How many times can an artist leave the stage and come back to a crowd that shows no intention of leaving? Not enough times, if that artist happens to be The Artist, Prince, or The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.
On Sunday night at the closing concert for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Prince flitted through genres as easily as his dextrous fingers worked the wailing strings of his guitar. He rocked, he boogied, he funked, he souled, and he R&B'd. He freaked out — on his trademark heels — dancing around like no 52-year-old should. And the audience couldn't get enough.
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"Too many hits, not enough time," Prince said to a capacity crowd, as he returned to the stage for the umpteenth time.
"My name is Prince," he said, soliciting a bout of laughter. "What's your name?" A cacophony was shouted back at him.
He belted out hit after hit — familiar favourites, new material here and there, and introduced some to tracks they didn't know or might have forgotten. And he did them all with an intensity few can master.
Prince kicked off with Let's Go Crazy, and that's exactly what he did as he weaved through more than three decades' music, including Little Red Corvette, Raspbery Beret, 1999, U Got The Look, Cream and Kiss, urging his fans on in what must be the biggest mock-kiss the UAE's ever seen.
You could hear Prince's music on the radio, you could even listen to his greatest hits on your way to his concert, but nothing can prepare you for hearing him do Purple Rain live — one of many highlights of his performance. With the extended intro the fervour builds, until the singular entities in the audience forms one organism, a collective in sharing a meaningful moment, yet each alone in drawing individual meaning from the song. Yes, there were tears, bowed heads, clasped fingers, even a bent knee or two, but there was also a flailing-armed choir singing every word back to the writer of the 1984 song.
Ducking off-stage to change out of his dapper black suit with red detail (shirt collar popped and buttoned down to his navel, of course), his back-up singers covered Sarah McLachlan's Angel, the lyrics "may you find some comfort here" rendered even more significant under a clear night sky.
Sporting a sparkly earpiece, Prince returned to the stage in a black-and-white ensemble showing off his toned arms. A showman to the core, he proceeded to dance around on the stage — on tiny wedges, no less — not breaking a sweat.
He also did Nothing Compares 2 U, the song he wrote in the 1980s that Sinéad O'Connor took to the top of the charts. Oh, his falsetto is still in place.
The audience might have come to see one of the greatest performers of our time, but Prince had other ideas: "I need someone to dance with me," he shouted to roaring cheers, and picked members from the audience to join him on stage.
Prince also had a special guest in Nicole Scherzinger and the two of them jammed together to a funky disco track surrounded by the lucky ones, as the Pussycat Doll's boyfriend Lewis Hamilton smiled on.
Hamilton's wasn't the only mobile phone capturing this remarkable moment.
"Dearly beloved," Prince said at the start of the concert in Let's Go Crazy, "We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life..."
Leaving the venue, someone wondered out loud what could possibly follow a gig like this.
The answer lies in the same song: "Afterlife."
Actor Simon Pegg and footballer's wife Carly Cole were spotted in the VIP area, and British model Kelly Brook, dancing at the front with her local minder, told tabloid! she regretted wearing her Christian Louboutin stilettos in the grassy concert pit.