Elvis Costello, D'Angelo, Chris Rock Pay Tribute to Prince - Carnegie Hall - 3/7/13
Better Than: Sobbing silently while watching the club performance scene in Purple Rain on your couch for the 25th time this week... not that there's anything wrong with that.
Let There Be Funk
The stage was bigger, the venue more prestigious, and the atmosphere gave off a more purple hue. But then this was a Prince tribute concert, so everything was on a grander scale, as the stars aligned at Carnegie Hall last night, with house band the Roots holding down a two and a half hour, 19-song set filled with celebrity turns, special guests, and of course, the music of the Purple One himself.
See also: Touré Tackles Prince in New Book, Finds Jesus, Discovers They're One in the Same
Rumors circulated before the show -- given life by Prince's own assertion in Billboard's January cover story -- that the man himself would be in the building, but official confirmation was impossible to come by. Instead, the packed house was treated to covers, re-arrangements, and all-out jam sessions on some of Prince's most celebrated tracks, coupled with a number of deep cuts and even unreleased songs that were resurrected just for the occasion.
Just before the Roots took the stage, the man behind the event, Michael Dorf, announced that this iteration of his charity concert -- the 9th of its kind -- was able to raise more than $100,000 net for music education, and the assembled musicians wasted little time paying that back to the sellout crowd that packed New York City's most prestigious venue. Whether he was there or not, Prince's spirit imbued the proceedings, as the Waterboys took the stage and immediately tackled the elephant in the room, unleashing a powerful version of "Purple Rain," complete with electric fiddle player Steve Wickham destroying the famous guitar solo, to the detriment of some of the strings on his bow. And while the performance received a standing ovation, the biggest highlights were still to come.
SNL's Fred Armisen took the stage to deliver the "Dearly beloved..." intro to "Let's Go Crazy," which eventually gave way to a rendition of "Raspberry Beret" by Diane Birch, Booker T and members of the Young Audiences of New York Kids Choir, which persevered despite sound issues drowning out the majority of Birch's vocals. It was a problem that continued through the first quarter of the set -- main vocals drowned by the rest of the band -- and unfortunately undermined an otherwise dominant appearance by fDeluxe, the Prince-curated band which first saw the light of day as The Family in the mid-80s before being resurrected by frontman Paul Peterson (who goes by the moniker St. Paul) in 2009, whose high-energy funk set -- comprised of Family song "High Fashion" into Prince live favorite "Mutiny" -- was otherwise a master class in bass-driven grooves, with the aging but still rambunctious Susannah Melvoin moving about the stage like it was 1985 all over again.
And then there were the anomalies -- and by anomalies, I'm mostly referring to the long intro Sandra Bernhard gave to a slowed-down "Little Red Corvette." After dedicating the song "to Appolonia... to Victory... to Lisa and Wendy... but above all to the Purple Paisley God himself," she then proceeded to milk the Carnegie Hall spotlight with a sexual abandon it may have never seen before. Bernhard's turn embraced the totally ridiculous side of Prince that is nonetheless just as fun as his wrenching emotional tracks, managing to come off like that friend at the Karaoke bar who accidentally drank a little too much red wine and got in touch with the side of herself that always knew she was destined for the stage... whichever stage that may happen to be.