Morris Day and the Time, Sheila E.
Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh
Saturday, May 30, 2015
Morris Day is The Uncle of Black Cool.
Since alpha-strutting on the scene via Prince in 1981, he’s rocked a goatee-free mustache, the vibrant suits Steve Harvey’s made famous and a smooth palate of lady talk that placed Minneapolis at the helm of funk’s second wave. The most sustainable of Prince’s side projects, Morris Day and the Time manages to remain relevant via live shows, Grammy performances with Rihanna and Jimmy Kimmelmashups of “Jungle Love” with Haim (under the clever, albeit cheesy tag, Morris Day and the Haim).
But when it comes to the band’s name, The Purple One seems to have taken a page from Ike Turner’s script, proclaiming, “The name stays at home!,” allowing Day’s use of it in concert but not on recordings. Some have proposed this as a reason for poor sales of Condensate, released in 2011 under the “Original 7ven” name. Others attribute the slump to a generation of anti-funksters unimpressed with the complexities of holding down simple, tight grooves supported by thinly veiled catcalling.
Day reemerged after a hiatus that lasted a couple decades, first with the original members of The Time, including Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who garnered their own success as producers of Janet Jackson’s Control and Rhythm Nation albums. His new arrangement, which gathers less than half of the original outfit, features a slate of musicians with smaller egos. No matter the logistics and legalities, Morris Day and The Time (or The Original 7even) remain true funk trailblazers, emulated most recently by Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk,” which features Bruno Mars echoing Day when he (literally) checks the time and asserts, “Gotta kiss myself I’m so pretty.”
On the last balmy Saturday in May, Morris Day, The Time and former Prince percussionist Sheila E. filled Red Hat Amphitheater with the same old-school energy as your go-to R&B radio station or Saturday Soul Train line-up. And the well-attended party was pretty epic.
Sheila E. christened the stage with occasional shout-outs to Jesus between PG reworkings of Prince-penned classics like “Erotic City,” where she replaced the overtly arousing line “I just want your creamy thighs” with the more courtship-friendly “…pretty eyes.” Despite her subtle rebuke of lustfulness, E.’s timbale game was on point, showcasing the skill that has defined a 40-something-year career. The dominant portion of her one-hour set featured more salsa riffs than funk rhythms. At one point, she dipped into the crowded with a wireless mic, interspersing lyrics from her latest album, Icon, with autographs and selfies. She admitted that, after dreams of being an Olympic sprinter melded into a successful pop career, her goal now, at 57, is to become a rock star.
After a short intermission, The Time strutted to the stage. A pre-recorded collage of their greatest hits blasted over the loudspeakers while Jellybean Johnson (who, along with Monte Moir, is the remaining original member) provoked the crowd with relentless drumrolls. After waiting in the wings, Morris Day appeared like a proud peacock. A Jerome stand-in brandished the mirror in which Day would check himself throughout his performance for signs of “condensation.”
The Time launched into a cacophony of Minneapolis funk that, for audiences of a certain generation, went down like comfort food. No surprises were served. During “Cool,” the audience dutifully threw their “C-O-O-L” hands in the air like some funked-up sign language. The rare slow jam “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come,” a Prince-composed panty-teaser, prompted applause from the thirstiest of Morris Day fans.
The 60-something minute set began with “Get It Up” and concluded with “Jungle Love,” sandwiching all the likely suspects in between. “Fishnet” gave way to “Oak Tree,” which morphed into “777-9311,” a song from The Time’s 1982 LP, What Time Is It? It showcases some of the most intricate rhythm work in funk music history.
Those who came to delve deep into The Time’s more obscure compositions certainly left with their rayon shortsets in a wad. The rest of us filed out of Red Hat with our arms—still flailing to a dance called The Bird—damp with condensation.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Jerome Benton appeared with The Time. He did not.