Local Current Blog

Review: ‘4U: A Symphonic Celebration of Prince’ is a fascinating and tasteful tribute

Interior photos from earlier performance, courtesy '4U: A Symphonic Celebration of Prince.' Exterior photos courtesy Hailey Colwell.

If you had a band and a full symphony orchestra to work with, which instrument would you choose to stand in for Prince’s voice? Does your brain reach for a guitar? A saxophone? Or would you rather leave the singing to your favorite recording?

New Yorkers might have been asking themselves that last night as they donned purple and made their way to the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn for 4U: A Symphonic Celebration of Prince. Most likely, they were more concerned with what songs would be on the set list, put together by Prince ultra-fan Questlove. As the first symphonic Prince show approved by the artist’s estate, the concert website said, it was not meant to impersonate the artist but to celebrate his “boundless creative output.”

4U’s tour starts in the tri-state area before traveling around the U.S. and Europe, but no Minnesota dates have been announced (yet). Questlove came onstage as the lights came down under the venue’s gold ceiling, but he did not stay for long. He left the playing to the Wolf Trap Orchestra; their friends on the guitar, drums, keyboards and synths; and to us.

The night was a mix of hits and deeper cuts, starting off with “For You.” Right away, the stage full of musicians showed us we were in for a different experience of these songs. For the first half of the night, no one sang. Instead, we got to focus on the music, and how awesome it was to have a dozen-piece string section riffing away on “Controversy.” It truly was cool to see how the arrangements cast each instrument. During “Computer Blue,” the brass section went crazy, with a saxophone giving a rich and scratchy feel to the vocal line. Muted trombones made “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” feel as alluring as the character. Having so many instruments helped us lean into the immense scope of Prince’s work, and revisit different moods from all over his career.

Also, the orchestra made us forget any expectations we might have had about a symphonic show. When the electric fiddle player stood up and started shredding during “New Position,” the night shot to a new level that even the most die-hard fans seemed to approve of.

Throughout the evening, projections lit the stage with video footage, photos of Prince, and close-ups on scraps of paper: handwritten lyrics and a list of his costume changes glanced over the screen at one point. The effects that hit home most were clips of Prince talking between songs when the stage was dark.

What this concert did best was keep its promise of never impersonating the artist. Not having vocals for most of the show gave fans some space to use their imaginations. It brought Prince into the room more meaningfully than it would have otherwise because in the absence of his voice, people could wish it into their memories or fill in for it by singing themselves.

Starting off the second half of the night with a string-plucked version of the “Let’s Go Crazy” intro, the musicians had already proved they could go there, so they kept going there. They took “When Doves Cry” into “Little Red Corvette” with a string arrangement where you could feel the sound moving in waves from different parts of the stage. The audio and projections took on a new role, playing live concert footage that let Prince steal the show in a new way. After a dance break or guitar solo, his audience from years ago went wild, and so we did too. The orchestra played “Take Me With U” and the electric fiddle player took up a microphone as she had a few times by now, singing the chorus and asking us to sing with her. She gave us a little extra push to lend our voices to the show without over-powering anything.

Then the musicians played a beautiful classical-sounding arrangement that was hard to place at first. It sounded like the overture to an opera or the opening credits of a film that didn’t have a date stamp. Then suddenly, they were playing “Purple Rain.” Prince appeared onscreen draped in a sequined cape, and for the first time, the band and orchestra played in time with the recording. As the song gave way to Prince’s final guitar solo, the group quieted down and let him take over.

At the end, we all got to have a moment with the artist, and the orchestra took us through the emotional experience that helped us get to a point where, in whatever way made sense to us — be it on the screen, in the music or in spirit — the Purple One was there too.

