Before the Artist Formerly Known As Prince got down to business last Friday
night, some feared his penchant for salesmanship might have eclipsed his gift
And with good reason.
Speakers in Landover, Md.'s USAir Arena blared advertisements for the Artist's
mail order company between selections from his own Emancipation
album, while merchandise booths in the hallways hawked CDs for $25 and
hockey jerseys for four times that.
But once the Purple One hit the stage, it was clear that he had but one purpose
in mind: "to get yo' groove on," which he proceeded to do for the next two hours
with amazing musical and physical dexterity. And what's better is it was all a
portent of things to come during the Artist aftershow scheduled for the 9:30 Club
three hours later (see story in tomorrow's editon of the news).
After opening the main concert with the tour namesake "Jam of the Year," the
Artist burst immediately into a funk groove any other band would save for an
encore. As the New Power Generation (guitarists Mike Scott and Kathleen
Dyson, bass player Rhonda Smith, keyboardist Morris Hayes and drummer Kirk
Johnson) threw down the booty shakin' soul, the Artist worked the crowd with
audience chants and calls and response.
Between his own hot spinning and splitting, he directed the NPG into solo
showcases and stop-on-a-dime turn-abouts that eventually evolved into James
Brown's "Talkin' Loud & Sayin' Nothing." For the ex-Prince, this was all just a
warm-up, a chance to make sure his flock was following him before he
launched into the real sermon.
The rest of the two-dozen-song show was filled with his biggest hits ("Purple
Rain," "Raspberry Beret," "1999," "Take Me With You," "Baby I'm A Star") as
well as some surprises for the Princeheads (Sign O' the Times' "Strange
Relationship and Parade's "Venus de Milo" thrown into the B-side
"How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore?").
When the Artist strutted into the super-smooth opening of "Little Red Corvette," it
was clear that had he written that song only, he still could have hung up his
guitar and been considered a master craftsman of pop. While the ultra-lush set
pieces of yore have been abandoned, the Artist has not forsaken sensuality, be
it in the form of horizontal hip thrusts from atop his grand piano or the mentally
charged eroticism of "If I Was Your Girlfriend."
Naturally, for the Artist, the sexual still walks hand in hand with the spiritual,
represented by devoted readings of "The Cross" and the Joan Osborne God
questioning-hit "One of Us."
Throughout his encores, the Artist mock-beseeched the audience to let
him leave, pleading "I ain't got no more hits." That was the signal to rip
out yet another monster such as "Kiss," "Cream," "Get Off" or the final
show closer, "When Doves
After a couple of outings, the ritual became something of a commentary. "Sure,"
the Artist seemed to say, "I know you think I'm weird with my symbol name and
'Slave' scrawled on my face. But just look at what I've given y'all!" This bit may
or may not have been planned (the last four songs were all new additions to the
tour). What appeared to be genuinely spontaneous were the Artist's attempts to
walk off the stage, which time and again failed because he couldn't help but
pick up his guitar for just one more set of licks and grinds.