Saturday, June 5, 2021

June 5th 1997, Prince at The Warehouse

I was lucky enough to see Prince in a variety of settings over the years, and while there's no question that he was always a dynamic and amazing performer, there's also no denying that seeing him in a small venue really brought all of his artistry and talent into particular focus. In a big venue like the Air Canada Centre or Maple Leaf Gardens he was well aware that he was entertaining a crowd that numbered in the thousands. But in a smaller venue like Massey Hall or the Sony Centre there was a greater sense of intimacy to what he was doing, a relaxed looseness that gave him the opportunity to stretch out and do what he wanted. In a big venue Prince was performing for an audience, but in a smaller space it very much felt like Prince was performing for Prince, and that distinction meant anything could happen at that point.

In 1997 I was able to see Prince at the Warehouse, a club gig that was only announced that morning, and it was definitely the most free form and spontaneous show that I ever saw him do. It felt as though he was making up the set list as he went along, calling out shots to the band and jamming on whatever he felt like at the time. There was little interest in promoting his current album "Emancipation" or any of the hits, it really just felt like he was playing whatever he wanted, with a handful of covers and B-sides, some deeper album cuts and just two or three singles. Yes, he played Purple Rain and Raspberry Beret, but it was songs like 17 Days and If I Was Your Girlfriend, The Cross and Take Me With U that really defined the show for me, electric and elastic takes where the band stretched out the songs and jammed on whatever groove came to mind.

It was an incredible night, but that was what you expected from a Prince show, amazing music by an amazing artist. As a longtime fan I was thrilled to see him up close in a small venue, and the chance to hear some favorites that weren't normally part of his live shows was especially exciting. There have been a few times since his death where I've been listening to his albums and I'm struck and saddened by the fact that I'll never have the chance to see him play another concert again, but I'm also very grateful that I had the chance to see him as many times as I did. At the end of it all I'd rather be happy to have experienced the shows that I did see rather than sad about any shows that I missed, and I'm especially happy to have experienced his show at the Warehouse in 1997...

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