Meltdown in Minneapolis
Prince previews European show at benefit concert


THIS WAS THE KIND OF PRINCE GIG you don't get to see much anymore: no props or heavy sacred-sexual shtick, just hit songs, dirty dancing, whiplash funk and blowtorch guitar. On April 30th, at Minneapolis's yuppie watering hole Rupert's Nightclub, the paisley potentate of Eighties crossover pop played his first live show of the Nineties, stripping down to pre-Purple Rain essentials in a torrid ninety-minute club preview of his European summer roadshow, appropriately titled Nude.

Fronting a five-piece band augmented by three male dancers, Prince didn't actually take his clothes off for the sellout crowd (he did start the evening shirtless). But he let his R&B soul hang out all over the place, giving "Housequake" the hyper-James Brown treatment and transforming his latest "hit" (via Sinead O'Connor), "Nothing Compares 2 U," into a steamy Stax-Volt prayer. He even whipped into a quick version of "Respect" during the encore, with new singer-keyboardist Rosie Gaines wailing like a brassy young Aretha Franklin.

It was actually a sober occasion, a $100-a-ticket benefit concert for the family of Prince's former bodyguard, Charles "Big Chick" Huntsberry, who died April 2nd of heart failure at age forty-nine. After leaving Prince's employ in 1985, Huntsberry -- who died without life insurance -- kicked a serious cocaine habit and became an evangelist, setting up Big Chick's Ministries and speaking in schools and prisons. The show raised about $60,000 for Huntsberry's widow, Linda, and their six children.

Prince, however, conducted the whole affair like an Irish wake. He opened with a brief eulogy and an eerie reading of "The Future" (one of four songs he performed from Batman), performed entirely in dusky silhouette. Then he went into funkadelic overdrive with a lengthy bump-and-grind suite that featured "1999," "Housequake," "Kiss" and a short, saucy dose of "Sexy Dancer" from his 1979 LP Prince. Fueled by the muscular whomp of new drummer Michael Bland, the corpulent sticksman from the "Partyman" video, this was a leaner, meaner act than Prince's recent stage productions -- no jazz brass, no Cat, no mating-ritual playlets. Instead, Prince and his Revolution-style lineup of guitar, bass and twin keyboards, including the veteran Prince sideman Matt Fink, concentrated on vocal sass and snappy propulsion, turning "Alphabet St." into a rap & roll mini-epic, complete with a quick snip of "It Takes Two," by Rob Base and D.J. E-Z Rock.

The show found Prince more celebratory than sentimental. He dedicated "Purple Rain" to Huntsberry and paid his final respects with several hallelujah choruses of incendiary Hendrixian guitar. The only new song in the set, "The Question of U," from Prince's upcoming film Graffiti Bridge, was a complex, compelling number that began as a bluesy piano romance, accelerated into a stirring Latin-flavored guitar sequence and climaxed as a funky raveup.

Alas, the Big Chick benefit was the only scheduled American performance of Prince's Nude revue. He will tour the U.S. this fall with a revamped production featuring music from the double-album soundtrack of Graffiti Bridge, which is scheduled for release August 10th. But if Prince's return to full-tilt sex boogie and mischievous good humor at Rupert's is any indication (he finished the set with the Joker's classic bon mot from "Batdance": "This town needs an enema!"), he still plans to keep his promise to "party till it's 1999."