“What time is it?” In answer to the trademark question posited by funk band The Time’s leader Morris Day, it’s time for the Santa Monica Pier’s Twilight Concert Series of the summer. That’s the good news: One of the more successful free public event series in our city got off to a rousing start when Day and The Time finally hit the stage on Thursday July 9.
I was a fan of Day back in the day… and I promise to stop bending puns right now. Attending college just 75 miles south of Minneapolis, we were able to at least monitor the whole Prince / First Avenue scene and occasionally get into the Twin Cities for some music. But that was a long time ago.
Yet it was a tribute to Morris Day that The Time’s set at the Pier, far from feeling dated or passé, was a non-stop entertainment package that included funny spoken passages from Day, some hip-shaking dancing by audience volunteers, and a propulsive rhythm section that would not stop delivering. Lay over that the sinuous lead guitar lines that defined the Minneapolis sound of that period and the giddy joy built into funk music… and it was about as delicious and simultaneously assertive a pop sound as we’re likely to get the rest of the summer at the Pier.
I’m rating Day and The Time’s show as one of the best moments in the history of Pier concerts, surpassed in my mind only by John Mayall years ago. The thing that was so outstanding about Mayall was how vital and rocking his show was, even as he acknowledged his historical role in the shaping of rock music from blues.
Morris Day and The Time provided an exceptional experience… once they got to the stage. It was everything else around the presentation at the Pier that disappointed.
Here’s where it mostly went wrong: Opening act Dam – Funk was terrible. From my vantage point, and I caught almost all of his “set”, it appeared that Dam – Funk was one individual commandeering some MC turntable or other groove generating audio deck issuing pre-recorded tracks. The budget could have been spent showcasing a good local group, since the gentleman on stage seemed upset at either the complete history of black American experience (which he referenced piecemeal) or maybe something unpleasant got said back stage before his show. Dam – Funk expressed his frustration in constant shout-outs to the crowd to respond to him. They weren’t having it.
It’s also possible that someone lectured him pre-show about keeping his language clean for a family-friendly evening, as Dam – Funk kept pushing that envelope. Whether it did or not, it felt like his set ran long.
That only made the crowd, now having waited at least an hour-plus for Morris Day, less receptive to the people that made stage announcements. Unfortunately, except for reinforcing product ad support, the announcements conveyed almost no useful information and “welcomed” a crowd that was ready for The Time about 45 minutes earlier.
I know we’re way past any grousing on my part about product placement inside of free public events. Advertising people will probably tell you that there is no such thing as a free public event without high visibility advertising support. But that doesn’t mean that the integration of advertising into those events has to be clumsy and negative to the vibe of the presentation. And it shouldn’t keep the audience from the show; I can easily see that approach going terribly wrong some evening.
A light installation meant to create another opportunity for brand integration failed in two big ways. First, the audience didn’t really give a hoot about a lengthy explanation from the stage regarding how the lights would respond to the music and the mood of the crowd; they wanted Day to start funkin’. Then, while the lights did add some festive glow after sunset, all that energy and money would have been better spent on a big screen that allowed those further from the stage to enjoy a close-up view of the show. Cameras were already there to tape the show for public access TV. This is a real missed opportunity, concert series folks. Hey, I won’t even dis you if you glue advertising along the top edge of the screen. Although that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.
The selection of Morris Day and The Time for the ‘season opener’ demonstrates that some savvy thinking goes into the Twilight Concert Series planning. Now, some of that keen reasoning should be applied to production and the apparently mandatory product integration. And if you are invited to address the crowd at the Pier… make some notes. Run through them once or twice. And time your speech for length. The audience might be restless.