Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Welcome back, Prince
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Welcome back, Prince

I dunno about you, but I find it fascinating that Prince played the Super Bowl halftime show tonight. It’s good to see him again, and damn, he looks good and he’s hot, ripping up the guitar like a diminutive, modern-day Hendrix.

It’s sort of weird to see him playing music so centered around his “Purple Rain” period, but cool to see the marching band playing along, though I can’t really hear them at all.

Just in the past few years during the Super Bowl halftime show we’ve seen Janet Jackson (with her “costume malfunction”) along with Justin Timberlake, P. Diddy, Kid Rock and Nelly; the Rolling Stones ad last year, Paul McCartney.

But Prince?

I wonder if Prince was much cheaper than the recent acts. Although he’s a terrific performer and an important part of rock and pop’s history two decades ago, it’s not like he’s a superstar on the level of the Stones or McCartney, and not exactly a hot name on the pop charts today.

I used to dote on his wealth of talent, though, in hose years before he got kinda weird and fought with his label, changed his name to a symbol and started dinking around with his music. In the ’80s period that included “Dirty Mind,” “Controversy,” “1999,” “Purple Rain,” “Around the World in a Day,” “Parade” and “Sign ? the Times,” Prince matched Michael Jackson for productivity and impact, and beat Jackson for stylistic range and creative unpredictability. The guy was always leaving fans ad critics guessing, but his music was almost always spot-on for quality, smarts and inventiveness.

He even managed to make a couple of movies: the mega-hit “Purple Rain” and the way under-rated commentary on race, “Under a Cherry Moon.” But after his career looped into obscurity, it was easy to toss off Prince as an oddball curiosity.

But maybe he’s back on track. He’s got some currency, with a Golden Globe for “Song of the Heat” from the hit animated flick, “Happy feet” (which also includes a version of his 1986 hit, “Kiss” sung by Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman), and a new club and residency at the Rio hotel in Las Vegas, where he plays every weekend.

I wouldn’t mind catching his act, especially if it’s anything like the Super Bowl performance, where it looked like he played with real heart even through the pouring rain, vibrant and connected to his music. In fact, he reminded me of the Prince who played with his band, the Revolution, about the time of his sprawling “Sign ? the Times” two-record set back in 1987.

He hadn’t planned on a tour stop in Denver, but a fortunate MTV viewer bin Wyoming won a private concert with the band, so they booked a show at Denver’s McNichols Arena (now a parking lot for Invesco Field), with The Time opening the show, and the fabulous and entrancingly sensual percussionist Sheila E. as part of the Revolution. In a strange cameo, Joni Mitchell appeared during the concert and sang a spooky vocal part.

The show rocked, rolled and had soul to spare, and was performed with stunning technical ability and synchronized precision.

I came out of the concert thinking I’d seen the absolute state of the pop music artform that night.

If Prince is holding forth anything close to that show in his Vegas stand, it would be worth the trip to see him.