Well the more I see foreign artists perform live the more I think Machel Montano is a genius. I’m still waiting to see a foreign artist work a crowd like Machel does, especially when he gets down to business and takes off his shirt and starts singing “Water flowing” or “Powder Puff”. Ranking right alongside him is David Rudder, sweet talking the crowd with one hand up in the air, the crowd swaying and braying almost orgiastically as he sings “Rally ‘Round the West Indies” and “Calypso Music”. Coming second is Denyse Belfon in a stretch pants doing the bicycle wine and smiling her smile that can melt any heart and singing songs of overt slackness, the crowd standing and watching in awe.
Culture, I know accounts for a number of things – our dancing in front the stage experience may not translate well in other countries where sitting and watching is the norm. And in all fairness, I have to say I haven’t seen that many live performances. Back in secondary school I did the whole Boyz II Men, Colour Me Badd, MC Hammer thing and I’ve done the 80s big band/big hair thing –Survivor and Air Supply and Flock of Seagulls. And I’ve done the English band thing – the Killers and Kasabian and The Fratellis. They were all good in their own way, getting the crowd to sing along and clap and dance haphazardly or flay around wildly, depending, of course, on how shy or stinking drunk you are.
But from these haphazard experiences I conclude that nothing compares to the electric hum in the air as you stand in a crowd waiting for Machel to come on stage. You stand there in whatever piece of outfit you encased your body in, facing the stage, heart racing, skin tingling, foot hurting. Some people taking a chance to go for drinks by the bar but it’s mainly men; the women not moving unless it’s to squeeze their way up front to get a better look at the winer boy. Around you are girls in hot shorts, men in baggies, flag bearers waving their support and loyalty, and the ever present Powder Posse with their containers of Johnson’s and Johnson’s. And we’re not even talking about the confetti that’s spurted into the air when he sings his current hits, twisting and floating down to land on heads like a benediction or the fireworks that explode like a revelation above the heads of the writhing, waving, wining fans in glorious synergy with the emotional release of the crowd.
I went to see Prince perform this weekend. All of last week the anticipation was there – purple sneakers, purple top, half serious musings about the possibility of going in a purple body suit, if such a thing could be found and his music on almost 24 hour rotation. And then the day itself or should I say the evening and we’re sitting in the stands, waiting. And then the band came on and the crowd went wild and part of the stage opened and – could it be? Is it him? Is it? Yes! – Prince rose up and out of the floor, dressed from head to toe in, seducing the microphone and promising to satisfy us in that impossible falsetto of his. And then that was it really.
By 10.30 he was finished. We didn’t realise that when the band had come back on in response to our insistent clapping that that had been an encore, the lagniappe at the end of the show. Now don’t get me wrong, the show had many moments. You don’t get a musical genius like Prince on stage without there being moments of almost celestial bliss. But there was no satiation; no feeling that is was impossible for you to have enjoyed yourself any more than you did.
I wonder how much of this is culture, how much were my expectations coloured by my experience of calypsonians and soca stars singing and dancing for hours on end and still giving us more when we demand it? The English reviews are all glowing but my friends from Sri Lanka, Australia and Belgium were, like myself, disappointed. They spoke of other concerts, mostly by artists from their countries, that were greater and more satisfactory. Maybe it’s simply a case that local artists know their crowd best so they know how to satisfy them. But it’s interesting to note that even in something as universal as music, and with an artist as global as Prince, culture colours reception and can still lead to division.
Photo courtesy The Trinidad Guardian.