For You
Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)
Computer Blue
It Ain’t Over ‘Til The Fat Lady Sings
Christopher Tracy’s Parade
New Position
I Wonder U
Nothing Compares 2 U
Under the Cherry Moon
Alexa De Paris
The Beautiful Ones
All My Dreams
Let’s Go Crazy
When Doves Cry
Little Red Corvette
Erotic City
Take Me With U
Irresistible Bitch
Raspberry Beret
Baby I’m a Star
Purple Rain

  • dfr031260

    I was there last night and it was disappointing. The orchestra was stiff, the performance was drab and it was about as vanilla as it could be. I don’t know where you were, but for this New Yorker and Prince fan the concert was a snooze.

    • David Gibbons

      I’m worried about that too. I’ve booked to go with my wife and kids and I fear it will give them a lacklustre impression of Prince

  • Jay

    Sounds amazing! Cant wait to catch it on tour.
    Oh and for those that find it a snooze….have you had your plus sign today?

    Fan since 1980

  • Cheryl Welch

    Saw this last night, overall its a good time .However, a recorded Quest love tells you he’s gong to go deep, in the first set. Oh how to do decide with so many to chose from, especially if you say you are going for the deep cuts! I am intrigued but then disappointed. I liken it to “soft porn”, the type where they do not penetrate. Controversy, Something in the water, and Computer Blue, hardly deep. We get a tease of Automatic, These songs could have been mind blowing, think of what could have been done with computer blue by symphony, instead they play it safe. He throws in” It ain’t over until the fat lady sings” and a few stanzas of “all my dreams”. So many others that could have been used. I would have loved to have heard Electric Chair or how about Crystal Ball? The intro alone on crystal ball , think about it. It soon become obvious Q has a love for or has been give access to all things Under the Cherry Moon, as we get that albums songs, and lots of screen time of the same .Repetitive film footage and screen shots of Christopher, Tricky, and Mary Sharon. A long rendition of Venus de Milo. Some cool views of lyrics in the Purple Yoda’s hand writing mixed in. Pic’s of Prince and Cat, but only strains of Lovesexy, hidden in layers. We don’t hear “sometimes it snows in April”. Perhaps he thought doing “Nothing Compares to You” filled that spot. I also wondered what limits had been placed by the Estate.

    The second set, as Quest Love informs us, is the “hits” mostly the Purple Rain album, a couple of the extended song versions with Lets go Crazy and Raspberry Beret. Cant forget Little Red Corvette, Erotic City and Irresistible Bitch ,(the latter seemed an odd choice .Where I witnessed this performance, could only be listed as” Irresistible” on the screen) no Kiss, Diamonds and Pearls or TMBGITW. we got a lil sing- a- long of Starfish and Coffee. The climatic ending of course was Prince’s electric, emotional performance of Purple Rain, which was tastefully executed by letting him perform it full on. Although the violinist and guitarist could have surely brought an extra dimension to it, it was better left untouched.

    If I sound as if I didn’t enjoy this, that would be to the contrary. I loved it. And I understand the reasons for playing it safe. Sing a-longs are fun. And as Prince said, :”I got too many hits !, we’ll be here all night!” If you are expecting a Full on Prince concert, you will be disappointed. That’s never gonna happen again. I recommend that you enjoy it for what it is. Ill take it any day over an impersonator.

    Ironically it was 34 years and a day that I was in Cincinnati., Flashback, (not quite 1945) September 23rd, 1984 at the small venue called Bogart’s , we gathered for Princes Purple Ball, (that’s what’s on the t-shirt I still have managed to hang onto).or the Red, White and Blue Tour. Little did we know we were getting a Dress rehearsal for the Purple Rain Tour. For $5.00 admission we got the surprise of the lifetime, Prince himself.

    • Kim Huston

      This happens all the time. DJs sayin they’re going to play the rare stuff and then they stick to the songs the general public and your mama knows. Ugh…so frustrating for the purple fam! But I do want to see it. Again super disappointed that they would skip his home town. What is THAT about? I feel like Qwestlove doesn’t like it here. He wasn’t very happy at First Ave last year and hasn’t been back.

      • Cheryl Welch

        I think you would like it Kim. I recommend seeing it. It’s a different sound but still good.