This review originally appeared in the Boston Globe on Saturday, April 5, 1986.
In a word: steamy. In another: exhausting. And a third: exhilarating. Prince, the dimunitive funk-rocker from Minneapolis, hit the Metro stage barechested and in a whirlwind of motion, and went on to play for 2 1/2 hours with his 11-piece group, the Revolution. It was Prince’s first gig following the release of his “Parade” album, and, to date, the only scheduled US gig. (Yesterday, Prince flew to France for three weeks of film work.) Thursday began as An Event -- Prince, one of the most popular of pop stars actually playing a club, hordes of hopeful fans in Lansdowne street, tickets selling for as much as $300. But it came off as less of a mega-hype, media circus than it did a long, hot bath of sensual, highly rhythmic funk- rock. And make no mistake, the emphasis was on the funk.
Opening with “Around the World in a Day” and “Christopher Tracy’s Parade,” Prince immediately cast a sexual spell about the packed club. With ease, he restated his claim as the most erotic man in rock ‘n’ roll. Prince is not as blatant as he was in his early days (and at his Metro show five years ago) but even -- or especially -- in the context of his newer love songs, sexuality is never far from the surface. “Let’s go fishin’ in the river of love,” was his sly come-on in “New Position.”
Prince is also one of the most mercurial, enigmatic men in pop music. Thursday, the Metro crowd did not hear Prince the Pop Craftsman or Prince the Hitmaker, the man who penned “Little Red Corvette,” “1999,” “Let’s Go Crazy” or “When Doves Cry.” Those songs, largely responsible for Prince’s mainstream breakthrough, were omitted from the set; included were six songs
from “Parade,” highlighted by the slinky single “Kiss,” and bump-and- grind chestnuts such as “Head,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and ‘‘Controversy.”
After forays into pop/hard rock (“Purple Rain”) and neo-psychedelia (“Around the World in a Day”), Prince’s show represented a return to his early funk roots, even more so than “Parade.” Prince has often been compared to Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, other black musicians who crossed over to the (black and white) mainstream. At the Metro, though, as Prince uttered a series of gutteral “Good God!” cries, he seemed more to be following in the footsteps of that primal funkateer, James Brown. The star musician was not Prince (the guitarist), but the monster rhythm section of bassist Brown Mark and drummer Bobby Z., aided by the scratch guitar work of Wendy Melvain and Mico Weaver. The lead instrumentalists were saxophonist Eric Leeds and trumpeter Matt Bliston; they contributed an array of honking, staccato bursts over the churning rhythms. There were departures -- the churchy, but guitar- crazed, “Purple Rain,” the rousing surprise boogie of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” the silly and singsongy “Raspberry Beret” -- but mostly this was hard-driving, blistering funk.
Clearly, for Prince, the fun is back: It looked like there was no other place in the world he wanted to be. At Providence Civic Center in 1983, that was hardly the case. He played but an hour and put on a rote show, as if to say “Baby, I’m a star” and you have the privilege of paying and watching me compress my hits into medleys. He was also distant from his band. Thursday, Prince was close to the audience and vice versa. There was also a winning, warm camaraderie within the band; Prince is obviously the bandleader, but he’s also one of the boys and girls. He frequently performed choreographed dance steps with his male backing vocal/percussion trio, Jerome Benton, Wally Safford and Greg Brooks, and guitarist Malvain.
The band was tight, but also appealingly rough and raw. They pumped up the thick grooves, expanding and stretching them as far as they could. Moreover, they were proud. To borrow the title of an old Clash song, it seemed Prince and the Revolution wanted to be seen as the last gang in town. During ‘‘Controversy,” they launched into an extended, shoutalong coda of a cocky ‘‘Ain’t nobody bleep with us!” But there were other sides, too. Prince can be a ham and was willing to play the clown Prince, too -- pretending to rough up a photographer and then preening for him. At the end of the night, Prince muffed the band intros, laughed and said “We’re a bunch of fools in this band.” Ah yes, fools for love. And sex. Long may Prince reign.