It is almost unfathomable to imagine Prince having a bad performance. However, even The Purple One occasionally fell flat with audiences, including one occasion in which his set went down so badly when he opened up for The Rolling Stones that their fans brutally booed him off stage.
Although on reflection the idea of Prince supporting The Rolling Stones seems nothing short of a fantasy line-up that we have all probably dreamt up in our head at one point, the planned event took before Prince became the household we all know today. Following the release of his album 1999, the iconic musician was catapulted to international fame. A few years earlier, however, he was still firmly seen as a ‘nobody’ in the eyes of the thousands of Stones fans in who only wanted the main attraction.
Mick Jagger personally invited Prince to open up for The Rolling Stoners for a pair of shows at The L.A. Coliseum in October 1981, a high-profile string of dates which managed to amass over 90,000 people in the crowd for each show. For the first concert on October 9th, Prince was joined by his band who were soon to be named ‘The Revolution’ and they took the stage before fellow openers George Thorogood and The Destroyers as well as the J. Geils Band.
Portions of the crowd were already on Prince’s back before he had even begun playing as his gender-defying outfit made up of a see-through jacket, thigh-high boots and black bikini briefs. It was safe to say that The Purple One already unfairly angered a chunk of regressive thinkers in the crowd.
Prince, aware of some unrest in the audience, even tried to please the crowd by playing more rock-style material from his repertoire such as ‘Bambi’ and ‘When You Were Mine’ but, amidst the anger, he could no right and the audience then beginning to hurl racist and homophobic slurs at him and the band. The verbal abuse then progressed to bottles and anything else that was in their vicinity which they deemed fit to throw.
Bassist Brown Mark, who had just joined Prince’s band, later recalled the horrific incident: “Next thing I noticed was food starting to fly through the air like a dark thunder cloud. Imagine 94,000 people throwing food at each other; it was the craziest thing I had ever seen in my life, I got hit in the shoulder with a bag of fried chicken; then my guitar got knocked out of tune by a large grapefruit that hit the tuning keys.”
Promoter Bill Graham then reportedly came onto the stage to try and calm the situation down which was to no avail. Prince and his band, stopping their set partway through only their fourth song ‘Uptown’, were being drowned out by a stadium’s worth of boos.
Prince was rightly upset about how the crowd treated him and was allegedly in tears behind the scenes after he left the stage, vowing to not return to the scene of the crime in two days for round two. The musician then took the decision to fly home to Minnesota and left his band in Los Angeles. However, Jagger worked his magic and Prince would eventually return for the second show.
Jagger recalled in 1983 what he said that convinced him to give it another shot: “I talked to Prince on the phone once after he got two cans thrown at him in L.A. He said he didn’t want to do any more shows. God, I got thousands of bottles and cans thrown at me! Every kind of debris. I told him, if you get to be a really big headliner, you have to be prepared for people to throw bottles at you in the night.”
Prince returned and yet again was booed during his second set. However, having been hardened by the previous incident, he had come to terms with the idea that people were not willing to give his music a chance because of his choice of outfit. In a snipe at the crowd, he closed on ‘Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?’ and allegedly later described the crowd as “tasteless in music and mentally retarded.”
The set of shows didn’t make Prince contemplate toning himself down to appease the masses and, instead, carried on doing things on his own terms, becoming one of the most revered artists on the planet in the process until his death in 2016.