Prince – The State Theatre, Melbourne (16/02/2016)

Last night Prince fans were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Minneapolis legend perform hits and curios, accompanied solely by his own piano.

The setup had all the immediacy of one of his legendary club appearances, late night jam sessions typically occurring without prior notice in whichever city he had played that night. The show’s intimacy was given extra emotional weight with the news that former Prince protégé and girlfriend, Vanity, singer of Vanity 6, had passed away, something which the man himself had apparently only learned shortly before the night’s earlier show.

The stage was lit with candles, symmetrically dispersed, and colourful psychedelic patterns were projected onto a large backdrop. A spotlight revealed the afroed silhouette of The Artist, a door in the screen lifted and, amongst much applause, he catwalked to the lip of the stage.

Dressed in a loosely fitted, matching long-sleeved shirt and trousers, Prince then struck the piano several times, triggering a swell of noises. After each hit he strutted around the piano stool, before seating himself and beginning the show.

What followed was an eclectic dip through the Prince catalogue, delivered with an uncharacteristic amount of conversation from a man who so famously guards his privacy. We were informed that the idea for these concerts was to celebrate the memory of his father, a jazz pianist, and were treated some of the songs he had first learned to play, including Somewhere Over the Rainbow and the theme from Batman.

Prince dedicated another medley of Red Corvette, Dirty Mind and Beautiful Ones to Vanity, all dating from the time they were together, and apologising that he was “distraught”, stating that “she would have wanted us to celebrate”.

A surprisingly beautiful inclusion of Bob Marley’s Wait In Vain was mixed together with his own If I Was Your Girlfriend and proved to be one of the set highlights.

princeweb1Photo courtesy of Daily Review

Known as a musical freak since emerging as an 18 year old in 1978 with For You, on which he played all the instruments, it was not a shock to find that The Purple One could really play that piano. But he could really play it, moving between Scott Joplin style ragtime to fast boogie-woogie and impassioned gospel soul. At times he was showing off, but mostly he was just being the trained showman that he is, keeping the audience on their toes as he jumped between rhythms, tempos and pieces.

His falsetto was often strained, perhaps from the fact he had already played a show that night, the emotional stress, or just age. Even if he sounded scratchy occasionally he could still hit those high notes like no one else.

Recent songs such as Black Muse stood up surprisingly well once given the gospel treatment, but of course it was the familiar hits that received the biggest fanfare, with Mr. Nelson coercing the crowd into singing along with I Wanna Be Your Lover, Raspberry Beret and Paisley Park.

Prince had been walking off between songs with recurring frequency since early on in the set, and around this point it dawned that these were actual encore breaks, despite the advertised two-hour set time. Returning to the piano to deliver a rather somber version of Purple Rain, the singer thanked us and left the stage.

The confused crowd remained seated, calling out for more, until the curtain finally fell and house lights were lit.

Prince was onstage for one hour, something at which those who had paid $400 to see were probably a bit miffed. However, considering the grief he was obviously feeling and the amount to which he applied himself whilst onstage, no one could seriously begrudge a shortened performance.

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