Editor’s Note: The following review appeared in The Charlotte Observer on August 4, 1997.
The Artist Formerly Known As Prince took a detour from his long ego trip Saturday.
His concert – loose, funky and energized – in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Charlotte Coliseum suggested he’s got more on his mind than himself as the Millennium approaches.
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First, there was the stage set-up: lean and uncluttered, with simple but effective lighting. No motorcycles, no bulky props, plenty of solo time for band members.
Then the song list: a surprising number of tunes by other artists.
A great version of the Staples' chestnut "I'll Take You There" preceded a James Brown tease ("Baby, baby, baaay-bah"), which slid into the Temptations’ “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” Next came the '60s party standard "Shout."
The medley (and the entire two-hour show, for that matter) unquestionably qualified for "Jam of the Year, " the name The Artist has given to his recently commenced world tour.
The only cover clunker was a version of Joan Osborne's "One of Us, " which suffered from poor pacing. Yet it worked in a different regard - thematically.
The Artist has always excelled at exploring the struggle between good and evil, God and Satan. With its familiar chorus of "What if God was one of us?" Osborne's song was a perfect lyrical vehicle for his spiritual examinations. It also made for a nice pairing with his own "The Cross, " a slow, mesmerizing song steeped in religious imagery, which The Artist performed in almost total darkness save for slivers of white light that splashed across him and his guitar. It was easily one of the night's highlights.
Those songs, juxtaposed with such sexually charged fare as the steamy "Little Red Corvette" and "Sexy M.F." (and his familiar bump-and-grind on the top of his piano) made for classic Prince . . . er, The Artist.
Emancipation was another recurring theme. At first blush it might have come across as a still-bitter (albeit still-rich) musician complaining about an allegedly unfair record deal signed years ago. But The Artist, true to his style of working in the larger picture, was able to relate it to the audience.
"How many in this house are free?" he asked. "How many are free from yourselves?"
Then he spoke of the need for harmony among humankind.
"Sooner or later, before 1999, we've got to find some common ground, y'all."
Many in this racially diverse crowd found it at this dynamic performance.
And that would have made the show a success even if it had not been as musically satisfying as it was.