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
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.
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.