NPG at First Ave
First Avenue Setlist (09/13)
Intercontinental Hotel Setlist (09/14)
“Love is there if you'd just open up to it. If you'd just believe, your whole world would change” - Prince, ‘New Power Generation’
Fans still mourn the loss of local legend Prince, some two years later, but the mood was all celebration and joy as his noteworthy band of the 1990’s, The New Power Generation filled the Mainroom at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis for a nearly three-hour long musical tribute to their departed bandleader.
In this, their first area appearance since a brief and frigid set outside for February’s Super Bowl LII festivities and two intimate jazz club nights that weekend, the band has become more fine-tuned, honed by an abroad spring/summer tour of Europe, Australia, and Japan.
While the band can have a rotating lineup depending on schedules, the core members (Morris Hayes- MD/keys; Tony Mosley- guitar/vocals; Damon Dickson- percussion/vocals; Tommy Barbarella- keyboards; Levi Seacer Jr.- guitar and Sonny Thompson- bass) were all present for this special show.
Also joining on for the evening (which sold tickets at a purple-friendly price of $31.21 and beamed worldwide as a PPV webcast) were recent Prince musical collaborator Keith Anderson (sax) and the Hornheadz horn section, Mint Condition guitarist Homer O'Dell, Los Angeles-based, Minnesota raised blues/soul singer-guitarist Cobi, and dancer (and Prince’s first ex-wife) Mayte Garcia.
The newest band addition is official lead singer MacKenzie - an LA-based singer from a small town in Virginia, who was discovered by the NPG’s manager and Mr. Hayes, via the Jammcard app that networks professional musicians. MacKenzie (somewhat ironically, the tallest band member on stage) to his credit, does not try to imitate Prince, but interprets the songs in his own way (sometimes more Terrance Trent Darby-esque), while keeping them authentic and familiar to the fans.
The “evening with” set began as it only could, with the 1990 namesake song of the band that Prince used for the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack, followed quickly behind by the still-scandalous ‘Sexy M.F.’, with its profanity-laden chorus that a later Jehovah’s Witness Prince, would all but disown.
Mayte would emerge for ‘Love 2 the 9’s’ and ‘The Max’, first fully veiled and covered, but quickly discarding that to reveal her familiar interpretive moves while MCs Tony M and Damon Dickson kept things throwback and “funky fresh for the 90s”. Original NPG background vocalist DuJuan Blackshire joined in for ‘Sign “☮” the Times’, one of a handful of somewhat surprising pre-NPG era songs that the band would cover during the evening.
The band took a restful breath as Tommy Barbarella’s piano medley led into a couple of duets between MacKenzie and wife Apollo Jane, a formidable singer in her own right. Tony M and Dickson took center stage for their turn on ‘Deuce and a Quarter/Call the Law’, a medley from the NPG’s own 1993 album and ‘Daddy Pop’ originally done a year earlier for Prince’s ‘Diamonds and Pearls’.
Mayte re-joined the group during an acoustic ‘7’, lithely slinking about as the song’s verses progressed, balancing a sabre on her head and body, and ‘Love Thy Will Be Done’, a song Prince gave to Martika for her second album, was a fine showcase of MacKenzie’s soul and gospel tinged vocals.
Like a breath of musical fresh air, Los Angeles-based (but Grand Marais, MN raised) singer-songwriter Cobi then jumped on stage for the first two of four well-chosen songs, re-energizing the crowd with his rock-n-roll version of ‘I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man’ and showcasing his blues growl and guitar abilities on 1991’s ‘Live 4 Love’.
Bassist Sonny T. would his take his turn on lead vocals for the NPG’s ‘The Good Life’, a reminder that Prince considered him his biggest bass influence, working with him first on an early Lewis Connection track in the mid-70s. “We’re so glad to be back home tonight to pay homage, honor, and respect to the Purple One” MacKenzie told the crowd before the band struck the first chords of his favorite song of the catalog, 1987’s ‘The Cross’.
It was admittedly a little strange to see this configuration play pre-NPG hits like ‘1999’, ‘Purple Rain’, and ‘Kiss’ though playing them originally in concert tours from 1990-1996, gives them as much of a right as any, to feature these iconic songs in their setlist, and the crowd enjoyed the celebratory versions.
The end of the show deviated slightly from the setlist, with the new ‘Funkify’ beginning the encore and perhaps the first sign of a new album to come.
Cobi then returned for the most blues-laden track of the evening, ‘The Ride’- an old school 12-bar number perfectly catered to Cobi’s wheelhouse and a nice showcase for his guitar work, followed by a group jam on ‘Peach’ before everything came to a close with Lovesexy’s ‘Alphabet Street’.
The next evening found most of the band still in town, playing a second-floor ballroom as part of the airport-connected InterContinental Hotel Grand Opening.
Missing Barbarella, Mayte, and the horn section (except for Anderson), the band still powered through a hundred-minute set of favorites, reprising much of the previous night, but adding in ’Let’s Go Crazy’ towards the end which kept the mostly middle-age and corporate crowd on the parquet dancefloor with their complimentary champagne, cheering on the band.
MacKenzie jumped down into the crowd a couple times and the ballroom atmosphere was more intimate and loose than any perceived pressure of the webcast the night before, and the mix of hotel guests, sponsors, and business dressed invitees all danced along to the songs everyone knew so well.
Twenty five years later, The New Power Generation has returned, to celebrate and honor their lost bandleader, and to (re)introduce that period of Prince’s music to a new generation.
Whether or not they still “want to change the world” with possible new music forthcoming, is yet to be seen, but all the purple faithful will undoubtedly be watching, singing, and dancing along, and answering their call to “come join is on the floor”.
(click on any photo below to enlarge and see full image)
|First Avenue Poster (1)||First Avenue Poster (2)||First Avenue Setlist||Intercontinental Hotel Setlist||NPG (09/13)|
|MacKenzie (09/13)||Cobi (09/13)||Mayte (09/13)||MacKenzie with Apollo Jane (09/13)||NPG with Sonny T (09/13)|
|Tony Mosely (09/13)||Morris Hayes and Hornheadz (09/13)||NPG (09/13)||Levi Seacer Jr (09/13)||NPG at Intercontinental Hotel (09/14)|