Friday night’s show at Paisley Park felt like a family reunion — even if the family’s most famous member, and the host of the gathering, kept himself discreetly tucked out of sight. (Some concertgoers did spot Prince, though I didn’t.)
“We go too far back with Prince,” mused Morris Day from onstage. “Too many memories.” Thanking his host, he concluded, “We love you, Prince.”
Day and Prince have known each other since their shared Minneapolis youth. Though they were friends and collaborators, Day and Prince were introduced to millions as onscreen rivals in the iconic hit Purple Rain — a movie that pitted Day’s band the Time against Prince and the Revolution in a fictional battle for a coveted headlining spot at First Avenue.
In reality, the Time were formed and produced by Prince — who brought Day together with an existing band called Flyte Tyme, and wrote most of the band’s best-known material. The Time quickly became a formidable unit with an unforgettable live show, sometimes threatening to upstage the headliner when they opened for Prince in the early ’80s.
Fittingly, then, on Friday night the Time themselves had a tough act to follow: Judith Hill, an L.A.-based singer who Prince invited to Paisley Park to record her strong, soulful solo album Back In Time. The album first surfaced as a free download offered to fans last March; in October it received an official release, and on Friday night, Hill proudly pointed concertgoers to some of the first physical copies of the album, for sale (along with newly-pressed copies of Prince’s HITnRUN phase two) at the lobby’s merch counter.
When it came to family, Hill was not to be outdone: her crack five-piece band featured both of her parents. Bassist Robert “Pee Wee” Hill and his wife, keyboardist Michiko Hill, met in the 1970s when they were in a funk band together, and on Friday night they showed that they’ve both still got it — to say the least. They took turns ripping raucous solos with the rest of the band, billed as Judith Hill & FAM.
Judith Hill and her family band — which also includes guitarist Tony Maiden of Rufus — have been touring together, and Hill commanded the stage like a true bandleader. The setup in Paisley Park’s large performance room had been rotated 90º from last week’s Piano & a Microphone concerts, with rows of VIP seating up against the stage and space for general admission in the rest of the room. Behind the stage where Prince performed last week, Judith Hill’s circular logo was projected on top of Prince’s trademark glyph in an apt visual metaphor for their collaboration.
Many recent media headlines about Hill have played on the title of 20 Feet From Stardom, the 2013 documentary in which Hill was featured among other backing singers who were still waiting for their chances to take center stage. Hill definitely has that spot now; her comfort and command were clear throughout her 11-song set, as was her stylistic range, from the bluesy “Wild Tonight” to the jazzy “Love Trip” to the anthemic “My People” and the soulful “Cry, Cry, Cry.”
Resplendent in red crushed velvet, Hill seemed as comfortable at Paisley Park as if it were her own living room — which it virtually is, given how much time she’s spent there rehearsing, recording, and performing over the past couple of years. The next performers haven’t been quite as frequent guests of late, but they made clear that they were home, too.
Taking the stage after a video montage recalling their cinematic history, Morris Day and the Time wasted no time getting down to their signature antics in songs like “Cool”: iconic gestures like checking their watches, dance moves honed by 35 years of repetition, and lovable schtick like Day combing his hair in the mirror held by a right-hand man (Thomas Austin, in for original sidekick Jerome Benton).
After a volley of hits including “Wild and Loose” (the song that kicks off with Day’s signature rhetorical question, “What time is it?!”) bassist Ricky “Freeze” Smith, after thanking Prince “for all these years,” challenged the crowd to recognize some of the Time’s slow songs. The joke was that the Time are not particularly known for their slow jams, but Day remembered them — singing along from offstage, where he claimed to be “half naked” in a costume change.
Day re-emerged in a white coat, though he didn’t abandon for long his previous yellow jacket (“Could you bring me my pimp coat?” he asked, calling for the yellow outerwear’s return). With the band in slow-burn mode, Day acknowledged his band — which included original Time members “Jellybean” Johnson on drums and Monte Moir on keys — and took time out (so to speak) to mention one of his musical heirs.
“You know Bruno Mars, in ‘Uptown Funk’?” asked Day, referencing the monster hit Mars cut in collaboration with Mark Ronson, a song that unapologetically cops the Time’s pop-funk vibe. “He says, ‘Gotta kiss myself, I’m so pretty.’ Where do you think he gets that s–t from?” We knew.
(In fairness, earlier that evening, Day told The Current’s Andrea Swensson that “Uptown Funk” was “awesome”; “they did a really good job.” Listen to their conversation below — and hear it again on the Local Show this Sunday night, Feb. 7, 6-8 p.m. on The Current.)
Day then asked the crowd to imagine joining him in “that yellow limousine — you know, the one from Purple Rain. I think it’s in the basement here somewhere.” (Not a wildly implausible notion, given that the motorcycle from that movie is parked in the lobby.) “We’re going to go back to 1984, and take a trip from the Northside of Minneapolis to the Southside, to the Nacirema Club.”
The Nacirema Club — which Day pointed out was “American” spelled backwards, something I hadn’t noticed — was an actual Minneapolis hotspot back when Morris Day and Prince were still in their high school band Grand Central. What actually happened there has been documented in the invaluable photographs of Charles Chamblis, but what virtually happened there on Friday night was a dance party that had a couple dozen women invited onstage for the Time’s “Ice Cream Castles.”
After a skit that had Day invite one woman (he had to go through a couple before he found one who was older than her early 20s — “got me feeling like a pedophile up here!”) to gamely dance with guitarist Tory Ruffin, leaving me to wonder how that skit goes at venues that aren’t, as Paisley Park is, alcohol-free.
“If you’ve been following this band since 1981,” declared Day, “you know where this party’s about to go!” The band tore back into their set, which concluded with “The Bird” and, for an encore, the indelible “Jungle Love.”
(Before the encore, fans got a special treat: Day took a turn at the drumset, while Johnson stepped out to pick up a guitar and rip a searing take on “Black Cat,” the Janet Jackson chart-topper that Johnson co-produced when Rhythm Nation 1814 producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis decided that hard rock wasn’t their forte.)
After spending his entire adult life playing a silky-smooth, hyper-confident version of himself, Day commands the stage like a prizefighter. A quick left (check the watch), a quick right (check the mirror), a feint (mop the brow), and a hop (a hop) — and he still leaves ’em floored.
Though Prince wasn’t seen onstage, he made his approval clear on Twitter — and hinted that his postponed European tour might be getting a reboot. “LONG LIVE THE MPLS. SOUND!!! MORRIS DAY & THE TIME RULE!!! WE ALL THANK U ALL & ALL OF US THANKEACHOTHER!! EUROPE IS CALLING..PICKUP THE PH-”
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