Prince, Rod Laver Arena, 14 May 2012

Prince is a genius. There’s no questioning the man’s track record. After all, he’s responsible for composing some of the best pop music of the 1980s — Purple Rain, Little Red Corvette, 1999, Cream, Kiss, Peach, Raspberry Beret, Diamonds and Pearls are all gems, funky radio hits from an era renowned for bad hair, and musical atrocities such as Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls. I’ll confess I don’t have a deep knowledge of the man’s back catalogue, but I always enjoy hearing his most popular stuff, and, man, the little purple master sure churned out a remarkable number of hits during his heyday. He effortlessly combined insistent melodies, funky beats, and soulful singing with washes of synths, and badass rock guitar to create one of the most impressive and formidable canons in popular music.

So, it was with a keen sense of anticipation that I joined the throngs of Prince devotees who gathered at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne last night to pay homage to a living legend, and witness the long overdue return of a genuine superstar. If judged by the wildly enthusiastic response of the crowd, Prince is still at the top of his game. The faithful hooted, and hollered, sang along with all the hits, and partied like it was 1999, or 1984. They endured a few long, funk jams with patience, and even endured what must surely be the longest wait for an encore in the history of live music. Clearly, the man could do no wrong.

He performed in the round, on a truly spectacular stage, which was shaped like the symbol that briefly functioned as his proper name when he was calling himself the artist formerly known as Prince. The light show was suitably dazzling, the band super tight, and the backing singers and dancers were sassy, sexy and on song. Prince looked like a million bucks, trim, petite, perched on impossible high heels, and he had his mojo working as he strutted through the concert, singing and dancing his little ass off. He also let rip on various instruments, including his legendary Hohner Telecaster guitar, which he wielded with wild dexterity.

Even from my vantage point up in the nosebleed area of the arena, I could feel the energy of the spectacle, and see the looks of adoration, and glee on the faces of those around me. No doubt, Prince rocked the house, yet I couldn’t help feeling dissatisfied.

I just don’t dig the sound at  stadium concerts. Cavernous spaces like the Rod Laver Arena really suck in terms of sound quality. The bottom end of the sound spectrum is generally boomy, and flaccid. And you can forget about crystal clear high frequencies, which sound muted and squashed. Concert Vocals can distort, and female voices frequently become shrill. No doubt, some people enjoy the rough and ready sound of a live rock concert, but I wish there was some way of approximating recital quality sound. Classical music almost always sounds stellar in terms of high fidelity sound reproduction (maybe this has something to do with the fact they prefer modest decibel counts). Anyway, I want to luxuriate in superior sound, move my feet to the tight beat of a bass drum that doesn’t boom, and hear a creamy guitar tone that doesn’t sound like it’s coming out of a maxed out boom box.

I’d kill to hear Prince at one of his almost legendary after concert jams, which usually take place in small clubs for those privileged people of good fortune. Club sound, in my experience, is smooth, especially when the venue has invested in a good PA system. Ok, maybe I’m missing something about the thrill of the spectacular concert experience, but when I lay my hard earned money down, the least I expect is sonic bliss. Is that too much to ask, folks?


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