Local Current Blog

A history of Prince’s performances at First Avenue

Prince's star on First Avenue, shortly after his death in 2016. (Jay Gabler/MPR)

Today marks the 50th anniversary of beloved Minneapolis nightclub, First Avenue. Of course, one of the reasons this club has become as iconic as it is, is due to the legacy left by hometown hero, Prince. Throughout the ’80s, Prince made a name for First Avenue while simultaneously, First Avenue made a name for Prince. Whether it was due to the club’s appearance in the movie Purple Rain, or because so many Minnesotans associate their memories of Prince with First Avenue, the combination of this artist and this venue is dynamic. In celebrating 50 years of First Avenue, it feels important to pay tribute to Prince and talk about his various Mainroom performances throughout the years.

March 9, 1981

Prince’s first performance at First Avenue, back when it was still called Sam’s, was in 1981 for a sold-out room. Prince was still a budding solo artist nationally, but in Minneapolis, he had a lot of buzz behind his name. It was rare for Prince to perform a hometown show; when he did, it was a big deal. The crowd at this show knew that Prince was about to blow up.

Setlist
Do It All Night
Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?
Gotta Broken Heart Again
Broken
When You Were Mine
Sexy Dancer
Sister
I Wanna Be Your Lover
Head
Still Waiting
Partyup
Uptown
Crazy You
Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)
Dirty Mind
Encore:
Everybody Dance
Bambi

October 5, 1981

This gig was essentially a warm-up for Prince’s Controversy Tour. It wasn’t very heavily promoted; in fact, Prince and his band were listed as “Controversy” on the bill. The show ended up selling out simply by word of mouth. It also was the debut of bassist Mark Brown, often known as BrownMark.

Setlist:
Sexuality
Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?
Jack U Off
Head
Annie Christian
Dirty Mind
Let’s Work
Controversy
Partyup

Music History Spotlight: Prince’s First Avenue debut on March 9, 1981

March 8, 1982

This was a late night show that followed a performance from jazz fusion band Defunkt. In fact, Defunkt were asked to end their show early so that Prince could perform.

Setlist:
Bambi
All The Critics Love U In New York
When You Were Mine
Sexy Dancer
Still Waiting w/ Sue Ann Carwell
Head
Sexuality
Dance To The Beat
The Stick
Partyup

August 3, 1983

Two years after Prince’s sold-out show at the venue formerly known as Sam’s, Prince returned to First Avenue, now officially rebranded to the be the venue we know and love today. This was the show at which recordings of songs including “Purple Rain” and  “Let’s Go Crazy” were used on the Purple Rain soundtrack. The show was also quite a successful fundraiser for Minnesota Dance Theatre, raising $23,000.

Setlist:
Let’s Go Crazy
When You Were Mine
A Case of You (Joni Mitchell cover)
Computer Blue
Delirious
Electric Intercourse
Automatic
I Would Die 4 U
Baby I’m a Star
Little Red Corvette
Purple Rain
D.M.S.R.

On this Day in 1983, Prince played “Purple Rain” for the first time

June 7, 1984

After the Purple Rain filming, Prince returned to First Avenue in June of 1984 to perform a surprise birthday party.

Setlist:
17 Days
Our Destiny
Roadhouse Garden
All Day, All Night
Free
Noon Rendezvous
Erotic City
Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)
When Doves Cry
Encore:
Happy Birthday to You
Irresistible Bitch
Possessed

August 14, 1984

It wasn’t uncommon for Prince’s shows to be scheduled last-minute and only advertised by word of mouth. This show was no different, in that sense. Of course, despite the lack of advertising, the club was packed, so much so that police had to manage the crowd. The show took place on a Tuesday night, which meant that members got into the club for free with a +3. Prince actually played for free this night, along with opening act Curtiss A.

