Sheila E. – 170 Russell, Melbourne 07/12/16

The iconic drummer, percussionist, singer and pop star Sheila E (full name: Sheila Escovedo) has been more visible than ever in an agonising year – her mentor, friend and onetime lover Prince passing away in April. They enjoyed an epic musical romance. Yet Escovedo, the daughter of a legendary percussionist, always commanded her own identity, starting out as an elite muso-for-hire. She released three albums with Prince as producer before necessarily breaking away in the ’90s. But they remained close.

Like Prince, Escovedo believes that music is life. And so she’s gigging solidly. This weekend the Oakland native and her band will headline Meredith Music Festival – a festival that, aptly, generates myths.

Introduced by a daggy local MC, Escovedo’s sold-out Melbourne sideshow was a Prince memorial party. Members of the now-defunct unofficial Australian Prince fan club (which published a ‘zine, Seven) were out in force. Also in the house? Brit super-DJ Carl Cox.

Escovedo made a dramatic entrance, joining her massive band for a medley of ’80s Prince classics – When Doves Cry, Housequake, Erotic City and U Got The Look. She then segued into (a too-short!) A Love Bizarre – like Erotic City, originally a duet between her and Prince. In that time, the energetic Escovedo – wearing light-catching sequinned pants and with planet-sized hoop earrings – bounced from playing drums to percussion. The show loosened up with afterhours jams – the band jazzifying Funkadelic’s One Nation Under A Groove.

Despite experiencing solo success in the early ’80s, Escovedo served as Prince’s Musical Director on the Sign O’ The Times tour. And, with her own band, she’s generous – allowing the various musicians to shine. One of her two impressive female backing vocalists led a rendition of Prince’s Diamond And Pearls, which he cut with soul (and later garage) diva Rosie Gaines. Escovedo performed the Latin carnival Leader Of The Band – which she penned with Prince for her last album, 2013’s Icon. Nearly an hour into the set, Escovedo pulled off an epic drum solo – to rousing applause. Though overall she chatted little, Escovedo stopped to share her excitement about returning to Oz, adding that the show was “lit”.

Escovedo’s birthday falls on December 12 – and, apparently as a surprise, an elaborate cake was brought on stage, the band and crowd erupting into Happy Birthday. Escovedo gamely took a bite. Another suite of Prince songs followed – including neo-psychedelia fave Raspberry Beret. The crowd sang along.

On leaving Prince’s Paisley Park stable, Escovedo embraced house music for 1991’s Sex Cymbal – cred, but slept-on. Coincidentally, prior to Prince’s death, Escovedo was prepping another dance album. She shared the Major Lazerish title-cut, Bailar – think: Sheila EDM. And, fully exhibiting her diversity, Escovedo (possibly symbolically) donned a guitar for the next song, RockStar, again off Icon – but with its outro borrowing from Purple Rain‘s climax. However, the evening’s most poignant moment came when Escovedo sang her recently aired piano ballad, and tribute to Prince, Girl Meets Boy. She spoke softly about him to the crowd.

Escovedo closed with her signature hits – all Prince co-writes. The polymath rapped Holly Rock, from the cult hip-hop flick Krush Groove, in which she starred. There was an unexpectedly rocky The Belle Of St Mark. Lastly, Escovedo & Co recreated The Glamorous Life – as the tail end of another Purple medley (entailing Baby I’m A Star). Sheila E will surely give Meredith something to remember.

Shiela E will play Meredith Music Festival this weekend and will finish up her Australian tour with a show in Sydney on Sunday. Details here.

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