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Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life at First Avenue, 3/9/13

Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life at First Avenue, 3/9/13
Photo by Steve Cohen

Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life
With Princess, ?uestlove, Dez Dickerson, Andre Cymone, Dr. Fink, and Alexander O'Neal
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Saturday, March 9, 2013

The draws for Saturday's second annual Benefit 2 Celebrate Life at First Avenue were many, but Princess was the most unique, by far. A covers project made up of Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph and her friend Gretchen Lieberum was a cherished trip through some of Prince's more-ribald '80s material. It was delivered with equal parts heart and humor, and since this was a benefit for the American Heart Association, this was apt.

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Slideshow: Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life 2013

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During one of several speeches he gave throughout the night, the nattily dressed emcee/organizer/drummer Bobby Z referred to setting up the night as "My purple chaos." And there was always a swarm of bodies corralled backstage throughout the night as one special appearance after another graced the stage. 

Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life at First Avenue, 3/9/13
Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life at First Avenue, 3/9/13
Photos by Steve Cohen

First among them was the Time alum Alexander O'Neal, who also suited up for the occasion and gave the tight backing band an early workout, and soulfully broke out "A Broken Heart Can Mend." The Voice finalist Nicholas David Mrozinski followed and really got the revue vibe of the night into swing with his jazz-tinted take on "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." He looked comfortable behind a keyboard for his portion of the evening, and played with his phrasing with ease. Then, area jazz singer Patty Peterson told of her own recent heart challenges before opening up her pipes for Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All."

Signaling that the dancing portion of the evening was officially in swing, the charming Stokley Williams fronted a miniature version of Mint Condition next. A couple songs were far too few to work in all of his flirtatious antics up there, but he cut a fine figure in his plaid jacket and reached out to the crowd to build the intensifying evening.

Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life at First Avenue, 3/9/13
Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life at First Avenue, 3/9/13
Photos by Steve Cohen

Before Princess made their way onstage, two giant bouquets of roses were placed on either side of the stage. It was a wise, sensual touch for what was about to unfold. Though Gretchen Lieberum looked much as advertised in her stylish captain's hat and sparkly raincoat dress, Maya Rudolph looked to be carrying a little one.
 
No matter, as they launched into "Controversy" with a fierceness that multiplied as the songs poured out of them. Behind them, Dr. Fink had set up in a lab coat and scrubs behind the keys, and newly installed ?uestlove towered over the stage up at his raised drum kit. Rudolph, for her part, has mastered the prolonged, gut-scraping squeal that became a trademark for their hero decades ago. Even without seeing them break a smile, there was humor conveyed in their dramatic renditions.

Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life at First Avenue, 3/9/13
Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life at First Avenue, 3/9/13
Photos by Steve Cohen

"How many times do you think we've seen Purple Rain?" Lieberum asked the crowd. "10, 50, 100, 123... yes!" And, to prove their knowledge, there was a bit of role-playing dialogue from the film. The scene in question? "You have to purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka." And then they floored us with "The Beautiful Ones," played tight, and sung with abandon. Though it was impossible to top that fist-clenching, soul-baring moment, Princess sure tried, and rattled off a funky "Head," the smarmy "Darling Nikki," and a crushing rendition of "Purple Rain" that included Lieberum providing the echoes to Rudolph's roiling lead. They tossed their roses into the crowd when they finished, and looked stunned to be on the First Avenue stage.

For the final set of the night, veteran Prince guitarists Dez Dickerson and Andre Cymone teamed up to close down the night with a slate of classics that came from inside and outside the purple family. The bandana-clad Dickerson clearly still has the face for a stage show, and contorted his countenance and pursed his lips as he laid into his guitar and sang with impressive range on "Modernaire," "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad," and "When You Were Mine." The performance so impressed ?uestlove, in fact, that he sat in the photo pit to take pictures of Dickerson with his phone.

Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life at First Avenue, 3/9/13
Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life at First Avenue, 3/9/13
Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life at First Avenue, 3/9/13
Photos by Steve Cohen

A double shot of vintage synth-funk sent the fans out into the streets. First, Andre Cymone's "Dance Electric," and then after a short break, "Partyup" from Prince's Dirty Mind. Even with the party reaching a light-at-heart balance, the emotion of it all clearly weighed heavy on Bobby Z. Still clearly grateful to be recovered from his own heart affliction, he basked in the show's final moments, which had the night's "celebrate life" theme nailed.

Critic's Notebook

The Crowd: Grown-ups who haven't forgotten the funk, and a few young'uns who were perhaps conceived to the strains of "Purple Rain." There was also a fancily dressed guy who was a bit too tall to be Prince in Gucci shades prowling near the backstage area.

Overheard: "She SUPER pregnant," regarding Maya Rudolph.

Random Notebook Dump: I want ?uestlove's "For You & Prince & Dirty Mind & Controversy & 1999" T-shirt.

Setlists

Princess:
Controversy
17 Days
Sexuality
Let's Pretend We're Married
Lady Cab Driver > Automatic
The Beautiful Ones
Head
Darling Nikki
Purple Rain

Dez Dickerson and Andre Cymone:
You
When You Were Mine
Modernaire
Some Kind of Wonderful
Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad
Spanish Castle Magic
Kelly's Eyes
Dance Electric

Encore:
PartyUp


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