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13 March 2013

Rock and Roll is Alive (and it Lives in Minneapolis): A Review of Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life

  Bobby Z.'s 2nd Annual “Benefit 2 Celebrate Life” brought together fans of the Minneapolis Sound to party up for a good cause.
 The event, held at First Avenue & 7th St. Entry, in Minneapolis, took place at 8 p.m. March 9.  It was a follow-up concert to his first fundraiser, which reunited members of The Revolution--including Wendy Melvoin, Brown Mark, Lisa Coleman, Dr. (Matt) Fink and Bobby Z. himself--, sans Prince, on the very same stage in 2012.
   Proceeds from the benefit will go to the American Heart Association and Bobby Z's own My Purple Heart foundation. The goal is to promote heart health, after he suffered a near-fatal heart attack two years ago.
  This year's lineup included: Princess, featuring Maya Rudolph (of “SNL” fame and currently starring on the NBC sitcom “Up All Night”) and Gretchen Lieberum; ?uestlove, of The Roots;  Andre Cymone; Dez Dickerson; Bobby Z; Alexander O'Neal and Stokely Williams, of Mint Condition—among others.
  O'Neal, who helped popularize the Minneapolis sound in the 1980s with cuts, produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, like “Criticize,” and “Innocent” opened up the show with two of his popular songs: “Fake” and “A Broken Heart Can Mend.” It was a delight to see him, as I learned not long before the concert that he recently moved back to Minneapolis, after living abroad for several years. The crowd seemed excited to see him, too.
  He was followed by Minnesota's-own Nicholas David, a finalist on the NBC show, “The Voice.” (Bobby Z. said in his introduction to the set that the hometown boy was “robbed” of a victory on the show). David sang a rousing version of “ Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Marvin Gaye's “What's Goin' On,” and O'Neal joined him for the last half of the second song. Although I don't watch “The Voice,” I have to agree with Bobby Z: David should have taken top prize on that show; his voice is amazing.

Stokely Williams and Andre Cymone

Patty Peterson
  Next up was Patty Peterson, renowned jazz singer and sister of “St. Paul” Peterson, who was briefly a member of The Time and also worked with Prince on The Family project in 1985. She sang a very emotional rendition of “Whitney Houston's “The Greatest Love of All.” This performance and Bobby Z's work with the American Heart Association had significant meaning for Peterson: she said she nearly died from a thoracic aneurysm, where the aorta deteriorates and can eventually separate from the heart muscle.
   Stokely Williams, of Mint Condition, did a very lively set--singing and playing the guitar-- and during his second song, he and his band were joined by Cymone.
  I had high expectations for Princess, a Prince tribute band (for lack of a better term) and the duo did not disappoint. Their set consisted of Prince songs from from four albums: Dirty Mind, Controversy, 1999 and Purple Rain. They sang a lot of the naughtier Prince material, the likes of which we won't hear live from the man himself anytime soon:  “Darling Nikki,” “Let's Pretend We're Married," “Lady Cab Driver” and notably “Head.”
  Princess paid homage to Prince by completely owning these songs with a passion and verve that can only be demonstrated by avid fans. Both ladies have said in past interviews that they have been Prince fans for 30 years and I loved the energy they brought to the whole concert.
  There were a few technical glitches at the very beginning of their set (the microphone designated for Rudolph wasn't working). But, she just moved over to another mike and kept it moving. However, for a few minutes afterward she kept motioning to the stage techs to move the pedals (that were used by guitar players earlier) and she later informed the audience that she wanted them moved because she needed room to dance. That's when I knew it was about to get real.
  And it did indeed. Princess harmonized on lead vocals—with Lieberum singing the higher octaves and Rudolph on the lower register, which created a unique sound.
 They also writhed melodramatically, laying down onstage, a la The Kid--Prince's character in “Purple Rain”-- on “The Beautiful Ones.” They sang the part at the very end of “Darling Nikki”where the track is played backwards—the two of them had impressively memorized it that way-- now how cool is that? They also did a staged recitation of the famous scene in "Purple Rain" between Prince and Apollonia, where the young starlet accidentally purifies herself in what she mistakenly believes is Lake Minnetonka. 
 Also, in my humble opinion, the only person who can do Prince's trademark screams better than Rudolph is Prince himself.
  Did I mention that she did all of this while pregnant?

Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberum, of Princess
  “This is a funky ass baby!” she said to the crowd. Lieberum co-signed the fact that her partner in crime is “f****** bad ass.”
  When Princess came back for their encore of “Purple Rain,” the crowd was so hyped, the band so tight and Princess' vocals so captivating that it gave me a inkling of what the energy must have been like when Prince was filming concert scenes for his blockbuster 1984 movie of the same name. The crowd was screaming their approval long after they left the stage.
  These ladies were going to be a tough act to follow.
  But, The Rebels, which included Bobby Z., Cymone, Dickerson and Dr. Fink, all members from Prince's original band formed in 1978, were more than up to the challenge.
  They opened their set with “U,” a song from "The Rebels" sessions in 1979--which at that time included Gayle Chapman--, a song that only the most well-versed Prince fans would be familiar with.
  Cymone had many fans ardently waiting for his return to performing and people were shouting out song requests for him after he barely hit the stage: “Kelly's Eyes!” and “The Dance Electric!” could be heard from different parts of the crowd. He acquiesced to both requests and even threw in a very brief  snippet of “Livin' in the New Nave.” (I personally would have liked to hear “Don't Let the Sun Go Down” from Survivin' in the 80s, but, I wasn't bold enough to yell that out the concert).
Dez Dickerson

Andre Cymone and Dr. Fink
 The band ripped into “Where You Were Mine,” a rock song from Prince's Dirty Mind albumCymone, who sang lead, had given the audience a short disclaimer before he started playing-- he said he had never sang the song live before-- but, there was no need. His falsetto and guitar playing were both on point.
  Dickerson also got a chance to flex his falsetto, singing “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad,” from Prince's 1979 self-titled album, which he said the band performed on TV's “American Bandstand.” He and Cymone traded blazing guitar riffs on this rock anthem by the Purple One. At one point, Cymone switched over to electric bass and the band went into an extended jam, where I'm pretty sure I heard the bass line of “I Feel For You.” (But, don't quote me on that). He also sang another fan favorite: the never officially released song "Modernaire," which was featured in the movie "Purple Rain."
  At one point, I saw ?uestlove move in front of the barrier near of the stage, not far from where I was standing at stage right, to snap a picture of Cymone playing guitar on his smartphone. It was pretty cool to this very famous musician capturing this iconic moment for his own personal memories. He also played drums with the band, as did Williams for the very last song.
  The band also paid homage to musicians Dickerson said influenced them as young up-and-comers: they performed “Some Kind of Wonderful,” by Grand Funk Railroad and “Spanish Castle Magic,” by Jimi Hendrix.
   It had been more than 30 years since these musicians graced the same stage, but, listening to them that night in top form, it sure didn't seem like it.
  After their set ended many of the night's performers came back onstage— for a grand encore of Prince's “Partyup,” also from Dirty Mind.
  It was the perfect end to a very funky night.

Stay Beautiful, Kristi


 Lead photo: Vicki Rivkin and Bobby Z. All photos courtesy of Shayna Olson. 


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