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Prince: The Last Concert April 22, 2016

Posted by markgeil in Music.
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To be honest, Prince wasn’t really on my radar at the beginning of this month. I’d pull out an album every once in a while, revel in the music, and put him back on the shelf. Then, on March 30th, I was clearing out my junk email folder when a notice from the Fox Theatre here in Atlanta caught my eye. Prince was coming – wait, in a week? – and tickets were going on sale at noon that very day, not more than an hour away. I hopped on the theater’s site and found the date and times. I couldn’t find any prices, but I learned that there was a limit of two tickets per person, and they would only be available through will-call the day of the show. Prince wanted no scalping.

At a few minutes before noon, I refreshed the page, and saw a screen that said a few patrons at a time would be moved to the purchase page. When noon arrived, the page went blank and that swirly icon appeared, and moments later I was there. I chose the cheapest tickets, picked my seats, and just like that I was crossing an item off my bucket list that hadn’t even been on my bucket list a few days before. On the way home I stopped by a used CD store and found an album I didn’t already own: Emancipation. “Did you get tickets today?” asked the clerk. I was triumphant in reply.

Thursday April 7th arrived and I could scarcely contain my anticipation. I wore a purple shirt to work, fully aware that I was still a middle-aged white guy at an office job. My wife drove downtown mid-day, picked me up, and we went to the Fox to pick up our tickets. Everything was remarkably well organized. I found the table with the letters for my last name, sang “I’m going down to Alphabet Street” to myself, and picked up those two little pieces of cardstock that would soon become the souvenirs of a lifetime.

I went back to work, and two hours hadn’t passed before I got another email from the Fox. “It is with profound regrets that Prince has to postpone two shows scheduled for tonight at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia,” it said. “Both shows, scheduled at 7 and 10 PM, as part of his Piano & A Microphone Tour, will be postponed as the entertainer is battling the flu.” I called Amy, disappointed, and quipped that he’d probably reschedule when we had some other plans we couldn’t miss. The theater said our original tickets would still work, but also offered a full refund. Ha! (So much for no scalping, I thought.)

The weekend passed, and then on Monday I got the word that the show was rescheduled for that Thursday, exactly one week after the previous date. It was clear on our calendar. Just like that, I was back in anticipation mode, listening to Prince nonstop.

Since we already had our tickets, the Thursday redux started later. We were told that doors would open at six, so we grabbed a bite to eat and found that a long line had formed outside the Fox. We debated taking a downtown stroll but decided to just wait in line, finding our place just where the line curved around by North Avenue. There’s a palpable camaraderie before concerts – strangers bonded by at least one shared interest – but I’ve never felt it more strongly than I did that night. Age, culture, ethnicity… none of it mattered. That line of people was so relaxed and happy and helpful to one another I wondered if I was at church. Well, a weird church where people wear lots of sequins and platform shoes and lamé trench coats. The old concert t-shirts I saw were an archive of music history; I knew each was woven with a great story.

Moments after an advertising truck rode by blaring “1999”, we heard loud sirens, saw blue lights, and wondered if a wreck had occurred on busy Peachtree Street. Instead, we saw a motorcycle policeman, followed by two big black Escalades with limousine plates, and another motorcycle cop. Before I realized what I was watching, a tinted window lowered a bit and a hand emerged, waving at us. We’d just seen royalty. The coronation parade lasted all of 20 seconds, but our line was ebullient.

Riding the high that can really only come from seeing Prince’s hand, our line started moving. Snaking around the building, still ever-so-orderly, we made it inside. As we passed the merch table, Amy saw that look in my eye, that inner battle in which my selfish desire for an overpriced concert t-shirt battled against every frugal fiber of my being. Thirty-five dollars? For a t-shirt? “You get in line and get yourself a shirt,” Amy practically commanded. I love my wife.

There were only two such tables in the entire venue, each with foreboding signs declaring “NO MERCH SALES AFTER SHOW”, and only two poor souls working each, so here’s where things became far less orderly. I was reminded of that time I squeezed onto a rush hour train in Hong Kong, except that this was once again such a familial mosh pit that no one seemed to mind. Finally, I reached the front, shouted “Number 3, extra-large!” and waved my $35 cash to pretty much anyone who would take it, and walked away with my second souvenir of a lifetime. “Prince”, it read, “Piano & A Microphone”. It was adorned by the moon in various phases. “What’s with the moons?” someone in line had asked. “Who knows?” came the reply, “It’s Prince.” There you go.

I got my cardio in ascending the venerable staircase up, up to our seats and finally saw the stage. A few lit candle stands. A screen with kaleidoscopic projections. And, center stage, a piano and a microphone. A purple grand. It’s Prince.

