Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince: Live

The coolest post-Creem rock magazine in the world was New Zealand's Real Groove. This review appeared in its November 1997 issue--before Prince started calling himself Prince again.

Cajundome, Lafayette, La., August 13

Several days before playing the 14,000-plus-seating Cajundome in Lafayette, La., the former Prince Rogers Nelson granted a television interview during which he was asked the following question: Since his "name" is nothing more than an unpronounceable design, what do his employees call him when they want his attention? "Sir," he answered. Fair enough.

The pre-show signs were ominous. What sort of egomaniac plays his own music (in this case, the entire three-disc Emancipation album) over the sound system before he comes on-stage? Weirder yet, who but a televangelist subjects his faithful to endless repetitions of a pre-recorded message comprising nothing but directions for how to order his relics? Simply by calling 1-800-NEWFUNK, everything from necklaces (silver and gold), T-shirts, hockey jerseys, CDs (Crystal Ball, The Truth, Kama Sutra), "beanie hats," and--my favorite--"Mr. Happy and Emancipation Underwear" could be ours.

Call it the price of freedom. Having ended his relationship with Warner Brothers, the Artist Formerly Known As Prince now bears sole responsibility for whether or not his name--whatever it is--remains synonymous with profit. In other words, having driven the moneychangers from his temple, he now has to set up shop there himself, lest the cash flow trickle to a halt.

Sir has long appropriated religious imagery. In Lafayette he followed "The Cross," his hard-rocking orthodox gospel tune from Sign o' the Times, with "One of Us," the only hit Joan Osborne will ever have and the most provocative piece of theological inquiry to hit the pop charts since Murray Head asked Jesus Christ, Superstar, who in the world He thought He was twenty-six years ago. "Do U believe in love?" Sir asked the crowd between the songs. The sound of many thousands of voices shouting affirmatively in unison assured him that they did. Who's gonna pay sixty-five dollars per ticket not to believe in love?

Beginning promptly at 9:15 and ending promptly two hours later, Sir's "Jam of the Year Tour" lived up to its name. A bit of history puts the event in its proper context. Prince released his first album, For You, in 1978 at the age of nineteen. Bob Dylan released his first album in 1962 at twenty-one. Bruce Springsteen released his in 1973 at twenty-two. By 1982 Prince was king of the hill. All of twenty-three, he released 1999, which yielded the hits "Little Red Corvette" (song number four in Lafayette), "Delirious" (truncated as part of a piano-only medley), and its millernarian title cut (appropriately saved for an encore) and joined Dylan's Blonde on Blonde (1966) and Springsteen's The River (1980) in the great-double-album pantheon.

Dylan, however, waited nine years before delivering his next great album, Blood on the Tracks, and Springsteen waited four before delivering Born in the U.S.A. Prince delivered Purple Rain immediately, then kept on delivering. (Only 1985's Around the World in a Day has acquired a reputation as a dud). And according to a recent story in the New York Times, Sir has "one thousand or so unreleased songs" in his vaults. That's a hundred albums' worth, give or take a box set, a total that Dylan and Springsteen combined--heck, throw in Neil Young--can't touch.

And although Dylan and Springsteen were, in fact, still touring successfully in the nineteenth years of their careers, they were not filling their shows with non-stop Michael-and-Janet dancing, piano humping, costume changes (three), heavy-metal guitar solos (many), or invitations to crowd members to dance on-stage (four). And even if they had been, do you think either Dylan or Springsteen could've ever moved every man in a Louisiana sports facility to sing along both loudly and proudly to "If I Was Your Girlfriend"?

"I'd love to stay, but I ain't got no more hits," the diminutive genius joked at one point, apparently oblivious to his omission of "U Got the Look" and "The Holy River," to name just two. Then he launched into his tributes to classic rock bands, "Cream" and "Kiss," and the near sell-out crowd responded to Sir with love once more.

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