January 21, 2017 marks the one year anniversary of Prince's Piano & A Microphone Gala Event at Paisley Park where he played two shows, the official start of what would be his final tour, reaching eight cities and 20 shows in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, before concluding on April 14, 2016.
Matthew Jeffrey, along with fellow diehard Prince fans, made the journey from various places overseas to Chanhassen, Minnesota for the Gala Event. Prince knew they were coming to see him and he was ready to give them an experience of a lifetime. Matthew and his friends attended both shows that night and in the wee hours of the morning he documented his experience. Today we'll look back one year ago and experience this incredible, memorable night through Matthew's eyes and heart...
January 21, 2016
"SPEECHLESS. I just witnessed two of the most raw, emotional, stunning shows that Prince has ever played in his home, Paisley Park. Sometimes words are just not enough to convey life's experiences and this is one such time. Clearly, I am a huge fan of Prince's music. Friends and family question the sanity of leaping on a plane to go and see '...just another bloody Prince gig.' 'Matthew, isn't it a bit obsessive to travel across the world and see him yet again?'
But travel we did, Prince fans from across the world. We knew when he announced the Piano & A Microphone Gala this would be a very special evening but perhaps even we were not prepared for what he had in mind. This was the event that Prince was bringing to Europe late last year before ticket touts and terrorist acts in Paris derailed the experience. I love sharing experiences with people but also recording them for my own memories to re-read in years to come. With so many people travelling internationally this was bound to be a special experience. I will try and capture a slice of what went on:
The electrified buzz of excitement started early with cars queuing across the street from the big white mansion, Paisley Park, surrounded with crisp white snow and bathed in soft purple lighting looking serene and heavenly in appearance. Without any fanfare the gates to Paisley Park opened and we were met with an organised crew who marked us off into the VIP area and gave us large circular purple boxes containing a T-shirt, HitNRun2 CD, Musicology CD, VIP lanyard, and a Piano A Microphone poster.
Entering Paisley is always a great experience; through the foyer, past the Graffiti Bridge bike, getting a hug from Trevor Guy and Kirk Johnson to say ‘Hi’ and ‘Thanks’ for travelling thousands of miles. From the foyer the VIP's were ushered into the Love4OneAnother (aka 'NPG') room. Food set out for us included mashed potatoes, Thai curry, scrambled eggs along with non-alcoholic beverages. Being held in this area the excitement was off the chain. Seeing friends all smiling, laughing, excited to be there and share the experience was truly fantastic. 'Look up, there's the car grille from the Sign O’ the Times album cover'. 'Look at this, it’s Prince's symbol concert mic stand'. 'Wow, look at that animal art from Rainbow Children'. 'See that door up there, that's Prince's private area'. It felt like being on a school trip as a kid.
When the call came the doors opened to Prince's huge soundstage area. The main stage was set up against the side wall with a purple piano surrounded by candles gently flickering, creating a feeling of tranquility. A large video screen behind the piano projected kaleidoscopic images that were strangely hypnotising. Below Prince's main stage were a smattering of cushions for some to sit down followed by a seated section for VIP's, then surrounding the chairs was the GA standing area, and all provided good views. Paisley Park had recently been refurnished with a new carpet and sound system. There were burning incense and candles that created a distinct, calming smell. By the time the concert was due to start the atmosphere was electric, frenzied, anticipating, and then…BOOM. A smoke cannon pumped out a huge plume of smoke across the stage. A pause of two or three minutes, then lights down and more smoke. Frenzied cheering. Then the creak of the huge white doors with his Symbol connecting the Love4OneAnother room with the main stage area signaled he was coming. The doors slowly opened and revealed a shadowy figure emerging from the smoke. The main man strode on to the stage. The gladiator to the arena. Prince defies his 56 years. Yes, he’s very small, that’s a given…diminutive but looking very fit and healthy, his Afro positively bursting out. He was wearing what looked like a purple satin suit with mystic moons on the arm cuffs and his traditional white trainers with sparkling red lights activating when he moved.
He started in a playful mood, pretending he did not want to play the piano or sing...playfully teasing the audience, jumping up and down on his seat and saying, ‘I think I will watch TV'. Then he leapt up onto his piano, sitting down with his back to the audience and pretended to watch TV. He mimed drinking some water, eating potato chips, and watching the projection screen. Maybe, subliminally, he was taking us through his journey with his father. Most kids watch TV as they grow up but instead Prince learned to play instruments and sing. After this unusual start he settled in to play the piano. As billed, this was intimate. It was just Prince, a piano, and a microphone.
