Venue: Foxwoods Casino Atrium Bar & Lounge
Date: February 2/17/17
Band: Morris Day and The Time
Morris Day: Lead Vocals
Jellybean Johnson: Drums
Tori Ruffin: Lead Guitar
Ricky "Freeze" Smith: Bass Guitar
Monte Moir: Keyboards
Jeff "JMak" McNeeley: Keyboards
Thomas Austin: Percussion, Mirror
Arlington Sayrie: Stage Management
Ed Irons: Sound Technician
What a whirlwind week The Time had: Prince Grammy tribute performance with Bruno Mars to performing on an 80s Cruise and wrapping up with a funk and roll throwdown at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. My partners in funk were Gi Dussault (co-host of the "Upper Room" radio show), Noreen Franklin (famed photographer) and Kevin Franklin (guitarist with the What Up Funk Band). Props to Noreen Franklin for the photos in this review.
Having seen The Time countless times in concert since 1983, I'll clear this off the deck that the Atrium Bar & Lounge was one of the least favorite venues to see the fellas. Nothing horrible about the joint but it was a very tiny spot and the dance floor was jammed 30 minutes before the show. Very hot and my two experiences with elbow to elbow seating: Prince at Roseland in NYC and The Clash in Hartford, CT taught me to step aside to safer surroundings. Thus, we made it out to the perimeter to watch the show. We're used to seeing The Time at Mohegan Sun's Wolf Den (hint hint: Maybe next go-round?)
You are guaranteed that The Time will bring it to every concert with stellar funk and roll , energetic performance and lookin' clean as ever. They can be on stage at the Staples Center or a small area such as The Atrium and you are going to get the same top-level performance. The crowd at Foxwoods consisted of old-school playas and casual bettors who happened to stroll upon one of the baddest bands to wreck a stage.
Prior to going onstage, Jellybean Johnson was stage left looking like Thomas Hearns before stepping into the ring grooving to Prince's "Let's Work" over the sound system. Cool to see musicians prepping before playing. The Time commenced with a nice tribute to Prince with "1999" and then launched into their plethora of Northside Minneapolis hits. Even the neophytes quickly picked up on the C-O-O-L hand gestures. Morris Day appeared emboldened like he was back in his 20s cutting a path of funk and style like no other. The newest member of the band Thomas Austin interacted with Morris smoothly and brought the entertainment meter up several notches.
Monte Moir delivered his trademark keyboard genius and we particularly enjoyed his spotlight on "Gigolos Get Lonely Too". This is the man whose melodies are used in songs like Rihanna's "Work". We're funksters at heart but when you can blend rock, blues and funk with the six-string guitar, it makes it all the more special. Tori Ruffin was electrifying all night on guitar and even led as hype man on the mic.
Jellybean Johnson leaves it all out on the stage. Playing drums ferociously and still tapping out one of the most complex beats on "777-9311", all drummers could go to master class watching Jellybean play at a Time show. Ricky "Freeze" Smith" locks the low-end of the Time's sound and has really taken the original Time bass lines that Prince created and made them his own. Each show I hear different touches and is great for any musicologist. Look out for an upcoming Freeze interview on our radio show on WVOF. Keyboardist Jeff McNeeley touched off one of the highlights of the night when he combined keyboard bass with Freeze's bass on "Ice Cream Castles". I asked JMak about this groove and he smiled and said he had his keyboard bass turned up really high.
Credit goes out to Ed Irons for mixing the house sound. Not the easiest venues to do so and the music sounded great all night and Arlington Sayrie for keeping everyone safe. Tough place to get everyone on and offstage.
We were invited up to the Time's hotel suite for the afterparty and wind down. The members of The Time are just down to earth cats and always nice to catch up with them. We spoke with Morris Day about his new single "Over That Rainbow" for his friend Prince. He was really happy that we are playing it on our radio shows. Monte Moir talked about their performance at the Grammys with Bruno Mars and were really happy how it all went down.
We all got to talking about recent deaths of friends and illnesses. Morris Day really put a lasting stamp on the night with a very emotional speech and I'm paraphrasing: " We need to be thankful for every day that we awake and can put our feet on the floor. If we have food on our table and money in our pockets, that is better than a lot of people". Tori Ruffin said that he has been in the band 22 years and really had me thinking how special these nights have been witnessing the true funk warriors on stage and conversing after the shows.
