Even though he’s dead, Prince will appear Friday night with a live band at Target Center.
Think about that for a moment.
On the eve of the second anniversary of the music icon’s death, fans can see Prince performing in his hometown via archival video. He’ll even be accompanied by live musicians who used to play with him. It’s being billed as “Prince: Live on the Big Screen.”
Is this in good taste? Is the timing right?
“It’s too soon,” said Sheila E., Prince’s longtime friend and former bandmate who did her own Prince tribute concert in October 2016 at Orchestra Hall and will perform at Paisley Park this week as part of the second annual Prince Celebration.
“I don’t think I’m going to go,” said Sharon Nelson, Prince’s oldest surviving sibling, who has attended various other Prince tributes since his passing.
“It’s not the right time,” said longtime Prince fan Nancy Andersen of Minneapolis. “I don’t think they should be celebrating his death. They should have had it around his birthday in June.”
Other observers have little problem with the tribute show.
“I hope his family is the one making the money on it,” said Grammy-winning producer/songwriter Jimmy Jam, who got his professional start with Prince.
Veteran Minneapolis entertainment lawyer Ken Abdo used to represent three of Prince’s six heirs and has worked with the estates of Muddy Waters, Bill Haley and Count Basie.
“You can do this pretty quickly after the grieving is over and [memorial] ceremonies are done,” Abdo opined. “I don’t think it’s considered in bad taste. The fans are the final adjudicators of this.”
Even Bob Lefsetz, an outspoken Los Angeles blogger often viewed as the music industry’s conscience, understands.
“I’m not going to see a Michael Jackson tribute [act] but there are people who want to go see a show like that,” he said. “People want to do something with their grief. This is a way to assuage their grief. It makes them feel good. Just like when these stars die, people go out and buy the records. That’s a way that people express their grief.”
Ultimately, Lefsetz said, posthumous tributes are about the money.
“It’s always about the money,” the lawyer-turned-analyst said of the music business.
Prices for Friday’s event — from $39 to $199 — might intimidate some fans. But, Lefsetz said, Prince’s surviving sidemen “should be able to make a living.”
Or sometimes the remaining band members just want to carry on.
For instance, Steely Dan, which was primarily a duo, has continued despite the death of Walter Becker in September 2017. After all, Donald Fagen was the lead singer and the group has had various guitarists, including songwriter/co-founder Becker, over the years.
Even the megaselling Eagles hit the road again less than two years after co-leader Glenn Frey’s death. His son, Deacon, signed on as did veteran country star Vince Gill, with the Eagles continuing to pack large venues at premium prices. In fact, America’s all-time biggest selling band is headed to Target Field on June 30 with Jimmy Buffett and tickets ranging from $95 to $495.
But what’s in good taste and timing?
In 2002, I saw Elvis Presley on video with a live band at the Minnesota State Fair 25 years after his death. The show was surprisingly seamless and thoroughly entertaining. The time gap erased any possibility of the macabre or even sadness.
Taste and timing matter. There was a big flap over rumors of Prince in hologram form singing at the Super Bowl halftime show in Minneapolis this year. It turned out to be Prince on video in duet with the live Justin Timberlake.
Maybe that wasn’t as creepy as a hologram, but the choice of songs — “I Would Die 4 U” — seemed in dubious taste considering that Prince had passed only 18 months earlier.
Sometimes it’s how respectfully and delicately these things are handled.
When Prince’s “Purple Rain” era band the Revolution performed at First Avenue in September 2016, it almost felt like a public memorial or grieving session that the fans needed as much as the Prince associates did. Now that the Revolution has become an ongoing touring entity, the situation seems appropriate because the musicians are not trying to replace Prince; they’re simply trying to salute his music.
Maybe that’s what it’s ultimately about — keeping the music alive with the help of musicians connected to the fallen star.
This year when Mike Garson, David Bowie’s longtime keyboardist and bandleader, put together a touring tribute band of former Bowie sidemen, he turned to singers like Bernard Fowler (Rolling Stones backup vocalist) and Joe Sumner (Sting’s son) who had no connection to Bowie.
“It boils down to integrity,” Garson offered. “Are you doing it just to cash in or are you bringing something the fans want to hear or are you annoying the fans? Naturally, once you have managers and agents, other motives come in. If this wasn’t feeling kosher to me, I’d say something.”
Somehow with bands, it seems different from individual stars like Bowie or Prince. Probably the most noteworthy major band to pull the plug after a death was Led Zeppelin in 1980 when drummer John Bonham drank himself to his grave.
Other bands, big and small, have pressed on in one form or another.
Even though the Who has halved its membership after two deaths, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey continue to tour; in 2002, they were on the road with a substitute a mere four days after founding bassist John Entwistle unexpectedly succumbed to a heart attack.
Journey continues to be a huge concert attraction even though frontman Steve Perry retired in the ’90s and has been replaced by a singer from a Filipino Journey tribute band. Bigger than ever, Journey will headline its first Twin Cities stadium engagement on July 27 with Def Leppard at Target Field.
The death of its lead singer didn’t halt Lynyrd Skynyrd or AC/DC, and Rock Hall of Famers Kiss, Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses have carried on with new faces while former members are still alive and active.
Prince didn’t have a permanent band. He was singular. A simulated concert with his old associates isn’t going to bring him back. It’s merely going to salute the man and his music. It’s a way to honor his legacy.
As Lefsetz put it: “Since the artist is dead and they can’t create anything new, you cannot screw with the legacy of the act.”