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Prince Plays Solo, Piano & a Microphone.


NPG records, courtesy of the artist.

Prince plays solo show “Piano & a Microphone."

There have been few musical artists who have exploded onto the recording scene with such dynamic and virtuosic velocity as Prince. The 19-year-old musical force of nature wrote, sang, produced, and played 23 instruments on his debut album, For You. The creative output and sheer amount of musical content that has poured forth since that album has been astounding. It’s difficult to even find a human measurement that quantifies his ability, or the scope and breadth of his talent. Witnessing a category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale would bring someone a little closer to understanding the magnitude of the artist’s impact. Creativity comes out of every molecule in the musician’s body. His DNA is wired for sound.

Prince has more finished and unreleased songs lying on the floor of his closet than most artists will have recorded in their lifetimes. There is not much left to conquer for this supremely gifted musician. His recording and performing career has spanned three decades, and he’s reached all the milestones.

The space between the notes — that's the good part," he said. "How long the space is — that's how funky it is or how funky it ain't."

So it’s no surprise when it was announced that Prince played a solo show - just him and a piano - titled "Piano & a Microphone." Prince has been giving private concerts at his Paisley Park compound for a few years and this appears to be another way he challenges himself to create new work. Being able to carry a show with just the minimal accouterments of a voice and a single instrument is a tall order for any player. The stage is stripped bare and there’s no hiding behind backing tracks, backup singers or the pounding backbeat from a drummer on steroids. Prince, however, is on another level as far as raw talent and ability. He could do an hour of “Kumbaya” and it would be interesting.

Of course, by all accounts, he provided context and a theatrical base to the night by instilling an autobiographical element that ran through the piece.

From Rolling Stone: Prince framed the evening as an autobiographical struggle, the story of how he mastered the piano and emerged from the shadow of his father, a jazz pianist. The set moved chronologically (with a few exceptions) through the first decade of Prince's career, including at least one song from each of his first 10 albums. Familiar melodies splintered into virtuosic cascades for a dreamlike effect, as though Prince was remembering the birth of his career in real time.

The night began with some introductory psychodrama. Elegantly casual in his mauve pajamas, that enormous afro dominating his slim frame, Prince took a stage decorated sparsely with candles, befogged by a smoke machine, his personal glyph looming from behind, illuminated by kaleidoscopic patterns. His voice was doused in heavy echo as he expressed the dreams and doubts of a child who sneaks down without permission to play his father's piano. "I can't play piano like my dad. How does dad do that?" he wondered, while attempting improvisations that, at one point, suggested Thelonious Monk teaching himself the theme to Batman.

The ubiquity of Prince and his catalog over the years have given us an attitude of indifference toward this cat with the monster chops. Make no mistake though, the dude can play. The old adage that “we never know what we have until it’s gone” can be applied in this case. He won’t be around forever.