Elvis Costello, D'Angelo, Chris Rock Pay Tribute to Prince - Carnegie Hall - 3/7/13
And if Bernhard represented the ridiculous side, the next series of performers resurrected the raw, emotional aspect of Prince's music, the breadth of which often gets overlooked when people discuss his overall oeuvre. Bhi Bhiman's voice rung out incredibly well through the Carnegie Hall atmosphere during his solo acoustic arrangement of "When Doves Cry," while Kat Edmonson's stark performance of "The Beautiful Ones," accompanied only by a piano, was so compelling that you could feel the stillness in the Hall in the breaths between each note, each word delivered with an emotion that seemed to almost threaten to break her. The Blind Boys of Alabama, in matching shimmering suits, then lifted the mood again by turning "The Cross" off Sign O The Times into a singalong.
Talib Kweli injected a Trayvon Martin reference into "Annie Christian" (with it's "Everybody say gun control!" line) while Bilal stretched the incestuous "Sister" -- barely a minute and a half long on Prince's Dirty Mind -- into a five-minute epic, shifting through a slow, "Happiness Is A Warm Gun"-type dirge into atmospheric, Pink Floyd-esque soul, and closing the song out with a frantic, scream-punk finish before calmly walking off the stage to another standing ovation. Chris Rock made a spoken-word cameo just before introducing Motown singer Bettye Lavette, decked out in all velvet, whose slowed-down "Kiss" brought out the track's bluesier elements. A very pregnant Maya Rudolph and her Prince cover band sidekick Gretchen Lieberum emerged to perform the over-the-top ode to masturbation that is "Darling Nikki," before Elvis Costello emerged wearing a bold blue suit and a cherry red Jaguar guitar (which he didn't touch once) to sing the unreleased "Moonbeam Levels" and send everybody scrambling to find who his tailor was.
And then as Elvis walked off, the Roots kicked into the beginning of "It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night," and the most anticipated star of the evening geared up to for his crowning performance. Melvoin, Rudolph and Lieberum urged the crowd to make some noise, Questlove led the "ooh eee oh, woah-oh" vocal vamp, and still the piano set up in the middle of the stage remained empty. Even at a celebration of someone else's music, it seemed D'Angelo just couldn't help making the crowd wait, even if just for a little bit.
And then there he was, sauntering out on stage with all the subtlety of a hurricane, draped head to toe in all black but for a wide-brimmed white hat, which he quickly tossed aside. Gone was the shy crooner hidden behind his keyboards from his performance with Questlove at Brooklyn Bowl Monday night; this time he strutted straight to center stage and completely took over the venue, kicking the microphone from his feet and to his hand without missing a note, screeching and moaning each lyric with the uninhibited power of a rejuvenated James Brown. By the time the Roots kicked the jam into a set-closing "1999," every performer of the entire evening had joined D on stage for a last hurrah, D'Angelo directing proceedings at the forefront of it all. It seems easy to forget, especially in light of his funkified but relatively subdued two-man show earlier in the week, but when on his game fronting a full-on funk assault, the only performer who could really touch D'Angelo would maybe be... Prince.
Overheard (from my own brain): Some people play classical music for their unborn children... Maya Rudolph puts hers on stage with the Roots and belts out one of Prince's more graphic tracks. That baby is starting life out right.
Random Notebook Dump: Dear God, please save me from ever seeing Sandra Bernhard feeling herself up to "Little Red Corvette" again.
Random Notebook Dump (#2): Swung through the after party at City Winery just long enough to see Taj Mahal's daughter Deva Mahal absolutely crush Aretha Franklin's "Do Right Woman." Will have to make a mental note to check out her band in the near future.