Local Current Blog

Review and photos: The New Power Generation’s “This Thing Called Life” is a Prince-honoring spectacle

"This Thing Called Life" Prince tribute by the NPG at the Parkway Theater. Photo by Steven Cohen for MPR.

After Prince died on April 21, those who knew him had to figure out how to respond. What would help them process the loss personally? What should they do in the public eye? How should they honor their loved one?

A little over a month later, each one is still answering some of those questions. For Michael Bland (drums), Sonny Thompson (bass), and Tommy Barbarella (keys) of Prince’s ‘90s band, the New Power Generation (NPG), the right thing to do felt like playing music—so they reunited for three nights at the Parkway Theater, playing Friday, Saturday, and Wednesday of this past week. Wednesday’s performance was a rapidfire run-through of almost 30 Prince tracks.

Joined by musicians such as Julius Collins (lead vocals) and Sounds of Blackness’s fantastic Jamecia Bennett (back-up vocals), the NPG took the stage to great applause, starting with “1999” and “Little Red Corvette.” Each band member had ample time to solo.

The Hornheads, five excellent brass players led by Michael B. Nelson, surprised the audience during the second half, turning up the funk on “Willing And Able.” They recorded on more than a dozen Prince projects, especially throughout the ’90s, and they’ve also performed under the name NPG Horns.

The tribute—more jamboree than bereavement, which felt appropriate—went well, running through all the hit songs and several deeper cuts.

Reports on the first two shows along with Wednesday’s set list indicate that the band played the same songs every night. At the last show, highlights included “Sometimes It Snows In April,” “Erotic City,” and “Nothing Compares 2 U” (the NPG version off The Hits/The B-Sides, which features the lyric “seven hours and 13 days,” as well as female lead vocals—once from Rosie Gaines, now from Bennett—on the second verse).

Julius Collins did a nice job filling in on vocals, but Prince’s absence felt all too present, especially considering that pictures and videos of the latter towered behind the band for the whole show. After a studio album carves grooves in your memory, it’s strange to hear another voice trying to hit the same highs.

However, these shows essentially happened to prove that point: there is no other Prince. And in that, they succeeded, honoring the man who led the band. There may never be a musician with more talent, better focus, or higher standards; the world is better for having had him.

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