with Chaka Kahn
Madison Square Garden, NYC • September 25, 1998
It seems like it was just yesterday that Prince toured as a support act with the Rolling Stones and was booed off the stage for singing songs about jacking other guys off and stuff like that. What a crazy guy! These days, he’s not even called Prince anymore. Now he is called “The Artist.” People really do refer to him as “The Artist,” as in “I was at McDonald’s with The Artist and he ordered the new McVeggie burger.” If you think I’m kidding, honey, you weren’t waiting two hours at the Madison Square Garden will-call window for your tickets to see his freaking concert. I actually heard the Vice President of Sony Music scream at a member of his entourage: “I am here because ‘The Artist’ asked me to be here! Now, where are my laminates?”
So, there I was, at Madison Square Garden with my home-girl, Linda, to see The Artist (I’m just calling him Prince) and boy was it fun with a capital ‘F’! The only downside was, after the aforementioned two-hour wait for our tickets, we missed the Chaka Kahn meet and greet and most of the first opening act, funk bassist Larry Graham and his band. Things got better from that point on. First off, we had third row seats… yes, third freaking row. Do I love my life? Yes, I do.
Chaka Khan was up next, and she was pretty bodacious. You know Chaka put the funk by the sheer fact that she recorded a song where the bulk of the lyrics were built around the repetitious chanting of her name. The first time I saw Chaka Kahn was with her band, Rufus: I was 15 years old and they were opening for The Who. “Tell Me Something Good” was the hit, and you probably weren’t even born yet. Chaka still looks and sounds fabulous! Chaka’s set included new arrangements of all her hits like “Sweet Thing,” “I Feel For You” — when she was joined briefly by Prince for a little sing-along (Prince and Chaka, they feel for each other, you can tell), and “You Got the Love.” The Mighty Ms. Khan has a new record out called Come 2 My House, on Prince’s NPG label, from which she performed her new single, “Spoon” — a slow groove funk chunk suitable for getting on down in whatever way you fancy. She ended the set with her first big hit, “Tell Me Something Good” (which was written by Stevie Wonder) and returned to encore with “I’m Every Woman,” a Chaka signature show-stopper back when Whitney Houston was in diapers. All together now, Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan…
While everyone was running around between sets buying $5 slices of pizza and trying to get into the ladies room, there was that usual “You’re sitting in my seat” thing going on in the rows around us, as seat stealers were kicked back to the boonies. A few seats were vacated in the row Linda and I were in and, when all was said and done, guess who was sitting in the very seat in closest proximity to my body? None other than JFK Jr.! I shit you not folks; JFK Jr. was sitting in the seat right next to me! Have I made myself clear on that? Sure, he was in disguise, but I recognized him even before he took off his yellow-tinted glasses and beanie. As if this wasn’t exciting enough, Prince came on and abandoned his anticipated soul review in favor of this Las Vegas-style review of his hits. It was amazing!
I know he’s a diminutive man but in person he’s so teeny tiny and cute — he looks like a little pixie running around. The man does it all, plays guitar and piano, sings, dances, does the splits, bounces back up in a beat and works his mojo like nobody’s business. “People said I’d never sell-out this place,” he said before launching into one of his early hits, “Delirious,” following that with — surprisingly — “Purple Rain.” MC Doug E. Fresh made a few appearances and it was generally a total party atmosphere. The elaborate stage include a purple grand piano, a fur covered keyboard, faux flames a-flying, giant manacled legs suspended at the back of the set, and even an appearance by a voluptuous belly dancer who turned out to be Prince’s wife, Maite. She looks like she could break him in half.
The show continued with mini-medley’s of selected hits like “Little Red Corvette” into “Raspberry Beret,” or “Darling Nikki” segueing into the song that Sinead O’Conner made famous, “Nothing Compares 2 U.” When Prince extolled the audience to “push it up, push it up,” well, John-John had his hands in the air with the rest of us. John-John gets jiggy! It was pretty surreal. (Once, his sweatered arm brushed against my bare arm as we rocked out. I was secretly hoping he would flail out of control and crash into me, so I’d have a reason to speak to him. Alas, this did not occur.)
“Take Me With You, “I Would Die For You,” and “Diamonds and Pearls” were thrown into the mad mix of razzle dazzle, and then he was off, back for an encore, and gone for good. If you have never seen a performance by Prince, The Artist, Symbol Guy, or whatever he’s calling himself this time next year, do yourself a favor and spring for tickets. There’ no one else like him.
(The day after his NYC show, Prince slipped on a puddle of condensed fog-machine mist and sprained his ankle, forcing him to cancel the remaining four dates of the show. Heal soon, little Prince!)