Thanks to Morris Day and The Time. See you soon in 2017.
We were blessed and spoiled by the amazing talents of Prince Rogers Nelson. The faucet was always running with experiences and something to look forward to. Prince would release an album and 3 weeks later, we would talk about the next album that he was working on (and we didn't have too wait long). So many great tours that we slept out for tickets, spent so much money on, and bonded with a genius performer and fellow fans. Now we are left with an incredible void that is very difficult to process.
I have Prince and his music to thank for so many great things that have happened in my life. A simple question about his gun microphone on AMP (alt.music.prince) discussion group connected me with my wife. Prince later answered the meaning of the gun mic. I have lifetime close friends with members of fan sites, Prince's band mates, and Prince's inner circle. All blossomed from our love and admiration of a performer and his music. Gi and I will always cherish hosting those Sunday night radio shows with the NPGMusicClub.
Prince had a long history with our radio show the "Upper Room with Joe Kelley and Gi Dussault" and I will be forever grateful to him. He featured our show on his official web site in March 2004, the first radio show having this honor.The relationship was exciting and mysterious as was the par with his Royal Badness. Prince would request copies our radio show and I would send them up to Paisley Park. One day, I received an email from Prince saying that the pitch on one of his Camille-voiced tracks was a little off. I listened back and couldn't hear any difference. But who am I to question the man who wrote the song?
My fondest memory of Prince emanated from a misunderstanding that we had. Rather than picking up the phone and calling me, Prince apologized in his own way. I received a FexEx package from Paisley Park that contained the One Night Alone box set. The CDs were unreleased at the time and we were the only radio show in the world to have a copy. Still blows my mind that he would do that. But he was a standup Brother til the end.
Prince once said it was our duty to preserve great artists such as Larry Graham and Chaka Khan. Although our emotions are all over the place now, we all have a huge task ahead. Prince gave and gave til his body gave out. He built a huge Purple house of music and memories. Now the NPG family needs to continue to bond and preserve Prince's legacy.
When I met Prince in Greenwich Village in New York City, I told him "Thanks for the music." And today I say "Thanks for the music Prince 'cuz you sounded so good to us".
Much Love Brother P
Prince and the NPG, 3rdEyeGirl, Janelle Monae, Doug E. Fresh Shine at Third Show at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut
I happened to come across two concert tickets this week of Prince and the NPG at Madison Square Garden from 3 years ago to the date that we had to eat as Gi Dussault was very sick at the time and we couldn't make the gig. So, we were more than excited to be going to see Prince at his last show of a three night stand at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. And we were not disappointed.
Funny, of all the years I have seen Prince in concert, I have seen him in our home state only two times before. NYC, Montreal, Philly and New Jersey are the usual spots. My overall take on the Mohegan Sun Arena: classy, clean, and like so many say, "not a bad seat in the house". Despite driving in a steady 2 hour rainstorm, we arrived in plenty of time to relax before Janelle Monae's set.
JANELLE MONAE: What a standout performer. With a themed presentation, Janelle and her top-notch band sizzled with touches of funk, soul, new wave and calypso. And Janelle's nonstop energy and stellar voice and dance moves were in peak form. She obviously learned from the best: Prince, James Brown and Michael Jackson and leaves us well-assured that more great concert shows are in store from the younger generations. Prince surprised us by getting wheeled on a hand cart onstage to join Monae for a verse on the song, "Give Them What They Love". Love these crazy entrances from Prince like the Jones Beach on a boat or sliding down a fire pole on the 1999 tour.
The first few songs from Monae suffered from the sound mix drowning out the horns and keyboards. But once that was worked out , everything was splendid. Janelle paid homage to Northside Minneapolis with a sleazy, funkdafied version of her "Q.U.E.E.N". Finally, Monae wowed the crowd by jumping in the crowd and riding her handler's back through an enthralled crowd.
