Sunday, February 27, 2011

Now For Something Completely Different

Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA
February 21 & 24, 2011

Talk about building hype: Prince had 3 shows in Oakland, 2 of which were announced only 6 days in advance of the first night. Anyway, I'm sure this post will not sit well with most Metal Kidz, but I don't give a shit. Back in The Day this was my March 1985:

March 3rd: Prince - Purple Rain Tour ($17.50)

March 14th & 15th: Metallica - Ride The Lightning Tour ($10.00)

March 21st: Iron Maiden - Powerslave Tour ($14.50)

Say what you will, but in hindsight here in the 21st Century it was pretty fucking cool to see 3 such historic tours within 18 days of each other like that... and I was open-minded about music for a Metalhead back then. However, quite a few other Old School Bay Area Metalheads are also Prince fans (Gary Holt of Exodus being one of them). So go ahead and call us fags...

Anyway, I ended up seeing 2 of the 3 shows and they were... awesome. No, I don't listen to Prince's music and barely know any songs past his big hits, but he was definitely one of the most talented musicians and performers I've ever witnessed onstage. He embodies old school showmanship, it's like watching James Brown onstage, and his guitar skillz were sublime and blazing; Prince is a legitimate Guitar God. I was surprised how much his guitar playing was featured in the shows and the range of virtuosity he displayed across different styles, from Funk to Soul to Rock, was beyond impressive. The production of the show was also unique, with the stage being in-the-round and shaped like Prince's symbol. Not many performers could pull this off:

The first night had some rough spots, with Prince calling out for monitor adjustments during the opening song... which I found interesting since I was expecting a show like this to be more choreographed. The first night's highlight was an unexpected guest appearance by Carlos Santana, who appeared onstage seemingly from out of nowhere to jam on a version of his song 'Soul Sacrifice'.

Santana... Jamming...

Man, a Prince crowd is fucking LOUD; I've never heard a Metallica crowd that loud. Seriously... and the version of his iconic hit 'Purple Rain' was kind of transcendental. Going into the first night I was halfway expecting the show to be closer to when I saw Celine Dion; a show more about heavy-handed production instead of musicianship. However, I was proven wrong and Prince onstage wasn't much different than when I saw him in 1985. Metalheads, go ahead and call me a fag.

Three days later I found myself back at Oracle Arena... and the closing night performance will definitely be on my Best of 2011 List. First of all, Prince was onstage for 3 hours (an hour longer than the previous shows) and his guitar playing seemed to be even more off the hook than opening night. Pretty much all of the hits were given a run through and at mid-set Larry Graham (original bassist of Sly & the Family Stone) came onstage for versions of the Sly songs 'Everyday People' and 'Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)'. Given that Sly & the Family Stone were from The Bay Area, the vibe coming off the stage was pretty amazing. Besides having longtime associate (and Oakland native) Sheila E. in his band, Prince also gave shout outs to Oakland often during the shows. It's pretty cool that a performer like Prince was influenced by Bay Area Music in the same way that Metal bands were influenced by the original Bay Area Metal Scene. Yes, it's all connected, man... It really is..

Anyway, these shows were NOT Metal but I was blown away by Prince nonetheless. His level of musicianship combined with showmanship is something you do not see very often here in the 21st Century. Given that he's 52-years old it makes sense that Prince is versed with the same type of Old School Music sensibilities that I grew up with... and THANKS to The Sheriff and to Cable Car for the leg-up into the shows.

Prince... The Guitarist.. starting at around the 3:20 mark.

Scorpions shirts = 1 (on the 1st night). If you bought one of every Prince item you would have paid around $435, although bootleg shirts were being sold outside the venue for $10 with better designs than the official tees. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. No, I'm NOT going to start wearing purple, but I do rank Prince as one of my favorite musicians... but now back to Umlaut's regularly scheduled programming.