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CarbieWarbie Photography © 2018

Hamer Hall April 29, 2018.
Review by Greg Phillips. Photos by Carbie Warbie and John Conlan

On April 21, 2016 the world lost Prince, one of the greatest artists in contemporary music. Known for recording and storing more music than he released, the discussion began as to how his legacy would be preserved, what material should be released from his vaults and what events in his honour should be approved. A little over a week ago a concert took place at the Target Center in Minnesota featuring former Prince band members in front of footage of the great man on 3 large screens. Reviews of the concert were mixed, with many fans praising the musicians but not convinced about the dignity of the video component. Australian fans haven’t been absent from Prince commemoration either with the New Power Generation recently touring the country to rave reviews for Bluesfest and side shows nationally.

All of that however, was nothing compared to the majesty, grace and pure joy of the The Nothing Compares 2 Prince shows which premiered at the Sydney Opera House last week and finished up at Hamer Hall in Melbourne last night. Despite featuring Prince’s sister Tyka Nelson and key musicians from various eras of Prince’s career, this was not an officially sanctioned project by the Paisley Park estate but it should be. This was a well rehearsed, meticulously planned tribute which relied totally on the music to deliver the kind of show Prince fans would want and Prince himself would be proud of.

Shelby J by CarbieWarbie Photography © 2018

With the Hamer Hall stage bathed in purple, a short audio presentation of soundbytes, loops and licks from Prince’s career segued into a countdown before the band kicked into the iconic intro to 1999, one of Prince’s biggest hits. Morphing straight into 1979’s I Want To Be Your Lover then without a spoken word, following up with a funked up Controversy, the band had already flicked the switch into party mode. With the incredibly powerful voices of Liv Warfield and Shelby J front and centre and Musical Director, St Paul Peterson adding a male vocal perspective, the combination was both soulful and stirring.

Before the tour, some of the musicians on stage, who had been drawn from different periods of Prince’s history had not even met before let alone play music together. Yet they gelled and fell into a groove like they’d been together forever. St Paul’s bass and Queen Cora’s (Coleman) beats locked in tight and when St Paul stepped up for spotlight duties, the amazing Nik West took over to hold down the low end with class.

While the night was very much a celebration, it wasn’t without it’s moments of heartfelt reflection too. The love and emotion in the room was tangible as Prince’s sister Tyka Nelson strolled onto stage to sing The Ladder, from Around the World in a Day, a song she told us that she co-wrote with Prince and their father.

The dream setlist highlighted just how much of a hit factory Prince was. From Raspberry Beret and Alphabet St to When Doves Cry and Cream, the celebrated tunes kept coming. Ironically, Prince would never have played this many hits together in one night, so it was indeed a privilege to experience such a rich lesson in pop music history. Then there were the famous songs Prince wrote but gave to other artists. Liv Warfield’s rendition of Manic Monday was enchanting as was the killer version of Stand Back, a song that Stevie Nicks took to the upper regions of the charts.

Following the break, Tori Ruffin (guitarist with Fishbone for 11 years) led a slower tempo, grinding version of Let’s Go Crazy, a reminder that Prince was never a stickler for the rules in regard to song arrangements. Shelby J gave us an energetic version of Musicology, a song she often plays in her own sets before the funk-o-meter headed into the red-zone with a spectacular mash-up of Kiss and Sexy Mutha steered by bass vixen Nik West. It was also a chance for the NPG horns to shine with Adrian Crutchfield (sax) BK Jackson (sax) and Lynn Grissett (trumpet), letting loose with some scorching and elastic brass licks. Prince’s childhood friend JellyBean Johnson added an extra element of cool and was as effortlessly funky on guitar as he was tight on the stage’s second drum kit.

Nik West by John Conlan.  CarbieWarbie Photography © 2018

St Paul was proud to announce and then perform a sublime version of The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, a song which was produced by his brother Ricky Peterson, who was delivering the most expressive of organ sounds tonight. Liv Warfield’s version of Love Thy Will Be Done, backed only by piano was spine tingling as was Cassandra O’Neal’s solo spot on Sometimes It Snows in April. It reminded us all that Prince could melt our hearts with a ballad as easily as he could rock our socks off with his funk. There had been an aura of jubilation all night but with Warfield’s outstanding rendition of Little Red Corvette, one of the most dramatic and catchy pop songs of all time, the ante was upped even more.

Next up St Paul strode to the microphone and told the story of how he received a cassette from Prince with songs to learn for the The Family, the band he was part of as a teenager. The song was Nothing Compares 2 U, a track Sinead O’Connor had a global hit with. Apart from Prince, St Paul was the first person to get to sing that song. Seredipitously, the original Prince recording had only just been released by Prince’s estate this month. It was with a great deal of emotion that St Paul and Shelby J delivered a show-stopping version of Prince’s classic song.

Equally due to the amazing breadth of Prince’s material and the immaculate delivery of the music by the assembled band, the energy level of this show never faltered. From that highly emotional ballad, the musicians seamlessly kicked up a gear, as Shelby led them into one of the most feel-good, pop-rock songs you’ll ever hear, I Would Die For You. An infectious, tight and funky Baby I’m A Star followed and ended the set, leaving the crowd to erupt into thunderous cheers and applause.

Of course there was always going to be an encore and it was always going be that song. Tori Ruffin walked back onto stage in darkness to a stool in a spotlight and played one of the most recognisable chords in pop, the Bbsuss2 opening to Purple Rain. Tyka Nelson returned and told everyone that this “all started in a garage and look how far it’s come”, as she began to sing the lyrics… “I never meant to cause you any sorrow. I never meant to cause you any pain.” Overcome with emotion, she called on St Paul to help out. A sea of phones lit up the room and the audience needed no encouragement to sing along to the chorus and wailing outro.

These Nothing Compares 2 Prince shows not only highlighted what an amazing artist the world has lost but also confirmed what a staggering catalogue of songs he has left behind, as well as a legacy of energy and love that lives on though these amazing musicians and of course Prince fans worldwide.

See more of Carbie Warbie’s Nothing Compares 2 Prince photos here


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