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(Above: Elvis Costello and the Imposters take the stage on a hot summer night at Crossroads KC.)

Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star 

Elvis Costello solved the age-old problem of what to do when an artist has too many great songs for one show – he brought them all onstage with him.

Costello’s “Spectacular Spinning Songbook” tour touched down at a crowded Crossroads on Thursday night. Behind the acclaimed songwriter’s left shoulder loomed a huge multi-colored wheel adorned with three dozen of his favorite songs. One at a time, members of the audience were invited up to spin the wheel and pick the next number.

“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” usually an encore, came up early. So did “Earthworms,” a song Costello wrote for singer Wendy James in the early ‘90s but never recorded himself. When the wheel landed on Bob Dylan’s “This Wheel’s On Fire,” Costello let the crowd choose between that number and his own “Human Hands.” The headliner won out.

First employed in the late ‘80s, the spinning songbook is a novel way for the performer to experience his work in a new context. On that level it was a success. The quartet was tight and energetic, clearly feeding of the energy of the fans dancing along to their selections onstage. But the wheel also killed momentum and started to feel kind of gimmicky after a while.

That said there was indisputably some great music in between spins. A spooky “I Want You” and an extended reading of “Watching the Detectives” that played up the song’s dub roots were among the high points.

Many of the best moments came early. Costello and his Imposters took the stage in with many favorites in a potent 15-minute romp before introducing the wheel. The extended jam on “Uncomplicated” found Costello and bass player Davey Faragher trading lines from Jr. Walker’s “Shotgun.” The Motown connection returned during “Alison,” when Costello incorporated several of the verses from Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears.”

Keyboard wizard Steve Nieve was the driving force on many songs, adding calliope runs to “Radio Radio,” a Theremin solo on “Peace, Love and Understanding” and sneaking some Stevie Wonder clavinet on “Shabby Doll.”

The night nearly ended with a brilliant three-song encore in which Costello and his band somehow took the jumpy “Pump It Up” straight into the reflective “Alison” before somehow ending up on a surprisingly strong version of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Costello had other plans, however, returning with two thirds of the Lovell Sisters to play some bluegrass.

Setlist: I Hope You’re Happy Now; Heart of the City; Mystery Dance; Uncomplicated > Radio Radio; Talking in the Dark; Clubland; (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding; Earthbound; Human Hands; Watching the Detectives; (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea; Almost Blue; Shabby Doll; I Want You. Encore 1: Brilliant Mistake; Pump It Up; Alison > Purple Rain. Encore 2: Sulfur to Sugarcane; The Crooked Line; The Scarlet Tide.

Keep reading:

Elvis Costello – “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane”

The Miracles – “The Tracks of My Tears”

Solomon Burke’s Sweet Soul Music

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(Above: Morris Day and Jerome riff on Abbott and Costello in this scene from the 1984 film “Purple Rain.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The original members of the ‘80s funk band the Time, including Morris Day, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and Jesse Johnson, will have an album of new material out within the next year if Day has his way.

“The original members get together when we can,” Day said. “It’s getting to the point where we can put something new out within the next year.”

After dropping three classic albums in the early ‘80s, the band briefly reunited in 1990. A group appearance at the 2008 Grammys kicked off the latest reconvening, Day said.

“What happened was we’ve been getting together and doing tracks for fun,” Day said. “It so happens Jimmy Jam is chairman of NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences), the company that does the Grammys. They found out he was an original member of the Time and thought we needed to come out together. So we did that, which lead to a string (of shows) in Vegas at the Flamingo, then we decided to keep on going.”

Just don’t expect Jam, Lewis, Johnson or any new cuts on Morris Day and the Time’s current tour.

“We’re holding up on that (playing new cuts). We’re going to launch it in a way that makes sense at the time,” Day said. “I do know we sound even better than the old records. You’ll be surprised how good everybody looks and sounds. There are still a few original members. We still have Jellybean (Johnson) on drums and Monte (Moir) on keyboards. “

In 1980, Prince culled the best musicians from local Minneapolis bands Flyte Time, the Family and Grand Central to be in his pet side project, the Time. Although the Time’s 1981 debut album featured Prince on most of the instruments, the other musicians gradually had more input.

“On the first record, Prince played a lot of the instruments, but I played drums,” Day said. “Every time he was in the studio, I was down there with him working just as much. We cut the tracks together. With each album, the musicians played larger roles. You can see it from all the spin-off careers. Everyone became very efficient in the studio.”

Jam and Lewis made their name as producers working with Janet Jackson. The pair brought in Jellybean Johnson to help produce Jackson’s 1989 hit “Black Cat.” Jesse Johnson also worked with Jackson and has written music for several movies, including “The Breakfast Club,” in addition to recording as a solo artist.

“I knew we had something special right away from the first song the band had to learn,” Day said. “When we played our first big show at the 20 Grand in

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Day performs onstage in Ft. Worth, Texas in August, 2009.

Detroit, I started out with my back to the crowd and I could hear the people going nuts. Then after the show I saw the response from the musicians and people into music and knew we had something special.”

The Time found their biggest success after appearing in “Purple Rain,” which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

“When we made ‘Purple Rain’ we weren’t thinking the movie would be a blockbuster, we were just having fun,” Day said. “I’ve only seen once in its entirety and that was at the premier. That said, I think it’s held up well because I always end up running into people who can quote my lines like they wrote the script.”

Unfortunately, the band was no longer intact to enjoy the results.

“What happened was Jimmy and Terry missed a show in Atlanta. They were somewhere producing for S.O.S. Band, missed their flight and because of bad weather couldn’t get out,” Day said. “Because we were signed to Prince’s production company, he fired them. The band never felt the same to me after that. I wasn’t feeling it any more so I decided to start a solo career.”

Day continued to work with Prince, though, appearing in the film “Graffiti Bridge.” Eventually Day realized he liked music more than movies.

“Acting is not an easy gig. It takes a special talent that not just anyone can do it,” Day said. “It takes a lot of memory and concentration, things that don’t come easy to me. I like to work an hour, hour and a half, and be able to go into the studio at my leisure.  The musician has more control over life than an actor.”

After a lengthy absence, Day returned to the big screen for the “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” in 2001.

“That’s an interesting scenario, because apparently (director) Kevin (Smith) wrote the script with us in mind before he contacted us,” Day said. “It was a good experience. I had teenage kids at the time, and they just thought of me as the guy who dropped them off at school. But after ‘Jay and Silent Bob’ so many kids were coming up to me. It set young eyes hip to what I do.”

(Note: This article was written in advance of a scheduled concert by Morris Day and the Time on Nov. 6, 2009, at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo. Unfortunately, Day cancelled the concert hours after the piece was submitted. It is published on The Daily Record for the first time.)

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