“Minneapolis, if you love Prince make some noise!”
They were the kinds of one-liners that might come off as platitudes from any other touring performer. But when Morris Day stopped between songs at the Minnesota Zoo’s amphitheater to shout-out one of his oldest friends and most complex musical partnerships, there was no question that he was speaking from the heart.
“Jellybean, we are in the hometown tonight,” Morris said, turning around in a rare unscripted moment to address the drummer who was there from the very beginning, not just from the genesis of the Time but from the start of Morris’s journey with the gang of North Side kids who would invent the Minneapolis Sound.
Although Morris Day and the Time have made many hometown stops in recent years — including a show in January at Paisley Park that was hosted by Prince himself — this gig felt significant for several reasons. Not only was it their first time returning home since the passing of the man who created their band back in 1981, but it was their chance to reconnect with an audience who could fully understand the magnitude of the loss and what it meant to their legacy and their city.
Original drummer Jellybean Johnson sat at the kit flanked by founding member Monte Moir on keys, and Moir’s parents stood proudly in the audience, taking selfies with fans while wearing ballcaps emblazoned with “THE TIME.” When guitarist Tori Ruffin asked if there were any Morris Day and the Time fans in the house, a man loudly replied, “Of course there are, this is MINNEAPOLIS!”
Day was sure to make several hometown references in his songs. He shouted out the North Side more than once, rapped about driving his yellow Cadillac down to the Nacirema Club in South, and reminded the crowd that “Uptown Funk” was an explicit rip-off of the sound he helped Prince to create. “When Bruno sings he’s ‘gonna kiss himself, he’s so pretty,’ where do you think he got that?” Day said to wild cheers.
And through it all he never broke character, never wavered. Even in his quieter moments he was dramatically self-centered and cavalier, like when he removed his sunglasses like he was going to say something serious and said, “Minneapolis, there must be something in the air tonight… because I’m starting to feel real sexy right now.”
Morris performs with an impenetrable swagger, the kind that kids on the North Side adopted back in the early ’70s to compete with each other in high school battles of the band, when he and Prince and Andre Cymone would team up in Grand Central against Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in Flyte Tyme. It’s the kind of swagger that made him famous as Prince’s nemesis in Purple Rain, and that caused him to butt heads with the boss time and again throughout their respective careers, as they never quit performing like showbiz and Hollywood was just one big battle of the bands and they were determined to take home the prize.
Perhaps the best tribute Morris Day can pay to Prince at this point is to stay in the character that he helped create, to live up to the vision that Prince had for the potential of his hometown crew. From “COOL” to “777-9311” to “The Bird,” which does indeed sound like the funk-pop prototype for “Uptown Funk,” the band cranked out tight rhythms and kept the crowd on their feet, Jellybean digging down deep into the pocket and Moir pounding out those signature synth lines. And Prince would have loved it when Johnson came back on stage in the encore to wail on the guitar while Day sat down behind the kit, a testament to the fact that all those neighborhood kids knew they had to master more than one instrument if they were going to make the cut.
As Questlove so aptly tweeted in the weeks following Prince’s death, “Every Prince rendition will not be a life changing orgasmic experience. Just to SING his work is brave enough.” And so no, there were no tearful tributes, no candid speeches addressing the loss of one of his oldest friends. But in his own way, and with his own signature style, Morris Day gave us the strength to get up, put our hands on our hips, and shuffle our feet to “Jungle Love” in that joyful way that can only be described as courageous.
I’d be remiss to gloss over the fact that Mina Moore and her band did a fantastic job warming up the stage for the Time, and at several moments she proved that she is part of the lineage of artists carrying the Minneapolis Sound into a new age. Moore began the set with a moving a capella rendition of “7” that had the hairs on the back of my neck standing straight, and sprinkled in a cover of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately” that would have made Jam and Lewis proud. Her own song, “Yasmina,” was also a set highlight.
Morris Day and the Time