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Celebrating Prince With Prince at Madison Square Garden

Prince serenades Leighton Meester.

A quick breakdown of Prince’s two-hour, fifteen-minute show at Madison Square Garden last night.

Level of excitement for Prince’s series of MSG shows, as measured by Twitter: Incredibly high.

Level of excitement for Prince’s series of MSG shows, as measured solely by Questlove’s Twitter: Even higher.

Entertainment-newsiest moment: Leighton Meester is brought to the stage, made comfortable on a settee, and serenaded by Prince and sax legend Maceo Parker.

Odd mental thing that happens at shows like this: Every time you think you spot someone famous — Mos Def and Jimmy Fallon dancing onstage, Ed Westwick on the exit stairs — you turn out to be right. Later, you have to remind yourself that the guy you walked past on the way home was probably not actually the RZA.

Opening gambit: Prince teases audience by playing sampled snippets of his biggest hits, which if you’ll pardon the obvious metaphor is clearly a seduction/sexual-control thing. And if you think of this show as the arc of a sexual encounter, which I will bet you anything Prince at some point has, it would basically go like: Prince teases you with his hits but winds up only giving you an opening “Kiss.” Then he comes on strong and bombastic, complete with plenty of showy guitar-stroking. Then he settles gradually into something slow and sensual. Then things get weird for a second and Jimmy Fallon’s involved. Then Prince tries to bring you bursting back up to climax after climax after climax, but a lot of these involve playing one or two songs and then ducking back beneath the stage for a minute — which feels less like a series of encores and more like just playing very slowly, with lots of breaks.

An impressive thing about Prince’s “love symbol”: Right, it’s iconic: It combines astrology, male and female, cross and ankh, and a touch of psychedelic flair — it’s like Prince in five strokes of a pen. It makes a workable shape for a guitar and a pretty terrific arena stage, all long lanes and runways. But back when everyone was rolling their eyes about Prince changing his name to it, they probably weren’t thinking about the prime VIP cocktail seating it creates along the stem.

Unoriginal idea on why androgyny is an important aspect of Prince: Because it meant he could sing all kinds of dirty/sexy/lovey songs, and write others for women to sing, and sometimes sing the ones for women himself, and never have any of it seem to be connected to a person or an agenda — the songs would always just be about sensuality and sex and love itself. They contained the idea of men being sexy and women being sexy and life being sexy, and Prince always seemed both curious and in thrall to the whole thing — an attitude that stands out more and more, given that songs about romance and human sexuality these days tend to be incredibly gendered and agenda-driven, like: Here are things I want and here is how I will get them, from someone or other. Prince, while singing “Cream,” says, “I wrote this song while looking in the mirror” — which is a joke, but also a good example of how the subject or object of this stuff isn’t as important as the stuff itself.

How long it takes married people to start making out at a Prince concert: A little over an hour. This is rapidly followed by the part where Prince breaks out the falsetto slow jams. Midway through them, he informs the crowd that “somebody’s gonna get pregnant tonight,” which creates this hilarious awkward pause between the couple making out in front of me.

Olfactory surprise: Amazingly, the smell of stale beer fits the Prince vibe slightly better than the smell of weed.

What people who aren’t Prince look like when they wear a lot of velvet and ruffles: Austin Powers.

What I would suggest is the slight problem with seeing a Prince show at this point: It is, by necessity, a very showbiz and stagey thing. Not like “Purple Rain” stagey but like Super Bowl Halftime stagey, awards-ceremony stagey. That’s Prince’s job, obviously. The show feels mostly like a lavish celebration of the fact that you’re at a Prince show; if you cease to be amazed by that fact for too long, you might start regretting that a lot of lithe, precise songs come off in this context as really broad and bombastic.

Point at which the preceding problem might happen: When Prince’s way of talking about America begins with saying “9/11 … Hurricane Katrina … the election of Barack Obama,” vaguely reminding Americans where they’ve lived for the past decade or so. Especially considering the highlight of the opening set from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, which had Jones taking off her heels, doing African and Native-American dances, and singing about dance as a circle of peace for beleaguered people — which possibly had more to say about America, really.

How high Sharon Jones can jump with the heels on: Like a good several inches more than I’d think.

Burning question: If you are “the Twinz” — two actual twins who sing, dance, cartwheel, roller-boogie, bump, grind, have the kind of look people call “exotic,” are small enough that they don’t make Prince look too tiny when dancing near him, and just generally seem like something a person would make up for the purposes of performing with Prince — do you just write him a letter at some point, to let him know you exist?

What I would do if I were a man Prince’s age (52) and got home after seeing this concert: Sit-ups.

Biggest applause line: “Dearly beloved … ”

Would Vulture recommend seeing Prince, if you can see Prince: See Prince. Part of why that whole “celebration of the fact of seeing Prince” thing works is that this guy is possibly the biggest old-school massive, hypercharismatic, everyone’s-amazed-by-him pop star still going, and he carries with him this whole legacy of funk and soul that you’re unlikely to find embodied anywhere else quite so spectacularly. Which is to say: It’s Prince, of course you’ll want to see that.

Celebrating Prince With Prince at Madison Square Garden