LIVE: Prince Gets Intimate with Piano and a Microphone (2/28/2016)

The Purple One puts together an intimate set at Oakland's Paramount Theatre.

February 28, 2016
Paramount Theatre
Oakland, CA

The one constant about Prince is inconstancy. No two tours are alike, no two set lists the same, and even his recent tours have tended to be last-minute announcement affairs. Take Oakland on Sunday night, which played host to the first two North American shows of his bare bones solo endeavor, the Piano and a Microphone Tour, at the Paramount Theatre. Both sets were announced just last week and sold out within minutes. No follow-ups are currently scheduled, causing diehard fans to fly in from throughout the country because—who knows—they could be the only North American shows on the Piano and a Microphone Tour.

Set against a backdrop of dizzying and unceasing kaleidoscopic imagery that sometimes concealed him on stage, the artist spent the majority of the main set of the first performance seated at his grand piano, seemingly running through his vast songbook as each idea struck him. On opener “I Would Die 4 U,” he snuck in bits of the theme to the half-century-old television version of Batman, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and a story about the shooting of President John F. Kennedy.

Over the next hour and forty minutes, he effortlessly demonstrated how “Little Red Corvette” could be reworked as musical theatre, “Raspberry Beret” as a barroom sing-along, and “Starfish and Coffee” as a syncopated jazzy number. “Funk is about space. Clap your hands; watch me,” he beckoned. Prince also touched on the blues, soul, gospel, and classical, all conveyed with eighty-eight keys and a legendary voice, which shimmied from falsetto to countertenor. Song selection was another highlight. While the tour, which has already visited Australia and New Zealand, is supposedly meant to promote thirty-ninth studio album HITnRUN Phase II, on this night, Prince chose both classic hits and b-sides that ran the gamut from his 1979 self-titled album to his golden 1980s era and on into his ’90s output.

“Funk is about space. Clap your hands; watch me.”

Though it likely weighed heavy on his mind a day following the Bay Area funeral of Denise Matthews, better known as vocalist Vanity, Prince did not directly address the passing of his former protégée. Instead, he spoke of putting losses behind him and the need for “a new story.”

“Sometimes you gotta make it up,” he said. “It’s called self-preservation.”

He kept coming back to the story theme time and time again, often in reference to his mother and father. Without the support of backing band 3RDEYEGIRL, these vocal interludes often carried the show’s theme from song to song, from decade to decade. The most insightful story—perhaps an inspiration to this tour—was about his mother playing Nancy Wilson jazz records to his father when Prince was a child. The reimagined “Black Muse” and “Cream” could have been performed at nearby Yoshi’s, Oakland’s influential jazz club. “With my father gone, it’s my piano now,” he declared.

With his flock in a dizzied state, Prince threw a knockout punch of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “Purple Rain,” and “Kiss.” While these songs did not conclude the show, the Purple One could have finished with a beginner’s take on “Chopsticks” and still come away on top. FL

Set List

[Set 1]

“I Would Die 4 U”
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
“Big City”
“I Would Die 4 U” (reprise)
“Stand” (Sly and the Family Stone)
“Take Me With U”
“Little Red Corvette”
“Dirty Mind”
“Little Red Corvette” (reprise)
“I Feel for You”
“The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”
“Pop Life”
“The Max”
“The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”
“Black Muse”
“Diamonds and Pearls”
“The Beautiful Ones”
“Thieves in the Temple”
“Unchain My Heart” (Ray Charles)
“The Question of U” (instrumental)

[Encore 1]

“Raspberry Beret”
“Starfish and Coffee”
“Paisley Park”
“How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore”

[Encore 2]

“Nothing Compares 2 U”
“Purple Rain”
“Black Sweat”
“Purple Music”

[Encore 3]

“Venus de Milo”


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