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PRINCE (Sheffield Arena, Sheffield, England) ONCE UPON a time-warp, Black Superman Cassius Clay adopted Islam and name-switched to Muhammad Ali.
Andy Darlington, 08 Sep 1993
PRINCE (Sheffield Arena, Sheffield, England)
ONCE UPON a time-warp, Black Superman Cassius Clay adopted Islam and name-switched to Muhammad Ali. He teased press conference white journalists slow to adjust to the alteration with playful menace, taunting "What's my name? What's my name?". Through this combination of technical brilliance and charm Clay/Ali intimidated the media into accepting his new and fiercely black identity.
Prince Rogers Nelson plays a similar game, if for more complex and less obvious motives.
"What's my name?" he pouts.
"PRINCE" the audience howls in impressive unison.
"Naaa," sniggers his Royal Lowness as an arc of fireworks light up the side of the stage in the unpronouncably interlocking male/female symbol he now seems to prefer. "This is my name. I love you." His reasons are less easy to sociologically and psychologically profile than it was for Clay/Ali. Stunt? Rebirth? Regeneration? The dissemination of a pleasing rage of tabloid wordzak and P.R. confusion? Play it how you will, the little guy from Minneapolis who created himself as an excitingly eclectic amalgam of Hendrix, Little Richard and James Brown, is now entirely in possession of his own identity. Whatever he chooses to name it, he's in complete control. Small, but perfectly informed.
Prince still (Purple) reigns.
The Arena is electric. Four Non Blondes are a feel-good band dressed to distress, with only the gnawing flaws of repetition to distract from their set, Linda Perry's vocals taking skew-back gradients of some considerable power through 'No Place Like Home' or 'Morphine and Chocolate'. And while she might "pray for revolution" Prince is already way beyond his revolution, and its replacement, the New Power Generation, look to be up for a trade-in too.
An awkward forty minutes time-lag between sets is followed by the first bars of 'My Name Is Prince', and a bizarre figure robed head-to-foot is trapezed on-stage with the punch of a runaway ICBM . . . until the unveiling reveals not Prince, but shapely dancer Mayte. It's an early exercise in illusion and sexual confusion introducing a Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret that's beyond genre and gender, defined not only by fury and fashion, but art and artifice too.
From 'Sexy MF' and 'Let's Go Crazy' to 'Purple Rain', from 'Little Red Corvette' and 'Sign O' The Times' to 'Kiss', Prince ransacks the most startlingly innovative repertoire of the last decade. It's a surreal dream of being in a vast stadium-size Moulinex Blender while a voice from the sky shouts obscenities through an intoxication of profane rhythms and a blaze of stereotronic colour.
His guitar is a howling hunger of sensation. Hendrix and Robocop in an acid-bath. Then a shut-off into splurges of romantic piano, packaged into surges of solid electronic dance rhythms set to stun.
If Prince once saw his competition as Michael Jackson or Madonna, then he's fabulating all those personae into a single encore that outshines the opposition, perhaps before trading it all in for whatever is to replace it. He even does a searing '1999', delivered with a technical brilliance and charm that hypnotises this mass into accepting whatever rules he dresses it all up in.
Prince is now simply beyond comparison.
• Andrew Darlington