Prince gives spirited crowd exactly what it came for

Prince (pictured in East Rutherford, N.J., last Wednesday night) lit up Madison Square Garden on Saturday. Prince (pictured in East Rutherford, N.J., last Wednesday night) lit up Madison Square Garden on Saturday. (The New York Times)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / December 20, 2010

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NEW YORK — Christmas came a week early and wrapped in a purple bow for Prince fans as the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer took to the stage at a sold-out Madison Square Garden Saturday night for a potent reminder of his royal badness.

Picking a highlight from the fiercely funky hour-and-40-minute performance, the first of three at the Garden over the next month, is nearly impossible given the breathless pace with which Prince and his seven-piece backing band careered from song to song. In his gleefully demented genius fashion, the 52-year-old Minneapolis rocker jammed together familiar tunes, deep cuts, and offbeat covers in a whirlwind of guitar heroics, astonishing vocal flights, fleet footwork, and, of course, a shower of purple confetti. “Too many hits!’’ the clearly jazzed Prince crowed at one point, and that was no idle boast as an early run included turbocharged takes on “Baby I’m a Star,’’ “The Beautiful Ones’’ — including a twirl with a ballerina— “Let’s Go Crazy,’’ “Delirious,’’ and “1999.’’

He thrilled diehards in attendance by asking, “What y’all know about ‘Dirty Mind’?’’ as he stormed into “Uptown’’ from that 1980 album and reclaimed a little “Cool’’ from his Minneapolis brethren the Time.

A spirited crowd singalong of “Raspberry Beret’’ topped with the sexy romp “Cream’’ kept the momentum going, and the appearance of former Prince drummer and protégé Sheila E. to duet on “U Got the Look’’ and work out her own “The Glamorous Life,’’ pushed the already hot proceedings into the red zone.

The regular set ended in majestic style with a righteous take on “Nothing Compares 2 U’’ — in which Prince testified atop his purple piano in an ecstatic call and response with a female backing singer — segued into an epic, 10-minute take on “Purple Rain,’’ complete with a Prince guitar solo that was as soulful as it was searing.

A sassy encore of “Kiss’’ was followed by a nutty all-star finale run through Sheila E.’s “A Love Bizarre’’ in which Prince invited a couple of dozen of the bold-faced names in attendance onstage to get down. The sight of Spike Lee and opener Sinbad shaking tambourines as Questlove of the Roots held down the drum kit, Jamie Foxx shimmied in a silent reverie, and Cornel West and Whoopi Goldberg danced a jaunty waltz down the runway of the stage in the shape of Prince’s trademark glyph perfectly underscored the show’s giddy party vibe.

To the delight of early arrivals, Prince dropped into opener Larry Graham and Graham Central Station’s rollicking early set. Rocking a snazzy cape and hat combo, the first of his three costumes, Prince helped Graham through a medley of classics from the bassist’s former band Sly and the Family Stone including “Everyday People’’ and “Higher.’’

Sarah Rodman can be reached at

PRINCE At: Madison Square Garden, New York, Saturday (repeats Dec. 29 and Jan. 18)