In suburban and tribal casinos, the tributes have practically taken over. You have to study the poster. Do quick career math.
Hmm. Santana and Neil Diamond haven’t (yet) reached the point where the Cannery is big enough to host them. So look again and you see the words “tribute to.”
But what about the Spinners and .38 Special? They aren’t really big enough to have a tribute band, at least while they’re still alive. So you glance again, and yes, it’s the real guys.
So far we’ve managed to avoid this confusion on the Strip. But little by little, the pioneering variety format of “Legends in Concert” has been challenged by full-length tributes to the Beatles, Bee Gees and Elvis in smaller venues that fall in the shadow of the big shows.
And now the most fun of the long-form tributes, the Prince salute “Purple Reign” is back in business at the D Las Vegas downtown. Jason Tenner’s take on His Funky Majesty has been rock solid for more than 15 years; the only inconsistency has been where to find him.
But if you spent more of the ’80s listening to “The Joshua Tree” than the “Purple Rain” soundtrack? There’s Arms of America, a U2 tribute playing through Aug. 18 at the Sin City Theatre in Planet Hollywood Resort.
The U2 guys are part of Rock ‘N Roll Compendium, a very Spinal Tap-ian umbrella name for a series of tributes in the sleek comedy club that turns out to be great for this late-evening use. (A Nirvana tribute is up next.)
Arms embrace the more playful side of the Irish rock gods, front-loading a set with “Even Better Than the Real Thing” and “Beautiful Day.”
And because they don’t play to a “click track” as the real U2 does in stadiums, they carry more of a garage vibe. They even travel back to the “Boy” album with “I Will Follow” and (for hard-core fans) “An Cat Dubh.”
But you can’t get too sloppy with U2; an almost unrecognizable “Vertigo” teetered on the edge of proving that this night. On the balance though, Sam Torreso captures enough of The Edge’s tricked-out guitar sound to make heads nod. Winking behind the de rigueur shades, John Genet gets close enough to Bono’s upper register and playful stage demeanor while speaking in his own American accent between songs, reminding folks these are but humble tribute artists after all.
It’s Purple Reign which offers a more fully developed “show,” making you realize the two tribute acts are sort of opposite their real-life counterparts. U2 has become more stadium spectacle while the real Prince makes his concerts feel like club shows, taking audiences on long funk-jam excursions.
Casual fans might even prefer Tenner’s succinct, eye-candy version. If he isn’t changing outfits for every song, you can bet dancer Jennifer Romas is, wielding a riding crop for “Erotic City” or going en pointe in ballet shoes for “When Doves Cry.”
This summer just happens to give an extra layer of nostalgia to the act as a 30-year celebration of the “Purple Rain” movie.
The briskly paced set re-creates large chunks of the flick, including Morris Day and the Time doing “The Bird” and Day’s squire Jerome (Kendrick Harmon) toting around a mirror for his preening boss (Drew James).
Tenner is seemingly ageless, doing the splits and the James Brown mic-stand bounce, and still modeling tights straight from Frederick’s of Hollywood or a fetish store. “You know how long it took me to get comfortable wearing that on stage? About five seconds,” he deadpans with sassy arched eyebrow.
Purple Reign may give you a Prince show you can sit and watch, but it doesn’t mean it will let you. This may be the only show where an audience gets called “lazy ass” if you don’t. And if you’re at a Prince tribute and don’t want to get up for “1999” or “Sexy M.F.”? They have a point.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-395-8745.