[This story by Mario Tarradell originally appeared in print Aug. 10, 1997:]
It doesn't matter what he chooses to call himself these days ("the artist formerly known as Prince" or simply "The Artist"). To the sold-out crowd Saturday night at Coca-Cola Starplex, he's still Prince.
And he can jam like it's the end of the millennium. Backed by his slamming New Power Generation entourage, Prince opened his funk-fueled concert with the appropriate "Jam of the Year," a bass-heavy workout that quickly put the crowd in a bump-and-grind mood.
It was the right frame of mind for a Prince show. Known as much for his frequent double entendres as for his merciless mix of funk, pop, rock and soul - all emanating from his Hendrix-styled guitar work and piercing falsetto - Prince remains the most revered musical enigma.
Taking his cue from R&B godfathers James Brown, George Clinton and Marvin Gaye, the Minneapolis-born artist has influenced his own modern-day followers.
Watching him do his thing onstage, it's easy to see what everybody's emulating. Highlights included his falsetto-filled take on 1984's "Purple Rain," still uplifting a decade later; a sexy, atmospheric rendition of 1982's "Little Red Corvette" and a spiritual reading of Joan Osborne's "One of Us."
He cranked out a few cuts from the ambitious three CD set, Emancipation. Most notable was "Get Yo Groove On," which showcased a mean bass lick and an insistent drum beat thick enough to slice.
Yet nothing was as poured-on as his salacious vamp through "Do Me Baby." Working his petite, wiry body into all sorts of seductive positions, "Do Me Baby" epitomized the Prince's obsession with sex.
Self-indulgent? Sure. But few of today's libido-possessed soul men can follow such come-ons with a woman-worshipping pop gem like "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." And none of them can play that song on a purple piano named "Beautiful."
Undoubtedly, the artist is an original. His days of pop chart reign may be over and he's probably alienated - or at least perplexed - more than a few admirers with his frequent name changes. His endless supply of new music is hard to keep up with, too.
But if artistry is judged by unflinching individualism, he has already reserved his space in pop music textbooks.
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