January 1979: Prince Comes Alive in Concert Debut

Tuesday, January 5, 2021
LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 26 : Singer song-writer and musician Prince performs at the Roxy Theatre on November 26, 1979 in Los Angeles (now in West Hollywood), California. (Photo by Sherry Rayn Barnett /Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Everybody's gotta start somewhere. For Prince, it started at the Capri Theatre, located on 2027 West Broadway in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on January 5, 1979. That's the venue where Prince booked a three-night residency to showcase songs from his debut album, For You.

Warner Bros. knew they had a star on their hands, and had already taken the young artist around the country on a promo tour of radio stations to meet and greet the program directors and DJs they hoped would spin his records. With his debut single, "Soft and Wet," soaring up the Hot Soul Singles chart, the label also set up a series of meet-and-greet autograph sessions for the young Prince.

"It was weird. It was mostly kids from 11 to 20. They were relating to me being so young," he told the Minneapolis Star in on January 5, 1979--the day of his live debut. "There’s been ads in the teen magazines and my age has really come up. The kids would ask me if my real name is Prince, what 'Soft and Wet' means, and did I really play all those instruments myself.”

When pressed about his expectations for that first live show, the artist was honest: "I’m nervous. I’ll be terrified, because it’s gonna take a while to block out the fact there are people out there. I find it extremely hard to perform for people," he mused. "I think I found it hard to sing and play in front of my band at first. But now that I got to know them better, it’s really easy now and we all bounce off each other as far as energy goes. I think before I can bounce off the crowd it will take a few songs."

Warming up to the interview, Prince began to open up. "We’ve got a few songs we’ll do at the Capri that I’ll probably never record on an album because they’re too spicy," he revealed. "They come off well in a concert situation, but on a record . . . albums and concerts are pretty much different. I like to make an album and get it out like a book or something. And concerts do you just want to excite. They’re pretty wild and they come off well, visually."

From all reports, the opening night performance from Prince featuring his freshly minted band of all local players including Bobby Z (drums), Dez Dickerson (guitar), Andre Cymone (bass), Matt Fink (keyboards) and Gayle Chapman (keyboards), was a success. The ensemble opened with "For You," playing "I Am You" and "Soft and Wet," as well as a series of the aforementioned unrecorded tracks before closing with "Just as Long as We're Together."

The Warner Bros. suits came into town for the second night of the residency. According to the book Prince: A Pop Life, label exec Carl Scott was blown away when he saw Prince "literally climbing over amplifiers and electronic equipment, going from one place to another to create these sounds. I just couldn't believe I was watching this. There was something absolutely genius taking place. It was totally different to anything that I had ever really experienced before. I knew that something in there was magic, but I didn't know what it was."

Still, it was clear that Prince and company were a little green around the edges and could use some work. Instead of sending them out on a tour, they waited for the artist to return with his self-titled sophomore studio effort before launching him out to perform across America. Even then, Prince and his panoramic sound baffled a world unable to put any of it into a neat category.

"They didn’t understand that we are trying to bridge the worlds of rock, funk, jazz and whatever,” Prince would say in 1980. “The critics were led to believe we would be laid-back because of the albums. ... They thought we were gay or freaks. We’re wild and free. It’s no holds barred."