BY DAVID WILD
"I DIG YOU, and you dig me," Prince told a cheering crowd of 17,000 Parisians at the Palais Omnisport Bercy toward the end of one of the extraordinary shows that opened his Lovesexy '88 Tour. "And together we'll dig him to death. Thank you, Jesus." Pointing his guitar meaningfully toward the heavens, or at least toward the painted clouds that hung overhead, Prince then ripped into "Purple Rain," offering one of his most divinely inspired solos of the evening.
Prince has long featured a tantalizing mix of the sacred and the secular -- even the sleazy -- in his musical sermons on the mount. But in Paris he gave every indication of having gone trough a genuine spiritual conversion. In a characteristically veiled autobiographical essay included in the Lovesexy '88 Tour program, Prince offers a parable that apparently explains his decision to release Lovesexy instead of the X-rated Black Album. Prince writes of "a boy named Camille" who lets his dark side, Spooky Electric, create "something evil" -- the Black Album. Spooky Electric, Prince explains, must die in those who desire "Lovesexy -- the feeling you get when u fall in love, not with a girl or boy but with the heavens above."
Whether or not it is meant as a religious revival show, the Lovesexy '88 Tour is hardly your average tent show. Prince has spent nearly $2 million mounting the world tour, which is scheduled to hit the States this fall. It will be Prince's first American tour since 1985.
Always a master of the grand gesture, Prince makes a dramatic entrance for the show in a white 1967 Thunderbird rigged up to take a quick spin around the tri-level, seventy-by-eighty-foot stage -- complete with swing set and basketball hoop -- set up in the center of the hall. Prince and his eight-piece band -- drummer extraordinaire Sheila E., longtime keyboardist Dr. Fink, guitarist Miko Weaver, bassist Levi Seacer, Jr., singer and sensual presence Cat, keyboardist and singer Boni Boyer and horn players Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss -- are in constant motion during the show, which is presented in the round under a complex light show.
Nearly three hours long, the show is equally ambitious musically. In the first half, Prince openly confronts his past in what at times seems like the summer's real dirty-dancing tour: starting with "Erotic City," Prince runs through a set heavy with some of is most wonderfully purple material: "Sister;" "I Wanna Be Your Lover;" "Jack U Off;" the Black Album's funky immorality play, "Bob George;" and even "Head" (with Cat gamely performing said act on a microphone held between Prince's legs).
The most inspired moments of the first half of the Paris shows came during Dirty Mind's "When You Were Mine," which Prince has brilliantly reworked as a rambling midtempo rocker that would sound out of place on a John Cougar Mellencamp album. And the set-closing "Anna Stesia" was given a powerful treatment, with Prince passionately singing the "Love is God/God is love/Boys and girls love God above" riff as a hydraulic lift took him and his piano toward the rafters.
The second set -- which was played out on a less cluttered stage decorated with giant fake flowers -- featured a number of songs with a higher calling, including "The Cross" and "I Wish U Heaven," as well as "Kiss," "1999," "Purple Rain" and a silkily soulful "When 2 R in Love." In a few shows, Prince also added two fascinating new numbers, titled "God Is Alive" and "Blues in C."
As the shows went on, Prince became increasingly direct about his intentions. "The first half, I gave it to you because you were expecting it," he said during the third night in Paris. "The second half is what it's all about. It's about how we all dig each other and him."
Seemingly in good spirits, the normally reclusive rocker attended a private party after the first show, where he shyly expressed satisfaction with the performance and said this tour would definitely make it to America. "I'm coming," he said, "I'm looking forward to that." And at 4:20 a.m. -- more than four hours after the first show ended -- Prince and his band took over the tiny stage of Bains Douches, a chic Paris club, for a brilliant hour-long show that featured riveting versions of "Forever in My Life" and "Strange Relationship" and a medley of "Housequake" and James Brown's "Cold Sweat." Midway through the set, Mavis Staples (who recently completed a record for Prince's Paisley Park label) joined Prince and the band for a soulful version of "I'll Take You There."
God knows, Prince has had his disappointments at the box office and on the charts since Purple Rain. But if the Paris shows are any indication, all Prince has to do to turn things around is hit the road over here. After all, a Prince concert has always been a religious experience.
ROLLING STONE, AUGUST 25TH, 1988