Troubadour, California 2011- Show 2

I feel cheated. It seemed like a good idea last week to write about both the shows at the Troubadour, but there was one fatal flaw in my plan – the bootleg of the second concert is incomplete, and by a substantial amount. To be honest the recording that exists of the show is merely a taster as it takes in a scant twenty minutes of what was a two and a half hour performance. I was disappointed when I realized my error, but I have decided to plough on regardless. The tape we do have is short, and only an audience recording, yet I feel it is still worth giving some time and consideration to, if nothing more to give me closure after listening to the first concert. The first concert set a high standard, and this later show promises to be even better. The setlist from this later show appears heavier, and with a much more aftershow feeling about it. Both aspects appeal to me, and I am sure this recording gives a good indication of what the concert was about.

12th May, 2011 (am) Toubadour, Hollywood, California

The party is well and truly underway as the recording comes in near the end of “Musicology.” The tape only catches “Musicology” in its final throes, nevertheless we can hear and feel the swing in the music, and the audience’s reaction is more than enough to suggest that this has been quite a show already. “Musicology” appears about half way in the setlist, so the audience have had plenty of time to marinade in the music, and their own juices, something readily apparent in the noise at the end of “Musicology”

The four minutes of “Musicolgy” is mostly crowd noise after the song finished, and it is “Crimson And Clover” that ushers us properly into the concert. It has a natural elegance, and an easy, delicate beauty that is beguiling, even when Prince isn’t to the forefront of the performance. Andy Allo is star that the song orbits around and she has an understated radiance that spreads a warm glow across the recording, the performance, and life itself as she charms all with her honey dipped vocals. The audience recording seems to fit the moment, with an out of focus softness that brushes all edges off the music. The rest of the band may be playing the music, but Prince is the song itself as he enters, and he appears as a thunder bolt for his crushing moment as the music rears it’s head briefly into “Wild Thing.” He personifies the song as he plays with a startlingly controlled fury, an exhilarating rock moment as the guitar embodies the true meaning of wild thing, will remaining tethered to the ideals of “Crimson And Clover.” This song makes up the bulk of the recording, and is reason enough to give it a listen.

The mix of “She’s Always In My Hair” is busy, and the drive and energy of the original is dissipated by the extra sounds that muffle the recording. There is a brief respite as Prince’s axe cuts through the baroque sound, it cleaves the song in two but isn’t quite as cleansing as I hope – the final minutes see’s it swamped by the bass and keyboards that the recording seems to crave. The final minute of the song features Prince’s guitar thrumming through the gears, but we never reach overdrive, the song finishing before Prince can fire us into the home straight.

The final two minutes of the recording capture the first half of “Play That Funky Music.” Surprisingly I find myself deeply attracted to it, perhaps because I am denied the complete show and this absence leaves me with a hunger for more.  It is an loud and unruly performance with the crowd contributing their own energy and buoyancy to the song and the show. There isn’t much to it, but it is eminently enjoyable, and that’s something I don’t say very often about “Play That Funky Music”

And that’s all there is. A twenty two minute recording of what was a much longer show, and one that sounds as if it was going off. I would have loved to hear more, but alas this is all we get. Being short, it is easy to recommend this one, it takes no time to listen to, and even if people don’t like audience recordings it is only twenty minutes so there is no real time lost to give it a try. 2011 is an odd year for me personally, and an odd year in Prince’s live performances. Shows like this give a little light, and I only wish there were more like this one for us to enjoy. No doubt a great concert to be at, the recording too is a nice listen.

Finally, I would like to note the passing of Synnove Soe this week. Synnove was a good friend, and a strong supporter of this blog. You can see her comments on many of the posts here, and she would often message me directly on Sunday night to offer her verdict on the concert I had listened to, and my writing. She was, as my father would say, a straight shooter, and I always knew where I stood with her – she had opinions, and she wasn’t afraid to share them!  I shall miss her terribly, she was a strong figure and a great mentor. She was also a kind and gentle friend. Rest In Peace Synnove.

