It’s been awhile since I posted. I’ve been mourning the loss of Prince, been dealing with issues that often come up in life. But as the year in which we last had Prince somewhere here on earth has come to a close and the first year in which Prince has not been with us physically has begun, I’ve been reflecting of the way my life has changed since I first logged into The Holy River Chatroom in 1998. I can say that since I was able to come out of the closet and discover Prince fully, my life has changed for the better. (This will be another post.) First, I wanted to pay homage to Prince, the Consummate Band Leader.
As I reflected back to the concerts I had attended, I came to a realization that was cemented when I began to watch concert footages of shows I was never able to attend. Let me start by saying that Prince was a consummate band leader. His bands knew every cue; they had better know the cues, or Prince would fine them when they missed their cue, per reports. Hand movements, certain words or statements, all of these would let his band know what they were to do next; whether it was to extend the groove they were currently doing by another measure or two, repeat the phrase they had just done, or bring it to a close. His band watched their leader closely so they would not miss their cue.
What I’ve realized, during my reflections, was that as soon as each audience member walked through those auditorium doors, we became a member of his band and we knew our cues, too. Prince would lead the audience as surely as he led the band on stage. When Prince would appear onstage, that was our cue to scream. It seemed every time he would enter the stage, it was a dramatic entrance to illicit the greatest response from the audience; and that energy would begin each show. Prince would point to the audience and we knew that was our cue to sing the next line, in perfect time, pitch, and harmony. Sometimes he would point to us and say, “You sing it!” or “Everybody sing!” or “Say it!” And we would. Prince would raise his arms and begin to clap, and that was our cue to clap on the beat. Prince would sing a phrase in the mic and step away mouthing the words, and we knew that was our cue to repeat that stanza until Prince would motion us to stop or to keep repeating the phrase while he jammed for a minute on his guitar. If we stopped too soon, he would wave his arm towards us, to the beat of the phrase, reminding us that our part was not over. Our voices, our claps, were a part of the show, a part of the energy that flowed in that stadium or concert hall that night.
We, too, had to hit our cues when Prince gave them. If we did not, he would stop, make fun of our attempt, shake his head “no”, and make us do it all over again until we did it to his satisfaction. It was as though Prince could hear, not only, what each band member should be doing during the performance, but what it should sound like with the audience members participating and he would lead the band and the audience to achieve that sound. He knew where the energy should be and would lead the audience to achieve that energy.
Many of these cues are used by other band leaders to encourage audience participation. Many people call this the “give and take” of energy during a concert. But most other band leaders do not stop the show and make the audience do it again if it is not exactly what they want to hear from the audience. Some people say this was an example of Prince’s sense of humor while engaged with the audience, a part of his act. And while I think this was a part of his sense of humor, I think more than that, it was a part of his musicianship and hearing the music how it should sound at all times.
How many felt an electric thrill when Prince would be impressed with how the audience performed when Prince wanted them to contribute? His smile, the nod of his head, the look of pride on his face when the audience performed exactly the way he led them to perform. Prince was the greatest band leader, not only of those that were performing on the stage, but of those that were performing in the audience. When Prince was on stage, he was the band leader of thousands. We were the Revolution. We were the New Power Generation. We were Third Eye Girl. And Prince was our band leader.