Prince and the Sweet Smell of Success

Maybe you can bottle genius and sell it in a store

5:00 p.m. Saturday, July 7, Macy's Auditorium, Minneapolis

If we all look alike to outsiders, we parka-wearers of the plains, if we seem white-bread and seatbelt-safe and exasperatingly insular and predictable, inside we are alive with quirks and kinks and liquid deviance. Garrison Keillor reps us to the world as cautious creatures with all the creativity and sex appeal of a band of hobbits. And maybe that's not as unfair as we might feel.

There are wild and fantastic places that actually deserve to claim Prince as their own—New Orleans, or Machu Picchu, or Oz, for instance. But nobody needs his particular reflected glory more than Minnesotans. There is not another state in the union where foppish androgyny, orgasmic howls, and molten creative genius can do as much good.

Prince: Nothing Compares 2 Eau
Nick Vlcek
Prince: Nothing Compares 2 Eau

To wit, as a sensible person (or someone who at least owns a sensible pair of shoes), I can't imagine Prince is too personally involved in this whole 3121 fragrance thing—the nominal purpose for his one-night stand. That said, I'm not arrogant enough to think I understand the inner workings of genius. In about a week, the link between Prince's three-concert blowout and his promotional obligations for his new perfume will be totally forgotten.

What will remain? The prospect of seeing Prince at First Avenue for the first time in 20 years has people in hysterics. They are sleeping on the sidewalks, roasting in the sun, anything to get that ticket. But aside from his special connection with the venue, will anything about the show separate it from the two-a-night gigs he's been playing in Las Vegas and Los Angeles?

The perfume launch at Macy's in downtown Minneapolis is short but glamorous and otherworldly, not unlike Victoria Beckham. Of course it sells out, of course it starts late—that's to be expected. But who would have guessed that Alejandro Escovedo's niece would be here, with her pink-rose-printed timbales?

Sheila E. and Prince are both 49 years old—Lady Bathory should have aged so well—and the grown and sexy take the stage together and let loose with "3121," "Girls and Boys," and "Glamorous Life."

They kill it on "Take Me With U," but "Let's Go Crazy," the finale, is the thriller, as the Kid pours all the spark and clamor of his eight-piece band into an explosion.

At the end, Prince turns around, stretches out his arms, and throws his weight backward—a stage dive crossed with a trust fall. Earlier, he'd pitched his guitar into the two feet of space in front of the audience (a stagehand had been lurking right there to catch it) and the abrupt recklessness of that move made me gasp in fear. But there was nothing alarming in watching Prince descend into the crowd.

I couldn't imagine any ill effects from having Prince land on me. First, he's a flyweight. Second, he's a creature of magic and radiance. It's likely that if you broke his fall, some of his energy would transfer into you and you'd walk away with special kissing powers that could heal broken souls and make Dick Cheney spill secrets.

After the show I chat up the hulk who caught him, Justino Lapuz. "He totally smelled like the perfume, it was like a cloud of it was everywhere," he confirms. Lapuz and his girlfriend are Prince superfans who've seen 100 shows; they flew in from Alameda, California, to catch this one. There's nothing abnormally cool about them, but their normalcy reminds you to take pity on the thousands of couples who have truly and tragically unsexy hobbies, like assembling valuable cellars with obscure Napa garage wines.

10:00 p.m. Target Center

When Prince opens with "Purple Rain," it's as if he's popped the question on the first date. Even if the answer is Yes! Yes! Yes!, it's impossible to maintain that initial euphoria during subsequent trysts. And since I just heard follow-ups "Take Me With U" and "Guitar" a few hours ago, I take this time to contemplate how weird it is that, 20 years after "Darling Nikki," Prince is the one with the moral hang-ups, and Tipper is the one with the pothead son.

The Target Center appears to be at capacity, with 15,000 hearts beating faster at the sight of the strutting, preening man in the lipstick-pink suit. Prince invites a bunch of audience members onstage to dance. It's a feel-good moment, but I don't turn to Prince to feel good—I turn to him to feel weird, to feel simultaneously unhinged and aroused.

The mud-clear mix at the Target Center isn't helping any—red-hot brass, cool blue guitar, and golden-throated passion are all bleeding into each other. Besides his three-piece brass section, two keyboardists, bass player, drummer Cora Coleman-Dunham, and backup singer Shelby J, he has a set of twins performing athletic stripper moves. At least I can hear him loud and clear when he asks, "Have you ever seen a black man with a church hat on?" I'd noticed an extra-fancy gleaming white bonnet onstage at the Macy's show and sort of assumed it was some sort of good-luck totem. But one of his keyboardists puts on the crazy chapeau as Prince tears into "Satisfied."

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