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Purple Passion

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The Artist tests the new arena in Oakland

By Todd S. Inoue

After three passes through the Bay Area, the devotion many fans hold for the Artist seems endless. There they were, the same faces, the same guy with TAFKAP tattoos, the impossibly made-up mavens, even a Prince look-alike who caused the entire Oakland Arena to stand up and take notice.

At his Jan. 22 Oakland concert, the Artist made some structural improvements to the new arena. First, he raised the roof and then proceeded to test its earthquake retrofitting with a 150-minute foundation-shaking performance.

As "Jam of the Year" signaled his entrance, the Artist appeared behind a fan of green lasers. The diminutive funk genius pushed his hands up, up, up, in the familiar "raise the roof" gesture so popular in pro sports and on the new TV show Vibe. Sporting a glittery black top and pants, he confidently strutted up and down the catwalks, teasing the crowd with shy smiles.

Unlike the two 1997 Bay Area tours of duty (one in April, the other in October), the Artist dug into his vault of hits, playing just two tracks from Emancipation and debuting two new tracks at encore time.

There must be something here that brings him back. During the "Talking Loud/Saying Nothing" workout, his chain of thought snapped. He stopped the song and walked over stage left. He found it. "Damn," he said, surveying the scene. "There's some freaks over here."

The guitar solos on "Purple Rain" and "The Cross" were matched by his religious conviction, which he reiterated in moving sermons. These solos ripped, blending his Hendrix and Mayfield influences.

Most of all, he played to the audience. He rocked an under-the-leg guitar solo. He slid across the stage split-legged, Fred Astaire style on "Delirious." His pelvis worked overtime on "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," "Do Me" and "The Beautiful Ones."

He flipped an exotic, erotic spotlight dance to introduce "Little Red Corvette." During the song's guitar break, he replicated the splits and beat-street breakdown from the video perfectly.

The Artist repeated the teasing "Darling Nikki" routine, so popular at the Shoreline show, where he plays the familiar piano loop and then walks away several times to thunderous applause, then concedes, letting the audience scream the key lines about masturbation and grinding.

The only fault of the Artist's live show is that his sets have has a "medley" quality. He rarely plays key hits all the way through. "I Would Die 4 U" came real close, and "Face Down" was the roaring exception. The track occupied 25 minutes with call-and-response ("The freaks on this side, the freaks on this side") fun, jamming and butt-funking bass.

The show closed with a skim through "Baby I'm a Star" and "1999." I would gladly miss the last BART train to hear those two songs all the way through, blasted out live from the huge speakers. I'd make it home on adrenaline alone.

The Artist, Jan. 22, 1998, at the Oakland Arena.

Jam of the Year
Talkin' Loud/Saying Nothing
Let's Work
Purple Rain
Little Red Corvette
I Would Die 4 U
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
Face Down
I Can Never Take the Place of Your Man
Guitar solo
The Cross
Can't Stop Thinking About You (by backup singer Marva King)
Do Me
Sexy MF
If I Was Your Girlfriend
Girls and Boys
Darling Nikki
Diamonds & Pearls
The Beautiful Ones
How Cum U Don't Call Me Anymore
Take Me With U
Raspberry Beret
Mad Sex
I Like Funky Music
Baby I'm a Star

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Web extra to the January 29-February 4, 1998 issue of Metro.

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