"Distraught" Prince's Melbourne Show Features Multiple Vanity Tributes

17 February 2016 | 10:55 am | Bryget Chrisfield

"Prince pours out raw emotion and his high-pitched cries that close out [Purple Rain] are so agonisingly real that it's hard to watch."

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As we wander down St Kilda Road, it must be noted that the Arts Centre spire is lit purple. This is Prince's second show for the evening and, as we collect our tickets, we're told audience members left after his previous 6.30pm session "crying and speechless" then tried to purchase tickets for the next sitting. There's nervous laughter in the foyers and even seasoned concertgoers experience similar anticipation to how they would've felt before their first-ever show. Booze can be taken into State Theatre as long as it's in plastic receptacles, which is unusual for this venue, and we're told by the usher that our phones cannot be "open" even though the show is yet to start. But audience members still can't resist the urge to take selfies to post and boast about how close their pricey seats are to the stage.

"He's decided to dedicate a few songs to his late mate Vanity (Denise Matthews), hearing the news of her death mere hours ago obviously shaking up his composure."

The stage is bathed in a purple wash. There's a grand piano surrounded by four low tables, which are placed around the periphery of the stage. Each table holds candles of various heights, some in candlesticks. "Open" phones are policed by ushers. It's 10pm. The lights dim. Our atmospheric intro tape is an excerpt from the Memoirs Of A Geisha film score. The cyclorama comes alive with kaleidoscopic projections. A doorway shape lights up in the centre of the cyc pattern to reveal Prince's silhouette in all its 'fro-ed glory. His Royal Purpleness walks forward wearing his own merch (but modified from what's available to fans). "He's a fucking skinny cunt," observes a charmer behind us as the crowd rise to their feet, cheering and applauding. Sure, Prince is of slight build but mind your language around royalty, mate! "Mel-Bourne!" Prince shouts into the mic, stepping away, leaving echoes of his voice behind. Repeat. He takes a seat on the piano stool and opens with The Love We Make. We're immediately spellbound. "My father showed me how to play piano," he shares, adding, "I loved my father." Prince then tells us "Batman" was one of the first songs he learned on piano. Looking like a shaman, Prince asks us to clap along at various times throughout the show. Prince also plays mean air piano.

"The first show I was a little distraught." Prince apologises to those in the house who are back for seconds. "I got some bad news." But for this concert Prince tells us he's decided to dedicate a few songs to his late mate Vanity (Denise Matthews), hearing the news of her death mere hours ago obviously shaking up his composure. Little Red Corvette closes out with Prince performing an instrumental segment from Somewhere Over The Rainbow, each note a prayer for his recently deceased former lover/protege. I Wanna Be Your Lover sees His Royal Purpleness instruct, "Let's stand up, y'all!" and we oblige. Shortly afterwards he instructs, "Siddown!" with a cheeky glint in his eye. No one gives sexy/coy side-eye quite like Prince. How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore coaxes communal goosebumps.

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Prince twirls and prances off into the wings in search of a breather on occasion like a mischievous imp. After one such pause in proceedings he returns and we notice the soles of his shoes light up red with each step. Many sing along meaningfully to If I Was Your Girlfriend. During The Ladder, Prince changes some lyrics to pay further tribute to Matthews: "Now this king he had a subject named [Vanity]/Who loved him with a passion, uncontested." Black Muse becomes Raspberry Beret and how anyone departs the auditorium for toilet breaks we'll never comprehend. Paisley Park lyricjump out and we hear them as if for the first time thanks to this piano treatment.

We score an encore. And as the melancholy descending melody of Purple Rain's intro commences we draw our collective breath. Prince pours out raw emotion and his high-pitched cries that close out this song are so agonisingly real that it's hard to watch. Prince stands, kisses fingertips and extends this arm out to us. "Thank you," he says simply and leaves the stage. It's 11.20pm.