(On April 14, 2016, Prince performed two shows at the Fox Theatre, a week after postponing the shows due to the flu, according to his representatives. Exactly one week after his Atlanta concert, Prince died of an opioid overdose at his Paisley Park compound in Minnesota. The AJC attended the early show; this is the last-ever review of a Prince show in a major publication.)
Published April 14, 2016
As he stood silhouetted against – what else? – a purple light, with only his puff of hair, diminutive frame and cane visible, the fans in the Fox Theatre bounded to their feet as if they were welcoming the Messiah.
For many, Prince is indeed a musical religion, and at the first of his two sold-out Atlanta concerts Thursday night, he took his disciples to church with a set that resonated intensely.
Billed as the “Piano & A Microphone” tour, Prince presented exactly what was advertised. A baby grand piano sat alone, with only a few clusters of candles sharing the stage, while a massive video screen projected kaleidoscopic swirls throughout the hour and 20 minute show.
Yes, if there is a nit to pick, it’s that Prince didn’t even hit the 90-minute mark, and with tickets draining bank accounts for more than $1,000 for the best seats, some fans might feel fleeced. True, the venue needed to be turned in time for the 10 p.m. show, but another few songs likely wouldn’t have affected ebb and flow.
So was it worth it?
Depends on your objective.
Prince the performer is a well-documented master. This was a rare opportunity to witness the raw musicality that pulses through his veins.
His ingeniousness was evident from the stripped version of the opening “Little Red Corvette,” which dovetailed into Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” – an interesting cross-pollination until you realized the similar melodic patterns of the songs.
His voice frequently shifted from blues growl to falsetto and his speak-sung vocals on the emotive “Nothing Compares 2 U” supplied an intimate connection.
At the end of the song, he spread his arms in a “bring it” pose before taking a lap around his piano, a move he employed a couple of times during the show.
As black-suited ushers roamed the aisles to enforce the no photo/video rule (a difficult concept for many to grasp), Prince ignored the various declarations of devotion being shouted from the crowd and demonstrated his remarkable piano skills. Funk, jazz, pop – he’s as nimble behind a keyboard as he is with a guitar strapped across his chest.
While remnants of the flu that sidelined him last week and caused the postponement of these shows was apparent when he talked (he did apologize for last week’s cancellation), when Prince sang, he sounded sublime.
He zigzagged throughout his prolific catalog, pulling out the finger-snapper “Muse 2 The Pharaoh” from 2001’s “The Rainbow Children” album, rousing the crowd with a deeply funky “U Got the Look” and peeling the underappreciated “Pop Life” to its root.
It seemed, when he started a story about his father teaching him how to play the piano, that the show might include other such personal exposures from the famously private musician. But aside from noting, “Sometimes I forget how emotional these songs can be,” after he briefly hustled offstage following “A Case of U” and its glass-shattering notes, Prince knitted a string songs together sans commentary.
During “I Feel For You,” he lifted himself off the piano bench to crouch over the keyboard for a bit more power, while “Controversy,” which included a cameo of The Lord’s Prayer, found Prince twisting his shoulders and feeling his own funk as he tore into a gospel-blues piano solo.
An hour into the show, his upper register remained supple on “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” and the double shot of “Purple Rain” gems “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star” – complete with some Jerry Lee Lewis-style razzle-dazzle — allowed an audience that was aching to dance the opportunity to stand and roar.
That was Prince’s first goodbye.
But he returned, shrouded in a haze of blue lights and smoke at the piano, for a straightforward, yet moving tribute to David Bowie with “Heroes.”
Then he left again, but soon re-appeared with “The Beautiful Ones” and the inspired pairing of “Do Me, Baby” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”
One more round of kisses was blown toward the audience before Prince skittered offstage once again with another teasing goodbye, only to re-emerge for what really was the finale, the staccato pop of “Kiss.”
So was it worth it?
If Prince is your musical Messiah, then most likely, yes.
Melissa Ruggieri has covered music and entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2010 and created the Atlanta Music Scene blog. She's kept vampire hours for more than two decades and remembers when MTV was awesome.