4U: The Music of Prince with Symphony

Biology affects all art. In the case of music, of course no rock star lives forever. It will be increasingly rare to see a legacy artist in concert. Many bands that rose to prominence in the 60s or 70s and still touring sport only a few original members (Eagles: 1, The Who: 2, Queen: 2, KISS: 2, Chicago: 2 or 3 depending on the night). U2 and ZZ Top are the outliers, all members are intact.
What to do if you are charged with managing the estate of a singular artist? In the case of Prince the answer is to celebrate his music with musicians capable of doing it justice. In this case, several crack musicians accompanied an orchestra performing arrangements by Prince acolyte Questlove. As the only symphonic Prince show approved by the artist’s estate, the concert website said, the gig is not intended to impersonate the artist but to celebrate his “boundless creative output.”

The evening mostly satisfies, given the inherent limitations especially evident for those blessed to have seen his Purpleness live in concert.
The mostly effective visuals supplemented the music, which was well amplified. Song titles were helpfully provided for most of the instrumental versions. The visuals reminded some folks that Prince rose to prominence in the MTV era. Interview snippets were used as interstitials.
Earlier in the tour the first half was apparently built upon deep catalogue tracks, done without vocals. But by the second song last night a guy came out to sing “Delirious” and “Pop Life” among others. He was competent.
Comparing 4U to the recent David Bowie post-mortem tour, the latter was non-orchestral but was comprised of an evolving band anchored by a couple musicians with definite ties to Bowie.

The orchestra assembles for the San Diego performance of 4U

The local symphonic musicians in San Diego were cohesive in tackling Questlove’s arrangements. “The Beautiful Ones” was especially effective in exploring the orchestra’s range.

An authorized purple beverage is another good revenue generator

The evening’s last song was inevitably “Purple Rain.” The house guitarist wisely left the stage, allowing Prince to assay a live rendition of his signature song, recorded somewhere on a previous tour. As the orchestra surged, Prince’s guitar did most of the talking.

It reconfirmed for me that seeing Prince perform “Purple Rain” live is one of the most evocative concert experiences ever.

Merging an orchestra with a rock band has a dodgy past (Moody Blues made it work, The Who not so much). The elements come together in 4U better than expected. One goes into these experiments with a fair degree of trepidation.
There was plenty of purple in the attire of the audience, and there was more sex in San Diego last night.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.