Those who missed Prince at Oakland’s Paramount Theater last Sunday for a special two show performance got another chance to see his “Piano and a Microphone” act last night on a bigger stage at Oracle Arena.
When Prince is in the Bay Area there’s a buzz that circulates the air. His fans, devoted to his mystique as much as his music, await rumors of where he might perform. This is what the illustrious pop star has become—an anomaly of sorts. As if just seeing Prince perform isn’t enough, there’s the after party scavenger hunt, the task of buying tickets and the bewilderment of whatever venue he chooses to siege. In more recent years, he’s taken his act to clubs like the Boom Boom Room and DNA Lounge—small venues that hold a measly three hundred people at best. This time around he chose the intimate parameters of the Paramount Theater in Oakland to unveil his stripped down “Piano and a Microphone” set.
But fans wouldn’t buy in that this would be his only appearance in the Bay Area. Not when the Golden State Warriors were due back for a home stretch of games, and especially when he was heard praising one of basketball’s best players, Stephen Curry. Sure enough on Wednesday at 4pm tickets were announced for Prince at Oracle Arena, the house of the Golden State Warriors. This was his gift for another 20,000 fans, raring to see what he could do on the court.
Before the show, lines formed at the gates with people eager to bust through the doors. Prince is very particular about the regulations of his shows. There was heavy security emphasizing the no cell phone/no pictures rule. Fans were told he would start promptly at 9 pm, and as 8:45 pm rolled around, people became anxious. At 9 pm, the doors were still closed and lines turned into mobs of people with a bit of worry in their expression. Finally, at 9:05 pm the doors opened and people hustled to their seats.
The stage was set in the middle of the arena with large black drapes surrounding it. There looked to be technical issues causing the delay as roadies and crew members worked feverishly to solve the issue. Whatever the complications were, this probably shouldn’t have come as such a surprise.
For one man to play a solo piano set for 20,000 people is quite astonishing. Not even Elton John or Stevie Wonder have mustered the kind of audacity or bravery to perform such an elementary set in such a big setting. To be so vulnerable comes with its transparencies.
At 9:30 pm the lights went out and the curtains dropped. On three big screens glowed a lone silhouette of Prince, illuminated by a pink background. The stage was set with one piano in the middle of a rotating platform and candles lit on each corner. He made his way towards the stage and strutted around to the massive cheer of 20,000 zealous fans. Dressed in purple garb embroidered with moon cycles, sporting a gold shawl and cane, and luminous white platform shoes that actually flashed when he stomped his feet, Prince appeared to be something otherworldly. He sat down at his customized piano, equipped with what appeared to be a mixing board in the housing and some sort of script on the lid of this beautifully crafted instrument. He started playing a melancholic version of “Over the Rainbow” before transitioning into “Somewhere Here on Earth.”
Prince made the piano sexy for two and a half hours as he ripped through multiple sets featuring condensed versions of his songs. Like he was channeling Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, the flawless efforts of his piano playing and his vocal range were never compromised as he swiftly shifted from deep and sultry vocal melodies to his signature high pitch screeches that raise the hairs of one’s body in complete ecstasy and bliss. This never seemed like a one-man show, quickly establishing every member of that arena as a part of the experience with call and responses during the song “Baltimore.” Prince incorporated new songs, playing a bluesy version of “Rocknroll Loveaffair” while playing crowd favorites like “Little Red Corvette,” “I would Die 4 U,” “Purple Music,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” and “Purple Rain.”
The set also gave tribute by playing a rendition of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” he also played “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a song made famous by Sinead O’Connor but written by Prince for a side project called The Family, and he incorporated instrumental jams of “A Place in Heaven,” and “Condition of the Heart.” Perhaps the best moment came when, during the last song of his first of three encores, he admitted, “I said I wasn’t going to do this,” and the beat of “When Doves Cry” started thumping over the PA. The whole crowd sang along, knowing they were witnessing something special.
Prince was astonishing but it’s not like anyone had doubts. While his music is his catalyst, it was his words that perfectly summed up the night. He preached, “What’s wrong with the world today? We’re tired. It’s all about preservation. There ain’t no stability nowhere. It’s about self preservation.” With that sentiment presumes another layer to the mystique of Prince—one who, under the suave and sexy demeanor, absolutely cares about humanity. Music is his voice and his passion, and the Bay Area is lucky to have him in any form he chooses to appear.