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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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