DOUG E. FRESH with DJ: No doubt, a great decision to feature one of the best showstoppers Doug E. Fresh for 40 minutes while Prince's stage set was arranged. The place went bananas as the DJ spun classic funk from Earth, Wind & Fire, Digital Underground, and Bell, Biv, Devoe with Doug E. Fresh emceeing and hyping up the crowd all the while graciously taking pictures with fans. This brought to mind when me and the Electric Man JD Silva and I would go see The Time at Tramps in NYC. In between the opening act like Sandra St. Victor, DJ Cool Marv would let loose a 30 minute funk mix that made sure there was no lull before MD and the fellas wrecked the stage. The longest Soul Train line was rolling in Connecticut just before Doug E. Fresh introduced Prince.
PRINCE & the NPG & 3RDEYEGIRL: Having seen Prince countless times since first catching the 1999 tour, I am always looking for new twists and turns to leave more great memories to his endless touring repertoire. The start of the final Prince show at Mohegan Sun got off on the good foot with "Big City" and "Superconductor". Maybe headscratchers to the casual fan but a more than welcome treat for us hardcore fans. Prince's energy and smile left no doubt he still gets a thrill when performing in his domain: The Stage.
Some ingredients Prince never leaves home without: a top-flight band with world-class musicians and powerhouse singers. Since these shows were not a part of a proper tour, I assume the band was not rehearsing 24/7 for weeks in advance. However, Prince and Da Band have drilled so much prior and have a vast catalog to pull from at the drop of Prince's arm. As Shelby J says, "the bag is always packed by the door and when Prince calls, we'll be ready".
The first 40 minutes featured Prince orchestrating like Peyton Manning calling out the plays and audibilizing at the line of scrimmage. So much funk to handle: "Mutiny/Ice Cream Castles" mashup and a reworked "Musicology".
The 11 piece NPG Hornz were featured prominently on these funk jams and throughout the concert. Imagine two walls of various horn instruments punctuating and highlighting Prince's catalog. And all the while the brothers are stepping and playing. Another huge highlight was "Nothing Compares 2 U" with Shelby J and Prince duetting. Tons of soul and a bit of humor mixed in.
Whether letting the 11 piece NPG Hornz blast a funky groove or downsizing and having 3rdEyeGirl tear the roof off the sucka, or showcasing his amazing singers: Shelby J, Liv Warfield and Elisa Dease, Prince was the generous and ultimate band leader. Liv Warfield helped Prince make "The Sweeter She Is" into a modern day R&B classic and Elisa Dease shined on "Take Me With U". Three beautiful and talented singers with their own unique styles.
A huge element to the show and one that was handled superbly was the keyboard work of Cassandra O'Neal. Even with a massive horn section, Cassandra's responsibilities are big as Prince's music has so many intricate keyboard sounds and if that goes awry, the show suffers. But Cassandra was the glue that held together all the show upfront.
Andrew Gouche was locked in solid and gave the NPG the veteran leadership that only a bass virtuoso can. Couldn't have been funkier and never overbearing and trying to steal the groove.
Damaris Lewis, famed Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and TV host, is Prince's muse and dancer onstage. Lewis starred when "U Got The Look" kicked in.
You could actually feel the audience's relief and excitement when Prince finally plugged in his guitar to shred on "Something In The Water". The party was ON and Prince acknowledged it by saying that the audience loved the rock and roll and he asked for his guitar to be turned up louder. It was my first time seeing 3rdEyeGirl live and I was thoroughly impressed. Hannah Ford (drums), Ida Nielsen (bass) and Donna Grantis (guitar) have gelled as a trio and added a new grittier flair to Prince's recent work. The new take on "Let's Go Crazy" satisfied even the fans who dug only Prince's work from Purple Rain.
Next up was the "Sampler Set" and something which I have been wishing for years that Prince drops from his concerts. Basically, Prince singing and talking over prerecorded snippets of his tunes in the dark and last night, his mic was even muffled during this segment. Yes, the crowd gets a rise from hearing a few seconds of "When Doves Cry" or "Nasty Girl". But with all the talent Prince and his bandmates have I feel this is a wasted opportunity to flesh out more LIVE songs. Thankfully, "Housequake" (one of my all-time favorite jams) was segued into a full-blown live edition.
