What if you gave a party and everyone came?
That was the theme last night at Madison Square Garden for Prince, who played to a sold-out, packed audience of fervent fans who sang along to almost every song and danced to the music whenever they could.
The irony, of course, is that Prince has not had a hit record since around 1991. For most of the last decade he's presented himself as strange, eccentric, inaccessible and contentious.
But the new Prince for 2004 is all but Prozac-ed and ready for fun. He's been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has a best-selling album (thanks to a stroke of marketing genius) and is clearly ready to stake his place in rock history.
There are many Princes, too: The one who commanded the Garden's stage was forthright, humorous and bigger than life. He wore a white suit, a black suit and one that was half and half. He finished the show with a purple suit and performed the entire 2-hour and 40-minute set in platform shoes.
The Prince who turned up later, around 1:20 a.m., at the new nightclub PM (which I think stands for "Please Move," since if you're not a celebrity or a model, the club's goons don't let you sit), wore a dark cape and a white knit cap that made him look like Carol Channing in "Thoroughly Modern Millie."
He chatted amiably with both Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Mariah Carey, although neither one of them, I believe, caught Prince's extraordinary show. Maybe they'll come tonight or tomorrow night, after the Garden appointments, when the long-lashed musical savant takes over B.B. King's in Times Square.
Prince performs this show, dubbed "Musicology" after his new album, in the round, as it were. His stage is set up at center court, and there are two bisecting runways so he can play to all four corners of the stadium.
With his high-charged band (including Candy Dulfer and James Brown's legendary horn man Maceo Parker on sax) Prince puts out more energy and genuine excitement than poor Madonna could even dream of at this point.
Prince's ticket price is also considerably less, and includes the price of the "Musicology" album, which every ticket holder receives when he walks in the door.
The show is bracketed by two old R&B hits — Archie Bell & the Drells' "Tighten Up" and Sam & Dave's "Soul Man." In between, there are nods to Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, and OutKast. What Prince wisely delivers all at the same time are his influences (James Brown, Sly Stone) and music of his disciples.
In between, he offers a glimpse into his own persona, with snippets of "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy," and "1999" mixed in with "I Feel For You," "Nothing Compares 2 U," "Controversy," "Seven," "Sign O' the Times" and the incomparably catchy sing along of "Take Me With You."
The best part of the show, though, is an acoustic solo performance that puts Prince on a chair onstage under a spotlight with just his guitar. There, he one-by-one picked off elegant versions of "Little Red Corvette," "Cream," "Raspberry Beret," "Alphabet Street" and "Purple Rain."
The intimacy of the setting made him seem more real than he has in years. During a singalong on "Cream," when the audience got a little lost, Prince declared: "Don't tell me this is a bunch of lip-synchers! This ain't MTV, Judy!" he said, referring to MTV chief Judy McGrath.
He also took some shots at his old label, Warner Bros., despite stories that he's in negotiations with them to issue remastered CDs.
"Warner Bros. used to be a friend of mine/Now they're just a monumental waste of time," he rapped. He said of the Warner execs: "They get older, but I look the same."
He almost launched into an Elvis Presley song, stopped himself, and quipped: "You've got to be a Prince before you can be a King."
As I mentioned before, every audience member got a copy of the "Musicology" album on the way into the show. This is really a bit of genius, although it's also been controversial.
"Musicology" is now at the 1.1 million sales mark, but several hundred thousand units counted in that figure come from this unique approach: Include the album in the ticket price so that the show fans automatically become purchasers of the CD. It's a brilliant idea and one that I'm sure will be copied soon by other acts who can't get their fans into record stores.
But here's a word to Prince: You may yet get a bill from your new record label, Columbia, for last night's soirée. The Cristal Champagne was flowing freely and so was the Hennessy cognac. And that was before the celebrities arrived.
Yesterday's story about the new rock group, Leroy, certainly stirred up a lot of interest. I'm told that Damon Dash has already made a significant offer for the band. Atlanta's Rasputin-ish legal eagle, Joel Katz, has signed them to his care. Johnny Onyems will handle managing duties.
Leroy's members are indeed quite close to actor Leonardo DiCaprio — so close that some of them are living in Leo's Hollywood home with him and the newly installed Gisele Bündchen.
Leo is said to have grown up with one member of the group, named Alex. The Brit Stuart Zender, who I told you about yesterday, is also chez DiCaprio.
The group has put together a six-song demo for prospective record companies, and I got a chance to hear it last night.
Let's put it this way: Coldplay, currently recording at New York's Hit Factory, should be a little worried. Leroy sounds like their direct descendant, with Radiohead of course as the grandfather. One track, called "Hold On," should be a radio staple in no time.
I'm told the weekend all-star recording of "Wake Up Everybody" with Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds was a big hit. Wyclef Jean, Mary J. Blige, Ashanti, Musiq, Floetry, Eve and Monica were among the artists who participated in New York. Recording resumes today and tomorrow in Los Angeles.
"Wake Up Everybody" will likely be issued on Universal Records or from the Universal Music Group. It's supposed to be for voter awareness, but it is definitely pitched to the Democratic side. But what a great idea — perfect song, too, and nice group of artists.
If I were Michael Jackson, I'd high-tail it over to Capitol studios ASAP.