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5 Live Prince Clips Worth Watching (While You Can)

Among Prince’s singular talents was defying expectations, an artist’s prerogative that he claimed more often than his fans might like.

Prince didn’t release albums on a predictable schedule, or play nice with the celebrities he didn’t respect, or make his music readily available online. He insisted on meeting his audience on his terms.

For the most devoted followers, this difficulty made him all the more adored. The unreleased recordings, untended websites and the mountains of bootleg material constituted a kind of secret knowledge. Finding a way through this maze was a way for initiates to prove themselves.

When he died, though, the walls fell. Videos poured onto YouTube: full concerts, sound-check clips, rehearsal material from the Revolution era. Much of that content was eventually removed, in line with Prince’s well-known wishes. But a lot remains available, and poses a tricky question for fans: Is it a betrayal to enjoy this stuff?

Maybe, although this fan has found it impossible not to look. Finally, Prince stopped running from us. It’s hard to give up chasing him.

Among the videos currently on YouTube, here are five worthies, offered with no guarantee that they’ll be around for long.

Pre-Revolution: ‘Dirty Mind’ in New Jersey, 1982

Why: This excerpt from the best full live video document of Prince with his pre-Revolution band begins, oddly, with Prince doing jumping jacks. His exuberance is infectious, as he leaps and scrambles across the stage as if it were a playground, his words (“I don’t wanna hurt you, baby; I only want to lay you down”) sounding a bit ahead of his 23 years of experience.

Footnote: “Dirty Mind” was the oldest original that Prince played at his final concert performance, in Atlanta, a week before his death.

Post-Revolution: Piano Encore From the ‘Lovesexy’ Tour, 1988

Why: This solo set captures Prince in a playful mood, teasing an adoring crowd that sings along to a set full of non-hits and turning an arena show into a more intimate affair.

Footnote: This performance, from September 1988, also shows him on the cusp of his “Batman” soundtrack resurgence, which seems to be signified in his outfit and the cane-twirling flourishes.

Pre-Millennial Tension: ‘Motherless Child’ on Spanish TV, 1999

Why: Prince and his band bring thunder to this traditional spiritual, knocking out a 10-minute jam that is briefly interrupted by a guitar rave-up that wouldn’t be out of place at a Metallica concert.

Footnote: This tune first appeared on his set lists in 1999, the year before he dropped the unpronounceable glyph name and reverted to Prince.

The Don’t Call It a Comeback Years: Brit Awards 2006

Why: After the drawn-out record-label disputes of the ’90s, Prince never had another hit single, but he generally managed to combine promotion for his new material with crowd-pleasing glosses on his classic work. This blistering TV performance marries two songs from his “3121” album to “Purple Rain” and “Let’s Go Crazy.”

Footnote: Some of his best-known ’80s collaborators joined him onstage, including Sheila E., Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman.

The Elder Statesman: ‘The Love We Make’ in Rotterdam, 2011

Why: This clip comes from the second of a run of three shows headlining the North Sea Jazz festival. Prince went on well after midnight. Coming early in the set list, “The Love We Make,” a sleepy tune from his triple-CD “Emancipation,” woke up the crowd with a blazing Maceo Parker saxophone solo (not included in this clip) and considered guitar heroics.

Footnote: In a longer video from this concert, since removed from YouTube, Prince scolded people in the crowd for filming him during an extended cover of “Come Together.” He stared daggers at a fan with a camera and said: “Put your camera down. Participate!”

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