He started with Batman. Not his version but the old 60’s TV version….fun, playful, unexpected. A great ice breaker. Some have compared Prince with Mozart. Both musicians are creative geniuses in their own fields and both live for music. One a classical genius, the other an innovative Funk/Rock legend. But the comparison drew new meaning last night just watching Prince play the piano. Prince is truly a gifted pianist who channels emotion into his playing. Last night was the most personal I have ever witnessed him. He talked about his relationship with his father. He warmly spoke of Wendy and Lisa. He paid tribute to David Bowie. He was revealing more of his personal nature than we normally get to see or hear, and he channeled this through the piano. His reference and tribute to Bowie brought tears to a now highly-charged audience. It was strange to keep seeing people spontaneously crying real tears.
Such was the beauty of the music from the piano, and the emotion of the night. Prince projects real emotion when playing the piano: Pain. Sorrow. Angst. Joy. Laughter. Love. Lust. Sexual desire. His face contorting to whatever he played, Prince 'feels' music. He did not use sheet music, he just played by touch, feel, all from memory and he played with exquisite beauty, each track beautifully and differently arranged. As he promised he played hits (in different ways), B sides, rarities and new tracks. The setlist from both shows is something you dream of. When has he ever done setlist a like this? No sampler sets, just pure piano. He bridged each song with imaginative piano solos…hauntingly beautiful classical music. Yes, classical music. Never have I heard Prince's voice sound so good. His vocal range is outstanding. The high falsetto of 'Kiss'...the low smoldering 'sexy voice' Prince...the yelps, the squeals, all so perfect one almost thinks this was mastered studio quality. His voice filled Paisley Park. We heard every whisper, every moan. When he clicked his fingers it was as sharp sounding as a thunderclap, the stamp of his feet reverberating like a kick drum.
The audience was in rapture at times, and there were times everyone was singing...Prince's own gospel choir. The emotion was so raw that the audience broke down, many openly crying. Prince had tweeted to us to bring hankies. He was so right. The highlight of the night for me was 'The Ladder'. He toyed with the audience by starting with the chords, then just stopping dead with his famous 'you aren't ready for me y'all' look. Then boom, the full version of 'The Ladder'. Oh my, words fail at the perfection.
These two concerts were intimate, raw, and emotional. To witness them at Paisley Park, his home, is simply an unforgettable. I felt honoured to have witnessed a moment of history."
For the past 30+ years Matthew Jeffrey and some 40 other European members of Prince's Purple Army have formed a strong bond as they've traveled far and wide to see him perform. They are a group of friends knit together by their mutual love and respect for Prince and for each other.
There is no doubt these are the kind of people who hold a lifetime lease on Paisley Park, so it's no wonder they dropped everything and traveled across the world to witness the final show Prince would perform in his beloved home. Matthew reflects back on that special night, one year ago...
“As I look back now, one year on, it’s crystal clear the significance of the two Piano & A Microphone shows at Paisley Park that cold snowy night of 21 January 2016. Those lucky to be guests at his house witnessed musical history. 'Gig of a lifetime' is a phrase often overused but this fairly describes what we witnessed: An artist still at the peak of his game, his vocals as strong, as clear and emotional as any time throughout his iconic career. A musician that played by ear. A genius on the piano, his fingers moving at speeds over the keys too fast for the eye to register.
For whatever the reason, Prince opened up that night like never before. He told his personal life story, not through the autobiographical book for which he had reportedly written 50 pages, but in the way that was most natural to him…the way he most wanted to…through his music. He was emotional and raw but most importantly he was relaxed, free and happy. The emotions that we the audience went through that night remain vivid in our memories. We laughed, we cried, we sang, we listened. An audience in complete awe of a musical genius. Prince, a man that was notorious for guarding his privacy and creating an air of mystery around himself spoke so openly. It was amazing to see him at ease with himself, so different from the image the media portrays of him. That night he was our friend, enjoying the company of his friends.
Every Prince fan has found the past year unbearably tough and each one grieves in their own way. Some grieve more openly while others bottle it up inside like a volcano ready to blow. I think those at Paisley Park that night have a bit more inner peace knowing they had the privilege of attending his last ever shows at Paisley Park, knowing they witnessed something truly magical. We also know that sound engineers were capturing the January 21 shows because we heard the superb quality of the recordings during studio tours following each of the concerts. These historical recordings must see the light of day because they are two of the most incredibly special concerts Prince ever performed, ready and waiting for the world to hear them.
Of all the pending releases from the vault the personal story he told, set to music, at his final Paisley Park performances are the ones that will allow the wider public to hear Prince truly being himself and they will witness his genius through the simplicity of a Piano & A Microphone.
Prince, your music will forever live on."