On Tuesday night, the fourth anniversary of Prince’s death, CBS aired a two-hour special called Let’s Go Crazy: The Grammy Salute to Prince. The special, which was taped in late January, was like an awards show with only performances, though one could reasonably argue that the several Prince songs performed during the evening were themselves awards and better than any trophies. Most of the covers performed by a variety of contemporary artists were faithful to their source material—St. Vincent did an adequate “Controversy,” Beck gave us a perfunctory “Raspberry Beret,” and the Foo Fighters delivered a thoroughly fine “Darling Nikki.” The song selection was made up almost entirely of hits—aside from Purple Rain album cuts (which are themselves well known as a result of the mega-success of that album and the accompanying film of the same name), the only truly deep cut presented was Sign ‘o’ the Times’s “The Cross,” in a stirring rendition by Gary Clark, Jr.
Overall, the show was decent—there are way worse ways to spend two hours than by listening to Prince’s music. The tribute really soared, though, in its last half hour when it was taken over by Prince’s collaborators such as his Purple Rain-era band the Revolution, his proteges the Time (including Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who left the band early into its run), and Sheila E., who was one of the show’s musical directors. Her drum solo at the end of “Glamorous Life” was as flawless and frenetic as ever.
A side note: Did you know that Prince protege Apollonia Kotero started beef with Sheila E. last week? After Sheila E. released the Prince tribute song “Lemon Cake” last week, Kotero wrote on Facebook: “You are so desperate to be RELEVANT as the brilliant Linda Perry said. Prince refused to acknowledge you for 5 years before his death because of your lies. You can’t continue to fool our Prince fans any longer. Because I AM here to tell you, it’s over. Time for the truth.” Seems a little... projecting, but I do love mentee drama.
Kotero was absent from the tribute, as were more musically active former collaborators like Patti LaBelle and Chaka Khan. Their presence would have been welcome, and as it was, the show could have used some tightening. Chris Martin and Susanna Hoffs performed “Manic Monday,” which Prince gave to Hoffs’s band the Bangles. The duet was so discordant, it was as though Martin and Hoffs had never been in the same room before. Their voices didn’t blend and Martin’s piano playing was practically elliptical, picking up and dropping its sense of rhythm as he went. It was a low point. Similarly dire was a rap verse Common added to “Sign ‘o’ the Times” (???) and John Legend’s cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which was all bluster and no soul. I didn’t feel him connecting to a single word of a song that is so drenched in emotion its opening strains can provoke a Pavlovian response in one’s tear ducts.
However, I thought H.E.R., from behind oversized round sunglasses, nailed Prince’s self-possession, with which he could pour himself into a song while giving off a veneer of disaffectedness. Pure rock star cool.
But by far the most electric moment of the night, I thought, was Wendy Melvoin’s stunning guitar solo during “Purple Rain.” The legendary Mavis Staples, another Prince collaborator, sang a moving, lived-in rendition backed by the Revolution, of which Melvoin was a key member. She and her partner Lisa Coleman contributed so much to the band and didn’t quite get the credit that was due, not even from Prince. Melvoin delivering a solo to rival Prince’s during the night’s climax was a way of saluting Prince’s legacy as well as her own. Genius is a word thrown around a bit too much when people talk about music. Prince deserved “genius,” though, and so does Melvoin’s playing here.