Fred Yonnet

Fred Yonnet


“Ain’t no party like a Dave Chappelle party,” the comedian started singing about 2 a.m. late Monday night at Aria in Minneapolis’ North Loop. “Cause a Dave Chappelle party just don’t stop.”

Revelers have heard that kind of boast before, whether the ringleader was George Clinton, Prince or whoever.

But this time Chappelle was right. Not about the party stopping (it did, at 3 a.m.) but about the singular-ness of a Chappelle party.

After performing 10 standup comedy shows over five nights last week in Minneapolis, Chappelle threw a party called Dave Chappelle’s Juke Joint. He had his DJ, D-Nice, spins tunes and his live band of choice, Fred Yonnet and the Band with No Name, players who back Stevie Wonder.

Add some local flavor – including Mint Condition, Sounds of Blackness powerhouse Jamecia Bennett and former Prince sidemen Sonny Thompson, Eric Leeds and Mike Nelson – and you had the party of the year. So far anyway.

Chappelle even had a set built for the stage – a shack with a tin roof and a neon sign proclaiming “Dave Chappelle’s Juke Joint." D-Nice had a booth in the back of Aria that looked like a giant wood crate. And the music was virtually nonstop for the 500 people, who weren’t allowed to bring cellphones or cameras.

The party turned into something of a tribute to Prince, especially after midnight as the calendar shifted into June 7, which would have been Prince’s 58th birthday.

“I can’t see my friend anymore,” Chappelle said round midnight. “But I can see his spirit... The hardest part of life is losing someone you love.”

The music shifted from the DJ playing a few Prince cuts to the Band with No Name playing live. But the party shifted into another gear when Mint Condition hit the stage. Nothing wrong with Mint’s “You Send Me Swingin’” with a taste of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” at the end.

But after a comment by frontman Stokley Williams about how Prince was a mentor and big brother who took Mint to Europe and Madison Square Garden with him, the singer declared: “This is for you, P.”

Mint tore into a Purple medley of “Let’s Work,” “Dance Music Sex Romance,” “When Doves Cry” and the Time’s “Get It Up” with a snippet of the Stones’ “Miss You” to close it. The band had just worked up the Prince tribute a week ago for their five-night stand at Yoshi’s in Oakland.

Then Stokley really worked it on Mint’s 1992 classic “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes),” spinning feverishly as Homer O'Dell took a guitar solo.

Stokley saluted Prince as “a beacon of light for music and all artistic types.” Then he explained that the band was going to play a Prince B-side.

Never has “She’s Always in My Hair” sounded so fierce and ferocious. Things turned into a smokin’ jam as Yonnet’s harmonica started bluesy and evolved into screaming rock like it was a guitar. He eventually traded licks with O'Dell’s guitar in a spontaneous exchange that can best be described as explosive. Nelson’s solo on trombone and Leeds’ jazz-funk journey on sax raised the ante as Chappelle sat onstage on a drum riser, swigging a beer, smoking a cigarette, soaking it all in.

If you want to elevate “Hair,” you call on Bennett, whose piercing gospel screams kicked the jam into fourth gear.

And the only way you can get into overdrive is by having Brother Ali rap free-style. The crowd went wild.

At that point, Chappelle commandeered the mic and boasted about a Dave Chappelle party. He was right. It didn’t stop.

Chappelle tried his hand at singing on Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” and thankfully Yonnet’s harmonica took over after the first verse. The band was a combination of Mint Condition and Band with No Name. And it was jam time.

There was an improvised blues with Bennett doing some gospel call-and-response with B3 organ before Yonnet transformed the piece into a chicken-pickin’ blues stomp and eventually a full-on New Orleans horn-driven romp. The pure in-the-moment musicality was as exciting as it gets on a Monday night. Or maybe any night.

Yonnet, a jazz-trained Frenchman who has performed in concert with Prince and Wonder, did an instrumental version of Radiohead’s “Creep” as the crowd spontaneously sang one chorus.

Chappelle showed his sense of humor when it comes to music by singing “Movin’ On Up,” the theme from TV’s “The Jeffersons.” No need to worry about him abandoning comedy for music.  

He let the musicians take over and the perhaps 200 people remaining witnessed some serious jazz solos by trumpeter Dwight Adams and Minnesota’s own tenor saxophonist Leeds.

Yonnet pulled Minneapolis singer Ashley Commodore out of the audience to do “Killing Me Softly,” during which she was joined by bassist Thompson, fresh from his gig at Bunkers with the Combo.

Thompson took a slap-funk bass solo and a jazzy vocal turn. He stayed on lead vocals for Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me To Stay,” which got mashed up with War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends” sung by Chappelle.

As remarkable as Yonnet and the Band with No Name were, our homeboys weren’t going to let some outsiders steal the show. Not to begin Prince’s birthday.

Williams returned to center stage as the assembled musicians started a reggae vamp that eventually segued into an up-tempo Afro-Cuban island groove. The singer improvised non-word sounds, finding a festive vibe with the musicians as he danced with unfettered joy.

“Y’all are crazy,” the frenetic Williams declared when he paused for moment.

Indeed. Cause there ain’t no party like a crazy Dave Chappelle party.