The Okayplayer crew was lucky enough to have a ringside seat at the rehearsals for tonight’s Prince tribute, a fundraiser for various charities that support youth-oriented music programs. Rehearsals took place all day yesterday and culminated in a “rehearsal performance” at the intimate, atmospheric City Winery venue. The braintrust of incredible talent drifting sleepily between the stage and the spread of free muffins and coffee on the bar represented maybe the most star-powered Prince fan club ever, as Bilal geeked out on sharing the stage with Elvis Costello,who geeked out on Booker T who geeked out on Maya Rudolph (there as 1/2 of Princess with her homegirl Gretchen Lieberum) who geeked out on sharing the stage with Wendy and Susannah Melvoin (legendary shapers of the Prince sound–and, you know, pop music–as lynchpins of The Revolution and The Family respectively) who geeked out on the songwriting of Citizen Cope (there to perform a duet of “Pop Life” with his wife, the amazing Alice Smith) and the very idea of sharing the stage with D’Angelo. Between the fragmentary moments of inspired musical creation happening onstage, journalistic OG Nelson George regaled us with war stories of interviewing the purple one for his very 1st paid writing gig and being the subject of multiple Prince dis records over the years (see “Bob George” and “All The Critics Love U In New York”) and Booker T revealed details of a new album project set to feature Anthony Hamilton and Estelle, among others.
For the actual performance the West Village crowd was a bit stiff but measurably excited by the assembled star power and especially Wendy and Susannah. The overall vibe was awkward but casual as it was just the warm up for Carnegie Hall tonight. The Roots sounded great as usual, with powerful turns from organizer/Prince super-fan ?uestlove, Mark Kelly, Frank Knuckles and Captain Kirk, who as one Okayplayer put it “was put on this earth specifically to play the guitar solo from ‘Purple Rain’.”
Highlights: Bilal’s intense cover of the incestuous “Sister”–next-level, falsetto perfection (duh). Princess’ cover of “Darling Nikki” turned a troubling/provocative song into something hilarious. Everyone was in jeans and t-shirts but The Blind Boys of Alabama showed everyone up when they came out in matching tan suits for their sublime gospel cover of “The Cross“–a showstopper, nay heartstopper, even in rehearsal. As in literally; dishwashers and paper-shufflers within a 1-block radius stopped what they were doing and lifted their heads in an attempt to identify the heavenly sound. A room full of stars looked star-struck.
On a minor lowlight, Elvis Costello appeared to be reading the words to “Moonbeam Levels” off a sheet for a good portion of the song but on the positive side, Elvis Costello performed “Moonbeam Levels”–an unreleased Prince chestnut so obscure that even Wendy and Susannah couldn’t agree about when it was written. A gimme for true TACKAP obsessives (“WAIT… ELVIS COSTELLO DID MOONBEAM LEVELS????????????????????? *dies*”) Costello’s performance also marks the first time he has performed in public with The Roots, not counting his Jimmy Fallon appearances–onstage collaborations which set in motion the joint album project they’re currently working on–an extra-historic moment for fans of both the legendary and the perennial angry young man. D’Angelo–perhaps the most anticipated guest of the night–never appeared, thereby ensuring he’ll be the most anticipated guest of tonight’s official Carnegie Hall tribute. Except, of course, for the guest of honor. Scroll down for the set-list, find out who you have to kill and impersonate to get in to Carnegie Hall tonight and check back for official OKP TV versions of those geek-outs, war stories and sublime moments.
Prince Tribute Rehearsal Set list:
The Waterboys – Purple Rain
Bilal – Sister
The Blind Boys of Alabama – The Cross
Booker T with Diane Birch – Raspberry Beret
Nina Persson – Nothing Compares 2 U
Elvis Costello – Moonbeam Levels
Princess – Darling Nikki
DeVotchka – Mountains
Bhi Bhiman – When Doves Cry
Eric Leeds – Ten/I Wonder U
FDeluxe (fka The Family) – High Fashion/Mutiny/Party 1999