You know how there used to be no shortage of French teens crying and climbing over barricades to get to Michael Jackson? They became so enraptured it was like they were at a Southern revival, not a stadium. Minus the teary theatrics, the same kind of focused, feverish fervor goes on among the over-30 set at any Prince show. If you wanted to see grown folks screaming, dancing, and stomping their feet (when Prince dared to say goodnight), you should have been at Madison Square Garden last night.
In the final sold-out New York performance of his Welcome 2 America tour, a few things were instantly clear. One, no one cared that there were other famous people in attendance. Kim Kardashian onstage in a skin-tight dress was nearly ignored, and a bearded Chris Rock, who even sang a few lines, was given polite applause, but the crowd didn’t give a damn. Neither did Rock, who had the same schoolgirl-in-love look as the rest of the audience.
Two, a hip replacement and a conversion to Jehovah’s Witness weren’t the show-changers that a lot of people feared they could be. A Prince concert used to mean a lot of splits and crotch-rubbing. Last night the 52-year-old didn’t split once, though he did kick his leg up a lot. And no crotch-rubbing, either. But if that’s all you thought Prince had to give, just go and Netflix Purple Rain. With his hands off his genitals, he still kept it sexy, but he spared us the nasty (literally—the opening notes of “Nasty Girl” were played, but no more). “If I play this, somebody is gonna get pregnant,” he announced when “If I was Your Girlfriend” started, teasing the screaming crowd.
Finally, Prince may play about 30 instruments, but last night he only played three—the guitar, the piano, and the crowd. He told the typically stubborn New York audience to sing, we sang. He told us to stand up, stand we did. He told the MSG staff to turn off the lights, they didn’t listen, he told them again until they got it right. Then he instructed the crowd to take our cellphones out and wave the lights. And like teens with a lighter at Live Aid, we waved. The payoff for doing as we were told? Four encores, including a Michael Jackson cover, two Sly Stone songs, and even The Time’s “Cool.”
All this from a man who has proven that you can be taken seriously while standing atop a piano in red bell-bottomed stretch leggings, a red silk shirt, gold rope chains, and red wedge shoes. Norman Mailer once wrote of Muhammad Ali that "the vocabulary of Camp is doomed to appear. Women draw an audible breath. Men look down…" The same can be said of Prince, whose performances inspire nothing but the most overused clichés. “He’s so funky. It’s transcendent, magical. You need to just go yourself to understand.”
Beyond these yawn-inducing descriptions, here’s what Prince had to say last night: “I’ve got too many hits.” And, simply but so true: “Ain’t nobody bad like me.”