Prince's last concert was a 'sacred' experience

Story highlights

  • The writer attended Prince's last concert on his tour
  • He played a lot of his old hits to the delight of fans

(CNN)Prince had me by the heart from the moment I walked into the Fox Theater in Atlanta last week.

On stage was the purple piano, bathed in light. Behind it was a beautiful piece of artwork that showed Prince with a "third eye." It made me wonder: Which mythical Prince would be performing?
    "I need old Prince," I told my best friend as we waited for his 7 p.m. show to begin. "Not to disrespect his new music, but I need 'Purple Rain Prince' tonight." His "Purple Rain" tour was the first time I had seen him. I was a kid and didn't really understand the sexy lyrics I sang along to.
    Expectations were high. The show had been postponed the week before, when we were told that Prince had been ill.
    But tonight, those of us who had tickets were the "Beautiful Ones" -- with bragging rights. We could post or tweet about being in the house.
    Tweet, that is, until Prince took the stage. We all knew the rules then: Cell phones stayed in your pocket, and no photos were allowed during the performance.
    This was a man who was so private that to even be attending one of his shows felt like a privilege. As if he was blessing you just by showing up.
    Bless he did.
    Prince stepped out on the stage with a cane (there had been rumors of hip problems over the past few years), and smoke swirled around him. He seemed to sense just what the audience needed.
    Diminutive in size but larger than life, Prince apologized for having to reschedule previously because he had been "under the weather." Then he launched into "Little Red Corvette" and "Dirty Mind."
    What followed was a stunning concert experience. Prince played his heart out through 25 songs and 80 minutes, even as he seemed slightly subdued.
    He played with one hand. He hovered above the piano seat pounding on the keys as if sweetly punishing them. He chuckled that Prince chuckle that made men grin and women swoon.
    This was not a chatty Prince, but when was there ever?
    He talked a bit, telling the story of how his father taught him how to play the piano. He left the stage a few times -- at one point saying, as he returned, that "Sometimes I forget how emotional these songs are." He thrilled the audience by strutting around the stage a time or two. Prince was, after all, a performer.
    But mostly he let the music speak for him and his fingers do the talking. That and his legendary voice, which rang stunningly clear in an effortless falsetto during "A Case of U." He sounded ... not to be human.
    He squeezed every bit of of pain and loss out of "Nothing Compares 2 U." He changed the lyrics of "I Would Die 4 U" from "I'm your messiah and you're the reason why" to "He's the messiah and he's the reason why."
    It was clear that Prince was a man who had been through some things.
    This was not the Prince who was there to bump and grind or play long guitar riffs. At the end of "Controversy," he gave us a bit of the Lord's Prayer. This was a Prince who had quietly traded the overt sexuality of being a pop/rock/funk star with the sacredness of one who had come to give of himself.
    That, coupled with the fact that Prince didn't tour often, transformed the Fox Theater -- an historic venue in its own right -- into a scared space where notes were prayers and performance was praise.
    "I love God," Prince said at one point, glancing up.
    It didn't feel like an average concert for so many reasons. Mainly because Prince was in no way a "regular" artist.
    He was Prince. At the level of needing only one name, cooler than what seemed possible, and looking like he had no idea he was approaching an age where many folks retire. Sexagenarian? More like SEXYgenarian.
    Besides appearing to defy time, Prince defied genres his entire career, and last Thursday night was no exception. Perhaps that's why it felt perfectly natural when he delighted the audience with the Vince Guaraldi cover of "Linus & Lucy" or when he moved us with David Bowie's "Heroes."
    When he ended his set after multiple encores (he joked that he had lots of hits), he told us we had to make way for "family" -- meaning the audience for his next show that night.
    No one wanted to leave.
    If we only knew. If I only knew that a week after I cried during 'Nothing Compares 2 U," I would be weeping for his death.
    We lingered in the theater even after the house lights came on. We weren't moving to the "nearest exit," as the house announcer asked.
    Prince had let us in, weaved his spell, and no one wanted it to end.
    We still don't.