For 70 lucky music fans, May 28, 2012 was possibly the most exciting Monday of their lives.
It was around 2:00am when Prince took the stage at Melbourne’s Bennetts Lane, an intimate sit-down jazz-style bar, to perform a secret, three-hour set to an extremely limited audience.
The Purple One was in Australia on a national tour and had been performing a number of ‘secret’ gigs that included a club show at Sydney’s The Ivy with Seal and Flava Flav, and two unannounced performances following his Brisbane arena shows. But the Bennetts Lane gig, after the second last show of the tour, was easily his most intimate.
It had been a typical night at the club with the Allan Browne Trio performing earlier in the evening. But soon after Spanish radio host DJ Rashida leaked news of a Prince performance at 1:43am via Twitter, Prince fans headed to the venue.
Tim Cashmere was at home readying for bed when he received news of the show via a friend's text message. They rushed to the venue to find that Prince had been playing for 15 minutes. “There was nobody around but we could hear him playing inside. We were told it was $200 and we were willing to pay that. But when I asked the door guy how long he would be playing for he said “Just go in before I change my mind.” So not only did we get to see Prince play for more than two hours we saw it for free!”
The reclusive star delivered a three-hour set of searing funk that included him playing piano and drums. The set list included “Sexy Dancer” from his 1979 eponymous debut, “Love 2 The 9s” from The Love Symbol Album and covers of Funkadelic’s “Up For The Downstroke” and Rihanna’s “Rude Boy”.
“The whole night was surreal,” explains Cashmere. “I remember sitting metres away from this private and reserved guy and watching him play this incredibly intimate set. When I got home at 6am it was still hard to believe what we had just experienced.”
It wasn’t the first time Prince had played Bennetts Lane. In 2003, he played a warm up gig for his stadium show, turning up to the club the night before and asking owner Michael Tortoni if he could play a show with his eight-piece band.
Melbourne songwriter Sophia Brous was studying her first year of an undergraduate jazz degree at the time and remembers when a musician friend told her of a possible secret Prince gig the night before.
“By the next morning the news had spread and people were frantic. There was a kind of electric hysteria going around. Once I got to the club, the line stretched kilometres. People were pouring out of the laneway, there was a sea of black-hatted Prince fanatics, musicians and students," explains Brous.
"We managed to get in and the atmosphere felt religious. It was difficult to move …. people were hanging off the walls and I couldn't see much, but I remember he played for hours and hours. I remember thinking I'd never heard groove like that before, it was a connectedness to the ground and the body that was at another level, and the room heaved. It was ecstatic and beautiful."