Here’s my hot take today: I’d rather watch a late-career Prince live performance than an early one. I realize that’s likely some blasphemous shit that would get me ridiculed out of message boards all over the internet. I stand by it. The legendary 1985 Carrier Dome concert from the Purple Rain tour was just made available by the Prince Estate and it’s amazing, but I would’ve much rather seen a proper release of a concert during his 2004 Musicology tour. I know they’re in the vault. Let’s see one! I get more enjoyment watching his 2013 performance at Montreux Jazz Festival with 3rdEyeGirl on YouTube than I do his early stuff.
Prince was already a brilliant musician by the early-80’s when he reached the peak of his popularity. 20 years later his grasp of those instruments only improved. He might’ve sprinted all over the stage, done the splits a hundred times, and jumped off of pianos or speakers during his concerts in the 80’s and if you’re in to that, it’s all good. The Sign ‘O’ the Times concert movie is brilliant. I’d still rather watch him sit on a stool in front of a few thousand people and hold them all in the palm of his hand with nothing but an acoustic guitar like he did in this 2004 MTV special. Or watch him put on the greatest Super Bowl halftime performance of all-time during a driving rainstorm in Miami in 2007. Or steal the show during the George Harrison tribute at the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. By the time Prince reached his 40’s he was not only a virtuoso on multiple instruments, but he performed them with such ease and arrogance it was mesmerizing to watch.
Case in point: Prince’s 2006 performance of “Fury” from Saturday Night Live.
I know “Fury” isn’t one of his best loved songs by a long shot. Most of you reading this probably haven’t even heard it. I suggest you watch the SNL link above. This performance took place on February 4, 2006, when Prince was 47 years old. Prince was promoting his upcoming 3121 album, which I’ve hyped many times here as one of his most underrated albums and his best since Lovesexy. “Fury” was a perfect selection for live performance on SNL because it gave Prince multiple opportunities to flex on electric guitar, and he makes it look easy. On multiple occasions he played solos 99.9999% of the public could only dream of, and he did it while taking one hand off the guitar to do things like wipe off his mouth, point at the sky, or fix his hair. I love the moment at 2:50 when he sings the melody along with the guitar, then sings harmony while continuing the melody with his guitar. The man was in perfect sync with his guitar. The climax comes at 3:44 when he launches in to one final scorching solo, highlighted by him fixing his hair, lying the guitar on the ground while still playing, slamming down the mic and strutting off with a grin. I assume the mic drop and quick exit were a nod to his first SNL appearance in 1981 when he ended “Partyup” in the same fashion. I know “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is considered the high mark for guitar solos, but I put his work in the “Fury” SNL performance up against it any day. Classic Prince excellence.
For what it’s worth, I also dug Prince’s style in the 2006 SNL performance. The orange suit and his hair up in that modified do rag (or whatever it’s called) was a cool look. No 47-year-old has ever been that cool. For that matter, nobody has ever been as cool as Prince…except maybe Miles Davis.
The studio version of “Fury” is enjoyable but doesn’t quite capture the intensity like the live performance. It’s a thrill to watch a true master at work. I give the studio version of “Fury” 3 out of 5 stars, but give the live version a much higher score. It’s a must watch. Also, Prince Estate, please give us one of the Musicology tour shows!