“This is bittersweet, but beautiful,” Jesse Johnson, the only Twin Cities electric guitarist who could rival Prince, told a packed Bunkers bar in Minneapolis late on Thursday night.
Los Angeles-based Johnson, who left the Twin Cities a couple of decades ago, was talking about coming home to celebrate Prince on this the week of the anniversary of his death.
The former Time guitarist, who had a nice solo career in the ‘80s and ‘90s, had to tell his favorite Prince story.
He used to occasionally sleep over at Prince’s house in Chanhassen “before it was [painted] purple.” One day they went into the laundry room and Prince was taking his clothes out of the wash.
“I’m from the Midwest – Rock Island, Ill. – we know how to do work,” Johnson, 56, explained. “Prince has the whites and the black and the orange together. They were in a ball. ‘What’s wrong with your clothes?’ I said. He knew nothing about regular bleep. He was using dish washing liquid.”
The crowd roared with laughter.
But the story wasn’t over. “In his dishwasher, he had the pots facing up. That’s the dude I remember.”
While Johnson may have told one of the greatest Prince stories you’ve ever heard, Johnson did not give his greatest performance on Thursday.
It was unfocused and often unformed, with large breaks between songs as he often visited a tent at the side of the stage. He called it a rehearsal. There were certainly some rewarding guitar moments in the 110 minutes that Johnson was onstage with his drummer and keyboardist/saxophonist.
But the show lacked flow and momentum – and a bass player. It sounded like the bass parts were programmed.
Johnson played a medley of Time tunes including “The Stick” and “Cool” with a cool guitar treatment of Prince’s “When You Were Mine” mixed in. He performed parts of his solo hits, including “Can You Help Me,” “Be Your Man” and a funked up “Crazay.”
His singing was often dispassionate but his guitar playing was impassioned. He demonstrated his wide and expressive vocabulary, including funk, blues, soul, Hendrixian rock and a rave-up whammy-bar workout that ended the night.
This performance didn’t measure up to the unforgettable one Johnson gave in December at First Avenue with bassist Sonny Thompson and drummer Michael Bland, a largely improvised evening full of monster musicianship.
But Johnson has two more nights at Bunkers – Friday and Saturday – to show his stuff.