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Wednesday, July 14, 2004
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF WHY PRINCE IS COOLER THAN YOU--AND BY 'YOU' I MEAN EVERYONE EVERYWHERE--BASED ON HIS NYC CONCERT 7/12/04
#1: He really goes with the "musicology" thing.
- Except what he means is "the musicology of Prince." The show begins with a greatest-hits showreel culminating in a cross-cut clip of his induction into the RnR HoF that serves as an introduction. And it goddamn works.
- Two of the horn players appear at one point in doctoral robes. Not just graduation robes, but specifically PhD robes, with the sash and everything. You just know this was specifically requested. This is sort of my definition of "awesome."
- During "D.M.S.R." he says, "I think we got a lot of young folk in the house tonight. They're here to learn. Maybe they know this one." And then the band plays the hook from "Crazy in Love." Which is, of course, actually the hook from the Chi-Lite's "Are You My Woman." This makes me start weeping. Then they play the hook from "The Way You Move."
#2: He doesn't really need a band.
- He begins a "cool it down" acoustic set by playing three of the best pop songs of the last twenty years--"Little Red Corvette," "Cream," and "Rasberry Beret."
- He interrupts the chorus of "Cream" to say, "You know I wrote this looking in the mirror, right?"
- The acoustic set lasts 45 minutes. This is to say, he does an acoustic set as long as most band's entire sets. This, too, works.
#3: He makes technical mastery into something other than self-indulgent wanking.
- He plays guitar at different times just like Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, and either Jimmy Page or the guitarist dude from Aerosmith. I don't mean the notes--I mean the actual physical movements. Prince has realized, I think, that as good as dance/funk/soul is for working a crowd and getting a party started, the only thing in pop that's ever topped the attraction of a singer at a microphone is the lead guitarist. Rock really nailed this trick; there's something about the guitar as a physical object that allows it to be manipulated in eminently dramatic and charismatic ways.
- The drummer--who is probably the best drummer I've ever seen--spins his drumsticks. But he doesn't spin them like Tommy Lee spins them, i.e. during a part where he's only using his feet or one hand. He spins them in the middle of the beat, in the half second he has between hitting the snare and hitting it again. He does this all night. It's awesome. If you're ever bored, you can pretty much just look at him.
- Even the songs we don't know work. The band does what I'm told funk bands are supposed to do, keep everyone dancing, keep everyone excited, even when there's no hook of recognition or theatrical display or lyrical interest. Just playing through (and it doesn't need to be said that they flow from song to song in a way I don't even try to understand) they keep up a groove that has an independent worth. They're incredible musicians all playing incredibly well--and I'm not bored. It sure makes indie rock look stupid.
#4 And so forth.
- He has a cushion pile that he just throws his guitar in. Later, he lets his guitar sit on the stage and walks around it carefully, letting it make random bursts of noise, manipulating it from time to time with a wah pedal. It's not the noise-rock wash of sound noise, but little odd bursts. Then an assistant comes out with a white cloth and covers the guitar and carries it offstage. Yes.
- He gets applause from sitting down and reading a magazine. No, really.
- He closes with "Nothing Compares 2 U" and "Purple Rain." He plays the symbol guitar during "Purple Rain." Previously, he has played "Kiss" and "Seven" and "Go Crazy" and good, good lord.
AND, JUST TO BE BALANCED, A FEW REASONS WHY PRINCE MIGHT NOT BE THAT COOL
- When he plays "Cream" on an acoustic guitar, Dave Matthews does not just up and die of shame.
- You look at him as a musician and you know that not only will you never be a better singer, or songwriter, or guitarist, or performer, or dancer than him--you will never be better than him in any of these areas. And you're not 4'11" and from Minnesota.