Prince Debuts At The Roxy

November 29, 1979

Los Angeles Times

Prince Debuts At The Roxy

by Don Snowden

It must be a daunting prospect for anyone to make his or her performing debut, save for a couple of hometown Minneapolis tuneups, before an industry-heavy crowd at the Roxy. That was the situation confronting Prince Wednesday [1] night.

Prince, 19, is something of a wunderkind who produced, arranged, and composed all the material and played all the instruments on his two Warner Bros. albums. His vinyl output, somewhat like Stevie Wonder‘s, is aimed squarely at the black-pop mainstream and crossover audiences but his live show is heavily influenced by hard-rock flash.

The result is a bizarre combination of musical and visual elements. Guitarist [Dez] Dickerson (black leather jacket and leopardskin pants) and bassist Andre Cymone (legs encased in plastic wrap) both look more punk than funk. Prince largely sticks to guitar and throws enough pelvic grinds and phallic guitar poses at the audience to give most obnoxiously macho rock stars a run for their money.

Prince sings in a thin falsetto that recalls Eddie Holman (remember “Hey There, Lonely Girl”?) , but his vocals lack the power to cut through the instrumental attack on the rock-oriented material that comprised half of the hour-long set. The largely black audience responded more favorably to the more restrained, carefully crafted funk exercises like “Sexy Dancer” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” The latter is the nation’s No. 1 soul single this week and also rising fast on the pop charts.

The slack pacing and Prince’s uneasiness as a front man can be chalked up to a simple lack of stage experience, but a more pressing problem is Prince’s attempt to straddle two disparate musical worlds. That’s not necessarily a bad move, but it is a jarring mixture at this point. Prince obviously is a talented new arrival, but he needs to reconcile those two musical instinct if he is to maximize his potential as a live performer.

Comedienne-illusionist Judy Carter successfully kept the capacity crowd off balance and laughing with a combination of unpredictable antics and feminist-slanted raunch that made telling points without sacrificing the humor quotient.