Prince never presented a concert featuring all female-fronted bands, but he probably would have approved of the #WomenWhoRock at Paisley Park event on Monday night. It was an invigorating, enlightening and entertaining five-hour testament to women whose music he nurtured and championed.
With their own bands, Judith Hill, Donna Grantis, Liv Warfield and Sheila E filled Paisley with different flavors of funk, jazz-rock and Latin music to the delight of 500 people at the invite-only event sponsored by SAP, an international business-to-business tech firm that was looking to create awareness and recruit female employees.
Don’t know if SAP -- which flew in employees from 10 different countries (the firm has 1,000 workers in the Twin Cities) -- found any promising job candidates, but the four performers certainly burnished their resumes.
Backed by a band featuring her father on bass and her mother on keyboards, Hill opened the evening with lots of Prince-inspired funk, soul and pop. Giving her first performance at Paisley since Prince passed in 2016, Hill admitted right away that she was feeling very emotional.
Her music reflected that, whether it was a new tune like the piano ballad “Chasing Rainbows” or the blues rave-up “Cry Cry Cry” featured on her Prince-produced 2015 album, “Back in Time.” She has a new album, “Golden Child.”
Grantis, the guitarist from Prince’s 3rdEyeGirl band, is set this month to drop a new solo album, “Diamonds and Dynamite.” In her 45-minute set, she and her stellar ensemble tore into jazz-rock fusion with lots of elements of funk. She’d played much of the material previously at the more intimate Dakota in downtown Minneapolis, but Grantis was still able to command the crowd’s attention in the more spacious Paisley soundstage with intense, high-energy sounds that are for listening, not dancing.
The rest of the night was for the dancers. Live-wire Warfield threw down muscular rock-funk, showing off the guitar fireworks of Ryan Waters and her own powerhouse voice.
Their heavy-duty version of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” would have made Prince proud; it ranks as one of the night’s highlights. And Warfield packed a wallop on her own “Why Do You Lie” and “Black Bird,” bringing unstoppable energy and force in a fast and ferocious 45 minutes.
After exploring some George Clinton, headliner Sheila E reminded everyone that they were in Prince’s house. She teased with his “Get on the Boat” and then delivered her own “Belle of St. Mark” before having fun with a song she claimed she wrote at soundcheck entitled “Mona Lisa for SAP at Paisley Today Cha Cha Cha.” It kept the dancefloor jumping, including Hill who was dancing by herself in the crowd.
Sheila E invited 10 fans onstage to dance during “Bailar” and then she jumped into the crowd to sing her most poppy tune, “RockStar,” which included an instrumental hint of “Purple Rain” at the end.
Next it was time for the gifts that Prince gave her. First came “A Love Bizarre,” which featured a taste of the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” and Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay.” Then after questioning the night’s 11:30 p.m. curfew at the formerly all-hours Paisley, Sheila led an all-star sendup of Prince’s “America” and her breakthrough hit “The Glamorous Life.”
Hill, Warfield and Shelby J, an NPG singer who served as emcee on Monday, joined in for a rollicking good time, along with Sheila’s backup singers Lynn Mabry and Rebecca Jade. It seemed like a bunch of super-happy women at a sleepover singing at the top of their lungs as if they were the only ones in the room, but they made for quite a visual with their colorful outfits (dashikis, stripes, leather and fringe, short patterned dress, Latin pants) and spectacular hairstyles (Afros of varying sizes, long straight hair, head scarf, shaved head).
The image – no photos allowed at Paisley, still under Prince’s rules except for the early curfew -- seemed like a snapshot of the kind of diversity SAP’s London-based VP Matthew Jeffery had touted when he’d welcomed the crowd five hours earlier.