So, the big question for everyone who missed out on the Prince afterparty is: what happened? What did the lucky 700+ in attendance get that couldn’t have been attained in your garden variety arena spectacular?
Did those who went in search of the big purple whale last night land a big catch?
Well, let’s put it this way. We got “Gett Off”, “Alphabet St.”, Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough” and, of course, “Kiss” – performed live you ask?
Oh dear, you better take a seat, it’s going to be a long night…
As with all things to do with the elusive 53-year old pop star, the anticipation of the myth once again threatened to overshadow the actual event. Having already played a series of ‘secret’ gigs at various haunts across his appearances in Sydney, Canberra and, most intimately, Melbourne’s Bennett’s Lane jazz club; the ‘Official Prince Thank You Australia Party’ was laced with fevered anticipation.
Even as Prince was bringing a close to the final show of his tour at Rod Laver Arena, punters were already scrambling to Melbourne’s HiFi Bar to be the first through the door for a paltry $25. By the time the advertised beginning of midnight rolled around, the Swanston Street side-walk was throbbing, shoulder-to-shoulder with early birds and late-comers alike, the hangers-on and the wide-eyed hopefuls, (and plenty of police) stretching several blocks in numbers that reached the thousands.
Numbers that would be soon be thinned by would become a staggering endurance test that ran late into the evening to catch a rare intimate sighting of the elusive pop icon. Designed to sift the truly dedicated from those simply swept up in Purple fever, those who had prepared for the long-haul needed to keep up with the singer’s lifestyle, with those who could not.
What eventually greeted those lucky enough to make it downstairs to the armpit of HiFi’s bandroom, was nothing short of a 3hr long tease.
After much setting-up and un-subtle sound-checking, the publicised “Funk Jazz Band” took to the stage at around 2am. Five young fellows, decked in knitted wear and flat-caps, playing tasty funk with the requisite Hammond organ grooves and stinging guitar lines.
Lit in smoky blue tones, giving the proper club atmosphere, they were clearly the warm-up act; but even as they played their way through some efficient jams, fears began to swell that perhaps there was to be no public appearance from the Purple One after all. That is until the bass player leaned into the mic, whispered some guff about ‘getting ready to funk,’ before whetting the audience with a promise, “we’re gonna play a few more, then something special’s gonna happen.”
A fairly unambiguous suggestion that kept the throng glued to the front of stage as the venue’s PA reverted back to a tasteful selection of classics including Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Jackson 5.
A further trickle of hints to Prince’s presence came in members of the New Power Generation swanning about the crowd. Not enough to warrant any immediate stage invasion, but again the promise was all that was needed.
DJ Rashida, Mr. Ex-love symbol’s touring jockey of choice, soon shuffled towards the sound booth planted at the Hi-Fi’s centre, draped in an open-back dress like some Bond villainess. Soundtracking what was to be another gruelling slog of waiting. Though encouraging a wave of gyrating bodies and pop-locking audience members, it was more to stave off boredom than to enjoy her skills.
Damaris Lewis, one of Prince’s dancing entourage, soon flanked her. Taking it upon herself to shoo away the encroaching attention, in a vague attempt to uphold the ‘strictly no photography’ policy. Shooting stern looks at the clutch of smartphones thrusting their way into the sound-desk to grab a look at something, anything.
DJ Rashida’s set included some deep jazz breaks, shuffling hip-hop and the first of many teasing drops of Prince’s hits, albeit in more beat-laden form. The first of which was a sneaky segue from Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” into “Kiss.” Inevitably receiving earth-shattering applause from an increasingly impatient crowd, taking her hints as a less-than-ambiguous sign that the man everyone was waiting to see was coming.
Even within the HiFi’s crowded belly, the stylish and the not-so-hip buzzing back and forth from the bar, the rumours began swirling that 3am would be the start of a short set -but 3am came and went, then quarter- past, then a full half-hour; all the while the DJ spinning her crowd-pleasing selections (including large helpings of Michael Jackson), but never treated with more revelry than you’d expect of a standard pre-gig iPod selection.
Suddenly, there he appeared. Literally popping up from inside the sound booth, leering across the crowd with an appropriately messianic pose, was Prince. Meekly swatting at the sea of paparazzi flashes while simultaneously mugging for the cameras in mock annoyance; and lapping up every bit of the attention.
He sunk back into the booth to spin a couple records, then just as quickly as he appeared he was ushered towards the side of stage to an undulating wave of cheering on-lookers, like a boxer prepping for a match.
Surely he would have to play now.
Fifteen minutes rolled by and still the funkified soundtrack continued without a hint of activity from the stage. At 4am the chanting began in earnest, “we want Prince!”
At quarter-past, many began facing the excruciating decision to hold out for an increasingly unlikely scenario, or to throw in the towel and attempt to catch what few hours of sleep were left before a new day.
Even if Prince had graced the stage in one final, searing, performance – would it have really been worthwhile? Would it have provided a satisfactory resolution? Worth the wait directly proportionate to the disappointment?
Imaginging a full-blown blood, sweat and tears set that would send a sea of people into the frosted Melbourne streets with fables and bragging rights perched on their collective tongues, singing of the best night of their lives; and it still may not have been enough.
It’s then the obvious began to sink in, there was to be no performance.
Instead the promise of the performance was the point, the tantalising whiff of the myth. Not any kind of resolution. No grand celebration; but a room full of eager fans waiting on false hope.
Even as an exercise in orchestrated anticipation and mass-ego stroking, it left a lot to be desired. Perhaps the afterparty was only ever intended as it was vaguely prescribed: a chance for Prince and his hardworking band to let their down, but the drawn-out parade of teasers suggested otherwise. Some may have been satisfied with being in the same room as the man, dancing to a serviceable soundtrack, but there was little in the way of bragging rights, let alone the glory of an exclusive concert.
Every single person in that epic line, from the HiFi’s doors to the steps of Flinders Street, was hoping for something that seventy-odd lucky punters at a small jazz club had already claimed two nights previous: a unique experience. A chance to say you were there.
It seems you get what you pay for. $25 for an okay DJ set and the chance to catch a blurry, shadowy photo of the artist-formerly-known-as-now-known-as. Like Bigfoot, like the Loch Ness, a rare sighting of the Purple One to justify a vastly over-hyped event.
In that regard, the best seats in the house in fact belonged to the smokers outside, who would’ve caught a first-hand glimpse of Prince and the NPG as they entered and exited the venue.
The moral of the story?
If last night you found yourself agonising over the decision of missing out on Australia’s last, fabled, ‘secret’ Prince show, rest assured, you missed nothing but an over-hyped promise of a ‘maybe’.
- Al Newstead