Singer Julius Collins and drummer Michael Bland during last year's "This Thing Called Life" tribute concerts at the Parkway Theater. / Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune

Singer Julius Collins and drummer Michael Bland during last year's "This Thing Called Life" tribute concerts at the Parkway Theater. / Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune

One of the three local members of Prince’s original New Power Generation lineup who helmed last year’s “This Thing Called Life” tributes, Michael Bland was candid about what he thinks the key difference will be in second round of shows they’re putting on this weekend.

“We mean business this year,” said the powerhouse drummer, who will team up again with his former NPG mates Sonny Thompson and Tommy Barbarella along with former Greazy Meal singer Julius Collins at the Fine Line Music Café in downtown Minneapolis starting tonight and continuing Friday and Saturday (8 p.m., $45-$55, tickets on sale through Ticketfly.com).

The same core quartet came together last year at the Parkway Theater last June around the time of Prince's birthday, which was just six weeks after their old boss' and friend's death. Bland believes in hindsight it was probably too soon.

“Last year we were just so emotionally confused, and we really weren’t even sure it was the right thing to do,” he said. “We heard such an outpouring from fans who wanted us to do something like this, but we didn't know what we wanted. We’re in a much better headspace this year – and we had a lot more rehearsal time.”

The extra time allowed them to dig deeper into the catalog this year, too. Bland promised "a few surprises" and changeups in the set lists each of the three nights. "That's one of the advantages we have over the Revolution: They're tied to that certain, incredible moment in time," he said, "but we covered so much more material in our time, because we came later." (The Revolution is now on tour and booked to play Rock the Garden outside Walker Art Center on July 22.)

The lineup of musicians is also different this year from last year, with Jeremy Ylvisaker of the Suburbs and Homer O’Dell of Mint Condition serving as guitarists (both also played the memorial block party outside First Avenue in April), plus guest singers including Margaret Cox and Bland’s Soul Asylum bandmate Dave Pirner. Thankfully, Sounds of Blackness alumna Jamecia Bennett and Prince’s old horn section, the Hornheads, will also take part of the shows for the second year in a row.

“It’s more about celebrating the man than recognizing his death, and that alone feels a lot better,” Bland summed up about this weekend's shows.

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