This Week In History
09/04/15 8:08 am
This week in 1981 Rick and Teena lit up Madison Square Garden...

Published: September 6, 1981

Rick James, the funk-rock superstar, brought his Stone City Band to Madison Square Garden on Thursday, and turned the arena into a glittering celebration full of fireworks and musical and sexual energy. Though Mr. James calls his music punk-funk, the label is somewhat of a misnomer. For instead of having the strong nihilistic connotations it has had since the rise and fall of England's Sex Pistols, the term punk, for Mr. James, suggests a seamier version of the free-wheeling street-party atmosphere that Sly and the Family Stone evoked in the Woodstock era.

On record, Mr. James's music is a streamlined mixture of funk, rock, soul and reggae, with Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder the two strongest influences on his singing and writing, although none of Mr. James's tunes match the best songs of Mr. Stone or Mr. Wonder in sophistication. And at Madison Square Garden, Mr. James's stage personality took decisive precedence over the music. Rather than try to perform definitive versions of his own tunes, Mr. James repeatedly invited the audience to participate in his music, as he conducted the crowd in chant and told ribald stories.

Musically and theatrically, the high point of the evening came relatively early, with the appearance of Teena Marie, the Los Angeles-based pop-soul singer who is a protege of Mr. James. Together, they sang an extended version of ''Fire and Desire,'' the ballad centerpiece of Mr. James's latest album, ''Street Songs,'' in a performance that sustained a level of erotic intensity that has seldom been s een in a large arena. By comparison, even the steamiest exchanges bet ween couples such as Ashford & Simpson and Teddy Pendergrass a nd Stephanie Mills seemed tame.

In her brief solo, Miss Marie proved to be the most powerful white female soul singer that this observer has ever seen. Capable of executing great whooping melismas in perfect pitch, this tiny redheaded woman passed one of the ultimate tests for a pop singer in being able to deliver a ballad - Donny Hathaway's ''Someday We'll All Be Free'' - in a large arena and keeping the audience riveted.


Tagged as: history photos teena marie 1981 new york times

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