11 Sep Review: PRINCE 4 U A Fun Trip through the Catalog… but with an Abrupt End
Article special to DrFunkenberry.com written by Francine Tardo.
As an experienced concert goer, I regularly do my “homework” prior to attending a show – researching setlists and doing “crash courses” on new music when necessary. Last night was a unique situation – attending the opening night of a show that had never been performed before, with familiar music presented in a brand new way. 4U – A Symphonic Celebration of Prince, was taking the music of my favorite artist and musical genius, and having it played by a full symphony. The debut was held at The State Theater in New Brunswick, N.J.
Going in, I could see how songs such as Purple Rain could easily lend themselves to this type of treatment (more on that later) … but then… thoughts ran through my head – would they be able to pull off a “classical” version of Get Off or Sexy M.F. ? (They didn’t get quite that ambitious…)
I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I felt the fact that it was “sanctioned” by the Prince estate and arranged by Questlove, a guru of all things Prince, I was excited. While the performance allowed Prince fans of all types (the die-hards to the novices) to experience the breadth of his catalog, in summary, it fell a little short, since the production needed some obvious fine-tuning (I’ll chalk that up to it being opening night), and it had a much stronger first half than the second half.
I need to add that I would never claim to have an ear for classical music, so, I’m sure true fans of that genre would have been able to pick apart some hits and misses (a couple in our row actually commented to a friend of mine how some things sounded “off”). To me, the symphonic treatment helped demonstrate just how diverse Prince’s talent was, as a full orchestra was able to expose other sides of his work.
4U intertwines Prince’s music with audio clips of his voice ranging from excerpts from his Larry King interview, to thoughts on God and fame. Video clips were also incorporated, including handwritten notes of lyrics, outlines of costume design and personal notes with Bono of U2 (random).
As already outlined in other reviews regarding the performance, the first half was a more “deeper dive” into the catalog, (e.g. not the top 40 hits.) Fans of Christopher Tracy will be happy to know that there were several clips of Under the Cherry Moon shown (showcasing some of Prince’s comedic talent), with New Position, I Wonder U, Under the Cherry Moon an Venus de Milo all getting some air time. Notably absent – Sometimes it Snows in April – which I think would be amazing with this type of musical treatment.
The first half also included some oldies but goodies (a mashup of Computer Blue and Automatic early on got the crowd rocking), to those coming out of the vault, with some hits sprinkled in – my favorites from that first half included the Beautiful Ones and Nothing Compares 2U.
Post-intermission featured Let’s Go Crazy — to see a full string section pull off guitar solos was pretty amazing — the red lighting for Little Red Corvette, Starfish and Coffee, and Take Me with U were all highlights for me. The crowd also got more lively when the “hits” were being featured vs. the deep catalog.
Toward the last 20 minutes or so was where it got a little messy. Live concert footage of Prince was inserted, and it seemed like it was supposed to play in unison with the live symphony. One
video was an excerpt of the extended Baby I’m a Star/I Would Die 4 U live concert footage that would play on MTV back in the 80s. The length of the clip ran a little long and distracted from the performance. The upbeat nature of that video seemed to clash with the classical interpretation.
And now we come to the finale – Purple Rain. I was ready to grab my tissues, as I knew it would be amazing to see this song being performed by an orchestra. Again, this began with a live video (one I don’t recall ever seeing, with the Revolution and extended guitar solo intro.) It was obvious something wasn’t going right, as the conductor was trying to get the orchestra to kick in and then kept looking off stage several times. He was getting visibly frustrated. I would say it was maybe a quarter through the song where the symphony just stopped playing, the conductor turned around and gave a very awkward bow. And that was it. The crowd all stood up kind of dumbfounded and all commented how something had gone wrong in the end.
Unfortunately, that was a rough end to the evening. I’m sure that fans going to see this show later on in its run will see an amazing rendition of Purple Rain – at least I hope so. I couldn’t help but think if Prince was here and involved in this production, he would have made sure everything was perfect.
Overall, I recommend that Prince fans attend this unique performance – just to experience his work in a new way and further appreciate his musical genius. Hopefully they will be able to work out the kinks as the tour continues.
Diagnosis: Thank U Francine for the review. So no “Pink Cashmere” I hear but “In All My Dreams” is in there. Hope it makes it’s way to L.A. & Minneapolis. Questlove said last week that more dates will be added.