30 Most Memorable Prince Live Sets

Prince in Purple Majesty
The mythological presence we knew as Prince passed from this plane of existence on April 21, 2016. For many, this was the premature loss of a pop icon, one obsessed with expanding the limits of musicality and style. In the years since Prince's death, many have sought comfort in the plethora of live performances, late-night television sets, and miscellaneous interviews scattered across the web. Prince hypnotized audiences from the moment he appeared shirtless on his self-titled album until his last public performance at Paisley Park, just four days before his death. Live sets were chiefly how Prince showed his dynamism as a guitarist, dancer, and generally stylish fellow. If you were lucky enough to see him during his lifetime, you were probably treated to unique renditions of his classics, mind-bending acrobatics in six-inch heels, and a lesson in the importance of color. Here we’ve collected 30 of the most memorable Prince live sets that highlight his voice, presence, and the joyous ways he inspired fans.
Prince performing "Take Me With U" Live

Another live video of Prince’s just after 1984's Purple Rain, this performance of “Take Me With You” took place in Houston in 1985. It’s not clear how far into his set this song was played, but it’s obvious Prince had whipped the crowd into a frenzy. He doesn’t even really have to perform. He can just lean back, expose the frills of his shirt, and let the fans chant the chorus to him. Prince knew how to manipulate the zephyrs of every venue, his shirt eternally billowing. 

Prince "Baby I'm a Star" Live in 1984

Thankfully, Prince was aware of his own genius. He recorded many of his live sets with a professional crew, often releasing them on VHS tapes or DVDs that accompanied special editions of his albums.

When you’re as animated as Prince was, you don’t have to come up with music video ideas. This performance was actually released as the official video for “Baby I’m a Star,” but it was recorded late in 1984 at a show in Landover, Maryland. Prince is all frills and white leather for his bouncy Purple Rain cut. Since it was the early ‘80s, his hair was still as large as his personality.

Prince at 1985 American Music Awards

Sometimes the hardest thing about watching Prince live performances is figuring out the exact color of his attire. At the 12th annual American Music Awards, after collecting three awards that night for Best Single and Best Album in two categories, Prince donned a jacket that was a mix of teal, purple and angelic glow. He performed “Purple Rain,” and you can feel Prince soaring high on the energy of that evening.

Prince Live at Paisley Park 1999
In 1999, a few weeks before the new millennium, Prince played one of his most famous sets at Paisley Park. Favorites like “Purple Rain” were heard throughout the complex, but none were as charged as his performance of “1999," the year he imbued with such power a decade before it arrived. He knows it, too. He’s aware he can add nearly two-minutes of riffs and improvisation before he even says the first words of his debaucherous party anthem.
Prince at 2005 NAACP Image Awards
In 2005 Prince was awarded the NAACP Vanguard Award. As part of his acceptance speech, he performed a collection of songs. In his own words, “the less time I use talking, the more I can play.” Minutes after winning a prestigious award, presented to him by none other than Angela Bassett and Dr. Cornel West, he’s on stage covering Aretha Franklin and Curtis Mayfield in an excellent flourish of musical range. You can’t help but following his imperative to “listen to the funk”.
Prince at BET Awards 2006

Prince joined Stevie Wonder, Yolanda Adams, and India.Arie to perform a medley of songs graced by the transcendental Chaka Khan. Adams and Arie provided the vocal arrangement, while Wonder played the piano and Prince was just there for the vibes. Of course, he was playing guitar and expanding tracks like “Through the Fire” and “Tell Me Something Good”, but he brought a calming, austere flair that replaced his usual flamboyance. Perhaps, he was being generous to the other performers, toning it down while sharing the spotlight.

Prince at the 2007 ALMA Awards
In 2007, Prince performed at the American Latino Media Arts Awards alongside constant collaborator Sheila E. Prince tore up his guitar while dressed simply in a white suit with black sunglasses. He then threw it off-stage when the percussion from “The Boat” required him to dance in front of Sheila E’s keyboard. They end the set with Sheila E’s 1984 hit single “The Glamorous Life,” which is equal parts electric and intense. With her exotic drum set, Sheila and Prince show why they both popped in the 1980s.
Prince at 1998 Essence Awards

No matter your religious inclinations, Prince’s mystical performance of “The Christ” at the 1998 Essence Awards is an invitation to explore just how many musical spaces Prince could occupy and perfect. Originally titled “The Cross,” the song appeared on his 1987 album Sign ‘O’ the Times. However, after conversations with bassist Larry Graham and Prince’s eventual conversion to a Jehovah’s Witness, he changed the name to reflect his shifting interpretation of the biblical narrative. Prince’s odd speech about Ancient Greek terms and the ensuing controversy on Sinbad’s Vibe late-night show shouldn’t overshadow the subtlety and grace he brought to every live set.

Prince at Aladdin Las Vegas in 2002
Showing proper appreciation to a city as varied and twisted as Las Vegas is simple. If you’re Prince, you throw a party to celebrate the end of your tour, and four thousand uninvited guests show up. It’s unclear how sarcastic he is at the top of the video, but whether fans were supposed to be there or not, Prince delivered a spectacle for Sin City. This is one of the few quality versions of him singing “Starfish and Coffee” live, so enjoy it.
Prince on Arsenio Hall in 2014

In 2013, when the Arsenio Hall Show was resurrected after nearly 20 years off-air, Prince saw the return as an opportunity to showcase his talents on television for one of the last times. Starting with “Funknroll” from his 2014 album Plectrumelectrum and wrapping up with a cover of The Family’s “Mutiny”, Prince returned to Arsenio with the same vigor he had way back in 1991. Sporting an afro with his fur jacket and gold chains, he channeled the energy of a god who brought together funk and rock ‘n roll and left it all on the stage even in the last years of his life.

