Jamie Nelson and Michelle Christopher

BEHIND THE BEAT: For Prince fans, ‘Nothing Compares 2’ Dean Ford and the Beautiful Ones

BEHIND THE BEAT: For Prince fans, ‘Nothing Compares 2’ Dean Ford and the Beautiful Ones
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The stage, cloaked in fog, is still. Because the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains is perfect for an intimate show, we’re close – real close. The band is in place, and they are not moving. The crowd has been waiting. We’re ready. You can hear short clips of Prince’s songs mixed with dialogue from Prince’s albums, brief hints of the music we’ve come to hear. We wait.

The Purple One was never blase about his entrances. He’d sometimes come bursting onto the stage in a rush of energy. Sometimes he’d stroll out, super casual, like he’d been there the whole time. He’d come in a car, in a boat, pop out of a box that looked like a prop. Tribute artist Dean Ford may not have a speedboat entrance in store for us on Saturday, May 25, but he’s going to make it dramatic. The crowd waits.

A stage door opens. Dean emerges and joins his band, the Beautiful Ones. “She’s Always in My Hair” begins with that slow, funky beat and we’re transported to an exhilarating place where His Royal Badness reigns supreme.

They roll into “Let’s Go Crazy” and we get our first taste of LaToya Martin, an amazing female vocalist living in Scranton. Just a peek. The crowd is already mesmerized by her even though she hasn’t yet shown them what she can do. “Delirious” comes next, followed by “1999.” A quick outfit change rolls into crowd favorites like “Little Red Corvette” and “Cream,” plus one of our personal favorites, “Erotic City.” Another brief outfit change and here it is – one of the most anticipated songs of the night for us.

This will be the day
That you will hear me say
That I will never run away…

Those lines, low, smooth, are a perfect contrast to LaToya’s warm yet powerful vocals.

When they performed in Jim Thorpe at the Mauch Chunk Opera House on April 19, the band played just a tiny bit of this song, moving on to the next tune only after a verse or so. Just as well – it doesn’t sound nearly as good without a female vocal.

Now don’t get us wrong, Dean can hold down a show on his own, but bringing a female vocalist on stage like Martin for a song like “Diamonds and Pearls” is like the difference between tiptoeing into a pool vs diving right into the deep end.

“Raspberry Beret” and “Cream” carry into “Gett Off,” a song with a great dance beat. Really, if you’re not moving by now, you need to check your pulse.

23 positions in a one night stand
I’ll only call you after if you say I can
Let a woman be a woman and a man be a man
If you want to baby here I am (Here I am!)

Most couples have a song; some have a few. We have our share (“Adore,” “Delirious,” “Forever in My Life”), but one song stands out among those special tracks – “Nothing Compares 2 U.” We each have a part of that song tattooed on our forearm, a lyric that’s complete when we’re together: “Like a Bird … Without a Song.” So when they move from the funky beat of “Gett Off” to that slow groove that opens “Nothing Compares 2 U,” we’re pumped.

Ford kicks it off, telling us they’re about to play a song that most of us know by someone else. Actually, though, it was written and later performed by Prince. Of course we know that, Dean! We love this version (and it’s set to be released again on the posthumous album “Originals” on June 21)!

The band takes a break and we get to chatting with some people about their preference: Sinead O’Connor or Prince. It’s a bit of a hot button issue. A lot of people grew up with O’Connor’s version, so it’s what they know and like. Jamie is decidedly not in this camp. While we feel think Sinead’s version is good, it feels desperately sad and hopeless; it’s a relationship that is over and a woman who is wrecked. The Prince/Rosie Gaines version, while it contains the same lyrics and the same melody, feels full of hope. It’s two people who are “willing to give it another try,” a story of a couple who are broken but might put themselves back together. Same melody, same lyrics, but two completely different songs. Michelle likes them both. You? (Tell us what you think!)

The second set starts with a few deeper tracks, and Jamie is really digging it – “Strange Relationship” off “Sign o’ the Times” (an album Michelle knows but not nearly as well as Jamie) and “Bambi,” a B-side from Prince’s 1979 self-titled debut album (definitely not a track Michelle knows, but one Jamie – as usual – knows all about).

“Computer Blue” and “Darling Nikki” from “Purple Rain” are no surprise, but always fun. That’s the thing about a Dean Ford & The Beautiful Ones show – they always play the entire “Purple Rain” soundtrack. You expect to hear those songs. You also expect to hear “The Beautiful Ones.” If you’re not familiar with that track, let me ask you this – did you see “Purple Rain?” Do you remember when he’s on stage singing that song, asking Apollonia to choose between him and Morris Day? It starts as this nice song; she’s enjoying it, for sure. But it takes this turn at the end where he’s screaming, pouring out his heart, asking her to choose:

Do you want HIM?
Or do you want ME?
‘Cuz I want YOU

When Dean performs this song, he’s right there. He’s pouring out his heart; he’s thrashing around on the floor. It’s a treat to take in. From our vantage point, we could see him point right at Mia, the band’s photographer and Dean’s girlfriend, and belt out, “‘Cuz I want you!” That intimate moment captured in the middle of the song was sweet to witness.

So… two columns in, both about this band, both super positive, may beg the question – are we a column about Prince cover bands? Not at all. We just happen to love this band and wanted to give you a heads up before they came, but we also wanted to get more in-depth after the show for those of you who love Prince like we do. (Catch him yourself next month at Mohegan Sun Pocono (1280 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre) as part of the casino’s free outdoor Party on the Patio series on Thursday, July 11. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the music starts at 7:30 p.m.)

Look for us to cover a large variety of bands in the months to come, everything from Motown to hip-hop. We’re definitely planning to get out there and see a big variety of music in the upcoming months. Speaking of… did you hear? Snoop Dogg is coming to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township on Thursday, Sept. 26! We’ll see you there!

Behind the Beat is a monthly column by a local couple, Jamie Nelson and Michelle Christopher, featuring thoughts on music, tales of musical adventures, live show reviews, and interviews with national acts.