Originally Published in June 1997
In the summer of 1996, I had the great honor of witnessing His Royal Badness perform at the Electric Factory, a small concert hall that holds about 3000 people. It’s actually an old factory, so it’s just one big long rectangular room. There is also a big balcony with a big bar. Unfortunately by the time we got in, the bar was too crowded so we ended up standing in the middle of the room, close to one wall.
The Electric Factory is located in a not-so-upscale section of Philadelphia. As we walked to the end of the line to get in, (which stretched for about five blocks), I was given the opportunity to purchase either marijuana or cocaine on numerous occasions. Due to my date and the numerous officers of the law roaming about, I reluctantly declined their fine wares. Along with the “psst…hey buddy…” types, one enterprising individual had folded a newspaper in half to form a makeshift tray, on which he displayed a selection of vials. The ambiance was completed by several cars with smashed out windows. For those unfortunate fans of “The Artist” the peace/love/soul vibe probably wore off pretty quickly. As we left the show, two different individuals gave me the opportunity to compensate them for “watching my car.” Again I had to regretfully decline, especially in light of the fact that the parking had numerous security guards, and these fellas were not them.
On to the show. The Artist does not travel with an opening act. The Artist does not need the crowd warmed up. Instead of an opening act, the two hours between the doors opening and show time were filled with a mix of soul, funk, R&B, and rock tunes. The one thing they had in common: all were by The Artist. So The Artist opened up for himself, which I think is a perfectly appropriate touch of megalomania for one of the true musical geniuses of our time.
Now the crowd was a thing of beauty; something different was going on at each point of the compass. To the east were a white couple in their 30s, who looked like they should be at a Whitesnake concert. To the west a dapper black couple in their 40s, dressed up for a night on the town. North were two twenty-something, white city girls, who had seen The Artist many times. South were two twenty-something, black city girls, babies with back who let out a joyful scream with The Artist’s every gyration. When the lights went down and The Artist unleashed the funk, we were one. Well, almost all of us were one. There are assholes in every crowd, and in this crowd they were all young, white and wealthy. A steady stream of little rich bitches attempted to push their way to the front, assuming that daddy’s $60 ticket and their own inherent fabulousness entitled them. The capper was two couples who arrived one hour into the show shoved their way in front of us and proceeded to look bored. While maintaining their cool the one little princess wasn’t feeling so well, so her big strong boyfriend had to hold her up and ask her if she was “OK” every 5 seconds. I almost answered for her: “No, I’m not OK. I am spoiled little fucking princess who had nothing better to spend her money on this weekend, so I came to the show which I didn’t really want to see but it was too cold to go the Vineyard and I wrecked my Cabriolet and there’s not enough coke and I really should just kill myself because I don’t deserve to be here.”
Prince summed up the show in the middle on the fourth song when he repeatedly asked the crowd, “Am I getting too funky too fast for y’all?” In fact, he was. Each song was sweatier then the last. His star power was unmatched by any performer I have seen. I would guess that 90 percent of the audience, men and women, would fellate His Royal Organ. He absolutely controls the room, and his presence combined with the incredibly tight New Power Generation was absolutely overwhelming, breaking my comments into fragments. Five minute Hendrix guitar solo on darkened stage to open… Larry Graham… legendary basis for Sly Stone… “Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again)” into “You Can Make it If U Try” into “Everyday People”… fuck!… “Purple Rain” while many tears were shed… “Delirious” hits two hours into the show and I’m dead on my feet… too much… too good..
I will always hate myself for this, but I left the show after two-and-a-half hours. Prince had beaten me into submission. There is only so much greatness that you can absorb. It’s like walking around the Louvre for five hours: after a while you’re thinking “Oh… look… another incredibly timeless work of art…”
After I left, he played for another hour. I considered suicide when I read the set list to find “Alphabet Street” was the first song played after I left. The encore consisted of “Kiss” and “Get Off”. But honestly, I’m not disappointed that I missed it. No other song could add or subtract from the magnificence of the greatest show I have ever witnessed.
Prince wants to give you a little LOVE