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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Live Review: Prince Takes Oracle Arena to Church

Posted By on Sat, Mar 5, 2016 at 3:15 PM

click to enlarge The only photo of Prince we're allowed to show you. He's in charge. - NPG RECORDS
  • NPG Records
  • The only photo of Prince we're allowed to show you. He's in charge.

Prince likes us. After scheduling a pair of sold-out shows on Feb. 28 at Oakland's Paramount Theater — wherein Prince appeared on stage alone, save for a piano and a microphone, bestowing upon two back-to-back audiences something close to a religious experience — Mr. Rogers Nelson chose to stick around the Bay Area a little longer, scheduling another show (Friday night's show at Oracle Arena), which (also) sold out in minutes. 

He must like us a lot: All week, there were reports of Prince popping up at music venues in San Francisco. On Thursday, the night before his sold-out arena show, he scoped out the venue via a courtside seat at the Warriors game, where he stole the scene and outshone the world champion, record-breaking team, becoming the main attraction merely by sitting down. (After the game, Warriors point guard Steph Curry admitted that the place wasn't the same with Prince in the house. It had a certain aura to it).
And we like him right back. Oracle Arena — notorious in the NBA as one of the league's loudest arenas and a bit infamous in the rock circuit for its too-boomy sound that echoes off the cavernous concrete — was at its loudest during Prince's two-hours-total set on Friday when he was not making music. His presence alone has the ability to send a few thousand people into throes with the lift of an eyebrow, and he has no problem leading thousands of people in an a capella singalong. And with just a few steps around a purple grand piano ona tiny stage, situated dead-center at half court, he can get 20,000 people screaming.

This was a home game for Prince. Purple lights on Oracle's outer shell greeted the crowd — skewing older, skewing diverse, skewing purple-clad, skewing "I saw Prince 30 years ago here on tour, too" — that waited for an hour in a sweaty concourse to be let into their seats and about another 20 minutes past the scheduled start time for the lights to come down and the curtain to come up.

A master of building tension, Prince was king of the payout. He strutted across the arena floor to the stage, lit by four candles set on all four corners of the stage, wearing a gold knee-length vest over royal robes adorned with the phases of the moon.  His 70-minute opening set was a seamless medley that saw hits from Dirty Mind and Purple Rain melt into cuts from HITnRUN Part 2 (released in December, and by far his most overtly political material) and a cover of Bob Marley's "Waiting in Vain," all delivered without pause or interruption aside from getting up to dance or commanding the small city assembled before him to sing along.

"Hello," he said as he sat down, yellow light flashing from the transparent soles of his white high-heeled boots. "How are you? You're looking so fine tonight. Remember the first time we met? You ain't seen nothing yet."

Other dates on the "Piano and a Microphone" tour have included Paisley Park, the famous recording complex in his native suburban Minnesota and the iconic Sydney Opera House in Australia. Oracle is by far the biggest setting to date for this "intimate" tour. But for Prince, 20,000 strangers in a basketball arena felt like home. In fact, it was home.

"When did my living room get so big?" he asked, stealing a quick glance above the piano and setting another section of the arena on fire in the process.

Prince is a 57-year-old flamboyant funk siren these days, and at times he looks it — the creases on his face are deeper, his skin isn't quite as smooth, his fingers look long and bony as they fly over the keys. His material is heavier, with cuts like "Baltimore" dealing with the deaths of Freddie Gray and Mike Brown. It's also blacker: when he sings about looking in the mirror and loving yourself, there's no doubt he's fully plugged into the "Black Lives Matter" zeitgeist.

Prince might be the kind of guy to not have an iPhone — the show had a strict no cellphone/no camera policy. "Don't need no cell phones in here," he said, before jumping up at the keys with such force he knocked over his own piano bench. "It's too funky."

After the first 70 straight minutes, Prince bounded off the stage and onto a bicycle, pedaling back into the arena's bowels where he came, before gliding back a few minutes later for the first of three encores, leaping back on the stage with more energy than before. He would do that two more times before the house lights came up for good at around 11:30 p.m., with maybe half the house still sticking around to see what else might happen.

By that time, Prince had sung scat, done a little jazz improv, and took on the role of backup singer for the audience, which he'd decided sounded good enough to take the lead.  "He took us to church," my partner said as we exited the arena, a CD copy of his latest record (HITnRun Part 2) handed to us FOR FREE on our way out, debating whether or not we had the energy to meet Prince back in San Francisco at the Great American Music Hall, where he put on another set a few hours later.

The next leg on this tour is still unknown. Maybe Prince is still looking for a venue he likes. Maybe he knows where he'll be for the next year and is waiting for the right moment to surprise us. Whatever. He likes us — no, he loves us — and he loves what he's doing right now. And those that love him back are getting repaid in dividends.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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