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July 20, 2004

Prince at MSG, 7/13/04: My Mom's Review

One day in 1987, I came home from high school to find my mother bursting with excitement about a new double album she just bought. "John, you've got to hear this new Prince record! It's too funky." Then she put the needle down on "Housequake," and needless to say my life has never been the same. That was how my mom introduced me to the love of my life, an album named "Sign of the Times."

About a year later my mom's friend had an extra ticket to see Prince's Lovesexy tour at Madison Square Garden, but since she knew what a devoted Prince fan I'd become, she stepped aside and let me take the spot, and I saw my funk hero for the first time thanks to my mom's sacrifice.

So I've always hoped for a chance to pay her back by taking her to see the man, and last week I finally got the opportunity as we caught Mr. Nelson's 2nd of 3 shows at MSG. I asked my mom if she would write a review for the site, and here's what she put down:

It’s true that Prince’s concert was an entertainment masterpiece, balancing world-class musicianship with an exciting visual and entertainment spectacle carried off by both performers and crew with flair and flow.

It’s also true that the band was tighter than OJ’s glove.

But besides the superb writing, arranging, dancing, singing and playing, other things also stood out: the unbelievable diversity of the crowd! It seemed like every age, class, sensibility, lifestyle and appearance was there to see Prince. Also, Prince is a black artist who has crossed over and brought his own people with him. It’s a beautiful thing to see such a big diverse crowd of people supporting an artist of Prince’s stature.

He is as talented as Miles Davis, and could treat the audience with the same contempt and get away with it. Instead Prince charmed the audience with his warmth and playful sense of humor. Having seen Sammy Davis Jr. live, the same genius emanates from Prince as he sings, dances, talks and trades vibes with the audience as if a crowded Madison Square Garden was his living room. What can it feel like to hold the entire mass folks of folks in the Garden in the palm of your hand?

Maceo Parker sang “Georgia” as a tribute to Ray Charles—an unexpected and special treat!

Prince and his entire entourage, performers and crew, performed at 120%, and when the concert ended after 3 hours Prince was going strong.

Beside Sammy Davis Jr., the show echoed great artists and entertainers like Cab Calloway; Jimi Hendrix (Prince’s virtuoso guitar playing); of course James Brown (Prince is so funky I bet there’s some kind of undiscovered medical benefit from listening to his music); Stevie Wonder (the genius of Prince’s compositions and of his vocal performance); and Caetano Veloso (the sophisticated diversity of Prince’s compositions.) Prince belongs in the Pantheon!

What a mellow and happy crowd! The euphoria created by Prince’s concert could be a tool for world peace, because as they filed out of the Garden into New York’s concrete jungle, people looked way too mellow to fight, argue or have harsh words!

I've seen Prince about a dozen times now, and at least ten of them could vie for Best Show I've Ever Seen, but this one will always have a special place in my heart, since I got to share it with her. I'll just add a few notes about this show compared to the others I caught this year:

Prince is a master of making the rehearsed seem spontaneous, so who knows if he was just pulling the paisley over my eyes, but it seemed like he was really feeling it that night, extending and exploring the jams a little further than usual. He kept beatboxing patterns for John Blackwell to copy on the drums, then sometimes announcing a key for the band to groove on. When he went into "A Love Bizarre" it seemed like a surprise to the band, cuz they just stood there and let him accompany himself on guitar while the Blackwell stayed in the pocket. And in the part of his acoustic set where he usually does that "something's funky, is that your breath or mine" he seemed to be actually freestyling a new verse this time, starting each line with "I ain't got no more words, I'm making it up as I go along.."

But the biggest surprise for me was seeing him do a complete version of Bambi.. once he got about halfway through I was on the edge of my seat thinking "I know he's not gonna do the 'baby you need to bleed' part, right??" but sure enough he did it!

As much as I disagree with the message of that song, it was still kinda nice to see him loosen up that much, in this hyper-sanctified post-profanity era of his career. Maybe his current beliefs still allow little vulgarity, if it's in the name of promoting puritanism?

Then he followed Bambi up with his version of Led Zeppelin "Whole Lotta Love," which was cool to see in person.. he stayed on it a while and did a lot of soloing.

Anyway I could on forever, but you should know by now that when it comes to live performance, nobody is touching Mr. Nelson. Seriously, if you love music and haven't seen him yet, make it a priority. It's easy to tell yourself you can catch him next time around, but you never know what the future will bring.. I saw Curtis Mayfield a few weeks before his accident in 1990, never would have thought at the time I was catching one of the last concerts he'd ever do. And I'll always regret never having caught Ray Charles.. treasures like these you need to cherish, every chance you get.

Posted by jsmooth995 at July 20, 2004 12:14 AM

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