A Princely Racket

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Q:  What’s better than an amazing concert?

A:  An amazing concert that supports a great cause.

Last night I attended a benefit performance at Carnegie Hall, the proceeds from which will subsidize music programs for underprivileged youth in New York City.  What’s not to love?

It’s the third time I’ve attended such an affair at the Big Apple’s most prestigious venue. Each one has paid tribute to the music catalog of an iconic artist or band, performed by a diverse group of musicians.  Four years ago the concert highlighted the songs of R.E.M., my favorite band of all time.  Last year it was the Rolling Stones, my second favorite band of all time.  And last night’s line-up paid homage to the music of… wait for it… Prince!

Prince played a huge part in the soundtrack of my early adulthood.  Sure, I loved “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” as much as the next guy, but Purple Rain changed everything. The movie and album came out during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college.  While the film wasn’t exactly Oscar-worthy, its soundtrack dominated the popular culture for a year, spawning four top ten hits, including the title track, “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and “I Would Die 4 U.”  Sure, he’d have more hits through the late ’80s and early ’90s (“Raspberry Beret,” “U Got the Look,” “Cream,”  “7,” “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” etc.), but nothing compares 2 Purple Rain.

I went into last night’s show hoping to hear some interesting covers of a wide swath of Prince songs and that’s exactly what I got.

The “house band” was The Roots.  ‘Nuff said.  Gretchen Lieberum and Maya Rudolph (yes, that Maya Rudolph) of the cover band PRINCESS provided background vocals for several songs and did their own spectacular take on “Darling Nikki.”

The Waterboys opened the show with a rousing version of “Purple Rain,” and SNL’s Fred Armisen provided the iconic “Dearly Beloved…” preaching from the opening of “Let’s Go Crazy.”  Nina Persson of The Cardigans nailed “Nothing Compares 2 U.”  (Yeah, Sinead O’Connor made it famous, but Prince wrote it.)  Sandra Bernhard’s “Little Red Corvette” bordered on performance art.  In a good way.

I’ll now think of soul legend Bettye Lavette’s interpretation of “Kiss” every time I hear the song, whereas I used to picture Julia Roberts singing it in a bubble bath in Pretty Woman.  Citizen Cope & Alice Smith soared on “Pop Life,” and Talib Kweli updated the lyrics of “Annie Christian” to include events that occurred since the song’s original release in 1981.

DeVotchKa performed “Mountains.”  I’d never heard of the band, nor was I familiar with the song, but it was one of the highlights of the evening.  As was Bhi Bhiman’s haunting acoustic version of “When Doves Cry.”

Others paying homage to the Purple One included Elvis Costello, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Chris Rock.  The entire ensemble of artists reunited on stage to close the show with a rousing “1999” that brought the crowd to its feet.

It was a truly magical evening, one that made me grateful to live in New York where we have access to such one-of-a-kind events.  It also gave me a renewed appreciation for the musical genius of Prince Rogers Nelson while exposing me to amazing musicians, some of whom were not on my radar until last night.  And it raised over $100,000 for music education programs.

Purple reigns.

Today’s poll:  What’s your favorite Prince song?


Little Red Corvette

Raspberry Beret

When Doves Cry

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