Though it may seem mind-boggling, there was a time when the R&B/Funk musician Prince was better known for his music than his outrageous copyright infringement lawsuits. This phase of Prince’s career is exemplified in this recording of Prince’s live show at The Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ from January 30, 1982. Although the Jersey Capitol Theatre has long been demolished and is now a shopping center, the venue is well known for its mythological-like concerts, and this Prince show is case in point. This show is one of the greats from the pre-Purple Rain era and features energetically charged performances of “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Do Me, Baby” and an encore of “Jack U Off.”
As many know, Prince’s explicit and sexualized lyrics and motifs are universal throughout his music. These themes are possibly the most blatant during the encore of the show, during the erotic “Jack U Off.” This tune lyrically contains many graphic references that were very risqué in music back in the day. Unlike the hip-hop and alternative music of the 2010s, where explicit lyrics are quite common, in the 1980’s we were first starting to see the rise of more lewd songwriting techniques, and Prince can be credited with being one of the first to start that movement.
Although almost all of the songs feature some sort of sexual innuendo one way or the other, there is an exception. The gospel opener “The Second Coming,” seems to take pleasure in being more of a religious hymn of sorts. Accompanied by little more than a gospel choir, this canticle also shows off The Purple One’s brilliant vocal range, which continues to stun the audience at numerous points throughout the show. The guitar, keyboards and drums then come in for a buoyant performance of “Uptown.” This vigorous number sets the pace for the rest of the show. While many musicians have at least one ballad or slower song in a show set, Prince seems to delight in seeing how much enthusiasm he could put in his set.
Unlike many R&B acts who specialize in vocals over instrumentation, Prince takes an approach similar to artists such as George Clinton by emphasizing improvisation and lengthy guitar solos. The 16-minute “I Wanna Be Your Lover” is an excellent example, featuring Prince and his admirable band at their very best. There are other moments throughout the night that his majesty and the backing musicians “jam out” their tracks including “Do Me, Baby.”
Although it is challenging to compare Prince to a modern musician, one can see where his performance mirrors that of the “jazz-fusion” talents of today such as Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus and Thundercat. Much like Prince, there is a heavy focus for all these entertainers on instrumentation, and although it may not be as flagrant for The Purple One as it is for these four individuals, there is some jazz influence involved in his music. Although these tracks generally are not great for setting the mood for wine tastings and relaxing; the focus of this show is to dance as frantically as you can, right up until the dawn. This message is the general focus of a Prince show; having fun and acting wild until the sun comes up.