20 awe-inspiring Prince performances to watch right now (before they disappear)

May 4, 2016 Originally published on SFGate

Behold, the first wave, the initial batch of thoroughly mind-boggling, ridiculously varied, utterly mesmerizing, mostly never-before-seen Prince live performances, raw concert footage, fan videos and assorted TV appearances spanning just about every era, outfit, venue and genre you can name, and some you probably can’t. It’s all flavors of astonishing.

Yes, Prince’s rain-soaked NFL halftime performance was one of the best ever. Yes, his solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for the 2004 Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame deserves all the accolades it’s been getting.

But that’s nothing. Wait until hear him wail in 2009 on the Billy Cobham/Tommy Bolin fusion classic ‘Stratus’, at the Montreux Jazz Festival, one of the most blistering performances ever, until now only known to superfans in bootleg form (there’s at least four parts to the complete performance – a worthy search). Try to pick your jaw off the floor after watching him make Oprah swoon on her show. Watch Arsenio nearly faint as Prince takes over his show for four insane songs; enjoy as Mel Gibson turns to limp, crusty ashes as Prince rules on Jay Leno.

On it goes. Hear him funk the hell out of “Whole Lotta Love,” warm up on the piano to “Summertime” before a massive stadium show in Japan, shred like a god on “Motherless Child” – in a long-sleeve sweater. Watch in awe as he never seems nervous, or tired, or pushing the edge of his boundless musical abilities for any of it.

He could play anything. He could wear anything. He could jam with anyone, and invariably upstage them all, every time. His energy appears to have no limit (his multi-hour, late-night after-show jams were legendary). You’ll never see the same outfit twice. Or the same band, dance moves, guitar solo.

Best. Live performer. Ever.

Best. Live performer. Ever.

In this way, he was even more of a chameleon than Bowie, shifting to entirely different styles and musical motifs not merely from year to year or album to album, from from song to song, in a single TV appearance alone. He remade himself, his look, his sound, his vibe so many times, it was obviously less of a calculation, and more simply the result of titanic creative surfeit.

The floodgates are opening, at last, to the public. Who knows how long it will last. Who knows how much we’ll get. Prince kept a famously hard lock, quite literally, on his artistic output and any recordings whatsoever, never allowing any footage or undue recordings to be released.

Word has it that there’s so much material in the vault at Paisley Park, whomever takes over Prince’s estate – possibly his sister – could choose to release a full album every year, for the next century. “Purple Rain”’s director, Albert Magnoli, told Rolling Stone that Prince had upwards of 100 tracks fully completed and ready to choose from for the movie’s soundtrack alone. Only nine actually appeared. The rest? Can you imagine?

Lenny Kravitz said Prince recorded everything, all the time, anytime musicians visited Paisley Park and jammed with him – which was always. It’s all in the vault. Thousands of hours, songs, musical ideas, a simply insane locus of creative power. It’s like the fountain of youth, except for badass jams.

The videos you see below? Just a small sample, a few of the best of what’s gushing forth, quite literally by the hour, on YouTube. There’s lots more to come. I’m sure I’m missing a lot. It will shortly be impossible to keep up. What a gift.

Some of it will be expiring soon. Some is being posted by Mayte Garcia, Prince’s ex-wife. Some is fan recorded. Much is professional concert or TV footage, seen once, then locked away according to Prince’s legal demands. It’s ironic, no? He fought for – and won – strong new rules for performer’s rights. He gained complete creative control. But in so doing, we’ve missed out on 30 years of his genius.

Not anymore. Prince apparently had no formal plan or schedule to release the vaulted material, posthumously or otherwise. He had no will. Unlike Bowie, who apparently mapped out every posthumous release of his remaining songs, Prince appears to have left it all to the fates.

And the fates are going to be busy. And ecstatic.

1) Fury, on SNL (zapped by NBC – here’s an alternate site) – AND the entire hourlong SNL tribute show.


2) Whole Lotta Love (AKA it’s all about the epic guitar jam)

3) Motherless Child (unreal)

4) The full Septimo 1999 TV performance (feat. Motherless Child)

5) Montreux Jazz Festival 2009 – Stratus/All Shook Up

6) Summertime – Piano soundcheck in Japan

7) Musicology on Leno (2004 – good interview too, despite Leno’s total whiteness)

8) Effortlessly cake-walking through American Idol, like it’s a kid’s birthday party

9) Masterfully lip-syncing four new songs on Soul Train, with future wife Mayte Garcia. The dancing, the matador outfits, the awesome theatricality? Come on.

10) Mind-blowingly, on Arsenio, four massive tracks, circa 1991

11) A Love Bizarre with Sheila E – 1986

12) Making Oprah swoon

13) Alma Awards 2007

14) With NPG – Chaos & Disorder – Live in London
(Ridiculously badass – Expiring soon – click to go to Facebook video)


15) Brit Awards 2006 – w/ Wendy & Lisa, Sheila E

16) Awesomely OTT, hyper-sexual version of “Gett Off,” MTV Awards, 1991

17) Pussy Control – VH1 Awards, 1995

18) Not good enough? Here he is jamming at the private SNL40 afterparty just recently.

19) How about MTV Unplugged, circa 2004? Just Prince & an acoustic guitar.

20 ) Or a wonderfully ridiculous, totally joyous, all-cast version of Alphabet St., during the Lovesexy Tour. The man could do it all.

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Mark Morford

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