Setlist
Controversy (instrumental jam)
Let’s Go Crazy
Delirious
1999
Little Red Corvette
Computer Blue
Darling Nikki
The Beautiful Ones
When Doves Cry
Baby I’m A Star
Purple Rain

March 3, 1986

This performance was essentially a public rehearsal before Prince and the Revolution headed out on their Parade Tour with a revamped lineup. The lineup featured Wendy Melvoin and Miko Weaver on guitars, Brown Mark on bass, Dr. Fink and Lisa Coleman on keyboards, Eric Leeds on saxophone and flute, Atlanta Bliss on trumpet, Bobby Z. on drums, and Jerome Benton, Greg Brooks, and Wally Safford dancing and singing backing vocals. Prince reminded the audience that they had only been rehearsing for about a week before this performance, and essentially used it to show off the talent of his new band members. This was one of Prince’s more low-key shows. It presented Prince as a bandleader, was more stripped-down and a bit less extravagant than, for example, his Purple Rain Tour.

Setlist:
Around the World in a Day
Christopher Tracy’s Parade
New Position
I Wonder U
Paisley Park
Alexa de Paris
Raspberry Beret (with “Alexa De Paris” reprise)
Controversy
Mutiny
Soft and Wet
I Wanna Be Your Lover
Head
Under the Cherry Moon
Pop Life
Girls & Boys
Life Can Be So Nice
Encore:
Purple Rain
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On (Big Maybelle cover)
Anotherloverholenyohead
Mountains
Encore 2:
A Love Bizarre
America
Kiss

March 21, 1987

Approximately one year after his previous performance at First Avenue, Prince performed another set with a similar purpose. This time he performed at a sort of public rehearsal ahead of his Sign o’ the Times Tour, which was sold out. At this time, construction on Paisley Park was beginning, and this show actually turned out to be his last performance at First Avenue until 2007.

Setlist:
Housequake
Girls & Boys
Slow Love
Hot Thing
Now’s the Time (Charlie Parker’s Re‐Boppers cover)
Strange Relationship
Forever in My Life
Kiss
Encore:
It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night

July 7, 2007

After 20 years without performing at First Avenue, Prince returned for a late-night show on July 7, 2007 that was only announced two days prior. He had always been intrigued with the number seven, and Minnesotans were all curious how he would commemorate this date, which was officially declared Prince Rogers Nelson Day by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Prince played three sets in Minneapolis that day, in celebration of the debut of his perfume, 3121. He played at a launch party at Macy’s, then played Target Center, and wanted to cap off the night with his first performance at First Avenue in two decades.

However, his schedule for the other two performances was delayed, and he only went on at First Ave at about 2:45 a.m., obviously past bar close. While it lasted, this show was one of his rowdiest, since the room was absolutely packed and extremely hyped. However, he was only able to play for about an hour before his show was shut down by the police. This inspired First Avenue to negotiate a “Prince permit” with city officials, which would allow for Prince to play a set at the club at any hour of the night. Unfortunately, this permit was never used during the rest of Prince’s lifetime, as this was his last performance at First Avenue.

Setlist:
3121
Girls & Boys
I Feel for You
Controversy
Satisfied
Beggin’ Woman Blues
Gotta Broken Heart Again
Love Is a Losing Game (Amy Winehouse cover)
Love Changes (Mother’s Finest cover)
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (Sly & the Family Stone cover)
Hair (Chaka Khan cover)
Sing a Simple Song (Sly & the Family Stone cover)
Everyday People (Sly & the Family Stone cover)
Alphabet St.

Remembering when Prince stormed Minneapolis with three 7/7/07 gigs and played First Avenue for the final time

  • Terrance Davis

    Fancy Ray and I were at the March 3rd 1986 gig just so happen that’s his birthday and we were going for our free bottle of champagne that was a night to remember!

  • Kris Tallball

    I was at the 7/7/07 concert with my wife. It was the craziest day. Sitting in the sun all day then waiting til 3am to see Prince. I think everyone in 1st Avenue had heat stroke and half drunk. We were all delirious by that point. But Prince made it worth every second.

  • Jon Copeland

    I saw Prince play a set in the 7th Street Entry on October 26, 1984. It was Prince, Brown Mark and Bobby Z. The Pedal Jets from Kansas City had played and Prince and band used their instruments and played a 40 minute? set including Erotic City, some Sly Stone and even did a made up funny blues jam. I would post the full setlist but Prince Vault site is down right now.

  • June 7, 1984 — error
    That’s before the PR film was released. The tour ended on April 7, 1985.

    • Thanks for flagging this! We’ve made an edit.