Live Review: Prince & the New Power Generation - The Hi-Fi

12 July 2012 | 9:02 am | Dan Condon

After an epic arena show, Prince sneaks off to an inner city club to treat us to some funk.

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Tonight we leave the Brisbane Entertainment Centre having witnessed Prince as an icon, Prince as a pop star, Prince as a spectacle. Confetti, smoke and costumes in abundance alongside a fair slab of the biggest hits he has ever written.

Word is out about the after show jam, having been leaked earlier in the day online and then announced over the PA at the conclusion of tonight's arena spectacular. Driving from the outer suburb of Boondall into West End, the central Brisbane cultural hub where the show is happening, we're already getting reports of a line up over 100 metres long of people clutching cash, ready to experience one of pop music's most fascinating artists in relatively intimate environs.

The excitement is palpable from the moment we step inside, thanks to a perfectly selected set of '70s and '80s funk gems from DJ Rashida on the 1s and 2s. The venue begins to fill, the clock strikes 1am, everyone is dancing and everyone is smiling, but you know everyone is in pure anticipation of what might unfold when the curtains open and New Power Generation finally hit the stage.

By the time 2am rolls around, reports of previous Prince & NPG afterjams have been traded. “Don't expect to see Prince for at least an hour after they get on stage,” one sure punter says. “Last time they were in Brisbane they played for three hours,” says another. By this stage, the band are clearly behind the curtain; in a sign of true professionalism, they're line checking their gear in perfect time and pitch with the tracks that Rashida spins so as to not upset the vibe. NPG drummer John Blackwell starts walking around the crowd, you can't miss him as he's decked out in a resplendent gold suit.

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And then, Rashida stops. The band starts, but the curtain doesn't open. They lay into the thick, repetitive funk jam that is Musicology – it can't be more than a couple of notes played for what feels like ten minutes. The backing singers start - “I know you got soul” they chirp, over and over and over.

The next three to five seconds are like a dream; the curtains open, and Prince is front and centre. “Got soul,” he smirks before laying into the first of many unadulteratedly mind-blowing guitar solos, all the while grinning at the faithful who've waited so many hours, willing them on to have as much fun as he looks to be having from behind his sunnies. It at once feels completely relaxed and utterly contrived – whatever it is, it works, as 1000 people scream, cry, dance, grin and let out every emotion they're holding onto.

Contrary to reports from other parties, tonight Prince is onstage all night and shows no interest in leaving. For a star so intriguingly enigmatic and so utterly eccentric, Prince just feels like a host and a friend tonight; albeit a host who you obey to a tee at all times. Prince is in full control of the whole room, from the front of stage he directs the lights, the security (he really doesn't like having his photo taken), when the crowd does and doesn't participate and just about everything to do with the band – when they play and what they play. It's obvious there's no setlist, just a mixture of hand gestures, nods and guitar licks to send them in any direction he sees fit.

He drops his guitar and pries the bass from Ida Nielsen's hands for and keeps it for a few songs, he takes over the keys for one manic, magic blitzing solo, the rest of the time he busies himself proving why he is seen as one of history's great guitarists. His playing is taut and funky when it needs to be, grating and noisy at other times and soaring and spine-chilling at others.

The setlist jumps all over the place; Charlie Parker's Scrapple From The Apple is aired fairly early before live favourite Days Of Wild gets the place jumping, leading into part of America, which in turns melds into The Time's Wild And Loose. Vocalist Liv Warfield takes centre stage for Chaka Khan's Ain't Nobody, after which we're back into Days Of Wild again! There's part of The Question Of U in there somewhere before (and this sounds bizarre) a sassy song about a Gingerbread Man. Everything stops before Prince drops into a slow, sexy I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man. The song is dripping with emotion; as if the audience assembled weren't already hanging onto every word that came out of the Purple One's mouth, this song is like a sultry gospel. And then he plays the solo. To be able to use a guitar as an emotional tool is a gift few have, even so, no one does it quite like Prince and the solo he lays down in this song is the ultimate affirmation of this fact. He knows it too – he oughta, given the crowd's screams that follow him up the fretboard. It's powerful stuff and a perfect setup for the great Shelby J to take the microphone for a stunning Brown Skin, which riles the emotions of the crowd even more.

It seems like Prince has had enough of this particular emotional bent, so he stabs out the opening riff to the Sly & The Family Stone classic Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again) and the NPG follow him, making the funk come alive again. After a while he gets them to stop on a dime and launches into the riff for The Ohio Players' Love Rollercoaster and once again the NPG drop in behind him, thick and heavy. Once more he stops them, this time to punch through Wild Cherry's Play That Funky Music and the room erupts even more energetically than before.

One of the big hits missing from tonight's arena show was Controversy, the 1981 mega-hit that first endeared him to Australian audiences. But as the wee hours crawl on, Prince finishes tonight's epic aftershow jam with the track, one last cathartic blast of funk that's only slightly sullied by his insistence on another Aussie, Aussie, Aussie chant, just like at the show previous. The band finish up, Prince wishes us good night, tells us he loves us and disappears, leaving us to grin and gasp in awe at what has just unfolded as the house lights tell us it's all over.

While at the gargantuan Brisbane Entertainment Centre we witnessed Prince as a superstar, a pop icon and a spectacle, in the far cosier surrounds of The Hi-Fi we saw him as one of the world's great musicians and bandleaders. With all histrionics stripped away, you can recognise that it was his incredible raw talent that made him a star.

There are a few things that resolutely do not happen in Brisbane; it doesn't ever snow, you cannot drive five kilometres without running into a newly built tunnel or one that's under construction and we do not have epic funk parties like this at 4 o'clock in the morning. But when Prince is in town, he makes sure that convention is thrown out; he did it in our town and he'll do it in yours. If you get the chance to party with the New Power Generation after a Prince show anywhere in the world, you cannot miss it. To coin a cliché, buy the ticket and take the ride. This could well be the best live performance this reviewer will ever see in his life.