On May 19th, 2015 my friend Doug and I drove to Toronto for what would prove to be my last ever Prince concert.
As was his habit at the time, Prince had booked two consecutive concerts at the Sony Centre that night. We had tickets to the second show, which started around 11pm. We were in the second-last row of the balcony and shortly after we took our seats I turned to the guys sitting behind us and asked if they tended to sit or stand at concerts. “It depends…” was the reply. I responded that I was pretty confident I would be on my feet for the entire concert, and I hoped they didn’t mind. Our exchange proved wholly unnecessary, for from the moment that The Purple One stepped onstage until he finished his second encore about thirty-five songs later every single person in the theatre was on their feet dancing and smiling.
It was utterly impossible to do otherwise.
Prince opened the show with a really slow version of Let’s Go Crazy, turning what is generally a heart-pumping BPM-a-thon into a chill groove quasi-ballad that he somehow morphed into Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein. And just as the crew behind me might have been thinking of settling down for a rest he followed up with Take Me With U and Raspberry Beret so of course everyone in the audience stayed out of their seats; 1999, Little Red Corvette, Kiss, I Would Die 4 U…there was just no sitting down. Even when he calmed things down with songs like When Doves Cry, Nothing Compares 2 U, and his surprising cover of Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender his brilliant playing kept us all on our feet out of sheer awe and reverence. My goodness, Prince was such a great, great musician.
Overall it was a very guitar-heavy show and Prince’s brilliance was augmented by the remarkable funk bedrock that was continually laid down by his band 3RDEYEGIRL. It was truly a blissful experience top-to-bottom; a remarkable setlist delivered by one of the world’s most creative and ingenious musicians who was not only at the top of his game but also well warmed up from already bringing the heat at the earlier 8pm show.
The last song I ever heard Prince play was, of course, Purple Rain. Arranging the tune in a manner that seems rather poignant in retrospect, Prince started the iconic song with its closing lament before circling the woo-hoo-hoo’s around to the opening chords and giving us a full version. When the song ultimately ended where it began the still-standing crowd sang along and collectively raised our fists in the air before our little hero set down his still-echoing guitar and walked softly into the wings.
The experience left me tired, sweating, and breathless.
In his later years Prince preferred to announce his upcoming dates one at a time and just days before the actual concerts so when he mounted his solo piano tour in early 2016 I was glued to his website hourly hoping for a Toronto or Montreal date. Unfortunately when concerts in both cities were announced I found myself vacationing in New Orleans, ironically in the wrong place at the right time. When Prince died on April 21st, 2016 and I realized I had missed out on his third and second-last concert stops…well, I’ve never retroactively regretted taking a vacation so much in my life.
Thank-you Prince. Damn opioids.