Entertainment

Prince Melbourne review: Five stars for the most intimate Australian show of his career

State Theatre, February 16
★★★★★

Prince returns to Australia

After a four-year absence Prince is set to return to Australia with his Piano and a Microphone tour, set to kick off in Melbourne on February 16.

Tonight Prince invited us into his loungeroom for the most intimate Australian show of his career.

At the State Theatre, the first of four sell-out shows over two days, the night turned into a heartfelt dedication to his long-term protege and muse, Vanity, who died yesterday, aged 57. Denise Matthews-Smith, given the name Vanity by Prince, fronted the trio Vanity 6.

Prince at Rod Laver Arena during his last visit to Melbourne in 2012.
Prince at Rod Laver Arena during his last visit to Melbourne in 2012.  Photo: AP

Unlike previous Prince tours, including 2012's shows at Rod Laver Arena, this Piano and Microphone tour was a solo performance, playing old and new songs at a grand piano. The ecstatic Melbourne crowd could barely believe their good fortune; this was the type of show only previously witnessed recently at Paisley Park, his home in Minneapolis.

Melbourne is used to Prince throwing us a few curve balls. His stadium shows have previously been followed by late night, word-of-mouth secret club shows, such as jazz bar Bennett's Lane. This time he was kind enough to give us two weeks' notice, adding his four dates to what is already a jammed packed calendar of live shows. Seats, ranging from $100 to $400 and beyond, were snapped up despite the short notice.

Flanked by four large candelabras and a kaleidoscopic slide show backdrop, Prince arrived on stage dressed in loose fitting but typically stylish clothes. He opened with a cheeky homage to Melbourne, playing Big City from his recent album HITnRUN Phase Two. Bouncing up and down on his toes, this was going to be "an interesting night" he said with a wink.

Known the world over for his eclectic mix of funk and soul-infused pop, he filled the room with sounds that otherwise might have been full of drums, bass and guitars.

Prince during a 2007 Superbowl performance.
Prince during a 2007 Superbowl performance. 

"Space is part of the music," he said.

The early boogie and blues of the opening song gave way to a heartfelt tribute to his late friend in Little Red Corvette. From there this masterful performance featured a selection of his hits, ballads and tributes to his biggest influences, including Bob Marley, with a truly magical cover of Waiting in Vain.

Prince learned of Vanity's death only hours before stepping on stage.
Prince learned of Vanity's death only hours before stepping on stage. 

There may have been 2000 people in the room, but it felt like every one of us was seated close to the piano at Prince's flashy, high-heeled sneakers around that piano.

Occasionally he'd step away from the piano; snap his fingers, twirl on the spot and quickly resume his place. This was every inch an up close insight to the 57-year-old; a rare glimpse into the sensitive, quirky genius who's released countless songs over a career spanning almost four decades.

Money Don't Matter 2 Night drew huge applause, while a superb medley of Raspberry BeretStarfish and Coffee and Paisley Park allowed him to stretch out and play with the regular format of his more well known songs.

Other songs in the 20 he played in the first show included How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore, The Ladder, Satisfied and I Love U In Me, but again these were special renditions, unlike anything the audience had heard before.

The second of last night's performances closed with a stunning rendition of Purple Rain, the title track of his 1984 album.

Prior to his arrival in Melbourne, Prince told Fairfax Media these performances would be dedicated to his father. Upon learning of Vanity's passing only hours before stepping on stage, last night's  audiences shared what was clearly an emotional night for the seven-time Grammy winner.

At times in the earlier show Prince appeared overwhelmed, pausing briefly to acknowledge the support from the audience. After a moment away from the piano, he returned to the stage and delivered some of the night's most moving songs, including Sometimes it Snows in April.

Prince has a long history of playing memorable shows in Melbourne – this will surely be a night that both he and the audience will hold dearly.