Live Review: Prince at the Oracle Arena


At this point in his 35-year career, Prince is perhaps justified in expecting us humanoids to happily accept anything handed down to us from Mount Paisley Park. But at the Oracle Arena in Oakland on Mon./21 — the first of three last-minute concerts planned for the Bay (Thursday’s show was announced Monday night, after more than 30,000 tickets were sold for the first two performances in less than 72 hours), the mood was a curious mixture of intense, polished skill tinged with unexpected insecurity: Prince, in full 52-years-young prodigy mode, broke from the action in one instance with a surprising, “Are y’all having fun?” And heated anticipation and adulation gave way to a brief outbreak of boos -- the audience pressed hard to get into the show, and was loathe to give up its ground after the first encore, hollering with displeasure when the house lights came up.

It was a mixed bag, albeit an entertaining and fascinating one, from an entertainer who can still pull out the stops, fingering his fretboard with one hand while slicking back his short crop with the other. A playful Prince alternately grinned at his band, placated the fans with hits, and happily jammed at length on one of his many Telecaster-style guitars, pacing himself all the while with breaks featuring guest Sheila E. and his backup vocalists. His impassioned take on “Cool,” the song he bestowed on the Time back in 1981, said it all: Prince was out to reestablish his own ageless brand of awesome, and have fun doing it. 

Opening the show was white zoot-suited Oakland native and psychedelic funk-rock pater familias Larry Graham, the bassist who broke ground and moved major booty with his slapping technique as part of Sly and the Family Stone. Fronting his band, Graham Central Station, Drake’s uncle got the audience primed with a sing-along to his 1980 slow-dance hit “One in a Million You,” before immediately ripping into a jaw-dropping bass demo that had him scraping his strings against a mic stand and probing them with his teeth -- an exhibition that would have had Jimi Hendrix pondering the possibilities of the low end. The kicker: a lengthy Sly and the Family Stone medley, including a moving “Family Affair,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” and “Dance to the Music,” with a finale that had Prince rising up from the bowels of the glyph-shaped stage, clad in fuzzy après-ski boots, to join Graham and crew for “Everyday People” and a palpably joyful “I Want to Take You Higher” that inspired everyone onstage -- and a good batch of the crowd -- to leap in unison.

The psych-funk-rock lineage clearly established, Prince remained the main Event-with-a-capital-E. The artist presently known as Prince is still an eerily, extraterrestrially-gifted performer, capable of shredding in hair-band-esque Eddie Van Halen mode, then tossing his leopard-pick-guarded guitar off the stage, and finally breaking into a fluid yet precisely controlled slew of popping, locking contortions in what looked to be flared satin PJs. A big-screen closeup of his posterior moving ever-so-minutely in time to the beat captured the detail with hilarious exactitude.

I had to laugh, marveling at the calculated, smooth perfection of the maestro’s moves, though Prince’s absolute, practiced fluency in so many modes of American music -- rock tear-throughs, blues jams, soul breakdowns, pop sing-alongs, R&B balladry, jazz interludes and conga workouts with Sheila E. by his side -- is seriously hard to question, and in keeping with the title of this tour, “Welcome 2 America.” This not-of-this-earth visitor has conquered the musical languages of the land, turning the tables on the natives.

Still, nothin’ compares 2 love, and Prince was out to please Monday -- sprinkling his set with hits like “Raspberry Beret,” “Controversy,” and “Kiss” and unleashing a violet confetti downpour with “Purple Rain” -- while seemingly just as eager to embrace the contributions of Carlos Santana, who was lent the Princely guitar; Bay native Sheila E., who sang “The Glamorous Life” to loud home-girl cheers; and backup vocalist Shelby Johnson, who memorably emoted through “Misty Blue,” as Prince playfully pulled Larry Graham up to enact a faux-romantic reunion.

The guest appearances may not have matched the celebrity drive-bys at his recent NYC dates -- those ranged from Alicia Keys and Questlove to Cornel West and Kim Kardashian (who got kicked off stage for less-than-stellar dancing) -- and new twirlers the Twinz weren’t in the house to add considerable sex appeal, but I, for one, left sated after a two-hour performance that included an hour-long encores. Prince’s displays of slink-worthy lewdness have been replaced by exhibitions of guitar hero virtuosity -- “I don’t know how you feel, but I’ve missed you something horrible,” the gold-satin-draped artist cooed to us over a hot gold guitar toward the end of the show -- but that made it no less a close encounter of the Princely kind.

