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Prince at Montreux 2013

Ninety seconds at Montreux

Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland - 14th July 2013

By Ben Sansum

I’m obsessed with Prince.

I’m obsessed with Prince live shows.

I’m obsessed with a specific Prince live show from Montreux in 2013.

I’m obsessed with a single song from a specific Prince live show from Montreux in 2013.

I’m obsessed with the outro at the end of a single song from a specific Prince live show from Montreux in 2013.

I’m obsessed with the final ninety seconds of the outro at the end of a single song from a Prince live show from Montreux in 2013.

I’m obsessed with a single note that comes in the final ninety seconds at the end of a single song from a specific Prince live show from Montreux in 2013.

It happens at the end of a lovely slow-jam version of “Nothing Compares 2 U”, arguably the most recognisable of the many Prince songs made famous by someone else. Sinead O’Connor’s legendary cover version – just her voice, Nellee Hooper’s sparse production, and the most iconic teardrop in music video history – will be the cover most people know. That’s not how Prince approaches the song at this stage of his career; post difficult-middle-years, comfortable as an elder statesman, and, apparently happier and healthier than he’d been for a while. He seemed to have relaxed into himself as he strutted across the world (twenty-one nights in London’s O2 Dome here, a high-profile residency there). This was the time to reclaim some of these songs, and recreate them in ways that would be unique to him. And the second show of his three-night residency at the 2013 Montreux Jazz Festival is absolutely one of the peaks of this peak. He cuts a remarkable figure, dressed in a sharp black suit, and framed by his late-stage Afro and shiny white trainers, and has one of the greatest bands of his career surrounding him. It’s a potent mixture, ready to go off.

Ninety seconds at Montreux-Housequake
2013 Montreux promo photo by Justine Walpole

The whole show absolutely slays; its opening twenty-three minutes is a breathless pop-funk medley, powering through a handful of his own hits (“Raspberry Beret”, “Take Me With U”, and “Partyman”), as well as lesser-known tracks from his catalogue (“Act of God”), and some inspired covers that make full use of his singers, Shelby J, Liv Warfield, and Elisa Dease. The band stomp through versions of Janet Jackson’s classic Jam & Lewis production, “What Have You Done For Me Lately” and Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough”, into which the horn section drop the riff from Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke”, as well as songs written for other people during his 80’s purple patch, such as “C.O.O.L.”, originally performed by his protégé band, The Time (whose rhythm section was future Janet Jackson producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis). It all links together. You just know he spent time getting this stuff right. Trying to describe it all, trying to capture everything that happens in that thrilling opening section is exhausting. It really does have to be seen to be understood – one of those magical evenings where everyone slotted into the groove from the first note and the momentum was immediately unstoppable.

By the time we get to this night’s performance of “Nothing Compares 2 U” we are officially on encore number two. The band had stomped off at the end of the opening medley (“They ain’t ready for us, let’s go” the man told his crew, all frozen in place on stage, as the crowd screamed until they were hoarse). It’s all part of the show, all part of the soul-revue drama, but he’s right. On form like this no one was really ready for them. When they return after the first exodus they fly in funky little curlicues around the looped opening bars of “Let’s Work” while a mixture of audience and band dance across the stage. A few more of his own songs segue seamlessly into a swathe of covers – “Ain’t Nobody”, “Don’t Stop The Music”, “Family Affair” – all bouncing over a rock-solid foundation laid by the band – drummer and bassist in the zone, the 12-piece horn section having the night of their lives. This section ends with a “Thank you and good night”. It’s less than an hour in, but if that had been it no one would have been able to complain.

But that isn’t it

The crowd clap and cheer for minute then settle into a long low drone, waving their hands above their heads, occasionally rising in volume and enthusiasm, making it clear that these few thousand people have no intention of going anywhere. It takes a while, but with the lights still down the opening piano chords of “Nothing Compares 2 U” gently appear, Cassandra O’Neil playing like an angel. The spotlight hits Prince at the microphone stand. The crowd recognize the melody, just as the bass and drums and vocals come in. He sings it as a duet – letting Shelby J take the parts that need full gusto, while he has the questioning sections where he can let his own voice soar up through the octaves. Shelby responds by reaching her own heights, bringing the crowd with her, drawing applause and goosebumps as the band peak into the choruses. O’Neal is given another spotlight on the keys for a lovely circuit around the melody, not a note out of place. The band push on, drum rolls and horns, pushing this normally delicate song into end of the night, elegiac territory. This is the opposite of sparse – the crowd sing as loud as the performers, no-one lacks a smile, everyone on stage and off knows how good this feels.

