Friday, April 22, 2016

Prince Was A Revelation


Went to see Prince on Friday 3.4.16 in Oakland. My friend Will Nichols had an extra ticket, but I went because I knew Prince wanted to be there. He had just played in Australia, and could have landed anywhere in the States when he returned, but he came to Oak Town. He booked his "Piano and a Microphone" show at the Paramount Theater in downtown Oakland, which sold out within seconds. Shortly after those shows, a third date was announced, for five days later at the Oracle Arena, formerly known as the Oakland Coliseum Arena. This meant that Prince was going to be in town for a good part of that week. It came as no surprise that he showed up at the Golden State Warriors game on Thursday, the night before his concert at the same arena.

He came to the Warriors game, famously sauntering onto courtside with a cane and a pimp limp Oakland style - to a standing ovation of Warriors fans. Steph Curry even commented after the game: "I was digging the outfit, and the cane." Maybe Prince has a thing for the undersized, light skinned kid that is changing the game forever. He told the rapt Paramount audience "what can you truly count on besides Steph Curry?"

Like the greatest of the greats, Prince never takes a moment off. Every public gesture, smirk, spin, scream is done with purpose and effect. Steph Curry is one of those players that never takes a play off, no mater what the score is, every play is played to the max.. That is what separates the very good from the legendary.

Game recognize Game.

Last month, Beyonce was also at the Oracle Arena to see the Warriors play the night before her Black Panther Party inspired performance of "Formation" at the Super Bowl. Oakland is not only the center of the basketball world, it is the epicenter of Black Life - a life that has universal appeal and everyone in The Town knows it.

I had been to many of Prince's shows, and some cozy after parties where he played, but nothing like this. By choosing to play only grand piano versions of his popular tunes, Prince took us into the core of his songwriting , so we could see and hear the heart of the music like never before. 

Maybe he would not have played "Starfish and Coffee" with an 8 piece band, and maybe not worked out as long to "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore." But in this format he could dig deep into the catalog, and then emerge with renditions of the hits that were so sweetly rendered, you learned to love them all over again. The sentimental charm of "Raspberry Beret" and "Cream" were hypnotizing. And every track from Purple Rain, within a couple of notes, brought the house down. "I Would Die For You," "Purple Rain," "The Beautiful Ones" raised the roof, and even "When Doves Cry," the only song Prince added a beat machine to, drew a thunderous response. 

But in truth, no machines were needed. A few notes, and Prince would take us in, to the innerworld of his creative being. It's as if the band was always there to keep the nasty groove, and the piano rendition was where the love was hidden all along in the songs. I'm of the belief that all of the great funk bands are really playing love music - with some monster grooves employed to deliver their message. Prince is letting us know that the hard shell is unnecessary. The pure love of a funkmaster is indeed the most satisfying kind!

Old songs felt new again, and the source of the memories (Prince himself) that we all had was in front of us, fully baring himself. It was a swirl of memory and memorable moments that were tossed like a Chef and made into a new and organic dish!

He managed to make that cavernous arena feel intimate, as if he was only playing his favorite songs for you. For years he had called himself "The Artist" but for the first time, without all the bells & whistles, you could truly see that he was one of the great artists of our day.

He didn't have to troll through memories of past moments of music history. He didn't have to play a few riffs of Ray Charles standard, because lets face it, he is our Ray Charles of today. No one can scream or get low down any lower than Prince today, with his voice in top flight form. He didn't have to swing and step to any Brown moves, because he is the James Brown of our times. Someone that can be relied upon to bring it new, when everyone else is wondering what to do, he comes through.

When the event announcers claimed "no cell phones" most Prince fans knew the deal. He is the most guarded about is image than anyone in the business. But Pince took it another step. He told the audience that they needed to unplug the phones and deal with the real world, whimsically and perhaps literally praising how much better life is "off the grid." We are living within a generation that wants the big collective experience, but listens to music on smaller and smaller headphones. Prince managed to be both inntimate & personal and larger-than-life at the same time.

When the lights came up from his many ovations I thought about the many soul epiphanys that have taken place on that same hallowed ground. This is where Marvin Gaye sang "Distant Lover" in 1974, a live recording recognized as one of the greatest of all time. The shrieks and shouts of Oakland girls that night are preserved and are embedded on a generation.

This is where Earth Wind & Fire delivered spectacular concerts every year from 1975 to 1981. Shows that crafted the positive - universal - multi-racial spirit of love and unity and collective possibility that set a standard for modern music performance. The only available full concert video of Earth Wind & Fire in their prime is from their Oakland shows, in Dec 1981. I was at every one of those concerts.

This is where Parliament Funkadelic landed The Mothership in January of 1977 - and recorded it for their Live: P-Funk Earth Tour album. The live recording of "Mothership Connection" is perhaps the most spiritual rendition of street-funk ever put to tape.

This is where Stevie Wonder played on a Monday night in 1980, and had to announce to his audience that John Lennon had just been shot, and dedicated his show to Lennon's memory. 

Prince has played the Oakland Arena many times before, singing, strutting, shimmering, shrieking, jamming and showcassing his genius. But for this show he was far more visible. The personal touch of the piano and microphone is part of the evolution of the perennially reclusive and once most mysterious of entertainers. 

But over the past decade or so, he has begun to change all of that. He opened up much more on his appearances with George Lopez and Arsenio (the few men of color to host talk shows). He walked onto The View to give Whoopi Goldberg tickets to his upcoming show, and his bit playing himself on The New Girl is still hilarious. And he will still rock the award shows like no other. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Prince is still an Icon of the times. 

He outlasted his hardcore funk competition: he used to feud with Rick James - or at least Rick James feuded with him, and Zapp featuring Roger Troutman had the hottest funk show early in the 80s. (some of us heads remember when Warner Brothers promoted Prince and Zapp as 'the new black funk'). But Rick James and Roger are gone now.

He outlasted the icons of 80's pop - Whitney Houston, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Whitney set a standard of musical virtuosity and of capturing the celebrity moment, and Michael Jackson was the King of Pop for all the right reasons. For all the wrong reasons, Whitney and Michael are gone. And Madonna is but a living fossil of her once inventive self.

Prince has outlasted the greatest crooners of out time, Luther Vandross and Freddie Jackson. Luther could deconstruct soul music into its most heartfelt constiuent parts, and Freddie Jackson appeared to be his heir. But Luther is gone, and Freddie is trying to find his way in an industry that has moved on.

While Prince was once considered the freak of the industry, his love ballads and bedroom musings are now outlasting the competition at a time when real love is dead in R&B.

D'Angelo and Bilal and some others are trying to do the loverman thing, but they must remember they must bring that Funk, or the sweet stuff just wont be as sweet. Unlike the other black pop wannabees, Prince has had no fear of The Funk. This is what made his personal guest walk through the secret moments of his mind so thoroughly satisfying.

While he shouted out the Bay Area, his love of Oakland was genuine. I was one of those tepid fans back in the day when he took Oakland’s own Sheila Escovedo, darling child of the East Bay Latin jazz scene, and returned her to us as Sheila E, standard bearer of the "Minneapolis Sound." And Sly Stone's legendary bass player & singer Larry Graham, now Prince's musical and spiritual mentor, has long since moved to Minneapolis.  This show was the first time it felt like Prince wanted to return the Love that Oakland has given him all these years. And 20,000 of us were happy to receive it!