I first encountered Prince through my older teen sister in the '80s, when my musical tastes slanted toward the lame. I remember her state of ecstasy upon scoring tickets to the Purple Rain tour at San Francisco's Cow Palace. She was only mildly disappointed to be sitting behind the stage. This was, after all, Prince.
As I got older, and my taste slowly evolved, I came to appreciate what I'd been missing. I realized that Prince blurred culture barriers to an extent that few recording artists have. His soul bona fides were unquestionable, but no one could deny his ability to wail on guitar and rock out. He was as much Jimi Hendrix as Sly Stone. His ear for hooks, his unabashed carnality and his outsized personality and ego made him an '80s rock star on par with Bruce Springsteen and Madonna. His color scarcely seemed to matter: He culled from and left his mark on R&B, rock 'n' roll, funk and hip-hop.
Prince was larger than genre definition.
So when he came to Reunion Arena in December 1997, I eagerly signed up to review the show. It's still the only time I got to see him, and it remains one of the concert-going highlights of my life.
But enough from present-day me. Here's the review from 27-year-old me, clearly still high on the music and deadline adrenaline. (Also: Here's the setlist).
Few artists can take a basketball arena and make it feel like a house party; even fewer have the wide-ranging appeal to send a multiracial crowd of more than 15,000 into an unrelenting frenzy of screams and gyrations. Such is the power of the artist formerly known as Prince, who performed at Reunion Arena on Tuesday for his second Dallas gig of the year (he sold out Coca-Cola Starplex in August). You can marvel at his ego, wonder about the glyph that stands in place of a name, even question his recent studio output. But as a live performer, His Purple Majesty remains at the height of pop royalty.
You know the old saying about how it ain't bragging if you can back it up? That's him. The 39-year-old former Prince still epitomizes sexuality in its rawest, most poetic form, pulling off enough sizzling dance moves to start an electrical storm. He still knows how to play with an audience: Stopping, abandoning, then repeating the first few notes of the naughty "Darling Nikki" on a piano emblazoned with the word "Beautiful," he performed the musical equivalent of foreplay.
If his ouvre could fit within the narrow confines of rock, he would be everything a pure rock star stands for: charisma, charm, petulance and, of course, ridiculous amounts of talent. In a word, presence.
Touring under the "Jam of the Year" banner - named after the first cut on the three-disc Emancipation and his opening number Tuesday - he won't be accused of false advertising. Classics such as "Kiss" and "When Doves Cry" practically breathed fire, pulsating to neo-funk rhythms and fluid choreography. He paid homage to James Brown, the former hardest--working man in show business, with "Talking Loud and Saying Nothing" and "I Got the Feelin'," and he cranked out a piano medley featuring "Girls and Boys" and "Diamonds and Pearls" with passion to burn.
Unlike many megastars who seem content merely to collect a paycheck, Prince knows what his audience wants and pulls out all the stops to deliver it. The obligatory concert chant-back routines had a bit more lust than with most acts; when he stood atop the stage wings to vamp with the crowd, you could see fire in his eyes. When he invited random audience members on stage to dance, it didn't smack of gimmickry.
And when it was over, after members of opening act Graham Central Station had returned to the stage for an extended encore and "1999" echoed away, it was hard to ask for much more -- except maybe tickets to his New Year's Eve show two years down the road.
Now that should be a party.
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