Prince and Flava Flav, live at The Ivy Ballroom, Sydney May 12, 2012.
I was this close, once.
Prince was playing a couple of shows in Sydney, stadium deals where the tickets sell out in five seconds and nobody can afford them second hand from scalpers. I’d missed my shot. Wrong time, wrong place. I dealt with it, moved on.
Then my boss told me about an after party, threw me the link, told me not to tell anyone. It wasn’t cheap, but jobs you don’t like that pay well exist for this. Credit cards exist for this. I bought two tickets, told the missus. “Put on your dancing shoes… we’re stepping out.” Something like that, at least.
The after party was intimate-ish. How intimate is intimate? There were fewer than a thousand people. More than a few hundred. It was intimate enough. We got there early, bagged a spot. Waited. Waited a long while. Two hours. Three hours. Maybe more. Fuck it, it’s Prince. You wait. We waited.
His band came out first. His singers, his instrumentalists. They came to party. The whole place lit up. It was a jam session. Freestyle funk. People thought they were getting the concert, the hits. But the concert happened hours earlier. They played the hits there. This was the after party. It was something else entirely. And it was incredible. They danced, we danced.
Then Prince. Screams, of course. Some of them mine. Everything he’d ever done was electric, this was no exception. He came out, strutted, moved, worked his fingers along the fret, teased us with a few bars, disappeared.
Flava Flav was there, part of the same concert, the one hours earlier. For all his reality tv shenanigans, Flav is the greatest hype man of all time for a reason. Prince didn’t need hype. He didn’t need Flav, but he wanted him there. Flav did his thing. We were hyped. We got more hyped. Between Flav and the band they built us up so, so high. Prince came back out. More screams. Some of them mine. This time he stayed.
At some point, between the jams and the freestyle solos, Prince broke into a long improvised version of Little Red Corvette. So long, so improvised – over ten minutes, with what might have been half a dozen guitar solos – I had to ask someone, wait, is this Little Red Corvette? SHIT, IT IS! IT IS! Maybe it wasn’t. Whatever it was, it was one of the most brilliant, beautiful things I’ve ever heard.
Toward the end, the band fell away, went to take a breather. Flav fell away. Maybe he was still there, but maybe he was just quiet for a while, watching like the rest of us. Because at some point, toward the end, it was just Prince. Singing. Making his guitar sing too. Every single person in that room hung on his every… everything.
It was 3am by this point, easily. He must have been tired. Playing the hits at the big concert. But he gave us everything he had left. He didn’t give us the hits. He gave us something else. Something just for us. He wasn’t on stage for very long. He didn’t need to be.
This was four years ago. I don’t remember every detail. I don’t remember how the night ended. What I remember most is the way it felt. He did that. Made you feel. I felt joy, mostly. I felt awe. I don’t know if I count as a big Prince fan. How big is big? I loved his music. I thought he was incredible. A big enough fan.
I grew up with his albums, watching that wonderful goddamn film on repeat. Watching that final scene. Wondering how someone can do that. How does someone do that? It’s a question only he could answer. We lost the answer today. We lost him too soon. It would always have been too soon.
I was this close, once. I’ll never forget it.