Seven o’clock came and went. I wondered aloud to Amy if artists ever monitor the lines at merch and hold their start until most people find their seats. Now I wonder if Prince was mustering the energy to take the stage despite his apparently lingering illness. Instrumental music swelled from time to time, teasing, but then, finally, it was time. The stage filled with fog, and a purple spotlight from behind the scrim revealed an iconic silhouette, perhaps the single most iconic silhouette in all of music. The scrim ascended, and his royal highness strutted forward, scepter in hand. You know that song, “Let’s Go Crazy”? We went crazy.

Prince made a lap around the piano, leaned his scepter alongside it, and took his seat. He adjusted the microphone, readied his hands, and sang, with a knowing smile, “Guess I should have known by the way you parked your car sideways that it wouldn’t last.” We went nuts.

“Little Red Corvette melted into “Dirty Mind” and I thought of that ridiculous album cover and giggled. For all his musical genius Prince had some ridiculous album covers. (I just used the past tense, and that’s very sad.)

“Dirty Mind” melted into, of all things, “Linus and Lucy”, the Vince Guaraldi song from the Charlie Brown specials that my kids played at their piano recitals. And just like that, we were at a piano recital, but instead of a nervous third grader, this piano was being played by one of the most musically gifted individuals in modern times. Prince had always been an electric guitar guy to me, who also happened to be able to play just about anything else. But on this, his last night of music, he showed us that he understood the piano in ways that few do. As usual, he spoke rarely, but he did take some time to explain that his father taught him piano. Domestic images from “Purple Rain” sprung to mind, and then vanished when Prince started playing “Chopsticks”. Yes, that Chopsticks. But then, oh-so-effortlessly, he jammed. The Celebrated Chop Waltz was injected with funk, and though it never left its root melody it sprouted branches before our eyes. I marvel at Prince’s voice, but I realized in that moment what a gift it was just to sit and listen to him improvise an instrumental on piano.

A little while later, familiar chords emerged from that same piano, and Prince delivered a soul-stirring rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U”. I turned to my wife and whispered, “I’m so happy!” That one’s a piano ballad, but it was remarkable to see how other songs like “U Got the Look” and “Pop Life” took on entirely new meaning when Prince reimagined them on the sole instrument. I also realized at one point that I’d been to plenty of concerts during which the audience sings along with gusto, but I’d never been to one in which the audience sings along with gusto in falsetto. It’s an unusual sound!

About a dozen songs in, Prince played a Joni Mitchell cover, “A Case of You”. Afterwards, he walked off the stage. It wasn’t really encore time yet, so we wondered what was up. “Huh,” I said. “Well, it’s Prince.” A short while later he returned and said, “Sometimes I forget how emotional these songs can be.” Had Prince really left the stage to have a cry? I wouldn’t be too surprised. Now, though, I wonder. I wonder lots of things, and they make me sad.

Towards the end of the show, the real encores contained gems. I marveled when Prince covered “Heroes”, my favorite David Bowie song. Now I marvel that both are gone. I applauded when he played “Diamonds and Pearls”. Now I ponder the first line, that I heard him sing only a week ago. “This will be the day, that you will hear me say, that I will never run away.” We all applauded when he played “The Beautiful Ones”. Now I wince a little when I see the song on TV during round-the-clock showings of Purple Rain, and I hear “The beautiful ones, they hurt you every time.” As I write these lines, it’s almost midnight here in Atlanta, on April 21st, and it’s raining. It should be.

We ended with “Kiss” and Prince declaring that another family was waiting outside. He didn’t play “Purple Rain” for our 7:00 show, though he would later to close the 10:00 show. I honestly don’t think he had it in him to deliver it twice. He played from around seven until midnight, and his plane home had to make an emergency medical stop, and then I suppose he seemed fine, but apparently he was not.

I had posted a picture of the stage after our show, since no photos were allowed during the concert. Today, a new comment on the picture said that we had seen his last night of shows, ever. I assumed it was one of those silly social media falsehoods that get carried away. Later I learned it was true, and everything we witnessed last week took on a surreal quality. I recalled singing “Kiss” in my finest falsetto, with all my new family members, and that was memory enough. Now, though, I realied it was the last time Prince would ever play the song, so the memory is tinged with gravity and importance and, yes, sadness.

Now that I look back on last week, though, I’m not really sad. I’m grateful for what music can do, and what music was able to do in the hands of its gifted bearer.

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Comments»

1. Beth Taylor (Felts) - April 22, 2016

Thank you for sharing, Mark. What a special keepsake and memory!

2. Julie - April 22, 2016

Thank you for taking the time to share this.

April - May 20, 2016

💜💜💜 there will never be another him u are so lucky u got to see him

3. jboyer2015 - April 22, 2016

You’re a stud Mark! Brought tears to my eyes.


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