The New Power Generation: O2 Ritz, Manchester
Prince’s former backing band, the NPG, celebrate him in Manchester with a formidable frontman.
There are actually two of Prince’s former backing bands on the road; The Revolution and The New Power Generation.
We saw The Revolution in London earlier in the year. That show perhaps packed more of an emotional punch, after all they were characters in the Purple Rain film and appeared in his most iconic videos. But a second go with The Revolution, playing only material with which they were involved, could wear thin.
The NPG is a different animal. They play a broader selection of material, and although most famous for backing him during the early 90s, you have people like Morris Hayes who played with him for a quarter of a century. Others, such as rapper Tony M, played a significant and visible role during one of Prince’s most successful times.
And they play much deeper cuts. Opening with album track Live 4 Love, before going straight into B-side 17 Days, you knew this wasn’t going to be a cursory blast through the hits. In fact, we got much deeper cuts like Days of Wild and Deuce and Quarter. We heard latter day cuts like Call My Name and Black Sweat, album tracks Lady Cab Driver and The Cross. They played songs by protégés like The Time’s Cool, forgotten singles like Gold. And that’s before we get the real hits; 1999, Controversy, When Doves Cry, Let’s Go Crazy, U Got The Look, Gett Off, Alphabet St. The selection of the material was as well rounded as it could be.
But even with such a songbook, it could easily fall flat, or come across like a tribute band. But it never does. It is a tribute, no doubt; a celebration of the greatest popular musician of our lifetime. But it isn’t hokey.
This shouldn’t be surprising musically, given that these were the musicians who actually brought these songs to life. But it could be so easy to get it wrong up front. MacKenzie couldn’t have a harder job. We all wish Prince was still up there. But he is a special talent. While Prince is an obvious influence on him, it is clear that he is his own man. He isn’t trying to be Prince. He does his own thing, and makes the songs his own.
The best example of this is The Cross – a song from Sign “O” The Times that MacKenzie prefaced by explaining that it is his favourite song. The soul and sheer passion that he sang with was felt throughout the room, and revealed whole new layers to the song, a testament to both MacKenzie as a singer and Prince as a writer.
He gels with the group, and has a clear rapport with them. He has fun and dances with them in a way that was almost reminiscent of Morris Day and Jerome Benton of The Time – band choreography definitely needs a mainstream return.
Incidentally, MacKenzie is almost matched in vocals with special guest Martin Kember of Color Me Badd, who appears to sing Adore and Pop Life. The former of these was especially impressive – a heavenly falsetto that we weren’t expecting when he appeared on stage, and a scream that sounded so uncannily like Prince’s that it was spooky.
If there is a criticism, it is that a few of the songs were shortened a little too much. But that’s a small qualm, and it allowed them to play even more songs.
As a fan, it was cathartic; an outlet for our love of this singular musician, and the sorrow over his loss. They are all clearly thankful for the opportunities Prince gave them, and we are thankful that they are keeping his music alive.
Pictures by Vicky Pea
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