 

 

Troubadour, California 2011- Show 1

On the afternoon of May 11th 2011, it was suddenly announced that Prince would be doing two impromptu shows that very day at the Troubadour, Hollywood. Of course this is completely in character for Prince, the attraction of playing shows at short notice has appealed to him since the early 80’s. Not only was the show announced a short notice, but there was to be two of them, one starting in the early evening, and the other just after midnight. With Prince’s residency at the Forum in full swing, this is quite a feast of music for local music lovers to enjoy, and the subsequent bootlegs are equally enjoyable for the wider fan community. The bootlegs of these particular shows may not be the best sounding you have ever heard, but the concerts themselves are fantastic, and both concerts are well worth the listen. The first show of the evening is notable for the last live performance of “Power Fantastic,” something that every hardcore fan would love to hear. The rest of the setlist is a combination of after-show standards,and marquee concert mainstays, all contributing to a heady mix of all that is good and great about Prince and his band.

11th May, 2011. Toubadour,Hollywood, California

The recording drops us right into the midst of the action, a swirling and ominous groove that parts to to reveal some light in the form of a “One Nation Under A Groove”chorus. Without settling on any one direction it keeps the listener guessing, while providing a showcase for this band comprised of John Blackwell, Ida Nielson, Morris Hayes, and Renato Neto. With Mike Phillips putting in an appearance, this is a band with the chops to move swiftly across the music Prince wishes to cover, and they tackle “Stratus” with plenty of finesse, along with a big chunk of pure music muscle, making Prince’s guitar contribution shine all the more brighter and potent as it lasers its way through the dense murk of a groove the band creates. Time is irrelevant as the band crush any other thought apart from music itself, and Renato Netos solo piece is otherworldly as it transports us from the confines of the room.

I don’t normally post pictures of bootlegs covers, but this one seems to capture the spirit of the evening

There is hiding the fact that this is an audience recording. It doesn’t have the crackle and fades that sometimes plague such recordings, but it does have plenty of audience noise and this does at times detract from the music. “Power Fantastic” is undoubtedly the highlight of the recording, but there is a lot of audience noise that comes with it. The song allows a chance for the band to breath, and the song plays as steady as a dreamers breath. Mike Phillips adds to this slumber like quality, and at just three minutes long I find I have to hit repeat a couple of times to fully appreciate the moment.

Coming from a similar place is “Somewhere Here On Earth,” its lighter touch filling the recording with further dreamscape sounds. The song can’t match “Power Fantastic” for nostalgic weight though, and as good as it sounds, especially Mike Phillips again, it can’t compare to the previous few minutes. I wallow in the joy of Mike Phillips playing, and I would recommend this far more highly if not coming straight after “Power Fantastic”

The cascading guitar at the beginning of “Boom” is inviting, before giving way to a heavier riff that is the signature of the song. From here the band surprise me with an instrumental jazz jam appearing, and again the best moments don’t belong to Prince, but rather to the superb players he has surrounded himself with. The performance is better than we hear on the recording, the audience is silenced from the outset, hinting that perhaps they are watching opened mouth at this moment. I cannot understate how good Mike Phillips is during this song, and for me that has been one of the most revealing aspects of the recording – previously under recognized performers coming to the fore and demonstrating just why Prince bought them into the fold. The final frenzied combination of Renato Neto and Mike Phillips is an absolute treat, and eclipses all that has come before.

The band are onto something good, and they continue to mine this rich vein with a ten minute jazz instrumental. It is not as intensive as the previous jam, and there are portions where it threatens to meander. Overall though, it is another hit out for the band, with Renato Neto taking the lead in several fast piano passages that piques my interest. It’s an undemanding listen that contributes to the overall feel of the recording, without becoming essential in itself,.

“Let’s Get It On.” Figuratively and literally. What an inspired cover version this turns out to be, and with Andy Allo on hand to lend some vocals this becomes another surprising  moment to be cherished. Andy doesn’t have the depth to her voice that Marvin Gaye does (does anyone?) but she brings her own touch to the song and without ever threatening the original it becomes it’s own quiet storm. The appearance of a vocoder and lines lifted from elsewhere brings an unique aspect to an otherwise familiar song, as the band definitely stretch it to their own means for the next few minutes.

