When @itsrosser and I saw VHS Collection at Irving Plaza in March, Maya Rudolph kept appearing on the venue’s slide show promo reel. Turns out Rudolph fronts a Prince cover band with her college chum Gretchen Lieberum called Princess. Curious and intrigued, I bought two tickets and marked the date.
This show surpassed all expectations. Generation X, Prince nerds, and comedy queens united. We laughed, we sang, we dance, we reminisced over ’80s TV theme songs. Appropriately, they opened the show with ‘Let’s Go Crazy,’ with Rudolph wearing a facekini and Lieberum donning a peaked cap. Supported by five band members, Princess played two hours of Prince songs both famous and infamous, from fan favorites to fetes of fellatio, and selections from the Prince catalog that made friends and collaborators in his orbit stars themselves.
Fan Favorites: Three stand-outs I loved included the slow burn crescendo of ‘Little Red Corvette’ with the stage flooded in red light, the manic beats of Prince’s 1983 hit ‘Delirious,’ and eternal party anthem ‘1999’ — all off the same 1982 album of the same name. Princess’ encore, ‘Purple Rain’ was pretty special too.
Fetes of Fellatio: Sexuality defined Prince, spurring outrage, inflaming Tipper Gore and sparking the censorship movement in the 1980s. In hindsight and like every great artist, Prince was ahead of his time. Unapologetic, he celebrated sex in his music both overtly and through subtle metaphors in the midst of the AIDS crisis. Gen X’s relationship with sex has always straddled Tipper’s taboo/filth view of sex and the innate/beauty of sex, still scarring some of us to this day. Princess went overt in all its glory performing ‘Jack U Off,’ ‘Head,’ ‘D.M.S.R,’ (dance, music, sex, romance) and ‘Darling Nikki,’ the masturbatory fantasy final track on Purple Rain. They even performed the song backward (remember playing the vinyl record in reverse to reveal rumored ‘devil worship’ messaging).
Famous Friends: His songbook is deep and many were performed by Prince’s friends, lovers and collaborators: ‘Nasty Girl’ by Vanity 6, ‘A Love Bizarre’ by my lifelong krush Sheila E., ‘Cool’ by The Time, and ‘When You Were Mine.’ While the latter was a proper Prince song on the Dirty Mind album, it was Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 cover that I knew and loved best. It’s still one of my favorite songs of all time. Also note an appearance by pal Fred Armisen on bass for that number. Expecting more guests, I waited for Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles to join them on Prince-penned ‘Manic Monday,’ or Sinead O’Connor on ‘Nothing Compares 2 U,’ but neither showed up, nor were they played.
Makes sense though with a catalog so robust, Princess drew from a narrow four-year time span and four albums that clearly had the most influence on Rudolph and Lieberum: Dirty Mind in 1980, Controversy in 1981, 1999 in 1982 and Purple Rain in 1983. They ingeniously captured what made Prince so influential, controversial and beloved, and ushered in a lot of memories. Good God! What a great tribute, thank you ladies.
Princess does not have released recordings of the songs they cover, so you’ll just have to enjoy the originals: