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21 December 2012

Sign o' the Times (Disc 1): K Nicola reviews Seattle's Tribute to Prince


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“It's a bit of a humbling experience to cover a Prince song. Because, really, you can't do it like Prince.” -Gavin Guss

  Some of the best bands in the Emerald City paid tribute to the Purple One last weekend.
  I attended the 10th Annual Double Album Christmas Benefit on December 15 at Seattle's Tractor Tavern. This year's album was Sign o' the Times by Prince, where the entire album was played live and in sequence by local bands. All the proceeds from the concert benefited MusiCares, a foundation that gives assistance to musicians in times of need, according to the organization's Web site.
  I am a working stiff, however, and couldn't get the day off to prepare myself to witness this epic undertaking. So, I missed the opening of the concert with Sign o' the Times and Play in the Sunshine (thank you, King County Metro and, for the record, the new D-Line bus to Ballard sucks). However, I did arrive just in time for Housequake, so that's where the review begins (I know, I'm sorry). I've divided this review into two parts, just like the CD, to make it more palatable for my readers:

“Housequake” by Judd Wasserman
Judd Wasserman, photo by Elke Hautala
   Of course, the sped-up “Camille” vocals were missing, but, for anyone who's seen Prince in concert, where Prince sings this in his natural voice, it doesn't lessen the impact of this jam.
  The only thing missing was the brass, which is all over this song on the album, but, this group more than made up for it with some slammin' electric guitar solos. What they lacked in instrumentation, they more than made up for with funk. I will concede that it would not have satisfied some Prince purists, but, I thought they did well with the band they had. The drummer was in the pocket and they rode that groove all the way to the very end of the song with high energy. The vocalist was sounded great, but, I felt like he could have been more on point with the lyrics.

“The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”
  In my humble opinion, it would have been impossible to get the super-stripped down sound of the album version live. The band did not try to do that and I think it worked to their advantage. This song, again, was heavy on the guitar, bass and drums, like most of the songs of the night were, but, it sounded great. There was another searing guitar solo in the middle of the song and I thought the vocalist was good, too. Really held his own in what I think is a difficult song to sing.

Shawn Smith. photo by Elke Hautala
“It” by Shawn Smith
  I have to admit that I have never been a fan of this song. But, I did enjoy this version of it. His blues/rock version of the song is not far off the mark of Prince's original, and hearing it live added something that made it more enjoyable. Michelle Speir, an avid Prince fan like myself, described his look and music as “ZZ Top meets Prince,”and I would agree. Only much cooler.

“Starfish and Coffee” by the Scott Summers Quartet
  This was pretty true to the original, with the exception that it was sung as a duet with a man and woman. It sounded very good and it looked like the band was having a lot of fun doing it.

Julia Massey, photo by Elke Hautala

“Slow Love” by The Glass Notes
  The band stayed pretty true to the original song, but, there were some parts, in my opinion, that sounded a little more bluesy. The guitar solos in the middle were kicking (just for the record, I may say that several more times, since I didn't hear one bad guitar solo all night). The best part in my opinion was the raw emotion in the lead singer's vocals and you could see that everyone in the band was really feeling the song.
Prince Fan David Schwartz, photo by Elke Hautala
Keyboardist Julia Massey, who fronts her own band Julia Massey and the 5 Finger Discount, sat in with The Glass Notes on this song. She was asked to play with the band just days before the event and practiced with the band twice before performing Saturday night. She said when she was first recruited she wasn't familiar with the song or the album, but, she had a great time playing on stage.
  “I think I am like most kids who grew up in the 80s, I know the hits backwards and forwards,” Massey said. “I'm happy I have a whole lifetime to unpack...everything he's produced. He's so prolific..”

“Hot Thing” by Lucky Girl
  This band took the stripped-down funk jam and turned into a rollicking “punk-rock groove, with rock and roll solos” as lead singer Kathy Moore described it.
Kathy Moore, photo by Elke Hautala
  If you are at all familiar with the song, it is almost unrecognizable. Moore's smoky vocals gave the song an edge. Unlike the album cut, which has a long instrumental at the end, this song ended when the lyrics did, save for a few guitar solos in the middle.
  As I listened to them play the song, I wondered was there any significance that this particular song, an homage to a very sexy woman, was sang by female vocalist.
  “Well you know, to be honest I was powering through it and not thinking about the lyrics,” Moore said, after her set.

Prince fans Michelle Speir and Ken Iliffe, photo by Elke Hautala
“Forever in My Life” by Shawn Smith
  This is another song on the album that I have never been particularly fond of. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but, I guess it just has not touched me in a special place yet...whatever that means. With this song, just like with “It,” he had me groovin'. I also felt he gave this song a blues/rock feel and the vocals were powerful and he more than did this Prince cut justice.


For more information on MusiCares visit Check out Elke Hautala's video of the event here:

Stay beautiful, Kristi

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  1. Love this review, K! It really brought the night back for me, and I'm totally flattered that you mentioned me and included a pic of us! Thanks!! Super fun night.

  2. I wasn't there (am a Prince and Shel fan in D.C.) but your review made me feel like I was--loved it! You made a great point about how some of the best covers are done by bands who know they can't match the perfection of the original so they take it in a different direction. As you noted, this can be a real boon if you happen not to love the original...