September 16, 2011
Loring Theater, Minneapolis
There was no doubt that Friday night's show at the Loring Theater was a little piece of history, and everything about the night's proceedings hearkened back to a bygone era of show business; the marquee that lit up Nicollet, the crowd that was dressed in their Sunday best, the elaborate backdrop that silhouetted the band members' faces.
It would be a memorable night based on circumstance alone, and it helped to smooth over a few rough patches in the performance and keep the focus on the big picture: That it was the first time in 26 years that the Family, now known as fDeluxe, would play a full concert.
[jump] Strangely, the band has only performed a full show once before, all those years ago. It was a sold-out show at First Avenue, and by all reports (and YouTube videos) it was a fantastic night. Since that 1986 gig, the band has only performed two other times -- they made a brief appearance at a 2003 charity gig organized by Sheila E, which prompted their reformation, and played a song at this summer's Minnesota Black Music Awards -- so they could be forgiven for a few hiccups as they eased into the show together.
And things did begin a little awkwardly. The band filed out with great pomp and circumstance, a string-heavy backing track failing to sync with the beats hammered out by the players on stage, and it took almost the entire length of opening song "Screams of Passion" for the players to find one another. The audience didn't seem to mind though, as they had already leapt to their feet in anticipation, and by the second song, "Gaslight" (the title track off their new LP), the band had fallen into enough of a groove that it got people moving to the beat.
"It's been 25 years," St. Paul Peterson declared to the appreciative crowd. "I bet you're wondering -- can she still shake it?" To which his fDeluxe co-leader Susannah Melvoin turned her rail-thin frame around and wriggled her booty for the room, showing that she can, in fact, still shake it just as well as she could all those years ago. Melvoin's voice, too, has held up well over the years, and once she was warmed up she belted out a high-register wail that stretched all the way to the back of the theater's balcony.
In addition to four of the founding members of the Family -- vocalists Peterson and Melvoin, plus guitarist Jellybean Johnson (who also took a turn at the drumset) and saxophonist Eric Leeds -- the group was bolstered by organ work from Peterson's nephew, Jason Peterson DeLaire, and brother Ricky, plus drummer Mario Dawson and guitarist Oliver Leiber. Each musician is so well-versed from a lifetime of working as studio and touring musicians that they played together with ease, and by the time they were six songs in they were playing with such a tight precision that the musician's solos were just as enticing as the vocal melodies. "Leed's Line," an instrumental piece about halfway through the set, came to life with a fiery B3 organ solo by Ricky Peterson that was a highlight of the night.
As the performance wore on the band gained more and more momentum, and after a couple of ballads the crowd was back on their feet and dancing for a long, jammy version of "High Fashion" that was fueled by Peterson's slap-bass and the band's fiercest groove. The only real disappointment of the night was that the band didn't wait until this point in the night to pull out their best-known hit, "Nothing Compares 2 U," as it would have sounded magnificent played that tightly. Instead, it made an appearance just a handful of songs into the set and teetered to life with an uncertain kind of awkwardness.
All was forgiven by the end, though, as the crowd roared in thanks and the band returned for a well-earned encore. The Twin Cities show was the first in a small series of tour dates for the reformed band, and Melvoin was excited to announce that they will be joined by her twin sister Wendy and her longtime musical partner Lisa Coleman for their show in L.A. -- which is sure to be another historic night for this iconic band.
Personal bias: I've always been fascinated with the history of the Minneapolis Sound, and have a new appreciation for that era of music history after researching the Family and interviewing St. Paul Peterson in advance of this show.
The crowd: Dressed to the nines and excited to relive the glory days of mid-'80s First Avenue.
Random notebook dump: The band pulled evenly from their new album, Gaslight, and their classic debut, The Family, and the crowd seemed familiar with tracks both new and old.
"Like" Gimme Noise on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at @gimme_noise.