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NUVO Sound

Dude, that look went out in the 80's!

Aspirations to cool

Morris Day and The Time play the Vogue - to a very good-natured crowd

The Vogue was the funky place to be last Friday as Morris Day and The Time hit the stage before a sold-out audience. The glitz and hype of the '80s was back in full force. Morris Day's appeal is undeniable - even my mom likes him.

In an age where the gritty poses of gangster rappers celebrate guns, drugs and violence, dress like post-apocalypse Blade Runners and the props of Public Enemy are toy Uzi machine guns, when the optimism of musical entertainment is replaced with gritty drug and gangster fantasies, this group represents aspirations to success, high living and, above all, cool. Glamour vanished with the '80s and it is good to see it return for an evening. Enough already: Let's have some fun.

Morris is a clown. His well-choreographed interplay with Jerome Benton was funny; it's no wonder he almost stole the movie from Prince in Purple Rain. One lucky lady from the audience got to act out a romantic interlude with Jerome and Morris on-stage. She was treated to roses and a backstage meeting with Day after the show. She was good-natured about Morris Day's pseudo-lovemaking technique, a send up of his macho-love-machine image. Jerome still holds the mirror while Morris primps for the ladies.

The band displays the Minneapolis cool - it comes from a city that suffers through 40-below-zero winters and blizzards every year. Some unknown chemistry produced Morris Day, The Time, Prince, Jesse Johnson, Sheila E. and a host of others, who influenced music in the '80s as powerfully as James Brown did in the '60s. They ribbed Indianapolis good-naturedly as a place full of hicks compared to their cosmopolitan city.

On stage, The Time is a well-oiled machine. They accent Morris' moves just as the JBs backed the Godfather of Soul. During a killer rendition of "The Bird," several folks got to show their stuff before an enthusiastic crowd. It's a pleasure to hear burning guitar again. It's been eclipsed almost to extinction by synthesizer in R&B. Here it was an essential part of pumping the groove. The band is ultra-tight, with not a missed note or a slipped beat. It's no wonder that the Minneapolis sound caught on in the early '80s. These people listened to the '60s and '70s masters of funk and improved the groove.

Technical problems delayed the start of the show, but the crowd was good-natured about the wait. Gino Shelton and Cindy Wine of radio station WHHH did okay as emcees for the show, though their onstage patter could use a little work. They are likable in person and could have worked the audience a lot more.

Indianapolis has a fairly large upscale African-American population hungry for entertainment that goes beyond the gangster mold. If this show is any indication, there is a real future for live R&B at the Vogue or other venues.

The only downside to the night was the obligatory patdown, a staple at any event with a sizable African-American audience. Hint: We don't put on three-hundred-dollar suits to go out brawling, but I guess some folks still can't tell the difference between young people out for a night of good entertainment, and street thugs.

The tour certainly would benefit from a song on the charts right now, and there is talk of a reunion album that would include the entire original band. What distinguish acts like Morris Day are showmanship and musical ability. While the band's sound is heavily synthesized, it isn't sequenced or robotic. These guys can play funky tight grooves as jamming as anything the JBs ever laid down.

The summer concert season showed just how limited the rap/hip-hop format can get if the performer has not learned how to pace a show. The tide may have finally turned from a disco/deejay-only environment for R&B music back to honest-to-goodness bands. The need for musical expression in young people deprived of solid music training gave birth to rap and hip-hop. Blues became the preserve of mostly white audiences.

A generation raised on the Supremes, Temptations and Smokey Robinson just cannot connect to the "My Baby Done Left Me" styles of B.B. King or Muddy Waters. Economics have until now dictated the cheaper entertainment of spinning records and CDs. But there is a hunger to see someone who has sweated to learn his instrument or train his voice. No amount of deejay mixing can equal the power of a musician to connect with his audience and wring raw emotion from them. The Time isn't the most monumental band to ever hit the stage, but it is better by far to see them in person, poking fun at themselves and their audience. Welcome back Morris; it's time.

© 1996 NUVO Newsweekly /Richard Bottoms

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