Then it happens

There’s a final call and response on the chorus and Prince steps back from the microphone, inviting his saxophonist, Marcus Anderson, forward to add a soaring coda over the final chords from the band as the song coasts towards an end. He pulls a trumpeter forward too, Lynn Grissett, who shuts his eyes and plays, answering the call of the saxophone. They go back and forward until it seems the trumpeter is done as his volume fades down. Prince reaches between the two players for the microphone, ready to thank the musicians, ready to thank the crowd…

But Grissett still has his eyes shut and hasn’t sensed the movement. He goes in again, a long high note. Yearning, reaching, loving.

Prince recoils from the stand, outsized shock on his oh-so-expressive face. The trumpeter circles around and, rather than bring things to a close, Prince invites Anderson and his saxophone forward once more. He goes higher, faster stronger, and Grissett responds again – they swirl around each other, finding the gaps in each other notes, making each other sing, becoming greater than the sum of their parts.

It takes ninety seconds, from the fading out of the song proper, to the end of the coda.

The magical note itself is just three-seconds long.

It feels like a pinnacle, like reaching a mountaintop and being able to see a horizon you didn’t know existed.

It feels like a pinnacle, like reaching a mountaintop and being able to see a horizon you didn’t know existed.

And Prince doesn’t play a note.  He just stands there in the middle of this beautiful moment that would never have happened without him but that, for a few brief seconds, doesn’t actually need him.

He is visibly moved, as are the rest of the band – Andrew Gouche on bass and O’Neal on piano staring at each and vibing in the final seconds of the song is particularly gorgeous. But everyone on stage feels it. Everyone in the room knows that was a moment. The applause is full of warmth, full of gratitude, full of love. It isn’t the screaming noise of pop idolatry. It’s the sound of deep appreciation for something truly special.

The rest of the show is banging – they go straight into a funk-steamroller version of “Mutiny” (another one of those ‘songs written for someone else’ that would have defined most other careers) before leaving the stage for the third time. A lush piano and vocals version of “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” comes and goes (O’Neal again coming into her own), before the full band reappear for the stomping final section, including “1999” and “Musicology” (three full decades of career in between those two songs, sitting comfortably next to each other in the same set), with a couple more covers (“Tighten Up” and “Mama Feelgood”) chucked in over the top. An extended call-and-response version of “Partyup” is the perfect finale and ends with the entire room, crowd and band alike, jumping up and down with their hands in the air, never wanting the night to end.

But no single moment can top those ninety seconds at the end of “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Nothing can touch the sheer emotion in that single note, from a musician deep in his zone, eyes closed, communing with his universe, while we are lucky enough to stand and watch and listen.

I’m obsessed with Prince.

And in the ninety seconds I’m currently most obsessed with, he doesn’t make a sound.

— Ben Sansum
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About the author

Ben Sansum

Ben Sansum heard his first Prince song at 11.05pm on Wednesday 24th August 1988 and has been obsessed ever since. In the summer of 1990 he crawled into a bassbin at a huge illegal rave and didn't leave the dancefloor for a decade, which resulted in two books - 'Spannered' and 'The Secret Lives of Freaks' (available at Spannered Books). He can't remember the last time he went a day without listening to Prince.


  • Thank you, I’ve never seen this, that I can remember. Just as beautiful as you wrote it. Again, thank you!

  • Prince Rogers Nelson
    No1️⃣ on the face of the earth is a better performer.
    P r i n c e

  • I was lucky enough to witness those ninety seconds at Montreux. Unforgettable! Though I prefered the 3rd night (of rock) in 2013. #PRINCE4ever ??

  • Beautiful insight! A special moment that grabs me is from the Live at the Aladdin DVD, when Maceo is coming out of this long sax solo and holds this note. Prince joins him with this wailing vibrato falsetto note, singing about heartbreak, and then the song breaks and he just drops into this super cool vibe. Check it urself, right about 3:45 mark ?


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