With Larry Graham
Wed./23 and Thurs./24, 7:30 p.m., $71.50-$238
Oracle Arena
7000 Coliseum Way, Oakl.


Nicely written…having seen Mr. Nelson many times in the past I was able to be there via your article. Thanks for sharing!

Posted by prncfrk on Feb. 22, 2011 @ 8:16 pm

Nice! Thanks for sharing!!!!!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 22, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

Enjoyed this commentary, I am all excited to see his concert tomorrow even more after I read it!! I feel it wont dissappoint!!

Posted by ohhhbowwwy!! on Feb. 22, 2011 @ 8:28 pm

You Forgotten to mention - How Prince - on his 3rd Encore sang "Bambi" from his 1st album.....Which, in it's Rock & Roll/ Sexual Guitar Suggestiveness of the late early 80's - The Non - Poppy Appeal overtones - drove the stadium into "silence" & the real Prince fans into Rock Guitar God - Early Album Heaven....

Posted by Guest Visa Victor on Feb. 22, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

Actually, Bambi is off his second album. His performance of it on Monday was definately the highlight of the show for me.

Posted by Guest rmartin70 on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 9:36 am

"The guest appearances may not have matched the celebrity drive-bys at his recent NYC dates -- those ranged from Alicia Keys and Questlove to Cornel West and Kim Kardasian (who got kicked off stage for less-than-stellar dancing) -- ...."

So let me get this straight.... You are saying that Carlos Santana, and Sheila E. don't have the appeal of Alicia Keys, Questlove, and Kim Kardashian, who has absolutely no talent other than being beautfiul...

I strong object to this assertion.... That's absurd.

Carlos Santana, Sheila E. Larry Graham, and Sly and the Family Stone are legends..... Rock N Roll hall of fame legends. Sheila E. may get in the hall eventually. Those people you mentioned in New York have yet to reach legend status.. Sorry, but you are wrong my friend....

Posted by Cintenta on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 5:46 am

I totally agree with this writer, legends compared to wanna be legends.. all in all fantastic show!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 8:07 am

Don't get me wrong, I love Prince. I was so excited that this was my first Prince concert and could't wait to go. However, I was so disappointed that he didn't cover songs like Let's Go Crazy, 1999, etc. He didn't even complete the whole song of Raspberry Beret. Those songs made him popular. I'm sure he must get sick of playing them, but most fans expect to hear those hits too, especially in a big concert venue as this. I've read mixed reviews, so I know I am not the only one who was disappointed. This is just my opinion, but I'm glad others enjoyed the concert.

Posted by Disappointed on Feb. 23, 2011 @ 11:17 am

As he told the audience, he has "too many hits"! He covered quite a few of them, though. He can't cover everyone's favorite hit in such a short time period-- simply because there are too many!

I went to the concert last night (Wednesday), and he did both "Let's Go Crazy" and "1999". Unfortunately he didn't get to "Raspberry Beret", but it's ok! He covered a string of chart-topping hits, and in my opinion the show couldn't have been better (I've never seen an audience so pumped up, dancing in their seats, the whole time)!

My boyfriend and I both agreed that this was the best concert we've ever been to, and I for one am an avid concert-goer.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 24, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

I agree with "Are You Serious" there were too many hits and the teasers were just a reminder of how much we loved all his hits. This was my first Prince concert. I flew up from So Cal to share this moment with family members. We had such a memorible time that with every song he played, it brought us back in time. It was an expensive one-night stay, but I would do it again. I'm kicking myself for not going to his 3rd show. I've seen a few concerts in my days and this is was the top on my list. I've heard from others that went to Monday and Wednesday night show and they agreed Wednesday was the better of the two. I'm so soooo happy I got to see "Prince" Wednesday night doing what he does best, "An Artist at work."

Posted by Love Wednesday Night Show on Feb. 25, 2011 @ 8:25 am

I went to the show on Thurs and we missed Santana, but he covered all his hits, some of which he had the the audience sing. For a performer with 35 years of hits he would have had to play a 3 day show to cover them all. I really enjoyed the medley of songs he went over on his 3ed on core, some of them he covered with only playing one note. All true Prince fans could be happy with that and the fact that he showed off a bit and even played some hits that were written for other artists. I loved the show, one of the best I have ever seen and I'll do it again next time he is in the Bay Area.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

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