The song might be called “1999”, but last night in Oracle Arena it was 1988, and Prince brought a housequake of hits from the decade his purple persona helped define. If there were any doubters in attendence, they were converted to The Artist’s Church of Funk with the dream opening setlist of “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Delirious”, “1999” and “Little Red Corvette”. Because really, could you ask for anything more?
From the time this show was announced, to the time I was sitting in front of my computer watching the clock tick down to ticket sales, to the time I sat down in my seat and looked out over the giant ‘love symbol’ stage, I tried to keep my expectations at bay. Prince is one of the last living legends that I had yet to see, and I have to admit to being afraid he might not have it anymore. Despite friends trying to convince me he is the ‘greatest performer of our time‘, I couldn’t help letting the lukewarm reviews of Monday night’s show disparage me. So there I was, in Oakland for the night, with family and friends (all of whom I had convinced to pay $150 a ticket), awaiting the heir to the Kingdom of Pop.
The house lights went down at 7:50pm and Larry Graham and his Graham Central Station took the stage looking like a troupe of funky pimps from the 70’s. These folks might be legends in their genres, but I just couldn’t get into it. Even the songs I recognized couldn’t get me in the spirit. This music was before my time, and I doubt I would have liked it even if I lived in that time. To their credit though, the Oaktown crowd was pickin’ up what they were throwin’ down. Singing, dancing, movin’ to the groovin’…the place was shaking. We represented the small minority whom were not active participants in their opening set.
At 9:15pm the lights went down again and the volume went through the roof. Deafening screams and cheers cut through the fog, only to raise to levels unimaginable when the master of ceremonies uttered two little words…’Dearly Beloved’. Just two words to kick-off two hours of pure entertainment; entertainment that most pop stars could only dream of achieving. Prince might be only 5′ 2″, but a scale doesn’t exist to measure his talent…he is a giant among his peers.
The stage was set up in the middle of the arena, so everyone had a great view of The Artist and his New Power Generation, and being the professional he is, he made every one of the 18,000 people feel like he was singing to them. Songs like “Controversy”, “Kiss”, “If I Was Your Girlfriend” — they all bring back different memories for each person. They bring you back to a place, a time, a different world. These songs mean something different to each of us, but Prince knows that your memory is the most important — it’s your version of the song he’s singing. Though some might have just seen the images from the movie when he closed the main set, bathed in matching lights, with “Purple Rain”, I know I was back in the gymnasium at the Jr. High dance, fumbling around the dancefloor with my latest crush.
The first set lasted about an hour and half and I won’t lie and say every minute was amazing. Some of the covers fell flat, and when Prince would descend below the stage via his elevator, the backup singers, no matter how hard they tried, could not fill his shoes. There have been complaints about this, but in reality he’s a diva, he’s going to have costume changes, and during that time we can sit in silence and wait or we can be entertained by backup singers covering songs by Beyoncé and Sarah McLachlan. I’m ok with being entertained.
Highlights from the first set were the 4-song greatest hit opener, “Controversy”, all the cell phones in the arena providing stunning visuals for “Housequake”, and the closing trifecta of “If I Was Your Girlfriend”, “Kiss” and “Purple Rain”.
To be honest, I could have gone home after the first four songs and felt like I got my money’s worth, but when the house lights came on after “Purple Rain”, I was really nervous for a minute. There was no way it could be over! I think I said that at least five times before my friend told me ‘it’s not over!‘, which translated to ‘shut-up!‘ He was right. The Purple One was now in all white; white furry boots, white leg warmers and a white guitar. Ready to disco! A couple songs and back under stage he went, only to come back with another of the night’s highlights — he sat down at the piano and played “When Doves Cry” for the first time on the Welcome 2 America Tour. That led into a medley of hits including my favorite, “Sign “O” The Times”, my sister’s favorite, “Alphabet St.” , as well as “Darling Nikki” and “Pop Life”. “Too many hits” was Prince’s apology to anyone who didn’t get to hear their favorite, like my brother-in-law who really wanted to hear “Cream”.
After the medley, the rest of the encore(s) couldn’t really get us back to that level, but at that point he could have been singing verses from the Bible and I would have listened attentively all night. The man is ageless. He is timeless and I’m so glad I got to catch him on a tour where he is performing the material I grew up on — the songs that mean so much to me. If anyone writes a negative view of last night’s show, then they just don’t get it. Thank you to Prince for coming out and giving the fans what they want. David Bowie, if you’re reading, it’s your turn now.
On a sidenote, I have to apologize that there will be no video or photos from this show. Prince is very adamant that his material is not shared on the Internet, a medium he has declared dead. I had a youtube account shut down permanently just for posting a video of another artist cover one of his songs. I am not even sure I have the rights to use the tour image above, but I’m sure I’ll be notified if I don’t.
Let’s Go Crazy
Little Red Corvette
Soul Sacrifice (Santana cover)
The Glamorous Life (Sheila E.)
Somewhere Here On Earth (with Sheila E)
I Love U, but I Don’t Trust U Anymore (with Sheila E)
Controversy (with Sheila E)
A Love Bizarre (Shelia E.)
Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry cover)
Le Freak (Chic cover w/Larry Graham)
Love Rollercoaster (The Ohio Players w/Larry Graham)
Housequake (partial w/Larry Graham)
Angel (Sarah McLachlan cover performed by backup singers)
If I Was Your Girlfriend
Dance (Disco Heat) (Sylvester cover, partial)
Baby I’m a Star
When Doves Cry
Medley: Nasty Girl/Sign “O” the Times/Alphabet St./Forever In My Life/Darling Nikki/Pop Life
Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) (Beyoncé cover performed by Sheila E. and backup singers)
Black Sweat (partial)
The Bird (The Time cover)
Jungle Love (The Time cover)
Welcome 2 America