There is an unexpected “Colonized Mind,” featuring very little of the guitar that we have come to associate with the song. Instead that guitar grunt and sinew has been replaced by a thoughtful delicacy provided by Renato Neto and Mike Phillips. They take the song and spin it the other way, molding it to fit the jazz sound of the previous few songs. It brings new life to the song, and it burns just as bright in this setting as it does in the fury of more guitar orientated sets.

“When She Comes” appeared on the 2015 album Hit N Run Phase 2, here we have a much earlier version that is far more of it’s time. It’s sound comes from the same fertile soil as “Somewhere Here On Earth,” and it is a nice fit into the setlist. However, it fails to generate any sort of emotional response from me, and as nice as it sounds I just can’t connect to the music I am hearing. It does become a long jazz jam though, and this I find far more rewarding as again Mike Phillips comes to the fore with an array of new sounds and fresh ideas.

Normally it is the punch at the start of “Shhh” that grabs me, in this case that punch is neutered by the quality (or lack of) of the recording. It still delivers though, but like everything else in the evening it is through the jazz lens that this band filters Prince’s songs through. It is Mike Phillips with the first contribution that signals what direction the song is going, rather than Prince’s vocals its is his horn the opens the door on the song. Prince’s vocals aren’t as in your face on this recording, it is the rest of the band that pick up the slack, along with some fantastic singing from the audience as Prince leads them into a soft rendition of “U Will Be” over the music of “Shhh” In many ways it works better, and I am more attracted to the song without the sometimes hokey “Shhh” lyrics. It is far more mature sounding, and the lyrics match the direction the music is flowing. It takes a moment to adjust to the alluring sound, but the song draws me in over its ten minutes, and I find that this is the standout song on the recording. Ignore the quality of the recording, this is a performance that needs to be heard. The final guitar solo from Prince confirms this as he makes an emphatic statement in the final minutes with a whirlwind performance that sweeps all aside without ever becoming hurricane force.

There is a good old fashioned stomp towards the finish with the incisive guitar riff of “Controversy” appearing, along with John Blackwell’s trademark pound. After a funk intro, everything is seemingly turned up to ten at once with Princes howling guitar leading the way. This is a misleading step and once again it is Mike Phillips who blasts his way through the bulk of the song, adding plenty of spice to its bare funk sound. The highlight for me though is the crowd chanting their way through the “people call me rude” chant for sometime.This version has a unique feel and it reinvigorates my love for a familiar classic.

“Musicology” shuffles into view, the intensity derived from the twin attack of Mike Phillips and Princes vocals. They both carry the impetus that propels the music forward. On record, “Musicology” isn’t always the most appealing song to me, but I can’t deny that in the live situation it is a great song to get pulses rising and the crowd moving. The most interesting part of this performance is the final half of the song as it breaks down and the band noodle around various aspects of the riffs. No ground breaking material to found here, but it is a pleasant enough diversion.

The recording doesn’t capture every song of the night, but it does finish on an all time high with a divine version of “A Case Of U.” There are of course more famous versions in circulation, but I am delighted to hear it here at this concert. The bootleg isn’t perfect, but the performance sounds pretty close, Prince’s vocals and piano weaving a magical spell before Mike Phillips appears on the shoulder of the song, adding the sweetest of touches with his saxophone. All in all it is an endearing performance, and one that we would all be talking about if only it was a soundboard recording.

Sadly, the bootleg finishes here, missing the final two songs (“Pop Life” and “Beggin Woman Blues”). There is no need to be too disappointed, there have been plenty of treasures sprinkled throughout the show. Obviously, the final “A Case Of U” is breathtaking, as is “Shhh” and “Power Fantastic.”  It seems each week that I write that despite the quality of the recording, whatever show I am listening to is worth hearing. I can’t help it, I am a fan of bootlegs, and it matters little to me whether a recording is soundboard or audience recording. It is certainly the case with this recording, the setlist and performance far outshines the recording, and for a hardcore fan such as myself it demands listening. Casual fans may skip this at their peril, for the rest of us there is plenty here to enjoy and reflect upon.

Join me next week for the second performance from this evening, one that is equally good.

