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Prince, Manchester Academy 1, Saturday 22 February

Long before Prince takes to the stage for the second of his destined-to-be-legendary two-night residency at Manchester Academy, his arrival in the city has already sparked unprecedented hype and controversy.

The sole northern dates on Prince’s impromptu Hit And Run UK guerrilla tour, tickets for both shows at the 2,600-capacity venue sold out within minutes of being announced, with the huge queues that snake around the Oxford Road venue – despite near biblical weather and the hefty £70 price tag – a testament to the enduring appeal of the wildly idiosyncratic Minneapolis superstar.

Almost inevitably, the first night fails to go by without incident when Prince’s manager tweets that there is to be a second gig later that same evening, which is subsequently axed without reason. Instead, fans inside the building are treated to a greatest hits set, while those queuing outside in the rain are offered only reduced admission (£35) to witness the gig’s closing stages.

Freak-out: a three-hour masterclass
Freak-out: a three-hour masterclass

Less than 24 hours later and there is a palpable tension in the air as the audience nervously waits to see which Prince it will get this evening. Will it be the same crowd-pleasing performer with a hit-laden back catalogue to rival virtually anyone? Or will it be the self-indulgent prima donna, prone to embarking on meandering jam sessions? Thankfully, it’s the former with the 55-year-old’s second Manchester show an unforgettable three-hour masterclass in expert showmanship and songcraft.

Accompanied by his three-woman backing band, the striking 3rd Eye Girl, Prince wastes no time in breaking out the hits. Let’s Go Crazy, Sign O’ The Times, I Would Die 4 U, Purple Rain, I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, Alphabet Street and When Doves Cry are all dispatched within the opening 60 minutes and all sound just as vital and mesmerising as they did on their first release, in some cases over 30 years ago. Prince too appears not to have aged a day – dressed effortlessly cool in a black leathery tunic, his towering afro making the famously diminutive singer seem at least a foot taller as he runs, twirls, struts and dances around the stage, guitar in hand, and looking to all intents like the coolest psychedelic pimp to have walked the earth.

After an hour, the purple one leaves the stage and the house lights go up but no one moves a muscle. The noise that greets his return for the first of five encores is deafening and only gets more appreciative as he takes his place behind a keyboard to run through Diamonds And Pearls, Sometimes It Snows In April and a gently touching rendition of Nothing Compares 2U, voraciously accompanied by 2,600 adoring fans.

His second encore ends with a cover of Play That Funky Music, which transforms the Wild Cherry original into an explosive heavy rock freak-out, led by Prince’s still remarkable shrieking falsetto. Next up is Take Me With U and Raspberry Beret. and it suddenly becomes hard to imagine how this gig can ever be topped.

Admittedly, with the exception of a few generic video projections and some cheap looking fire FX, the live show contains little in the way of production values, but, if anything, this just enhances the intensity and megawatt star power of the man centre stage.

In the space of two short nights in Manchester, Prince effectively reclaimed his position as one of the late 20th century’s most talented and exciting musicians. For the lucky 5,000 in attendance, both shows will be remembered for a long, long time.

Richard Smirke

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