PRINCE-Oakland Photo: NPG Records 2014
It had been nearly a year since PRINCE and 3RDEYEGIRL played 2 nights of back to back shows at DNA Lounge in San Francisco, first introducing the Bay Area to his latest concoction of funk, hard driving guitar and new arrangements of some of his catalog.
Much to the delight of Bay Area fans, Prince and the band were back with a vengeance on Saturday night at Oakland's Fox Theater. Tickets went on sale late Wednesday night and sold out quickly.
Even before the show started, Oakland was determined to give Prince a huge welcome, complete with a 200+ person Prince flash mob performance that took place in front of the theater on Saturday afternoon. The mob, comprised of fans, local residents and students from the theater's adjoining Oakland School for the Arts, danced in sync to a medley of two Prince songs - "Delirious" and "Ain't Gonna Miss U When You're Gone", the latter featuring vocals from Oakland's own Ledisi. Prince would even acknowledge the flash mob during Saturday night's show, asking fans "Who of you was in that flash mob?" and mouthing thank you.
The show kicked off at 9pm sharp with an opening set by Liv Warfield, a fierce, Tina-Turner-esque talent who has performed in Prince's New Power Generation band as a backup singer for the past several years. Warfield's new album The Unexpected (produced by Prince) was released recently, and she rocked through six songs including the funky "Why Do You Lie?", "The Unexpected", and "Catch Me If You Can", and a soulful, pleading version of "Stay - Soul Lifted". Warfield's powerful performance left many fans impressed. Her band Blackbird was joined by the NPG Hornz who infused her searing rock songs with great energy and charisma.
And then it was time for the main event. But first, the members of 3rdEyeGirl - Hannah Welton, Donna Grantis and Ida Nielsen - came out and asked the crowd to refrain from taking any photos or video during the performance, a warning that had also been sent out via email to ticketholders by the Fox Theater earlier in the day. With that housekeeping item out of the way, it was time to get down to the funk.
Prince opened the show with the rocking "Let's Go Crazy", but slowed down and rearranged, as were several of the classic songs that Prince and 3rdEyeGirl played on Saturday night. Given a new life, older songs like "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)", "She's Always in my Hair", and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" are immediately fresh again and re-imagined, punctuated with stellar guitar solos from Donna Grantis and Prince himself. "Ok if I play my guitar?" Prince asked the crowd of 2000+ throughout the night. The answer was always a resounding "Yes!"
The band also pounded through newer songs in the opening set including the meaty, guitar-infused instrumental "Plectrum Electrum", party anthem "FunkNRoll", and the motivational "FixUrLifeUp". The crowd was energized all night, taking every cue from Prince for claps, chants and choruses.
The second part of the show featured Prince on his keyboard for the now well-known "sampler set", where with the press of a key, he can call up samples from his everlasting catalog of hits. Hardcore Prince fans especially love this part of the show because we never know what deep track he'll pull out of his purple hat.
On Saturday, he teased us with bits of "Sign O' the Times", "When Doves Cry" (the opening guitar riff of this track sends the crowd into complete ecstasy every time), "Pop Life" and "Housequake", and even some hits from his spinoff bands including Vanity 6's "Nasty Girl", and "Screams of Passion" from The Family.
And just to make sure we didn't forget his multi-instrumentalist capabilities, Prince relieved Ida Nielsen of her bass for a funky, stretched out bass solo on "777-9311", a track from The Time.
Prince ended the sampler set with a full, lengthy version of "Purple Rain" backed by the band. He took his time making sure the Oakland crowd could sing along to the closing "Woo hooo hooo hooooo" parts of the song.
Throughout the night, it was clear that Prince simply loves playing in Oakland, and Oakland loves having him in their house. He was exceptionally playful, taking his time on songs and treating fans to searing guitar solos and vocals that ranged from gritty to falsetto, and showing off his skills on piano, guitar and bass. The crowd was equally generous, on their feet for most of the show and always hungry for more.
The band returned for the first encore accompanied by Liv Warfield and the NPG Hornz, first on "U Got the Look" then "Musicology" and closing with Wild Cherry's "Play that Funky Music". The crowd was hyped up and in a party mood so when the band left the stage again, they weren't ready to go home.
As techs reset the stage, Prince walked out in the dark and headed for his keyboard, taking the stage solo to treat fans to a piano only set of some of his most memorable tracks. He began the set with the rarely heard "Computer Blue", half singing, half speaking "there must be something wrong with the machinery" and pleading "Where is my baby? Where can she be?".
Prince flowed effortlessly through the piano medley, appearing to decide on songs as he went and giving room for fans to sing along with him to favorites like "Strange Relationship" and "Diamonds and Pearls". He even cued up the playful "Starfish and Coffee", leaving most of the lyrics up to the first few rows of the theater who knew it word for word. A highlight of the set was "Do Me, Baby", with Prince taking his time and hitting every sexy high and low vocal of the seductive track, beautifully bathed in purple light.
Towards the end of the piano medley, Prince acknowledged Sly Stone's birthday and the influence the funk legend has had on his own career, finishing with a heartfelt shout out to Oakland native Sheila E. "Without Sly Stone, I wouldn't have met Larry Graham. Larry Graham introduced me to so many great musicians, like Sheila E. Sheila E. introduced me to so many great musicians... I want to thank you for Sheila E., for a sister that helped me get through."
After another very short break, Prince returned to the stage and ended the night back on the keyboard with 3rdEyeGirl and the NPG Hornz on stage. He invited fans up to dance and went through a medley of songs including "Hot Thing", Sheila E's "Love Bizarre" and The Time's "Cool", complete with on spot hand motions from fans spelling out C-O-O-L.
Prince and 3rdEyeGirl came back out to say their goodbyes with a bow and the night concluded with a remix version of "FunkNRoll" playing over the theater's PA. Prince might have been done for the night, but the crowd was not, staying in place for another twenty minutes, chanting and clapping, praying for another encore. Finally, the full house lights came up and we knew the night was officially over. All told, Prince had kept us dancing and singing for just over two and a half hours.
During the show, Prince hinted a couple of times that he'll be returning to the Bay Area again. "Even sooner than you think. And we'll be bringing some friends," he told the adoring crowd.
Can't be soon enough.-Funkencherry
The Prince flash mob. Photo by Maia Alexander
Diagnosis: Thank U Oakland....