Take care
-Hamish

First Show Of 2007

Last week I wrote of the New Years Eve show from 2006/2007, played during Prince’s Las Vegas residency. The second part of that story is the concert Prince played in the early morning of January 1st , a jazz inspired show that features very little of Prince singing, instead being a showcase for Mike Phillips and the rest of the band. Prince purists may not find anything too exciting to it, but Prince loved being part of the band, and even though it is often difficult for me to pinpoint Prince”s contribution I still enjoy the wild ride as the band stretches across a range of styles, especially as the band dig deeper into jazz. Mike Phillips leads the way, and the other performer that really catches my ear is Renato Neto. His performance may not be powerhouse, but there is plenty of finesse to be heard, and his hands dancing across the keyboard has me spellbound at times.

The first half of the show is similar in style to the show from the previous morning, a jazz fragranced romp that serves as an easy introduction for those that don’t normally listen to jazz. The stench of funk arrives in the second half of the concert as the band shows off their flexibility and they are just as adept at funk as they are at jazz. It is a show of long jams, a couple of songs in the first portion perhaps running a few minutes longer than is necessary, but there is no complaints at all as the standard of music is high, and the funk songs later on come thick and fast, keeping the listener guessing what might come next in an anything goes medley.

1st January 2007 (am)  3121 Jazz Cuisine @ Rio Hotel & Casino

“A Night In Tunisia” is well-known, and anyone even vaguely familiar with the original will find nothing new in this rendition. It is Renato Neto who throws down the gauntlet with his early solo, and Mike Phillips rises to the occasion with a dizzingly fast solo that excites while paying homage to the original. Prince is only heard late in the song, his guitar arching slowly across the soundscape, but as with all music my first question is “Is it good?” to which my response would be “yes,” so I am more than satisfied with this first song as an indication of what will follow.

The fifteen minutes opener was merely an appetizer, and the main dish comes with a twenty minute rendition of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” featuring the talents of Greg Boyer. It is the recording itself that shines just as bright as the band on stage, and as I listen I find myself thinking about how good it sounds just as much about the music I am actually hearing. An audience recording, the band sound sharp throughout, clear and bright and no distortion at all. I often get a sinking feeling in my stomach when I see the words audience recording, but in this case it is one of the better ones I have heard. Complimenting the music perfectly, the recording elevates the concert to another level. My only caution is that there is excessive cowbell late in the song, but it is tempered by a furious guitar break by Prince that leaves an impression long after the cowbell has faded.

I am very happy to hear Shelby J say”We going to let it it marinade” at the beginning of “Crazy” , and that is exactly what they do, letting it cook in it own juices for the first minute on the back of Prince’s rhythmic guitar work. The previous half hour of jazz is forgotten as the vocoder arrives, along with a timely chorus of “One Nation Under A Groove” The sonic landscape is transformed as Prince’s guitar rises from an earthy tone into a metallic tower of steel and power. He remains within the confines of the band and the song through, and it is Shelby J who leads us through this uplifting and inspiring performance.

This pop music is put back in the box quickly after as we return to the jazz with a long rendition of “Footprints.” I enjoy it immensely, unfortunately some of the audience near the taper don’t share my love of the music, and there is quite a bit of audience chat to be heard in the first minutes of the song. As the band rise in intensity some of this background noise is drowned out, and the recording definitely sounds better the deeper we get into it. This isn’t the first song you would choose to hear on a bootleg, but it a great representation of this band, and Prince’s genre hopping abilities. The funk that will follow is what we have all come to expect, and it’s somewhat of a shame that more jazz standard covers such as this don’t appear more frequently in Prince’s setlists as it gives the band a chance to demonstrate their grasp of another genre.

The pop returns with Shelby and a sweet performance of “Sweet Thing.” Its effortlessly cool, and before I know it I am singing along with Shelby. I am no match for her vocal power though, and she gives us a perfectly pitched performance here, building from the glittering verses to a luminescent chorus that will brighten the rest of my day. The concert hasn’t reached its peak yet, but with Prince’s final guitar break we are lifted several notches closer.

We stay with the cover versions for a short but fierce version of Bill Wither’s “Who Is He (And What Is He To You?).” With it’s pulsating bass there is a tension in the air and the feeling that the band is just about to cut loose, a sense that at any moment the concert will erupt into something a whole lot funkier.

That something a whole lot funkier is “More Bounce To The Ounce” incorporating a range of funk tunes and chants. It doesn’t come all at once though, instead building from the foundation of the previous song and steadily rising into an a storm cloud of a groove. It does cover a lot of ground, Maceo fundamental to all that is going on, and although I have fun picking out the songs that are in the mix I am constantly mindful of Maceo’s contribution and endorsement of this band. I sometimes weary of these funk medleys, but in this case they are so smoothly integrated that it comes as a steady smorgasbord of funk, all of which I greedy eat up. It’s all rounded off by a cocktail of vocoder and Prince guitar licks, all of which leave me lightheaded not quite sure if I want more or just a glass of water.

 

The final song of the show is another funk jam, this time centered around “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” A regular in Prince’s setlists, in this case it is made all the more interesting by the appearance of the vocal group   MO5AIC. They add a different element to the song, and their addition of Janet Jackson “Rythmn Nation” to the chorus adds a sense of fun, as well as neatly tying the song back to some of Prince’s former colleagues. It brings several elements of the night together, the horns switching from jazz to funk and adding firepower to back up Shelby’s vocals that as always stand proud, front and centre. It is very much about the band, and no one performance stands out, in this case it is the band that is the star.

Without being outstanding, this is a nice little bootleg that I can see myself listening to plenty more in future. Its not supercharged Prince, instead its an understated performance of comfortably tunes that would sit easily on any playlist, and it contains something for all seasons. It may be a little too light on Prince for many peoples tastes, but as part of the wider eye records release (6 CDs), it gives us a breather and a chance to sit back and just appreciate the music. My recommendation would be to take a listen on Sunday afternoon, glass of wine in hand.

Until next week,
take care – Hamish

 

 

Las Vegas 31st December 2006

All apologies about missing last week. I had intended to post about a Christmas show but unfortunately I was swept away by Christmas and my summer holiday. Christmas was chaos, but thankfully I have had a few days in the countryside since then with no internet, cell phone, or laptop, and I feel fully restored as I sit here today. I am a week late, so the Christmas concert I was going to write about has become a New Years Eve concert. Prince played several New Years Eve concerts, the most famous being his Paisley Park show of 1987 with an appearance by Miles Davies. Sadly, none of his other New Years Eve concerts live up to the high standard set by that one, and I did struggle to find one that I felt motivated to write about. I have gone with the New Years Eve show in Las Vegas in 2006, from the Eye records 6CD set. It is no by no means an outstanding show, but it does cover some quality material and is a decent enough show. Prince also plays an aftershow in the early morning of January the 1st 2007, a recording I shall cover that in next weeks blog.

The New Years Eve show is unsurprising and contains a fairly typical setlist of the time. Although Prince was mixing up his setlists constantly, we do see the same songs appearing in different combinations, and there is nothing desperately unusual to be heard here. The recording itself is clean, and that is always a big bonus, making even the most mundane of shows a pleasant listen.

31st December, 2006. 3121 @ Rio Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas

Any reservations I may have had about the setlist or recording are swept away by the opening onslaught of “3121.” The bass is well rounded, and Prince gives a forceful performance that is matched by the quality of the recording. I may be too invested in the moment, and for a second I think that this would be one to play to those who remain unconverted to Prince. The flurry of horns that appear out of the mix add to my sense of thrill and excitement, and even though the song runs its full length I still feel disappointed that it ends. Even Prince’s typically dubious opening comment of “There’s no such thing as time – we count down nothing, except the funk” fails to dampen my enthusiasm.

The recording doesn’t let up on this opening funk assault, and “3121” is matched by an equally thrilling “Girls And Boys.” It is the horns that bring the drama to the song, every time they are heard it is with something new and unexpected, while maintaining the funk and momentum.

And then comes the dip. There is no denying that “Satisfied” is a fine song, but I do question it’s position in the setlist here. The initial blast of funk and energy dissipates in an instant as “Satisfied” begins, and the show feels like someone has suddenly jammed the brakes on, sending the concert into a slow-motion slide into a ditch. Maceo does charm me with his contribution, but I am still left wondering if one more uptempo jam would have been better before this languid stroll through a ballad.

“Down By The Riverside” is busy but it’s not Prince, and as such it leaves me just as unsatisfied as “Satisfied.” I wanted an uptempo song, and this certainly is, but it feels out of place and is bereft of the funk that I so desperately crave.

