Ex-Prince Still Rules The Concert Stage

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

for showmanship.

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

Cry."

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.