New Power Generation At Sony Hall, Friday, January 4th, 2019, Reviewed
There are two major, big time, forms of tribute bands in 2019. The first is the Fab Faux type, who look nothing like the Beatles, and don’t even try to, but they are able to perform Beatle songs never intended for a live setting, and never performed live, to perfection. And then there is the Doors tribute band, The Soft Parade, lead by one of the great band leaders of our time, Joe Russo, who through time (the Soft Parade have been together for decades) and skill, give a true approximation of the Doors live experience.
A third is the somewhat newer iteration, the former backing bands of freshly dead rock stars going on tour. With the exception of Queen, who brought in Adam Lambert -a real lead singer, this has worked as follows: a big fat cipher where the rock star should be sings lead because the bands are sick of being 20 feet away from the action and don’t wanna be overshadowed. A terrible idea. At what point does the bottom line stop being the bottom line and start being about quality and integrity? Last night at Sony Hall New Power Generation were, in some ways, worse than The Revolution (here): the Revolution were talentless hacks, New Power Generation had the band in place to really bring together a great performance and were lazy, and egotistical, and coasted for twenty minutes at a time. I’m being hard on them because they can actually play but they chose not to heed the call. All that bullshit about “can you feel Prince in the room with us”? Prince would be doing somersaults in his tiny purple coffin if he had seen his former, often changing (17 former members by my reckoning) NPG become a vehicle for keyboard player and band leader Morris Hayes bloated sense of self. So bloated that instead of bringing us a Prince substitute with the skill set to hold the center, drew the center towards himself.
After a terrible set by funk ers Milo Z, NPG barreled from “New Power Generation” to “Sexy M.F.” to “Cream” to “Sign O’ The Times” to “U Got The Look”, twenty minutes that amounted to the best Prince since Prince left us. The reason is simple, Morris left guitarist (Mint Condition’s) Homer O’Dell and the best bassist Prince ever had Sonny T, to pull the band into a rough hewn, exciting rush. And then… and then they stopped and Morris doodled on keyboards and the new kid on lead vocals, Mackensie, whose calling card is a great falsetto, and does what he can but he isn’t what was needed, zoomed in an out as the rest of the band and the audience yawned.
Why did they keep slowing to a standstill? Why weren’t they hitting the pedal and steamrolling through the night? Why was Morris performing one of Prince’s worst habits, dreary solo piano changes of pace, over and over again? They didn’t have the energy and didn’t care enough to find it. And then Mackenzie pulls off a serious retooling of “Nothing Compares To U” and an almost its equal “7” and you think MAYBE… AND then… they began to rap. Rap? Prince could do a lotta stuff, but every time he went within a million miles of rap he got burnt.
I saw Prince on stage many times, from the 1999 tour at the Ritz to the 20Ten tour at MSG, and he wasn’t always great, but he was always light years ahead of these guys. Yes, it is a thankless task, and money and ego are the reasons behind it, but if you’re gonna do it, do it: the “Do Me, Baby” last night had the landscape of a masterpiece, and it is a smart song choice, and Morris and Mackenzie can’t pull it off. Mackenzie can’t tackle the vocal, he tries but he isn’t good enough. It sinks without a trace. A real guy, maybe a Daryl Hall, could do it, but Mackenzie isn’t that guy.
Morris can not be a front man, he is a bore, and Mackenzie could do very well if he started with his own band, learnt his craft, made himself a career. He is seriously out of his league attempting to channel Prince. The band have moments that absolutely prove they were a great backing band (there are entire albums as well), but they are a backing band. If they had worked very hard on a streamlined funky set they might have pulled it off. Unlike the Revolution they have the skills. They just don’t have the willpower and so they follow the bottom line and, like the Revolution before them, NPG do the one thing Prince spent his entire career not allowing to happen: they exploit him.