Oya Thomas “Tribute to Prince”
Skyloft (Laguna Beach)
Saturday May 28, 2016
Concert Reflections and Photographs by A. Scott Galloway
Vocalist Oya Thomas caught my attention a couple of years back with the beautiful Sunday morning song “Peace in the Valley” from her CD The Spirit of Oya. So I was stunned to receive an email invitation to a Saturday night show she was fronting in memory of Prince on Memorial Day. I knew she could sing and that she was also very nice on the eyes so when a last minute cancellation made it possible for me to see this show, I made that move.
The first thing that was striking about Oya and her 4-piece band and backing vocalist Ki is that they performed an hour and a half first set that was – for all but a technicality – non-stop. They went from one song right into another keeping the beach city party animals attentive and packing the dance floor. They started with some `70s and `80s hits from Bowie and Eurythmics to “Boogie Oogie Oogie” and “Back in Love Again” to Marvin and Michael – all very tight which, I assume, is because these are part of the band’s regular club night rotation.
They floated into the Prince tribute with, what else, “Let’s Go Crazy,” and proceeded to offer up an impressive overview of the legend’s catalog – from hard funk to Top 40 Pop. The band stayed very close to the original arrangements (albeit missing certain key keyboard and guitar sounds) and Oya proved she is not only a versatile and assertive singer, she totally captivates the crowd’s attention, consistently dominating all audience participation commands even on songs she let one of the men lead. Not only did they perform songs Prince recorded himself, they rocked tunes Prince wrote and/or produced for others. You truly sensed this is a band that works together frequently because save for only the slightest of cuing snafus (noticeable only to other musicians paying close attention), they made the transitions from song to song smoothly, delighting the crowd with each new surprise of what was coming up next.
The show went on from “1999” to Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” on which Oya acknowledged the passing of Denise Matthews (Vanity’s birth name) for a song that’s easy enough to rap/chirp but for which Oya opted not to recreate the saucy group’s choreography. Instead, they went into “When Doves Cry” (bassist James Strong coming up with something unobtrusive to play as Prince’s version famously contained no bass track) then a perfect ‘Saturday night’ groove through “Little Red Corvette.” The poppier side of Prince was explored next on full versions of “Raspberry Beret,” “Take Me With U” and “I Feel For You” (Chaka Khan version) before they thrashed out on “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and a whopping three set-ending songs by The Time: “777-9311” (with tight drums from Felix Pollard and a mean synth solo by Dominique Taplin who played with Prince off and on since 2014), “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” (featuring a very cool scat guitar solo from featured player Rick Marcel who tested guitars for Prince).
I was a long way from home but stayed for a bit of the second set which also included a gritty get down on Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” (I see what Oya was listening to as a girl) and on the Prince tip, a sexy spin through “Erotic City.”
Oya Thomas plays the Skyloft in Laguna Beach once a month (third Saturdays, I believe). If you live in Southern California, I strongly recommend – especially for the summer months of June, July and August – that you make the drive down for one of the performances for a guaranteed funky good time that, as Morris Day might say, will set your weekend off ‘kinda right.’
A. Scott Galloway
The Urban Music Scene