians’ musician who mastered “thousands” of instruments, including bass, piano, drums, various synthesisers and percussion and – of course – guitar; an early advocate for artists’ rights who fought his major label, Warner Bros, for ownership and artistic control of his own music.

To many in the concert business, however, Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson on 7 June 1958) will be remembered for the joy he took from simply playing live. Standing only 5’2″ tall, Nelson was nevertheless a giant on stage, a combination of his charisma, sex appeal, dazzling musical chops (an apocryphal tale has Eric Clapton, when asked what’s it like to be the best guitar player alive, responding: “I don’t know; ask Prince”) and four-inch high heels lending the diminutive singer, songwriter and producer a towering stage presence that transcended mere inches.

And after no less than 28 concert tours – including the unplugged Piano & A Microphone tour, ongoing at the time of his death – the 57-year-old showed no signs of a desire to stop touring. Nor did audiences show any signs of a desire to stop listening: the dates comprising his final completed tour, the spontaneously plotted Hit and Run trek of 2014–15, were consistently sold out and generated huge critical acclaim for the artist and his touring band, 3rdeyegirl.

One of Prince’s most memorable highlights in the world of live performance remains his landmark 21-night residency at The O2 in 2007, which paved the way for similar residencies by Bon Jovi, the Spice Girls, One Direction, Beyoncé and Michael Jackson

One of Prince’s most memorable highlights in the world of live performance remains his landmark 21-night Earth Tour residency at London’s O2 Arena in 2007, which changed the touring landscape irreversibly, paving the way for similar arena residencies by Bon Jovi, the Spice Girls, One Direction, Beyoncé and Michael Jackson with the ill-fated This is It.

“Everything’s changed this summer,” he told the cheering crowd, without a hint of hyperbole, at the time. “It doesn’t matter who came before or who comes after. From now on, The O2 is Prince’s house.”

The O2’s general manager, Rebecca Kane Burton, said this morning: “We are all shocked and deeply saddened to hear the news that Prince has died. […] [He was a] true artist and musical genius. RIP.”

Cameron Strange, CEO of Warner Bros Records, with which Prince repaired his relationship in recent years, said in a statement last night: “He leapt onto the scene in 1978 and it didn’t take the world long to realise that pop music had changed forever. He played the studio like an instrument and shattered the definition of live performance. He defined a new kind of superstardom, with a transformative impact not just on music, but on video, film, and style.

“Prince was the epitome of cool and mystery – an inspirational soul who created his own universe by bringing together different genres, races and cultures with a purity of sound and spirit unlike any other. His visionary gifts as a songwriter, vocalist, musician, performer and producer placed him in a league all his own.”

“He played the studio like an instrument and shattered the definition of live performance”

A statement from the 4,678-capacity Fox Theatre in Atlanta, where Prince played his last live show on 14 April, said: “Prince was a music pioneer, innovator and cultural icon. His music moved and inspired many, including the fans that were able to join him as he took the stage for his final performances last week…

“We, along with the world, mourn the loss of a music legend.”

Watch Prince performing one of his signature songs, ‘Purple Rain’, at the Fox, courtesy of gig-goer Jake Reuse, below: