She wore a trenchcoat and sported a curled lip. He wore a tie and a suit and carried a pair of drumsticks. Together, they partied like it was 1984 at First Avenue.
In a melding of “Saturday Night Live” and “Purple Rain,” Maya Rudolph and her Prince tribute band, Princess, headlined the second annual Benefit to Celebrate Life on Saturday night at First Avenue, organized by Prince & the Revolution drummer Bobby Z.
After suffering a near-fatal heart attack two years ago, Z has staged concerts to raise funds and awareness for the American Heart Association. Last year, he reunited the “Purple Rain”-era Revolution, minus Prince. This year, he reached back to pre-“Purple Rain” sidemen Andre Cymone and Dez Dickerson.
They were dessert after the main course of Princess, but the appetizer was equally memorable. Because never has a rock ’n’ roll benefit table been set up more spectacularly in the Twin Cities. There were goose-bump moments when Alexander O’Neal joined Nicholas David, the Eagan-bred finalist from “The Voice,” for a soulful vocal exchange during Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On.” Then Patty Peterson, herself having experienced a near-death heart experience because of aortic dissection, sang her heart out on “The Greatest Love of All.” The final serving was Mint Condition frontman Stokley Williams, who got things back into a stylish soul groove.
Then it was time for the imported exotic entree — Princess, fronted by “SNL” alumna Rudolph and her friend since college Gretchen Lieberum. Fresh from an appearance at Carnegie Hall Thursday as part of an all-star tribute to Prince, these California women proved they can sing, with Rudolph unleashing a scream that evoked Prince more than her mom, the late R&B star Minnie Riperton.
Clearly fans of Prince and “Purple Rain,” Rudolph and Lieberum played it pretty straight. They danced playfully in unison and recited dialogue from the movie (the scene about purifying yourself in Lake Minnetonka) with a mixture of homage and humor. But for 45 minutes they sang it like they meant it — from “Controversy” and “Lady Cab Driver” to “Darling Nikki” and “Purple Rain,” another goose-bump inducer thanks, in part, to the guitar work of the Twin Cities’ own Cory Wong.
The evening was, at times, too much in both size and richness. It was reunion time for Bobby Z, Dr. Fink, Cymone and Dickerson, all members of Prince’s first band after the release of his debut album in 1978. They rocked out on classic oldies (Hendrix, Grand Funk), a solo selection from Cymone (“Kelly’s Eyes”) and Dickerson (“Modernaire”), and early Prince pieces (“When U Were Mine,” “Dance Electric”), with Questlove from the Roots and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” helping out on drums (he accompanied Princess, too).
Then, just as if it were the end of a “Saturday Night Live” show, the entire cast assembled onstage. But instead of hugging each other while the credits rolled, everyone joined in a celebrative rendition of Prince’s “Party Up” in the club he made famous.