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Pop Music Review

Past or Present, Prince Near Perfect

April 22, 2002|NATALIE NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"If you're looking to get your 'Purple Rain' on in here, you've come to the wrong party," Prince told his Kodak Theatre audience Friday during a concert largely emphasizing his current jazz-flavored album, "The Rainbow Children."

Yeah, right.

By the end of the sexy 'n' satisfying, almost three-hour show, the first of two consecutive nights, the veteran performer and his stellar quintet definitely hadn't played as many hits as at his 2001 Hollywood Palladium appearance. But he did do "Purple Rain," while bathed in lavender light, no less. Not that the crowd of mostly die-hard fans would have complained if he didn't. And why should they?

In recent years, Prince has devoted himself to his followers and all but shut out the outside world. But where once that seemed the result of his having lost the plot, on Friday the perfectly executed new material, along with everything else, made his self-marginalization more a real shame for pop. For he hasn't lost a step artistically and still has things to teach.

In a streamlined presentation, sans last year's backing vocalists and dancer, he sang beautifully and poured on the funky-to-bluesy, hard-to-delicate, Hendrix-esque guitar solos and intricate, expressive keyboard work. Even the esoteric religious mythology that made "Rainbow" so cumbersome was thankfully overshadowed by the innovative, often heavy and slightly distorted soul-jazz-funk.

Wearing a hot-pink suit, Prince soaked up the love, joyously leading the band through on-a-dime changes, playfully interacting with fans, and commenting on such concerns as slavery, radio consolidation and racial profiling. And when he did offer such favorites as "Raspberry Beret" and "When You Were Mine," they were full renditions, rather than the snippets heard in previous performances. Which made those moments even sweeter.

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