Monday, April 4, 2011

Me'Shell NdegeOcello does Prince

Review of Me’Shell NdegeOcello’s set of Prince songs, 3/11/11 @ the New Parish.

If there was ever a hot east bay show to catch, the Me’Shell show of Prince covers is it. Anyone that knows the music of Prince knows that there is an endlessly interesting, freaky, original and entertaining supply of awesome tracks to choose from, but only a MASTER has any business trying to take them on.

How many artists have done good Prince covers? I can count ‘em on one hand. But now Me’Shell has done exactly what a funkateer would like to see done, a truly polished treatment of Prince that captured all of the Artist’s uniquely intimate sexuality and emotional intensity, while bringing the raw power of The Funk to kick it into a new gear. That is what Me’Shell did, and probably no one else in the biz could do.

After Martin Luther did a set of far reaching Beatles covers that I thoroughly enjoyed (but the crowd may not have recognized), The exotic, ethnic, original Oakland audience milled about in full color, waiting for their hero…

Me’Shell had a quartet of funk geniuses, with drummer Deantoni Parks, guitarist Chris Bruce, and keyboardist Keefus Ciancia that all understood the requirements of Prince’s music.

The quartet had a perfect sense of the tone needed to deal with the exotic arrangements of Prince properly, and the eerie keyboard work (from an original MOOG synthesizer and some other keys) captured the spacey emotional techno tone of early 80’s Prince.

She began with Pop Life, and just hung every word out to delicious effect. Then she got into a thumping party groove and did Irresistible Bitch which sent me over the top. The audience wasn’t as familiar with that track, a one-off single from back in the day, but it is most definitely part of Prince’s legend.

Then Me’Shell began a light version of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” by just singing it, but you could tell the tone of the band was going to escalate, and when Me’Shell picked up her bass and brought the thump, she hit the most exquisitely erotic rock hard THUMP I’ve heard since Bootsy Collins came this way.

IT was clear from the third track that despite Me’shell’s affection for all of Prince’s many delights as a soul piercing songwriter, this show provided Me’Shell with more freedom to RIP throbbing funk riffs all night.

While there were some disruptions to get their sound right, there was nothing missing when they got cranking, and the band kept things just a silly millameter slower than the record, so the delicious grooves – sometimes overlooked by the shrill vocals and guitars of Prince’s most recognizeable songs – can just be soaked in in full intensity.

After an utterly throbbing version of Controversy, She said ‘now that I finished the standard issue, I’m going to cut loose’ She then did a warped version of Dirty Mind, turning it into a metal mash.

Her rendition of Annie Christian was brilliant, and at the end, she just casually quipped ‘Prince was more interesting before he found Jehovah” which caused a surprising amount of groans from the audience. Me’Shell was clearly surprised by the reaction, and tried to joke about it. I suspect she figured the Oakland crowd would be far more "post-Christian" in their sensibilities.

The new Prince generation of fans may have another perspective on the Purple One than those of us that experienced his music as it happened in the 80’s. Me’Shell clearly did, saying that she “Loved Prince” and that “he changed my life” which I think a lot of people share, but nobody and I mean nobody has been able to DO Prince properly in the past 30 years until Me’Shell did. Hands down.

Me'Shell was clearly one of the many folks that caught one of Prince's Oakland concerts in February, and got inspired. I was definitely one of them, and felt blessed to see one of our generation's greatest acts giving it up for Oaktown, for Larry Graham and for Sheila E, and the Bay Area. Me'Shell took it one step further.

From my vantage point as a P-Funker that appreciates Prince but always wondered what would happen if Prince’s music acquired some Thunder Thumbs type of bottom, how much Ultimate Phunk would be unleashed? Well, Me’Shell did EXACTLY THAT, and then some.

This funky generation is FINALLY doing its homework, studying the deep jams in all their intricacy and liquified attitudinal genius, and then blasting them out with a brand new tone. The Roots & John Legend did this with Soul last year. Folks is WAY beyond sampling riffs, they are digging deep. Much Respect to Me'Shell for showing the way.

Props to the folks at the New Parish for making this happen. Some days it is a blessing to be into The Funk, and to be in Oakland.