The artist formerly known as Prince may have dropped his name, but he still knows how to make a body rock. Before a capacity crowd of 1,200 at Boston’s Roxy, the Minneapolis chameleon proved once again his strength in funk and the dirty-grind of dance music that marked both his early hits and his latest three-CD set, “Emancipation,” his first effort after being released from his former record label, Warner Bros.
The show, a benefit for Love for One Another Charities, kicked off with the new set’s lead track, “Jam of the Year,” and proceeded to work the silky groove, courtesy of Mike Scott’s guitar. With Scott trading licks with Kat Dyson’s more heavily effects-laden guitar, the jam continued, morphing into other tracks from the R&B-heavy “Emancipation” and working nearly every number into a 10-minute sweat.
For Boston, which hasn’t seen the artist in nearly four years, its star also pulled out the hits. “Purple Rain” opened with a barrage of sound from the five-piece backup, and the star himself picked up a guitar to solo — nearly duplicating the wiry, Hendrix-style cascades made famous by that 1984 hit.
But in a 90-minute set of nearly nonstop funk, the delicate balladry of “Purple Rain” (and, later on, the light froth of “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”) got mired down in muddy dance-hall acoustics. But this was a night for dancing and in this setting, the star’s newer, arguably lesser songs blasted the pop hits out of the room. “Get Yo Groove On,” for example, broke through “Purple Rain’s” haze, revving the tempo up again and featuring the star in some syncopated high-life style keyboard riffs that cut the heavy beat.
Not that the funk was bad: the bottom-end wow rolled out by bassist Rhonda Smith (with help from drummer Curt Johnson) gave the former Prince real power. The new rap-studded “Face Down” revealed a newly gritty — not just dirty — side of the star, an angry answer to all those old peace ‘n’ love songs.