Connecticut got their request in with an amazing "Purple Rain" performance. Prince pulls it off every time and a sacred moment on the six string. Back to the "old school" party vibe with "Cool/Don't Stop "Til U Get Enough" with freestyle assistance from Doug E. Fresh who may have to put some money in the curse jar for inciting the "Roof Is On Fire" chant. :-))
Houselights up and surprisingly, 75 % of the crowd stayed and Prince and 3rdEyeGirl rocked the joint with the instrumental "Plectrum Electrum". I learned never to head for the exit until the soundman leaves his station. Lesson noted when I caught the Purple Rain tour at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island and was treated to "Around The World In A Day" songs performed before the record was out.
Thanks to Prince, the NPG, 3rdEyeGirl, Janelle Monae, Doug E. Fresh, Esperanza Spaulding and the Mohegan Sun for the incredible night of musicianship, performance and great fun.
On the recommendation of Hassan from Alt.Music.Prince (AMP) discussion, I began checking out the catalog of Philly guitar virtuoso Jef Lee Johnson. I was amazed by the depth of sounds that emanated from his guitar and his prolific output. Jef Lee Johnson music became one of the foundations of our radio shows.
Back in 2003, I connected with Jef Lee Johnson and invited him to come up to our radio show "Upper Room with Joe Kelley and Gi Dussault" on WVOF in Fairfield, Connecticut. He graciously agreed and even sent in advance a great promo poster that we displayed prominently on our studio glass. Jef Lee arrived at the studios with bassist Chico Huff and drummer Ted Thomas Jr. And guess what? Jef Lee Johnson brought pizza for everyone: his band and myself. I was impressed.
We needed to cut the live music fast as Ted Thomas had to travel back to tape shows with Emeril Lagasse where he was the house band drummer. Prior to starting the radio show, I asked Jef Lee Johnson if they wanted to do a sound check. He just said, "No, let's get it started." And started they did!! Thirty seconds into the first song. I could feel the hair stand up on my arms and the goosebumps poppin'. I really felt blessed that I was in the midst of live musical greatness and the Jef Lee Johnson trio was on my radio show.
The four show flew by fast and we had a blast. Jef Lee and Chico regaling us on tales on the road and recording. Jef had been through so much in the music business: high profile tours, top-notch studio sessions, solo records. Some funny moments: D'Angelo telling Jef that he was practicing playing guitar (love Brother D, but Jef Lee had nothing to worry about on the six string) and Jef talking about a session that he played on for a singer who had a huge hit and couldn't sing a lick. I still don't know who that was. :-))
The next day, Gi Dussault and I went to see the Jef Lee Johnson trio in Manhattan at the Knitting Factory. Small room that was so intimate. It was a real treat to be in on the action with immense music talent. Two days later, I received a long voice message from Jef Lee Johnson thanking me profusely for having us on the show and also that he was thinking of retiring from the music business. What???!!! I called him immediately and tried to cheer him up. I told him the Knitting Factory show was amazing and that I hoped they would put the footage officially out (it was recorded). Jef Lee Johnson was most impressed by a former Jimi Hendrix girlfriend photographer who was in attendance.
Jef Lee Johnson was gracious enough to come back to our radio studios to play live with Chico Huff and Tim Huston in 2006. But the most fun was going out to eat after the radio show and laughing about gig stories. Wasn't there a drummer who fell asleep at his drum kit during a gig? Heheehe
The past few years, I kept abreast on Jef Lee by all the studio sessions he played on and the music we featured on our show: George Duke, Jim Ridl, Esperanza Spaulding. We reconnected a little over a year ago via email and Jef said that he was on tour with Esperanza Spaulding. I invited him back to the studio and he asked what I had in mind. Sadly, we never had a third chapter to the in-house radio performance. But we have Jef Lee Johnson's musical legacy to carry on and the recordings of the radio shows to share. We do plan in the next couple weeks to have a huge radio tribute to Jef Lee with guests and reairing of his interviews and performances on our show.
Love You Brother Jef Lee Johnson, Rest In Peace.
In a business that is always testing us and kicking us down, musicians, radio and the like all should strive to be a person of their word. I know it is a goal of mine in 2013. We all will fall short of perfections. However, the avenues to get music out and be heard by our audiences will be easier.