His purple reign of the charts may be behind him, but the Artist Formerly Known as Prince can still easily fend off any new jacks from usurping his throne onstage, as evidenced by the sweaty, torrid, two and a half-hour affair conducted at the venue formerly known as Billboard Live.

His purple reign of the charts may be behind him, but the Artist Formerly Known as Prince can still easily fend off any new jacks from usurping his throne onstage, as evidenced by the sweaty, torrid, two and a half-hour affair conducted at the venue formerly known as Billboard Live.

Following appearances earlier in the week on “Vibe” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” he offered a surprise setlist largely culled from “New Power Soul,” the first disc solely credited to his group New Power Generation (though it’s still only his likeness that graces the cover) on his own label, NPG Records.

While some of its songs appear a bit behind the curve for late ’90s hip-hop coming from such an ’80s icon (the opening title track features the catchy yet trite chorus of “Get freaky/let the head bob”), it’s clear that these tunes were constructed with live performance in mind.

And come alive they did. Roaming the small stage like a panther, he busted moves with audience members, reached soulful falsetto notes, soloed and comped on keys effortlessly and ignited the funkiest wah-wah guitar licks since Hendrix.

Along about 1:30 a.m. or so, he finally brought the tempo down with the slow-burning “The One,” arriving like an afterglow amid the hot ‘n’ heavy numbers, but it wasn’t long before he strapped it back on and went at it again.

New labelmate Larry Graham gave assists on bass on a number of occasions, with the legendary Sly and the Family Stone member going toe to toe with the Artist on a particularly incendiary “I Want to Take You Higher.”

Lightweight pop hits like “Take Me With U,” “Raspberry Beret” and others in his catalog received appropriate cursory treatment.

The Artist

Key Club; 700 capacity; $40

Production

Presented inhouse. Reviewed July 25, 1998.

With

Band: Mr. Hayes, Marva King, Rev. Scott, Ka J, Rhonda Smith.
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