Things have gone fairly quiet on the bootleg front in Princeland, although that will surely change once his upcoming Welcome 2 Chicago residency starts up. But in the meantime, Akashic Records is keeping the funk rolling with this double disc set of two of Prince's finest proteges who teamed up recently in New York. A Family Affair at BB Kings documents the double bill of fDeluxe, formerly The Family, and Sheila E., recorded August 29, 2012 at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill.
fDeluxe opens things up with a nearly hour long set that splits things right down the middle, six songs from their lone 1985 self-titled Paisley Park Records classic and six tunes they've recorded over the last few years as fDeluxe. Their set opens the way their debut album did with "High Fashion", though this is a rather sloppy version. The title track from last year's Gaslight and "Sanctified" from that same album are next. The set starts out a little slow but things start to heat up with their lone 'hit', "The Screams Of Passion". The audience reaction to that drum pattern makes it obvious there are a lot of Purpleheads in the crowd and their response to the set picks up from here as well.
St. Paul Peterson introduces the next song by saying, "We let somebody borrow this song for awhile but we're taking it back", as they go into "Nothing Compares 2 U". Their new single "You Got What You Wanted", a cover of an Ike and Tina Turner song follows, and I really like their rendition. Things slow down a bit with "Desire" and "Lover" played back to back but their set closes out in truly funky fashion. After a brief portion of "River Run Dry" they go into two of my favorites off Gaslight. First up is "@8" featuring Eric Leeds' masterful work on sax. That is followed with an over eight minute jam on "Drummers And Healers" and by this point the band is truly smoking onstage, very tight and in a groove musically. Things come to a close with the fantastic "Mutiny" with Leeds again shining on the sax. This man is simply a funk legend on the saxophone, what a shame Prince no longer has Eric's talents gracing his music.
Sheila E.'s set starts with a near five minute samba jazz intro before she goes into a run of Prince written tracks that have you thinking this show is going to be hot. It starts off with "Holly Rock" and, after a brief segue, goes into "The Belle Of St. Mark". Prince wouldn't dare touch "Erotic City" these days but Sheila pulls it out for a couple minutes before heading into "Koo Koo". On paper this looks like a great setlist but the problem is Sheila is now living in the same 'Medley-land' Prince is, only playing these songs in shortened two minute bursts before moving on to the next one. Just when the crowd is really into a song, she's on to the next one. It becomes maddening, especially because Sheila doesn't have nearly the amount of hits Prince does.
Of course the one Prince penned song you probably care to hear in full the least, "Leader Of The Band" is given the full six minute treatment. This is an obscure, Latin jazz flavored track from an EP Sheila sold at a couple shows in 2010 that Prince wrote uncredited. The second half of the show seems to drag between gospel covers and a laborious cover of the Mary Jane Girls "All Night Long" performed by her backing singer Sy Smith aka Sy Boogie. "A Love Bizarre" is sandwiched in the middle of all of this but, frustratingly, after playing the single version of the song it deteriorates into twelve minutes of free-form jazz. The only real 'fun' part of the second half of Sheila's set is the closing "The Glamorous Life".
I'm not saying Sheila E. has to play nothing but the songs Prince wrote for her to put on a good show. Where was "Hold Me" for example? I've seen her put on tremendous concerts focusing on jazz, her shows with the E. Train back in the day were outstanding. This particular set here just suffers from rather dull songs about how great Jesus is and doesn't keep things upbeat enough for me. The true winner of the night is fDeluxe. Their new material blends very well with the more well known Prince penned tracks, there is very little fall off in the flow of their set between new and old material. With Sheila E., as soon as she wanders from the Prince material, this becomes a snooze fest.
As for the quality of the audio, this is clearly an audience recording, but as I have stated before, in this day and age it is hard to get a truly crappy audience recording with the technology available to those who 'do the work'. The sound quality here gets a solid B and all credit and thanks again goes out to the tapers and those bringing us these completely free, first rate releases. Big thanks to Akashic Records for sharing this one.