There is very little funk in “Purple Rain,” but at least it is Prince, and the crowd sound happy to have their man back on the mic. The recording is very good indeed at this stage, and “Purple Rain”  has the full majestic sound that we have come to expect. There are no twists, turns, or surprises to be heard, but once again Prince gives an impassioned rendition of his signature song. I usually find a hidden gem in the tail of the guitar solo, but in this case it comes straight as heard on record, there is nothing to complain about there as Prince plays it powerfully and with purpose.

I have mixed feelings about “Lolita.” Sometimes it’s just on the wrong side of pop for me, the sweetness of the song leaving me cold. However, the balance of this recording is much better, and the stabs of the keyboard give the song much more impetus and drive. Prince’s final coda is far more aggressive and strong than on record, and overall I find this a rewarding moment on the recording.

The final minutes of “Lolita” lay the heavier foundation for “Black Sweat.” With it’s heavier groove and darker keyboards lines it would have been a good match for the opening “3121,” and coming after “Lolita” it brings some shade and contrast to the concert. Prince draws it out nicely, letting the music build naturally into yet another very good performance on this recording.

It is “Kiss” that follows, and it feels light against the darker “Black Sweat.” It does get a bonus point for it’s familiarity, but its not the best song on the recording, and even as I sing along I find I am not as fully engaged as I was with some of the earlier songs.

“Shhh” has me fully engaged. Its not a perfect recording or performance, but that matters little as the music envelops me and for the next five minutes I am transported into Prince’s world. It’s a strange,beautiful, violent sea that Prince paints with his guitar, every note carrying a mood and tone that builds the song into a storm of a finish. It’s sickeningly good, and as it finishes I feel I should turn off the recording and sit in contemplation the next few minutes and reflect on what I have just experienced.

I don’t, and the next song that follows quickly on is “Musicology.” It brings the concert back into the here and now, the music a statement of what Prince wanted to achieve at that time.  The waves of horns is contemporary, but the Prince comment of “not bad for a girl” is a throw back to an earlier time. The song is relativity short and gives way to a fun rendition of “Prince And The Band” It is Maceo who elevates the song above a mere run through, and his final solo is a genuine music moment that makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

With Maceo to the forefront there is very little surprise to “Pass The Peas.” As much as I like it, again I find it detracts from the Prince concert, and coupled with the previous two songs, there is the general sense that the show is meandering without delivering us Prince at the eye of the storm. It is Renato Neto who provides the most electrifying moment, his keyboard solo a lightening rod for all the preceding funk and energy.

Renato Neto is also my unlikely hero for “Joy In Repetition.” His opening gives new colour to the familiar opening strains, and the song has an extra depth from the start. Prince and the rest of the band live up to expectation, but it is this opening minute that sets the scene for all that will follow, and Renato Neto deserves all the credit he gets for his contribution. Even the Twins vocals can’t break the spell that is cast, and the magic is woven to the last, with Prince’s final guitar solo both beguiling and blustery.

There is another enchanting moment with a tender rendition of “Gotta Broken Heart Again.” The keyboards are fragile, and Prince almost broken as he sings. It’s an unique performance, but it doesn’t live up to it’s potential, if not for it’s rarity value I wouldn’t rate it at all. The audience chatter certainly doesn’t improve on my opinion, and overall I am left feeling deflated by it’s appearance.

I am much more onboard for “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” It is loud and proud, the nuance of the Sign O The Times version sacrificed in the name of funk and a live performance that is strident and bold. The recording is unbalanced, but that doesn’t alter my enjoyment of the song, and as uneven as it is I would still recommend it to most fans.

“Cream” keeps with this bold outlook, and it too is much stronger than what is heard on record. It comes at a quick pace, some of it’s sheen of coolness gone in a windswept performance. Prince’s guitar solo emphasizes this point with its brief fury, a flash that is quickly reined in by Prince before it blow torches the rest of the song into the past. “Cream” is often too creamy for me, but I warm to this bold new vision and as it finishes I make a note to return to it at a later date.

There is a natural fit with “U Got The Look.” This time Prince does let his guitar off the leash, and we are rewarded as the sparks begin to fly later in the song. It doesn’t offer up any surprises, but it is a cocky performance that carries the energy of the show.