Prince's Birthday Concert Detroit 1986

Prince Rogers Nelson entered the universe on June 7th, 1958. He wanted the world to remember that day. Maybe that’s why his birthday concerts are hard to beat. Filmed at a one-off show at the Cobo Arena in Detroit, Prince celebrates his 28th birthday better than anyone ever will. In this clip, he starts off by saying, “Enough of that slow shit,” before jumping into a rendition of “Head” that is anything but tedious. While the original is worthwhile on its own, he incorporates part of Muddy Waters’ “Electric Man” that requires he remove his shirt. There are three parts of this concert floating around online, and all are worth watching.

Prince at the BRIT Awards 2006
Almost an entire year after his NAACP Image Awards set, Prince graced the stage of the Earls Court in London for the 2006 BRIT Awards. “Purple Rain” and “Let’s Go Crazy” have numerous live performances you can watch any time, but this BRIT Awards set includes “Te Amo Corazon” and “Fury” from his 2006 album 3121. It’s a rare chance to see a high-quality version of these later songs. Prince's layered, turquoise and red shirt makes him look like a musical medicine man that has a perfect antidote for lovesickness.
Prince Performing "Crazy" with CeeLo Green 2011
On the second date of his 2011 Welcome 2 America Tour, Prince invited CeeLo Green to perform “Crazy,” the 2006 song CeeLo recorded as one half of Gnarls Barkley with Danger Mouse. Prince adds a depth and emotion to this live version that only two minutes of his signature guitar-shredding can provide. This performance shows the humility Prince had despite his star power. He’s able to share the stage and give CeeLo the space to perform his song, until it’s time for another guitar solo, of course.
Prince at Coachella 2008

Prince headlined Coachella in 2008 and gave attendees of the iconic festival an unforgettable performance. Highlights of this set include his cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” which is somehow more sublime than the original, and the classic mash of Santana songs (including “Jungle Strut”) he’s been playing since the mid-nineties.

Prince Performing "Computer Blue" Live 1985

Released as part of the 1986 film Prince and the Revolution: Live, this set of “Computer Blue” is the platonic ideal of a frenzied performance. Chords slice through the fog and blue strobe lights until all you can see is Prince standing confidently above his subjects. By the end, Prince is sweaty, shirtless, and shoulders above any performer you’ve ever witnessed. His music came just before the advent of the computer age, and songs like “Computer Blue” capture some of the mystery behind emerging technology and the anxieties it produced.

Prince at 1991 Special Olympics Summer Games

With Rosie Gaines joining him on vocals and keyboards, Prince opened the 1991 Special Olympics Summer Games at Minneopolis’ Metrodome with a performance of “Diamonds And Pearls.” He followed with “Baby I”m a Star”. Prince was in rare form this evening, probably well-rested since he didn’t officially tour in 1991. He’s wearing a purple and gold outfit combo that would make Magic Johnson happy and clutching a set of actual diamonds and pearls that rivaled a pirate’s bounty. Prince had the unique ability to incorporate idiosyncracies in his performances that made fans remember his sets.

Prince performs "Kiss" on the Ellen Degeneres Show 2003

Sporting his sleek chic in the early aughts, Prince made a 2003 appearance on the Ellen Degeneres Show to perform one of his most beloved tracks, “Kiss”. Originally released on Parade in 1986, Prince has tweaked and perfected “Kiss” over the years to keep it fresh for his fans. He pulls fans from the crowd to dance with him, but makes sure he flashes the cascade of earrings on his right ear to offset their awkward stage moves. This performance is worth watching just for that, though it’s a must-see if you want to hear “Kiss” played with a full horn section.

Prince with Beyonce at the 2004 Grammys

Seemingly passing the torch to the arbiter of the next pop zeitgeist, Prince performed at the 2004 Grammys with Beyonce. Queen B played backup for one of the few times in her career by sharing the stage with The Artist. They meshed together her hit “Crazy in Love” with “Let’s Go Crazy” from Purple Rain to close out the performance. The way the thundering guitar riffs complement Beyonce's harmonizing speaks to Prince’s eternal vision.

Prince "I Would Die 4 U" Live in 1984

This November 20th, 1984 show in Landover, Maryland, keeps popping up for a reason. It’s some of the most dynamic and exhilarating (and clear) footage of Prince's 1980s sets. While the lighting here is muted and lavender, Prince directs the crowd with chants of “I would die for you” on top of bold, layered percussion. The low lighting, relative to some of his more audacious sets, gives the feeling he’s actually the messiah he sings about, bearing tambourines instead of tidings of great joy.

Prince on Jay Leno in 2004
Prince was no stranger to late night shows and kept cementing his status as one of the greatest performers of the last century deep into his career. One of his seven performances on Jay Leno’s classic late night show, this one in early 2004 was a rendition of “Musicology” and it featured one of the grooviest entrances in Leno’s 17-year run. Prince wipes his suit and shoes with a handkerchief and then redeems the show from the weird vibes of guest Mel Gibson before him.
Prince in London with Chaka Khan 1998

Prince’s collection of guitars was almost as eclectic as his outfits. They came in as many different configurations as his hairstyles and blouses. In this mesmerizing set