June 19, 2015
Nathan Phillips Square
Review by: Anya Wassenberg
Yes is the answer. Yes, Morris Day’s still got it. And yes, the Neville clan is sending another generation and another branch of the familiy tree into the NOLA funk stratosphere.
And the weekend’s just beginning.
It’s a treat just listening to the soundcheck as the long line up for (free) pink wristband inches around the pond at Nathan Phillips Square in the warm sun of June in Toronto. With June comes the Toronto Jazz Festival (http://torontojazz.com/) and one of the things I’ve always really loved about this fest is the quality of the free shows.
The opening weekend kick off on the outdoor stage this year was no exception – starting with NOLA’s own Dumpstaphunk. The band features a mix of generations with Ivan Neville on organ, guitar & bass along with younger cousin Ian on guitar. Dueling bassists Tony Hall and Nick Daniels III and newcomer, an amazing Alvin Ford Jr. on drums, round out the line-up.
They play originals that come straight from the Crescent City, heavy on a thumping bass line – with two in the line-up! – and four-part harmonies. The crowd quickly grew from the stage area that was marked out to include all of Nathan Phillips Square and a string of people along the walkway up to City Hall, every other one at least shaking their hips to the irresistible grooves. That’s not bad for tight-assed Toronto.
There wasn’t a thing you could improve about the musicianship or the delivery, which was straight up with a minimum of banter.
You couldn’t say that about the second act when it comes to delivery – but nobody would want it any other way. Morris Day and the Time are superb musicians and a superb show band that knows how to enjoy its legacy even as they do it justice. Morris et al were as dapper as ever and pulled dance moves like they did back in the day, much to the delight of a crowd that was packed with genuine fans of the Minneapolis native.
“I’m not sweating – I’m condensating. That’s what happens when you’re cool from the inside out.”
Along with the window dressing though, Morris pays attention to the music and the band was tight and the grooves thick. He gave the crowd hit after hit, some in their entirety with a few thrown into a medley. He’s a showman after all and he had fun with his image and his iconic watch – What Time Is It?? – handkerchief and reputation, with a wardrobe change halfway through just for good measure. The big oval mirror came out more than once and there was one guy in the band whose sole purpose is to dance, manage the props and occasionally bang an electronic drum.
At one point, he invited a number of people on stage with him to dance – and turned a proper Toronto business woman in an expensive looking dress and jacket combo and pearls into a bad girl grinding her hips into the guitar. If you weren`t dancing, you were dead at this point. He made a quip about Bruno Mars – whose huge hit Uptown Funk (co-written with Mark Ronson) – makes obvious references to Day`s seminal hit Jungle Love from every hipster`s favourite music flick, Purple Rain. (And ya – we did get to hear Jungle Love – but only as an encore after we proved our worthiness in making noise.)
The road since the seminal 1984 rock film hasn’t always been easy for Mr. Day. Prince – a lifelong friend of Day’s – originally formed the band and still holds the rights to the name. Day is allowed to use it for live performances but not to record.
The band reformed and recorded under the name Original 7ven in 2011 with the original line-up, but with all of them successful in their solo careers, it was hard to get it back together. So the current crew is Morris and original drummer Jellybean Johnson along with two keyboard players, drummer and guitar wizard.
According to an interview in The Chicago Tribune, Day plans on recording another album for release next year with this new line-up – under the original name Morris Day and the Time. Legalities be damned.
Amen to that.