He walks among us. Not like a deity, which of course would be ridiculously over-the-top. But one couldn’t help but think that at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night as the ageless Prince, about half an hour before he actually took to the stage, sauntered through the aisles like a regular Joe — if regular Joes wear expensive white coats and movie-star sunglasses. Not that it mattered much to the concert-goers, who showered him with their unbridled delight.
And there was no doubt that the ‘Purple One’ was at his ethereal, otherworldly and regal best as he belted out the hits for his ‘Welcome 2 America’ tour, regaling the audience for two hours with his distinctive style and sound. After all these years, the moniker Prince almost seems ill-fitting for an artist who’s spent decades reigning over the charts and legions of fans worldwide. Really, isn’t it past time the seven-time Grammy award winner ascended to the title of King?
And a ruler he most certainly was during his performance at the Garden, as he ruled the stage and demonstrated a larger-than-life persona that’s always belied his diminutive stature. Working a stage fashioned in the shape of his uniquely recognizable symbol, Prince and his back-up singers effortlessly delivered set after set of his hits, kicking it all off with a stylized rendition of “The Beautiful Ones”. Prince’s opening number had the assistance of the beautiful Misty Copeland, a classically-trained ballerina and one of the few black ballerinas in the world. After all these years — and even after widely publicized hip problems several years ago — the Purple Rocker showed he can still rock high-heeled boots and stretch pants in a way no ostensibly heterosexual male can (or should) be allowed to get away with. It should also be said the man doesn’t look a day over 30.
Ms. Copeland’s presence – as well as that of the irrepressibly eclectic ingénue Janelle Monáe, who was part of the opening act — reminded the audience of Prince’s well-chronicled sway over the fairer sex. Having cut a swath through a bevy of innumerable female entertainers, the singer clearly appreciates beautiful women. In addition to Vanity, Apollonia and Shiela E., Prince has single-handedly turned some women into household names – in the early 1990s he plucked a little known soap opera actress named Vanessa Marcil from relative obscurity for his video, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” video, helping set her on a path to stardom.
Unlike most contemporary R&B singers whose explicit lyrics and sexual braggadocio border on the obscene (and in most cases cross the line into hard-core porn), the often bawdy Prince is content to let innuendo and double-entendre speak for itself. Punctuating his songs with hip gyrations and pelvic thrusts aplenty, he’s not exactly the artist you’d ask to play at the church picnic. Sure he can make your grandmother blush, but at least he does it with panache.
With all of his purple-infused eccentricities, it’s easy to forget how incomparably brilliant a musician Prince truly is. He shows that whatever his age, he’s still just as dynamic a performer as he was when he first catapulted into the public’s consciousness in the late 70s. While he’s hardly Michael Jackson, Prince’s singing, dancing and overall artistry puts him in a class by himself. His performance featured a endless, blissful head-trip of some of Prince’s greatest hits that blended seamlessly into one another.
Prince drew heavily from his early 80’s fare, turning up the heat with “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Delirious”, “Kiss” and “1999” with eager participation from an over-stimulated audience screaming for more. Ever the tease, the Purple Rocker sent the women into a frenzy with “The Gingerbread Man”, summoning the salacious and hypersexual side of his personality that has been his bread and butter for years. The segue into “Purple Rain” — his monster hit from the 1984 movie of the same title — was a near-religious experience for concertgoers, who were showered with purple (naturally) confetti in a way that was almost baptismal.
When speaking of musicians, the descriptive words of “icon” and “legend” are so overused they’re almost pedestrian. In Prince’s case, however, few other words apply. There are few artists that can manage to make his fans cry in his presence: at one point during Prince’s performance, a male concertgoer seated next to me wept openly. That sums up the sort of impact His Royal Badness has on people — just ask the decidedly butch Jamie Foxx. The most fitting way to describe Prince is using the lyrics from one of his lesser-known hits, “Cool”: “I’m just cool…ain’t nobody bad like me.”
Indeed there isn’t. Prince Rogers Nelson, you’ve still got it – whatever “it” is. Don’t ever let anybody tell you otherwise.