The New Power Generation handle Prince’s legacy with care at Bluesfest
Prince was notoriously fastidious about everything he did. He wanted control of everything when it came to his music, his image and his narrative, and he was incredibly good at retaining that control.
Now he is gone, that control is relinquished. The Revolution, the band he assembled during his breakout success in the mid-80s regathered to tour the US and continue to do so. A show by the name of Nothing Compares 2 Prince brings old collaborators to Australia later this month.
But an iteration of The New Power Generation, the band who backed Prince through the 90s and 2000s, are the first of these Prince-less tribute acts to make it to Australia. As such, they were under great scrutiny when it came to their three sets at Bluesfest this year. They were dealing with such a powerful legacy, one which needed to be treated with care.
Thankfully, every moment of their time at Bluesfest felt tasteful and well thought out.
Their sets were heavy on the early-90s material that the New Power Generation helped Prince make in the studio. Songs like ‘New Power Generation’, ‘Pop Life’, ‘Cream’ ‘Sexy MF’ and ‘Diamonds And Pearls’ show just what a brilliant pop songwriter and party-starter Prince was at this stage of his career.
The band didn’t strip these songs of their dated charms - Morris Hayes’ cheesy synths immediately transport us back to the early 90s - which makes the whole affair all the more nostalgic.
Every musician on that stage remained up to the standard of excellence that Prince expected. There was not a single sloppy moment - from Damon Dickson’s sexy new jack swing dancing to late-era Prince collaborator MonoNeon’s mind-bending bass explorations - every part of this show was executed with precision.
As the 90 minute set hit the home stretch, the band rolled out the classics - ‘Controversy’, ‘Kiss’, ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, ‘1999’ and ‘Purple Rain’, to name a few - and it just felt like these were the right people to be playing these songs. Vocalists André Cymone, Támar Davis, Mackenzie, Kip Blackshire and Tony Mosely didn’t just sing the hell out of these songs, their energy ensured the party kept pumping.
The NPG didn’t pretend that this was a Prince show. The band are more aware than any of us how unique he was as an artist, performer and person. They know they can’t be him, and they didn’t try.
It sounds trite, but when singer Cymone sang ‘I could never take the place of Prince’ in his version of the 1982 classic ‘I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man’, it was powerful. Cymone, a childhood friend of Prince's, did a damn fine job at replicating the work of his friend, but remains his own performer, stopping well short of trying to inhabit Prince’s persona in any way.
This was a celebration of Prince’s songs, not an attempt to pretend he’s still here.
Nor was it an excuse for these astounding musicians to show off. You can argue that it’s a grab for cash, but it did not feel like a grab for glory.
It’s impossible to know what Prince would have thought about his old bandmates travelling the world playing his songs without him. But at least they’re doing justice to the incredible music he left us with.