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Archive Music Review | Oct. 21, 1988

Prince puts on a royal show at Centrum

Prince performed at the Worcester Centrum on October 20, 1988.
Prince performed at the Worcester Centrum on October 20, 1988. Jim Wilson/Globe Staff

This review originally appeared in the Boston Globe on Friday, October 21, 1988.

WORCESTER -- The stage was quiet. “For one brief second, let’s imagine that God is funky, that God is cool,” Prince said as though this were an arena-sized tent show. “For one brief second, let’s imagine that he’s going to let us have fun tonight.”

A strange thing to say? No doubt. But God must have obliged, because the good times came in rapid bunches last night in the spectacular start of Prince’s three-night stand at the Centrum.

Prince pulled out all the stops, delivering a 2 1/2-hour knockout that crossed Broadway theatrics with the gleeful buoyancy of “The Wizard of Oz.”

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It was a kinetic assault on the senses that restored his place as Prince of Pomp while adding a new title of King of Versatility. He excelled at everything from blues to funk to country to cabaret to heavy metal -- a quite unbelievable cross-section of material from his nearly decade-long career.

“Anybody want to freak out for a minute this evening?” Prince asked like a congenially chic emcee, while freaking out in his own right during mad romps across the stage, ending in acrobatic leg splits, spiraling pirouettes, screeching falsetto vocal flights and trusty James Brown drop-to-the-knee heroics.

Prince has been a maestro of spectacle before -- think back to his 1984 ‘‘Purple Rain” tour -- but that didn’t compare to this tour for sheer scope. Last night’s special effects registered high on the dazzle scale throughout, from the atmospheric sheets of fog that came from under and above the omni-level circular stage, to blinding lights from two oversized mirror balls and from 10 spotlight holders perched in the rafters.

There were the much-publicized props of an automobile hydraulically lifted up and down; an authentic basketball rim which Prince shot at when the mood struck (he wasn’t the best shot in the world); and a playground swing set used for romantic interludes and dialogues with his dancer, Cat Glover.

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“What do you want tonight -- a pilot, a fireman or a trapeze artist?” Prince asked while she sat in the swing at one point. He then jumped on top of the swing -- apparently deciding she wanted a trapeze artist that night -- and caused the crowd to go absolutely bonkers.

Before the night was done, Prince had jumped everywhere, including onto a bed brought out to the center of the stage. He did a flying leg split onto the bed, then chucked a couple of pillows out into the screaming audience.

Where was the band during all of this? In a very high-tech display, they cruised the theater-in-the-round with wireless instruments (including a wireless trumpet) and wraparound headset mikes that allowed them to sing backup. They also wore outrageous clothes, including guitarist Miko Weaver’s Sgt. Pepper outfit which made him look as though he were leading a New Orleans marching band on acid.

Visually, this was an unforgettable night, but musically it was even better. The first set featured older songs from Prince’s nasty dance-club days, among them a few whose titles can’t be printed in this paper. There were some light moments -- a breezy version of the hit, “Little Red Corvette” -- together with some striking virtuosity from Prince. He sang an improvised blues number that stood out most of all. It was capped by a smoky duet with Bessie Smith-like backup singer Boni Boyer; and taken home by some stirring,

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bent-note Prince guitar licks that would have made Eric Clapton take notice.

Never before, in fact, has Prince played so much guitar -- and never so brilliantly. In his second set, which featured material from his latest album, ‘‘Lovesexy,” he really turned it up a notch, concluding the song “The Cross” with a grinding, Jimi Hendrix-level solo that could well have shattered glasses over in Shrewsbury.

What else to complete the picture? Oh, just some ‘50s shooby-be-dooby music, some gifted acoustic guitar playing and the usual assortment of throbbing funk numbers filled with erotic release.

This was Prince at his razzle-dazzle, soul-shaking best -- and there’s still a chance to see him, for tickets remain to his shows both tonight and tomorrow. If there’s any way you can get to the Centrum, don’t miss him.