2001 / Live Reviews / Music

Concert Review: Prince Ends Weeklong String Of Shows With ‘Celebration’

Artist Once Again Known As Prince Will Launch U.S. Tour

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Two years ago, Prince strolled onto a stage in front of a Twin Cities crowd and grabbed everyone’s attention from the start by strumming the menacing riff that leads into “Sign ‘O’ The Times.” At Saturday night’s show in St. Paul, Minn., most people didn’t even notice him when he snuck onstage for a cameo appearance during the opening act.

Photo: NPG Records

Photo: NPG Records

The few in the crowd who did recognize him seemed genuinely shocked when he quietly popped up during the third song of opener Fonky Baldheads’ short set, dressed all in black. He offered some quick backing vocals, a little percussion and was gone.

This kind of guest appearance wouldn’t necessarily bolster Prince’s reputation as a master musician/showman, but he was just warming up. The concert — the second in a two-night stint at the posh, new Xcel Energy Center and part of a weeklong string of shows that includes performances at his suburban studio complex — coincides with Prince’s birthday and the start of a new U.S. tour. Billed as “A Celebration,” the two-hour event was just that as he and the latest
lineup of his New Power Generation ran through streamlined, reworked versions of his hits.

When it was Prince’s turn to hit the stage — dressed in a black and white outfit and white high-heeled shoes — he quickly seized control, rifling off chords from his purple guitar that tore through the crowd. He then kicked into an electrifying, abbreviated rendition of “Let’s Go Crazy.”

“You know I like those Saturday night crowds,” he said before taking the band into a funky interlude.

While his set was dominated by chart-toppers of yesteryear, Prince played most in medley form with one song morphing into another. He walked that fine line between giving his audience what they wanted and not boring himself by just repeating the past.

The hits came one after another. An organ-drenched “Raspberry Beret” was followed by “When Doves Cry” and “I Would Die 4 U,” with something that sounded a lot like the ending of “Darling Nikki” mixed in.

Some songs were drastically rearranged. A new, hip-hop flavored “Kiss” was now flanked by a flurry of samples. Other tunes, like “If I Was Your Girlfriend” or “When You Were Mine,” were criminally cut down to a verse or two. The two chestnuts that weathered the changes the best and without losing any of their pop potency were a playful run through of “Little Red Corvette” and the disco-era throwback, “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”

One change that was expected — that Prince’s newly expressed religious convictions would tame is hedonistic onstage antics and cause him to censor his naughtier material — never actually materialized. Although he recently announced that since becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, he would no longer use profanity, Saturday night’s show proved that he’s still a highly sexual performer. To the crowd’s delight, he slithered across the floor, and twice invited some zealous dancers from the audience to join him onstage for some risque gyrating. At one point, he said, “Break out your handkerchiefs, it’s about to get sexy in here.”

What Prince demonstrates every time he steps onstage is just how ridiculously talented he really is. Throughout the show, he frequently traded instruments including guitar, piano, bass and percussion — as he sang note-perfect and danced — and was still the musical ringmaster. He kept his musicians on their toes, ordering the six- to 10-piece band (band members kept rotating on and off) to stop and start the groove and frequently highlighted particular musicians with just the wave of his hand.

Prince’s guitar playing was especially exiting, especially since he usually restricts the guitarwork on his records. From early works like “Dirty Mind” or “1999” to his latest, “Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic,” his playing has consistently been relegated to a supporting role except for some brief flashes of skill. Live, he cuts loose. On this night, his soaring, elongated solo on “Purple Rain” demonstrated that he’s every bit as much the student of Hendrix and Santana as he is James Brown and Little Richard.

Prince’s lone misstep of the night was allowing the musical flow that he and his band had built up to come to an sudden halt midway through the concert. While many in the crowd thought the party was only heating up, Prince sat down at his purple piano for several slower ballads that demonstrated his chops and falsetto but gave the impatient members of the audience an excuse to head for the bathrooms.

The audience’s malaise ended when he started an upbeat, honky tonk version of “Delirious” that had Prince playing some frantic piano. This also gave him the opportunity to do a quick Little Richard impersonation where he even played the keys with his heel.

After a quick break, Prince encored with a thunderous “U Got The Look” and a mean version of “Gett Off” that featured a slinky solo from legendary sax player Maceo Parker.

Before launching into one last extended funk workout, Prince announced, “This has been a wonderful seven days.”

The ovation that he got from the crowd seemed to serve as an appropriate birthday gift for an artist whose genius demands celebrating.

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Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2001 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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