Throughout his career, Prince was widely – and correctly – considered one of the greatest live acts in the world.
There are numerous reasons for this, but one is undoubtedly the people he surrounded himself with. Many solo pop acts keep their bands in the back while they play the star up front. His immediate contemporaries Michael Jackson and Madonna did that. But, much like the other 80s stadium-filler, Bruce Springsteen, Prince understood the power of a stage filled to the brim with charisma.
When you watch his shows throughout his career, his bands, backing singers, MC’s and dancers – each possessed a powerful identity of their own, and you knew that many of these performers could probably just as easily hold an audience in the palm of their hands all on their own.
Liv Warfield proved this in spades tonight.
Warfield is acutely aware that her prominence with Prince from 2010-2016, and his subsequent mentoring of her solo career, is one of the reasons she has an audience on a spring night in Birkenhead. She drops in references to him here and there; she rearranges his 1991 hit Cream, the band jam on Six, a track from his 80s jazz side project Madhouse. But this isn’t a Princetribute show. This is Liv’s night.
And, damn, what a night it was. Like Prince, Warfield has surrounded herself with a stellar band who are performers as much as they are musicians. They know what they’re doing. Between them, they’ve played with Chaka Khan, Janet Jackson, Snarky Puppy, Erykah Badu and Sade. It’s a breathtaking amalgamation of funk, rock and soul. With Liv as their ringleader, they hold the audience in the palm of their hands in a way this writer hasn’t seen since long before the pandemic.
We lap up every moment, and you can feel the band feeding off of our energy. We chant spontaneously. They extend their jams to incorporate our chanting. When guitarist Ryan Waterssteps forward for a solo and keyboardist Shaun Martin calls him to the front, the crowd are off again “RY-AN! RY-AN! RY-AN! RY-AN!” The bond between band and audience is powerful.
Liv responds accordingly. When Martin completes a cover of Bill Withers’ Lovely Day on a vocoder during a short break, the band go to start up the next number. Liv stops them and continues the Lovely Day vamp, ad-libbing over the band’s improv. Later on, the go to play a ballad. She stops them, and instructs them to play something else. “We have a setlist,” she tells us. “But there’s too much energy in Birkenhead tonight. Fuck the setlist!”
Her voice matches her charisma. It’s big. She belts out The Unexpected like her life depends on it. She gives you goosebumps with ease.
When closer Why Do You Lie? ends, the band are inspired to continue. They vamp for so long that Liv eventually has to tell us they’re about to cut the lights. The party’s over – they’ve broken curfew.
This was the first week of sunshine we’ve had after a long, cold, lonely winter. And now, here comes the sun, and this was the perfect cap to it. Don’t believe anyone who tells you they left without a smile on their face.
Openers Slye seem to be early in their evolution. All undoubtedly brilliant musicians – especially the horn section – with some pretty good songs, but there was something lacking. A song about dancing felt a little too robotic. Perhaps they couldn’t really cut loose with so many musicians on such a small stage. They were OK, but we really wanted to like them more. Willing to give them another chance.