Gig review: Prince and 3rd Eye Girl at First Direct Arena, Leeds

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“If you hadn’t noticed, there’s been a turn towards the guitar these days,” observes Prince, near the end of a set dominated by his resurgent interest in rock ’n’ roll.

While his group, 3rd Eye Girl, may be kitted out in some altogether more stagey than your average garage band, they like to play loud and heavy – and do so again as the Purple One crystallises his feelings in the next song – “I love you baby/But not like I like my guitar”.

There have been several moments of brilliance in the previous two-and-a-quarter hours but this was the moment where the 55-year-old’s fondness for Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic gains its final release in a glorious frenzy of fret-mangling at the front of the First Direct Arena’s gargantuan stage.

At the end, he seems sated, closing the evening with the melancholoy ballad Sometimes It Snows in April rather than another six-string assault.

Prince’s first ever concert in Leeds had certainly been performed at pace, from the opening grind of Let’s Go Crazy to a quick gallop through Take Me With U, Raspberry Beret and U Got The Look.

In Musicology Prince, clad in purple with gold shoes, appears to be summoning the spirit of James Brown, urging the 13,000-strong crowd to sing along as the band plays a groove as tight as a coiled spring.

An extended version of Kiss allows the singer free rein to show off dance moves of such speed, precision and grace it takes your breath away.

During 1999 he tosses his guitar into the air – and it’s caught with aplomb by a technician leaping from the wings.

Arguably the strongest vocal performance of the night is reserved for Nothing Compares 2 U, as Prince reclaims this emotional maestrom of a song from Sinead O’Connor.

His quip that “I got too many hits – I could stay here all night” proves no idle boast as When Doves Cry is followed by Sign O The Times, Hot Thing and Alphabet Street, at the end of which Prince leaves his keyboard to swap duties with bass player Ida Nielsen.

“You can’t handle this,” he teases the audience. “It’s got too funky in here.”

A sprightly Funknroll and raucous Screwdriver augur well for 3rd Eye Girl’s forthcoming album Plectrumelectrum, but it’s a tumultuous Purple Rain that brings the house to its feet, ticker tape cascading from the rafters as Prince launches into a blistering guitar solo.

If the first encore comprises a piano suite of How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore, Diamonds and Pearls and The Beautiful Ones, when Prince is rejoined by the band for old 80s B-side She’s Always in My Hair and a cover of Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music the atmosphere is electric.

If we’re being pedantic, the sound could certainly be better at times – in places you could barely hear Ida Nilesen’s bass or Donna Grantis’s guitar beneath the thunder of Hannah Ford Welton’s drums – but it’s a small grumble.

Tonight Prince purple reigned supreme.

Gig date: May 23

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