So here's how the whole thing starts: Prince appears in silhouette form behind the curtain, which is enough to send the place into a frenzy, right, but then he saunters along the edge of the stage, sits down at the piano with a huge bouquet of roses at his feet, and sings four words -- "I'm not a woman" (insert loud audience screams here) -- and we're off, not with the hit song "I Would Die 4 U" so much as an autobiographical journey that includes his mother, his father, JFK's assassination, the Batman theme song, barrelhouse piano rolls, wild stylistic runs up and down the keys, shout-outs to Steph Curry, the admonition that "No one nowhere no how should learn about love from two people fighting," the death of the American dream, "Stand" by Sly & the Family Stone, calls for justice in Flint, Michigan, and then somehow coming back around to "I Would Die 4 U."
No, this was no ordinary Prince concert.
Billed as "Prince: Piano & a Microphone," Prince's 7pm show at the Paramount Theatre lived up to its promise: the masterful artist running through a dream setlist of mostly hits at a piano, with a living-room feeling of intimacy that reached up even to the "cheap" seats (tickets cost $97–$273 before fees) in the nosebleeds of the art-deco theater. The stage was lit by an ongoing kaleidoscope projection -- a simple spotlight would have served the mood much better -- and clusters of candles on either side, parlor-style.
This casual feel meant that noticeably, Prince played no song in its entirety. He started "Take Me With U" three different times, in different ways, before settling on the right mood. He then morphed into "Little Red Corvette," with a splash of "Dirty Mind" in the middle, along with spoken commentary and improvised piano interludes.
But in Prince's hands, this medley approach didn't feel crass. Instead, it felt like music naturally pouring out if the man, as it always has, for an hour and 45 minutes. And while Prince's last visit to the Bay Area spotlighted his unsurpassed guitar skills, this time he surprised everyone by being an exceptional pianist, too: "Controversy" came across as a Pinetop Perkins accompaniment with beatboxing and falsetto, which turned into an Art Tatum treatment of "I Feel 4 U," leading into "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" and "Pop Life."