Purple reigns

Uncle Dad and friends deliver an epic production of Prince's masterpiece

Aubrey Debauchery with The Broken Bones band and the Everybody in Outer Space dancers performing Prince’s “Baby I’m a Star.” (To see more photos from Purple Rain follow <a href=link.)">

Aubrey Debauchery with The Broken Bones band and the Everybody in Outer Space dancers performing Prince’s “Baby I’m a Star.” (To see more photos from Purple Rain follow link.)

Photos by Paul Hurschmann

Purple Rain, Saturday, Feb. 21, BMU Auditorium

For lofty ambition matched with commercially viable follow-through, Uncle Dad’s Art Collective deserves major respect, and a round of applause, for its grand thematic musical/theatrical productions. The latest case in point being its presentation (with Chico State’s A.S. Productions) of Prince’s iconic 1984 album Purple Rain, which filled the university’s large BMU Auditorium with an enthusiastic Saturday-night crowd reveling in (but not dancing to) the sounds of nine local musical acts offering their interpretations of one song each from the album, which was performed in sequence.

After local comedian Yusef Swaff greeted and warmed up the crowd, the show proper kicked off in suitably high-energy style with The LoLos’ stripped-down version of “Let’s Go Crazy,” with drummer Kenzie Warner laying down a precisely funky rock bottom for Ben Colbeck’s on-the-money guitar and Matthew Heyden’s charismatic embodiment of the lyrics. It seemed a bit odd that not one audience member took the song title to heart—there was no mass rush to the front of the stage to dance maniacally to that crazy beat, just an enthused round of applause and some exuberant hooting from the seated audience. And this state of decorum was maintained throughout the show, despite many performances that called for shaking, shimmying and crying out in ecstatic fervor.

Up next, Auburn-based singer/songwriter (and frequent Chico performer) Hannah Jane Kile, supported by members of local jazz band Bogg, delivered a sweet, soulful “Take Me With U.” Her powerful, pretty voice and rhythm guitar, embellished by the violins of Matt Weiner and Vera Marie Bridges, transformed the song into a soulful, folksy mode only hinted at by the original’s dance-floor proposition.

The Shimmies took the stage in a cloud of ambient sound to deliver a knock-out rendition of “The Beautiful Ones” that featured a fine, emotionally wrought lead vocal from Sean Galloway over a soundscape of effects-processed guitars and dramatic bass and drums. And, staying in the guitar-rock mode, Wanderers & Wolves brought a fierce version of “Computer Blue,” eschewing the rampant keyboards of the original recording to concentrate on hard rock riffing.

Taking on the sexy challenge of “Darling Nikki,” singer Evin Wolverton, supplemented by members of Bogg, had the increasingly vocal audience howling along to the lascivious sentiments of the lyrics, boosting the noise and pheromone levels of the room by several notches. This set up perfectly the entrance of synth-powered band Sisterhoods, which launched into a powerful interpretation of mega-hit “When Doves Cry” that—after a bit of technical difficulty with Loren Cobby Weber’s guitar—held the audience in rapt attention.

With energy and appreciation in the room escalating, the even more synth-driven crew Solar Estates took the stage for my favorite performance of the evening, an almost fully electronic interpretation of “I Would Die for You” that vocalist Aric Jeffries delivered with pure, irony-free emotion, and with a musical quality that at the very least matched Prince’s original recording.

That being said, the penultimate performer of the night, Aubrey Debauchery, had a high bar to meet, and her performance of “Baby I’m a Star,” backed by The Broken Bones band and the night’s Everybody in Outer Space dancers, exceeded it with a whirlwind of shiny, charismatic show-biz glitz. Perfectly cast for the role of “star,” Debauchery is nothing if not a committed artist who loves her work, and the audience’s reaction made it clear she got that point across.

And with the bar having been raised, the Uncle Dad’s Big Band—featuring all of the members of Bogg, plus supplementary horns and four vocalists—needed to really go for an uplifting, tear-the-roof-off-the-sucker finale. And they did, with a nearly gospel presentation of “Purple Rain,” sung in turns by Russell Rabut and Jack Knight (both of The Mondegreens), Shaunna Jones and local blues favorite Maurice “Big Mo” Huffman.

The audience never did get up and dance, but the standing ovation made it plain that their spirits—if not their bodies—fully appreciated the efforts that this large group of musicians, dancers and artists put into presenting such a joyful celebration of Purple Rain.