Normally musicians want to take you higher, but Thursday night on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, Jimmy Jam set a different goal. “I just looked at my phone,” he said from the stage around 6:45, “and it’s three degrees! Goin’ to two…let’s see if we can get to zero before the night is over!”
Even the elements themselves dare not defy one of Minnesota’s true music legends, and indeed, when headliners Rae Sremmurd hit the stage shortly after 9:30, Jimmy Jam’s phone — and all of ours — read precisely zero degrees.
The Gopher State gets even colder often enough, and doubtless there have been plenty of subzero campfire singalongs or snowdrift hootenannys, but Thursday night’s Super Bowl LIVE showcase may have set some kind of new record for a major concert held out of doors in Minnesota.
All night long, musicians and technicians fought the very limits of what you can pull off with amplified sound equipment when air is 30 degrees below the freezing point. Onstage heaters cut the chill a bit, from overhead coils to stagetop gas burners to tubes of warmed air directed at laptops and keyboards, but performers’ breath still billowed out of their mouths in clouds that threatened to form icicles.
The five-band lineup started an hour late, because, Jimmy Jam explained, the previous night’s snow melted under the lights and then froze overnight, leaving much of the equipment inoperative. The co-curator and his crew seemed to embrace the challenge, though: Jimmy Jam could be seen standing at stage left throughout the night, beaming in his signature fedora and sunglasses (with added wraparound ear warmers), often recording the show on his phone.
Jimmy Jam and his producing partner Terry Lewis have been in the studio with the opening band, he explained. Jakubi are a band from Melbourne, Australia (!) whose sound blends R&B, funk, and hip-hop with an often laconic reggae-tinged vibe. Singer/rapper Jerome Farah even busted out with a talk box, perhaps the only tube on stage not being used for heating purposes.
Jakubi would have been the perfect openers for the kind of warm summer night they must be used to, but they were embraced figuratively by the huddled dozens gathering in front of the stage as well as literally by Jimmy Jam, who came out to thank them for soldiering on in extremely “Bold North” conditions.
The heart of Thursday’s lineup were bands linked to the Minneapolis Sound that the Super Bowl LIVE series is celebrating. The purest blast of old-school electro-funk came from fDeluxe, the band formed by Prince as the Family in 1984. Legendary hype man Jerome Benton (that’s him holding the mirror for Morris Day in Purple Rain) wore his customary sharp black suit, and his bandmates complimented him for looking cool. “No,” he admitted, “tonight I’m cold!”
The band were down a member due to the cold. “Eric Leeds picked up his horn to play,” explained leader St. Paul Peterson, “and nothing came out!”
“Nothing came out,” repeated singer Susannah Melvoin, making a flat-palmed gesture to indicate the lack of sound.
Tearing through “High Fashion,” “The Screams of Passion,” and “Mutiny,” fDeluxe wound the clock right back to 1985, when the Minneapolis Sound was hot and fresh. It was a far cry from the (virtual) seaside setting of the “Screams of Passion” video, but that didn’t stop the band — with Melvoin resplendent in a fur coat and updo — from reminding their fans what they came for.
As footage of Prince’s 2007 Super Bowl halftime show played on the upstage screens, the crew scurried to reset the stage for the sprawling New Power Soul. By this point the crowd was noticeably transitioning from the Love-Symbol-wearing Prince devotees to young adults, many sporting University of Minnesota gear, getting ready for the headliners.
New Power Soul take their name from a 1998 New Power Generation album. They also share their name with a New Jersey wedding band, so they knew they had to be precise in sharing their website URL from the stage. It’s newpowersoul.co, a site that contains previews of songs from the band’s forthcoming debut album Revelation.
They came together last year in cooperation with Prince’s brother Omarr Baker, who invited The Current’s Andrea Swensson to Paisley Park for a peek at their recording sessions. The band’s focus seems to have changed since that September visit: they’re no longer fronted by Jason Tenner, a longtime Prince tribute artist whose presence sparked the ire of many fans.
Now, New Power Soul are led by Marva King, a singer with the NPG who led the effort to build a new band inspired by the soul and theatricality of Prince’s various projects. Their set on Thursday emphasized original material, with King rocking the mic in front of singer/dancers Maya and Nandy McClean, who’ve also performed with Prince. (A fun backstage video from saxophonist Marcus Anderson highlights the wardrobe adjustments the group made to stay warm.)
If many of the faces onstage were familiar to longtime purple people, it was all new to the beanie-capped masses, who nonetheless must have been impressed by the sheer theatricality of the New Power Soul show. Honed in rehearsals at the Capri Theater, their carefully choreographed performance culminated in a group pose at center stage, with the McClean twins shooting funny money out into the crowd. The bills were the only thing counterfeit about this appealing new extension of Prince’s musical legacy.
Penultimate performer André Cymone was introduced, with no hyperbole, as “one of the original architects of the Minneapolis Sound.” That’s a feather in his cap, and there was an actual feather in his hopefully well-insulated top hat as well.
“I wrote a song just for you,” declared Cymone, ripping into a new song about his hometown, delivered with the force and style he’s been honing since his high school days gigging with Prince in Grand Central. His short set highlighted recent material, including “We All Need Somethin'” and “Black Man in America” from his new album 1969. He also slipped in a Prince cover, getting the crowd jumping to “When You Were Mine” after he had to abandon his guitar. “It’s so cold,” he explained, “my strings broke!”
The plunging temperature made for a uniquely festive mood as the now overwhelmingly young crowd waited to see Rae Sremmurd. Most were bundled, but some forewent even ear protection as they danced around in anticipation of a rare free show by the Magnolia State brothers behind one of last year’s hugest singles, “Black Beatles.” The song topped the Hot 100, in part on the strength of being often used to soundtrack the “Mannequin Challenge” — including in a video starring Paul McCartney himself.
One group of fans started a “Skol” chant. Another group passed around a wine bladder, playing Slap the Bag and drinking straight from the spigot. Vendors circulated selling beer, very accurately advertised as “ice cold.” People tried to drink, despite the fact that it became logistically difficult: not only did you have to shove your scarf aside to take a sip, you risked having your lips freeze to the can. One woman in a leopard-print coat was suddenly grinding up on me, shooting a video on her phone. “Love your ski goggles!” she yelled. “So cool!”
At 9:30, we were notified that Rae Sremmurd were “on their way.” Shivering in a silk pink jacket, D-JaySremm asked the crowd to throw our hands in the air, and a sea of mittens flew skyward. Finally, there they were: Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee, on the mics…which were inactive, because, cold.
Finally the glitch was fixed, and clouds of vapor poured off the crowd as they surged forward under pulsing pink lights. Jxmmi even doffed his shirt, proving that you don’t need to be from the north end of the Mississippi to show the cold who’s boss.
New Power Soul