Of course, there was a purple hue to Morris Day and the Time’s performance Thursday night at the sold-out Minnesota Zoo – literally and figuratively.
It was their first hometown appearance since the April 21 death of Prince, who created the Time around Day in 1981.
At the start of the concert, the zoo's stage featured a purple spotlight shining on a microphone stand with no singer in sight as the Time played snippets of “Party Up” and “1999,” two vintage Prince pieces.
Day, resplendent in a banana yellow suit with rhinestone trim, came dancing out. “Minneapolis, if you love Prince, make some noise.”
The crowd roared and the Time, each member dressed with a touch of purple save for the singer, responded with “Get It Up.” There was no doubt that everyone – from the people on the stage to the standing-room-only throng – was up for this one.
There was a lot of energy, emotion and spirit at the zoo for the Time’s first Twin Cities appearance since January at Prince’s Paisley Park in Chanhassen. It wasn’t the Time’s first foray in honoring Prince; last week the Minneapolis funk ensemble participated in a tribute show in London with CeeLo Green, Larry Graham and Mark Ronson.
The always cool Day, who invariably plays a character in the Time in concert, manifested a different vibe at times Thursday. During “Jungle Love,” the limber singer actually got lost in his dancing, like he was having as much fun as the fans. Not that he lost his cool, but he was just having a funky good time.
In the first 45 minutes of the 80-minute set, the Time tore through several old Minneapolis Sound favorites including “Cool,” “Wild and Loose,” “The Stick,” “Jerk Out” and “777-9311” with seldom a pause between songs. This unstoppable funk machine reminded one of the most dancing-est crowds ever at the zoo that there ain’t no party like a Time party.
To be sure, guitarist Tori Ruffin is not the caliber of Jesse Johnson, the Time’s original guitarist and a monster player now. Ruffin is more facile than flashy. However, original Time drummer Jellybean Johnson, who was a top-notch timekeeper all night, took a terrific turn on guitar, playing the solo he recorded on Janet Jackson’s “Black Cat,” reminding local barroom denizens that he is one the Twin Cities’ most underappreciated axe men.
Ruffin and bassist Ricky “Freeze” Smith gave verbal shout outs to Prince. Day did, too, and he even performed a taste of Prince’s “D.M.S.R.”
Day, who now lives in Las Vegas, made lots of hometown references, including to the old Nacirema club, and to the fact that he and Jellybean Johnson have been friends since they were 11-year-olds in Minneapolis and original keyboardist Monte Moir (who skillfully played those funky synth lines over the great grooves) is from south Minneapolis.
As always, Day, 58, played the cartoonish, crowd-pleasing lothario, though he was less sexist than in past. His only misstep was on “Ice Cream Castles,” when he and the band couldn’t seem to agree on a key, making things sound flat.
If Prince, a demanding leader, had witnessed that, he would have required a post-concert rehearsal for the Time. But the rest of the night, Morris Day and the Time would have made him Purple proud.