Review: Prince & NPG at the Hollywood Palladium

Prince performs at the Hollywood Palladium on March 8, 2014.
(Kevin Mazur / WireImage for NPG Records)

This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

Rank amateurs and charlatans.

That’s how 99% of today’s pop and R&B musicians come off compared to the masterful-
on-multiple-fronts performance Prince and his New Power Generation band delivered Saturday during his surprise show at the Hollywood Palladium.

Although fans who scrambled to get tickets (at $100 a pop) for the show announced over Twitter and Facebook late Saturday afternoon had to wait 2½ hours past the announced start time of 8 p.m. for the Purple One’s arrival, as soon as he and NPG exploded into “Big City,” any grousing fell by the wayside.

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Prince, who recently got rave reviews for his performances with his new 3rdeyegirl band in Europe, appears to have fully absorbed elements of popular music stretching back nearly a century. His show with NPG encompassed, but was not limited to, the joyous and artistically expansive efforts of Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and his orchestra, James Brown & the Famous Flames and Sly & the Family Stone and dramatically re-imagined them for 2014 and beyond.


On top of a core guitar-bass-keyboard-drums lineup that is equally adept at rock, funk and soul, the 22-piece NPG lineup also boasted a powerhouse swinging and swaying 11-member horn section that allowed Prince to channel the spirit of big bands of the Swing Era, the great ensembles of the golden days of R&B revues and the transcendent energy of New Orleans second-line parade bands.

Those horns weren’t just window dressing -- they infused complex, wildly creative melodies, counterpoints, rhythmic accents and sheer electricity into what was already an exceptionally invigorating musical mix.

Prince hopscotched through his considerable catalog for cornerstone numbers such as “1999,” “Take Me With You,” “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “Raspberry Beret” and “Musicology” and wove them into a seamless stream of true human emotion, musical discovery and body-shaking rhythms that rendered the idea of DJs spinning recorded music to rest.

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He’s long championed the virtues of live music-making, above sampled and looped sounds -- although he made an exception Saturday to salute Doug E. Fresh, who worked the microphone during the long DJ set that preceded the star’s arrival.

His point was forcefully supported: Who in their right mind, or body, would settle for the monotonously repetitive throbbing beats and minimal musical adornments that characterize so much dance music when there’s an option as dynamically rich, deeply layered, sonically inventive and vibrantly alive as what Prince & Co. put forth?

Prince himself led the proceedings with an expert hand, voice and feet, demonstrating that his power as a dynamic frontman hasn’t diminished since his 1980s days of superstardom.

The next question will be to what degree Prince will take what he brought to his extant songs to his forthcoming album “Plectrumelectrum” with 3rdeyegirl. But there’s no question that it stands to be another revolution in the still unfolding story of one of the great artists of our time.

[For the Record: 4:35 p.m. March 9: An earlier version of this post referred to Prince’s band as 3rdeyegirl. He performed at the Palladium with his New Power Generation band, which included members of 3rdeyegirl.]


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Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2