Prince is dead – but his music will live on forever, whether that’s in terms of the never-ending popularity of his original releases, or his influence on new artists. There’ll also be those who attempt cover versions of his songs – but as a recent episode of the X-Factor clearly demonstrated, there are very few people who can perform Prince tracks and get away with it. But Purple Rain: A Celebration of Prince – a Prince world-class tribute act currently on tour across the UK – is different to most tribute shows. As ex-drummer with Prince’s band The Revolution Bobby Z has said, they are “authentic” and very much “on the money”, as they clearly demonstrated to the audience at Norwich Theatre Royal this week.
In addition to performing Prince’s most famous songs of the eighties and nineties – including “Let’s Go Crazy”, “1999”, “Diamonds and Pearls”, “Cream”, “Raspberry Beret”, “Kiss”, “Gett Off”, and, of course, “Purple Rain” – the show’s set list – which varies from show to show – also took in lesser-known album tracks, such as the rather naughty “Dirty Mind” and “Jack U Off”, and practically obscure “Cool” (originally performed by The Time and written by Prince). Fans of his more recent work – or indeed anything he’s produced in the last decade – might feel slightly disappointed that the only track post-1990s was 2004’s “Musicology” – but to be fair, the show ran over two and half hours… the line has to be drawn somewhere!
It must also be stressed that although lead vocalist (and highly-skilled guitarist) Jimi Love mimics some of Prince’s visual aspects – dressing in similar outfits, and playing an imitation of Prince’s uniquely stylised guitar – he never tries to be Prince. He knows he can’t be on the same level as his hero – no-one is – so when an audience member calls out “we love you, Prince!” during the Norwich gig, he corrects them: “My name’s Jimi”. For him, and the band, it’s very much a tribute show, acknowledging just how much Prince and his music means to everyone in attendance, and how much he will be missed.
That’s not to say the band aren’t good: they are fantastic. They are one of the finest funk bands I’ve ever seen, and I’m pretty sure Prince would have been very proud of them – particularly the impressive vocals of Miss Emma Blakk, and mad skills of bassist Andy T. Indeed, their astonishing rendition of “The Beautiful Ones”, which concluded the first half of the show, very much left no room for doubt that this band were very much entitled to play the music of Prince. They really are that good.
The only thing that was slightly lacking was spectacle. There was a cheapness to the production that was almost like attending a Prince gig before he hit the big time (but with songs from up to 25 years in the future!). Despite this, Purple Rain: A Celebration of Prince successfully created the high-energy party atmosphere of a Prince gig.
Jimi Love isn’t Prince, and his band aren’t The Revolution – they aren’t even the New Power Generation – but they are as close any as any mere mortal should ever reasonably expect to get to reaching the godlike genius that was Prince. Highly recommended.