Prince Gives Electrifying Performance at 2014 Essence Music Festival
Prince was in a playful mood at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the 2014 Essence Music Festival in New Orleans on Friday (July 4).
About an hour before his set, Nile Rodgers, of the disco band Chic, performed a funked-up cover of David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance.’ As the crowd seemed to mellow just a bit, Rodgers shouted, “It ain’t over. I want y’all to jump!” He repeated himself another two times, then a surprise guitarist joined him onstage, sporting dark shades and a perfectly shaped afro.
It was then — after realizing that Prince was the mystery man — that the Superdome ignited. The crowd’s recognition of the pop icon seemed to occur in waves from level to level — by the time the screams reached deafening levels, he was gone again.
It was the perfect setup for his own headlining set. Fifty-five minutes later, Prince wasted no time, gliding straight ahead to his mic in the shape of that unpronounceable symbol he used back in the days.
Prince kicked off his set with a medley of high-energy songs, which included a personal tribute to his music rival Michael Jackson with a rendition of ‘Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough.’ “Alright,” he said, as the crowd raged on. “Sound check over.” This would undoubtedly be the start to one memorable show.
“Thirty years ago today,” Prince repeatedly told the crowd before diving into his classic 1984 album ‘Purple Rain,’ which is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary. Then the familiar knock of ‘When Doves Cry’ hit the speakers and fans hollered from the rafters to the floor of the venue. It was in July 1984 when the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and stayed at the top for five consecutive weeks.
Prince was a vision in nearly all white, donning a patterned long-sleeved shirt, flouncy white bell bottoms and matching Lucite wedges. “You know how many hits I got?” he taunted the roaring crowd before performing the guitar-heavy ‘Hot Thing.’
Then the venue went dark and there was only the silhouette of Prince and that perfect Afro onstage. He transitioned into the achingly heartfelt ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ as the lyrics echoed from the walls.
Once the lights returned, the 56-year-old guitarist was back to poking fun at the crowd, asking, “Y’all got requests?”
Prince then bounded into the opening riffs for ‘Kiss,’ complete with his signature falsetto yelps and some busy choreography. He even wagged his behind at the crowd and one point and people screamed in delight.
Typically, it’s tough to balance the high-powered party joints with ballads while in concert, but Prince toed the thin line effortlessly, disappearing for a moment as the venue darkened again. He walked back onstage with the lights twinkling in his clear wedges and performed ‘Sometimes It Snows in April’ with British folk singer Lianne La Havas and New Orleans’ own Trombone Shorty backing him up.
Dodging behind the keyboard for every other song, Prince never broke momentum and the crowd appreciated him for it. As time crept up to 1AM, concertgoers didn’t budge. Prince left the stage twice. He returned the first time and did a cover of Janet Jackson’s ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately?’ and MJ’s ‘Dancing Machine.’ Then after taking quite a few extra moments in the dark, he returned a second time to give the crowd what they have been waiting for: a power-driven performance of ‘Purple Rain.’
Finally, the compressed energy in the Super Dome seemed to let up as everyone in attendance sang along to the song’s heartbreaking lyrics. Prince blew a double-handed kiss to the crowd before bowing to them and never uttering another word, only allowing a slight smile to cross his lips.