With one of its best lineups and what was supposed to be one of the warmest nights of the week, the free Super Bowl Live concert series on Nicollet Mall was a hot place to be again Wednesday for locals and visitors alike.
“Y’all ready for this Bowl?!” St. Paul R&B vet Stokley Williams yelled to the 5,000 or so revelers spread out along 8th Street and Nicollet Avenue.
Williams kicked off the show with a solo set and then reunited with his old band Mint Condition, who were fostered in the early-‘90s by the hitmaking duo hired to oversee the Nicollet Mall concerts, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. During his solo stint, Williams paid tribute to Jam and Lewis’s old group the Time by covering “COOL,” which Morris Day also sang on the mall Monday (under much cooler conditions).
Also a repeat from Monday, Prince songs were a big part of the equation again. Not only did the New Power Generation -- with many of his '90s/'00s-era bandmates -- headline the concert. Mint Condition also joyously tore through a batch of funky Prince covers, including a tautly rocking “Partyup” and “All the Critics Love You in New York,” saving only a little time for their own tunes such as “Breaking My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes).”
The night wasn’t entirely old-school, though. Singer/rapper Dessa from the Doomtree hip-hop collective took the stage as the second act, just as snow started to funnel down between the buildings around the stage.
“This is what a rap show in Minnesota looks like, if you’re from out of town,” Dessa said while tossing out hand warmers from the stage. She and her newly configured band (with “Superstar” singer Matthew Santos on keys and vocals) breezed through the older favorites “Matches to Paper Dolls” and “Warsaw” and spiked her set with songs off her upcoming album, including a livelier live version of the single “Good Grief.”
Also a continuation from Monday’s show, technical glitches hindered Dessa’s set and others’, and the changeovers between acts took twice as long as planned. Fans also had to navigate a confusing maze of security checkpoints and blocked-off areas again. Weather was partly a culprit for the stage issues, as the snow and wind really got nasty for about a half-hour -- so much so, there was reportedly talk of calling off the NPG set.
NPG went ahead, though, and good thing. They lit up the visibly thinned-out crowd with lesser-played late-‘80s and early-‘90s Prince classics, including “Cream” with André Cymone on vocals and “Sign o’ the Times” led by Kip Blackshire. Guitarist Levi Seacer Jr. was a force throughout the abbreviated set, and the sizzling work by the Minneapolis rhythm section of Sonny Thompson and Kirk Johnson in "U Got the Look" and "Gett Off" may have actually been to thank for the snow stopping by set’s end.
The NPG crew will play again Friday and Saturday nights at the Dakota, sans snow and sound issues. Meanwhile, Cymone returns to the Super Bowl Live series on Thursday for a set of his own hard-rocking material alongside fellow Prince associates fDeluxe and New Power Soul, the latter led by Prince’s brother Omarr Baker.
Sign o’ the Times by #NewPowerGeneration. Look close & you’ll see Jimmy Jam videoing on his phone the whole time. Great set but too short. I’d highly recommended their @DakotaJazzClub shows this week. #superbowllii #ripprince pic.twitter.com/Rod7ACrwsn— C. Riemenschneider (@ChrisRstrib) February 1, 2018