mon 24/07/2017

Prince, Super Rock Festival, Lisbon | reviews, news & interviews

Prince, Super Rock Festival, Lisbon

Prince, Super Rock Festival, Lisbon

Icon wows the crowd in Lisbon by playing the hits and nothing but the hits

Prince with symbol guitar in action

Travelling along at 140kph in a Mercedes in a police convoy on the wrong side of the road with Prince, and Portuguese fado singer and his new protégé Ana Moura in the front, plus the artist’s agent and Rolling Stones sax player Tim Ries, is pretty rock’n’roll, I can assure you. But it was the only way to get to the gig outside Lisbon in time at last week’s Super Rock Festival. Otherwise it would have taken hours as the traffic jammed to a standstill. A lot of disgruntled paying punters didn’t make it, but over 30,000 managed to arrive, with cars trailing back half way to the city. And the show?  Prince, who isn’t playing the UK on this tour, has a great band, great songs – it was a greatest hits show – so why wasn’t it a truly great concert?

The simple answer is that it’s 2010 and not 1985, or even 1999. In 1985, Prince was the hippest, slinkiest, brightest beacon in pop. While in a clear line from Little Richard, James Brown and Rick James, he was unpredictable, and he was producing genuinely new pop music that felt it was shifting the culture. In 1999, of course, it would have been fun to actually sing along with Prince’s “1999” in excited anticipation of the funky new Millenium. Unfortunately, the new decade has brought us wars, terrorism, economic collapse and Simon Cowell, so it's hard to get too excited about the future any more. Prince has done interesting stuff in the Noughties, but perhaps because it was a festival, the Super Bock Super Rock to give it its full name with beer sponsor attached, he simply rattled through the old hits.

He tried to get the beer-soaked crowds to join in a chant about how they loved God

He wasn’t, in his fifties and with strong rumours of back problems and operations caused by years in high heels, ever going to be the lithe panther-like presence he was in his youth. Still, that doesn’t matter for old blues guys or the likes of Leonard Cohen, but then the majority of their material is not so obsessively about sex. He moved fine, in a rather asexual manner. But Prince without sex is a bit like Tommy Cooper without humour or politicians without lies. A bit shocking and slightly weird, in fact.

Part of the less sexy aura of Prince was no doubt his conversion to being a Jehovah’s Witness, and backing vocals were provoded by a trio of big gospel girls. He tried to get the beer-soaked crowds to join in a chant about how they loved God. Having got them to agree that they loved him and he loved the crowd, not everyone was in the mood for evangelism. He was even spotted giving leaflets to people backstage.

Actually, for some of the tracks the gospel singers worked well – notably for “Nothing Compares to U” (a song made her own by Sinead O’Connor, with its classic video). Others, like “Kiss”, less so.  Even so, it was affecting to hear 30,000 singing along word perfectly to “You don’t have to be rich to be my girl/ You don’t have to be cool to rule my world”, in heavily accented English.

There’s no denying he has a strong back catalogue. “Purple Rain” makes a great crowd singalong, “Little Red Corvette” rocked out with some manic and bouncy gumption,  “U Got The Look”, “Raspberry Beret” and others came and went with a slight sense that The Artist (he's dropped all that Formerly Known As stuff, by the way) was going through the motions, only encouraged by the fact that he did that great wedding party number, Chic’s “Le Freak”, as a disco-by-numbers cover version, and at several points went into lumpen funk mode with chants of “Let’s get funky” and comments about how he would love to take the audience home.

The only time Prince smiled much was when he invited the young fado singer Ana Moura on stage and sang “A Sos com o Noite” and “Vou dar de Beber a Dor” (see video, below), the drowning-your-sorrows anthem by the great queen of fado Amalia Rodrigues. The songs were only semi-rehearsed and Prince was inventively improvising on his guitar and looked like he was genuinely enjoying himself. As for Ana Moura, she will be touring the UK this autumn and has a wonderful, expressive voice and real star quality. You will be hearing a lot more about her – from me, anyway.

The journalist Paul Morley suggested recently that Prince should perhaps sign up to a label like Warp or Nonesuch and work with great musicians and be as avant-garde or pop as he wants. But the audience wanted what they got in this instance, even if the whole feeling was of a Prince tribute band. The point for the audience seemed to be seeing Prince, the event itself,  and texting and Twittering to friends that you were there, rather than much about the music, which actually was more than serviceable and and at times lifted off, or at least hovered pleasantly above the ground for a while.

The presence of the icon performing the hits was what was required, and were Prince to have done a set of his more adventurous music the audience, at least this Lisbon audience, would have felt short-changed (even if not as much as the ones who were stuck on the road and couldn’t get there). There is the adoration of the masses, which is like a drug for many stars, which you don’t get if you go avant. You may, however, get better write-ups from critics, but given the choice, it doesn't seem to be a tough call. And there’s the cash too – if the reported $55 million deal for this European tour is at all accurate. A question must be: how much fame and cash do you need? The answer, nearly always is, never enough. Despite, incidentally, Prince being unable to enter a fado club Tasca Ou Chico the night before - as his car was surrounded by fans. Some people might think such lack of freedom caused by fame would be horrible. But not those who are actually famous, it seems (with exceptions like JD Salinger proving the rule).

The after-show party – now that was the place to be. The gig ended at one. According to those there, Prince jammed non-stop for hours at his hotel, singing gospel numbers, Stevie Wonder tunes, fado improvisations with Ana Moura and wrapped that up at 6am. That, I would have paid good money to see – journalists though, didn’t seem to get invited. I'd had my kick in the police convoy of the rush of specialness - now it was back to being a civilian.

Watch (shaky) video of Prince singing with Ana Moura at the Super Bock Super Rock Festival:
 

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