Anatomy of a Prince Aftershow: Live at New Morning
Prince invaded the New Morning—capacity: 300—in Paris at 2:25am last night, in a hush-hush secretive show that lasted until the dawn’s early light. After two tipoffs (special thanks to Saul Williams and Erykah Badu), standing on the rue des Petites-Écuries with a thousand other hopefuls, and an eventual mad dash past security, I caught my first Aftershow.
The lore of the Prince Aftershow dates back at least as far as August 3, 1983: the night Prince & the Revolution played a 70-minute show at Minneapolis’s First Avenue previewing much of the following year’s Purple Rain. A benefit show for the Minnesota Dance Theater, that concert wasn’t exactly an Aftershow, and neither was last night at New Morning (there was no “main” show elsewhere). For over 25 years, the “Aftershow” tag has been applied to any last-minute, previously unannounced, wee hours Prince gig. They tend to be performed in intimate clubs after more mainstream shows someplace larger, with a looser vibe and extremely fanboy-friendly setlists. Prince fanatics have long been earning their stripes as true followers by experiencing these word-of-mouth Aftershows by hook or crook.
My night began with Christine (a/k/a wifey) at Olympia, to see Erykah Badu perform New Amerykah Pt. Two (Return of the Ankh). Kickass harmonicist Frédérick Yonnet, who I’d seen play with Prince & the NPG last year at the Grand Palais, palmed off our backstage passes and ushered us in through Olympia’s “artist entrance.” We passed NPG keyboardist Morris Hayes on the rue de Caumartin, but I thought nothing of it. (Prince played the north of France—La Citadelle in Arras—on July 9, and jumped onstage with Stevie Wonder in Paris on Independence Day. He’s been staying in Paris for a month now, turns out.)
Erykah totally rocked the spot (another post, another time). Backstage afterwards was typically intimate, with kids running around and a small gathering of folks including vocalist Gregory B. Caldwell, singer Mia Doi Todd, poet Saul Williams, producer Julien Bonnet and documentarian Essimi Mevegue. Saul gave me the word first (“You know, right?”). By the time Erykah dropped word on me, I told her I was immediately on my way over.
We walked to the 10th, Gregory, Julien and I, and found over 1,000 heads grouped outside New Morning. G & J split, but I stuck it out. I blew off an Aftershow in Manhattan back in 2002, a night Prince played Avery Fisher Hall. No regrets, but c’mon: how many Aftershows can one blow off? Life’s too short. And in Paris? The world is divided between people who think they can get in and people who think they can’t. Join the positive thinkers.
(How to Crash a Prince Aftershow: Don’t wait on line. Get close as you can near the front door without offending the folks who, you know, have already been standing there for over an hour. When security open the doors, navigate the ebb and flow of bodies and be patient. Use the wait as meditation time; listen to “Om Nama Shivaya” on your iPhone till you get close to the door again. Be patient. Bluff your way out of paying the 80€ charge at the door. Be sympathetic to the security guy who tries to escort you out of the club when you explain you only have 40 bucks. And when a random girl makes a mad dash inside without paying, forcing the security dude to leave you and go after her, make a madder dash for the crowd at stage right. Blend in.)
So, the show. Never seen Prince that close (it was my 11th time), 30 feet away. The eight-piece band started jamming on jazz-fusion drummer Billy Cobham’s “Stratus” while I waited outside, but Prince didn’t step onstage until the minute I got there. Singer Shelby J lent throaty, gospelized vocals to India.Arie’s “Brown Skin” and Aretha’s “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)” while Prince strummed guitar (the leopard print one), often with his back to the audience. His bespoke black suit had the collar flipped, revealing gold squiggly patterns underneath.
“Y’all got that purple book?” Shelby asked, referencing the 21 Nights Prince photo book with the Indigo Nights CD inside. She ripped into “Baby Love,” a throaty funk number from that live CD; it makes you happy for Prince that this is what he comes up with when he throws commercial considerations completely to the wind.
“Beautiful Strange” came next, from the obscure Prince remix album Rave In2 the Joy Fantastic. It was that kind of night, an Aftershow night. He played “Dreamer” and “Future Soul Song” off the recent Lotusflow3r and 20Ten albums. Background singer Liv Warfield took the foreground on the 1970 Staple Singers lament, “When Will We Be Paid” (once a Prince B-side for the 2001 Angie Stone duet, “U Make My Sun Shine”). These are the type of obscurities that only a Prince fanatic could love, but brought to life in laid-back Aftershow vibe in ways that make them impossible not to love live.
Then there were the parts that make you especially jealous if you weren’t there. Prince started both “Controversy” and “Kiss” alone on guitar, distilling each song to its funk essence and letting the NPG reconstruct the songs on the spot. “Controversy” turned into a “Housequake” chant, with Parisians jumping up and down like the club handed out pogo sticks. He sang “Sometimes It Snows in April” alone at the mic, leading the crowd like an extended 300-member chorus. Did the same for “Still Waiting,” playing keyboard while a random woman from the audience held the mic for him at his Yamaha. (“That’s the best human resource I’ve ever seen,” he said afterwards; homegirl works somewhere in human resources.)
One could say the initial show lasted about eight songs, with the rest of the night made up of six encores. Every time Prince and the band exited the stage, the crowd demanded more, and got served… all the way up to 6:15 in the morning. The final piano medley of the night started with less than a minute of “An Honest Man,” the melancholy, unreleased ballad Prince once opened Under the Cherry Moon playing. During encore no.2, somewhere around 4:30, Prince launched into The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” as “that song after you drank too much, you got to go home now.” But he stayed. For hours.
“Purple Music” is one of those Prince fanatic songs, recorded around 1982 and never released, probably because of its similarity to “Irresistible Bitch.” But he played it. And it segued into “All the Critics Love U in New Morning.” “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” morphed into James Brown’s “Please, Please, Please,” with the crowd eventually begging Prince “please please don’t go.” Which brought on encore no.4. Which began with The Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).” And did I mention Sylvester’s “Dance (Disco Heat)”?
If you ever, ever, EVER get the chance, attend an Aftershow. We should all see at least one.
Here’s the setlist:
“I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)”
“Sometimes It Snows in April”
“2045: Radical Man”
“When Will We B Paid?”
“Que Sera, Sera”
“Eye Love U but Eye Don’t Trust U Anymore”
“Blue Motel Room”
“How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” w/“Please, Please, Please”
“Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”
“I Want to Take You Higher”
“All the Critics Love U in New Morning”
“Dance (Disco Heat)”
“An Honest Man”
“Diamonds and Pearls”
“Starfish and Coffee”
“Venus de Milo”
“Future Soul Song”