Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Stanley Johnson, Andrzej Pilarczyk, Timothy Reidy
The 2014 Alive at Five concert series ended the same way it started – at the rain site under the highway at the Corning Preserve Boat Launch – surely the most inhospitable music venue to be found anywhere around Nippertown. And yet Sheila E. didn’t let the setting get her down. And while it looked something like the set of “The Warriors” or “West Side Story” – and sounded worse – the veteran singer-percussionist turned the evening into a party nonetheless.
“It’s gonna be a lovely day, now that the rain is gone,” she sang early on in her show during the bouncy, pop ballad, “Lovely Day,” and sure enough, she somehow managed to chase the rain away for the rest of her performance.
I had always thought of Sheila E. primarily as a drummer, but she only commanded the stage-left second drum kit a couple of times during her 80-minute headline set. While her solid, six-piece band kept the groove gliding along through the show, the veteran Sheila E played bass (“Lovely Day”), electric guitar (“Rock Star”) and, yes, drums (a nice four-minute solo to kick off the encores), but primarily she spiked the beat by playing timbales with featured solos during the hip-hop romp “Fiesta” and the fiery Latin encore of “Mona Lisa.”
Sheila E. racked up a handful of Top 40 hits in the mid-’80s – notably “The Glamorous Life,” “A Love Bizarre” and “The Belle of St. Mark” – and she dished them up with plenty of spark on Thursday evening.
But she hadn’t released a new album in more than a dozen years until this spring’s Icon, so it was no surprise that the new material was the focus of her show. Fortunately, from the rambunctious opening instrumental “Samba Funk” to the hip-shaking “Leader of the Band” (co-written with her former boss/mentor Prince) to the rap-romp “Oakland N Da House” (re-written for the night as “Albany N Da House,” of course), her new tunes were thoroughly hook-filled and engaging.
Her band offered a strong foundation – especially saxman Eddie M. and backing vocalist Lynn Mabry, the latter an alum of George Clinton’s funk aggregations who took over the lead vocal chores for a romping throwback medley of soul nuggets from the likes of the O’Jays, Sly Stone, the Stylistics and Funkadelic.
Opening act Conehead Buddha delivered a solid hour-long set to kick off the evening’s festivitiies in fine fashion. Led by guitarist-vocalist-percussionist Chris Fisher, the eight-piece Coxsackie-based band lived up to their genre-blending reputation and had many in the crowd dancing. Their seriously percolating set was highlighted by the Lain-flavored, timbales-fueled “Carbonation,” the horn-powered funk of “Ain’t No Better Way” (featuring the brother-and-sister team of Terry and Shannon Lynch) and the slinky reggae of “Fly On the Bedroom Wall.”
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: She’s an excellent yeller, and a few times through the show she put the microphone to her mouth and gave a hearty, sustained yell. It sounded good. Her chops on the timbales were equally impressive when she stopped singing and dug into her percussion. There was no unbelievable moment, instead we got a steady pumping of dance music. The stand out songs included ‘Oakland N Da House,’ ‘Fiesta’ and of course her hit to close the show, ‘The Glamorous Life,’ the title track to her 1984 record, which Prince wrote for her. The catchiest tune, which ended the show before the encores, was ‘The Belle of St. Mark,’ a hit for her from the same 1984 record. Perhaps the most entertaining moment was when Sheila E. came back on stage after the encore and sat down at the drumset to play another solo. This time she showed us she can play. After some fancy stick movement, she pounded a slow and steady beat, prompting the crowd closest to the stage to start chanting together back at her to the beat.”
SHEILA E. SET LIST
Samba Funk (instrumental)
Leader of the Band
A Love Bizarre
Oakland N Da House
The Belle of St. Mark
The Glamorous Life