On Friday, Andre Cymone and Dez Dickerson, original members of Prince’s band took the stage at Auditorium Shores to pay tribute to their lifelong friend. They were joined by an extensive ensemble that included rapper Wyclef Jean on congas and guitar, but oddly, not vocals. Guitarist Micki Free, best known for his work with the disco funk band Shalamar, was also a featured player.
The band opened with “Let’s Go Crazy,” altering the “Dearly beloved” intro to note we were gathered to pay tribute to Prince. Then, they blazed through a solid hour long set that included many of his most iconic hits like “Controversy,” “When You Were Mine” and “Little Red Corvette.”
For the most part the mood was celebratory and the crowd was enthusiastic, but at one point, Cymone, who became best friends with Prince in seventh grade, choked up a bit. “It’s hard for me to talk about Prince,” he said. “I bought this guy his first guitar.” As a teenager Prince left home and ended up living in Cymone’s basement. The two came of age as musicians together, and Prince was still camped out in the basement when he signed his first record deal.
The band closed their set the only way they could, with an emotional rendition of “Purple Rain.” Cell phone lights swayed in the air and Dickerson, Free and Jean all took turns on Prince’s epic guitar solo.
As they left the stage the crowd cheered wildly. Many audience members, confused by Jean’s absence on the mic, chanted the rapper’s name. The group returned to the stage and finally Wyclef did spit, a good 20 bars or so. He called out the president, freestyling impressively, in English, Spanish and French. Then the band played “1999.”
Obviously, Cymone and Dickerson have a deep understanding of Prince’s music and the covers they played were faithfully rendered, but Jean’s lack of mic time was hard to understand. Sure, he’s also a skilled instrumentalist who was an excellent support player, but any audience members who came reasonably expecting to hear his spin on at least one Prince song left disappointed.
UPDATE: Wyclef says he didn’t come to spit, he came to play.