It is Shelby J who tackles Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You).” She is no Aretha Franklin, or even Rosie Gaines, but she is undoubtedly a powerful singer, and she has never sounded better than she does here. Her performance is breathtaking, Prince’s powerful guitar break still managing to sound limp next to the awesome power of Shelby’s vocals. Normally my interest wanes when Prince isn’t on the microphone, in this case I am enthralled by Sheby J and I am more than happy as we stay with her for the next song.

“Love Changes” features more Prince on guitar duties, but it is again Shelby J that I enjoy the most. She dominates the soundscape with her scorching vocals sweeping back and forth across the song with heat and intensity that is unparalleled elsewhere on the recording. It is rare for me to say this, but these two songs with Shelby’s vocals, and Princes guitar work, are easily the highlight of the concert for me, there is nothing else on the recording that comes close to this raw untamed power that creates a firestorm of passion and emotion.

The last five minutes of the concert see’s Prince playing a quickfire medley of funk tunes. He elects not to sing “Play That Funky Music” instead providing the funky guitar lines that morph easily enough into a truncated “Love Rollercoaster” Nothing is giving long enough to marinate, “What Have You Done For Me lately” is equally brief before the concert ends with “Partyman” There isn’t much to these final songs, it is only Prince’s funky guitar that is worth hearing, and the real climax of the show was the previous Shelby J songs. However, it’s not a disappointing end, Prince is going out with a funky blast and the crowd is no doubt dancing their feet off. “It’s Alright” ends this medley, it’s lyrics neatly summing up exactly what these last five minutes have been about.

I was enthusiast in my praise for several of the songs on this recording, however I can’t deny it is just a standard performance of a fairly mundane setlist. It can’t be considered a classic, but there are enough moments there to make it a worth a listen. There are better recordings of better Las Vegas shows circulating, and this is a younger sibling to those stronger recordings. However, it should not be forgotten, and I thoroughly recommend listening to Shelby J’s performance at this concert, she certainly delivered the most memorable moment. Next week I will take a listen to hopefully one of those better Las Vegas concerts, the early morning show from January 1st, recorded just hours after this concert. I don’t remember much about the recording, so it will be with fresh ears that I take a listen.

Until then, happy New Year,
look after each other
-Hamish

Austria 2014

It feels like a long time since I started listening to the concerts that Prince payed in Austria. After a diversion through the latest EYE releases, today I finally come back to the final Austria concert featuring 3rdeyegirl.

I have had a lot of interesting feedback from fans who were at last weeks 2010 concert in Vienna, a rash of fans declaring vehemently that it was the best concert they ever went to. And not just casual type fans either, some of these people have seen 50+ concerts, making me wonder if Prince really did play the best concerts in Austria. The concert from 2010 sounded good, but not great as those attending tell me, which serves as a reminder that these bootlegs only give us half the story, and there is no replacing the experience of actually being at the concert.

Today’s show from Vienna is the last concert of the European leg of the 2014 Hit n Run tour. I have previous written about a lot of these 3rdeyegirl concerts before, at the time there was quite a buzz about Prince playing in this smaller format, although looking back three years later some of this lustre has worn off. The concept was initially thrilling, but not strong enough to carry a whole tour. 3rdeyegirl were great for the rock side of Prince’s Gemini personality, but of course Prince wanted to push a range of genres across his concerts. The outcome of this was naturally enough an elongated sampler set, addition musicians brought into the fold, a longer piano set, and new arrangements of some songs to fit in with 3rdeyegirl’s style. None of these are a negative, but it does make for an uneven and bumpy ride through the gig. To my ears there is an odd inconsistency and the concerts never quite settle into a groove – Prince is always changing things up as the concert evolves. Still, it does keep people like me guessing and interested in these shows, something that can’t be dismissed.

7th June 2014, Vienna, Austria 

There is no explosive opening to the concert and bootleg. Skipping Hannah’s spoken introduction and a couple of songs over the P.A. the first song performed is a limp “Let’s Go Crazy.” While I admire the intent in the rearrangement of the song, with its low and slow riff, it does take away all the is good and great. The strength in the original “Let’s Go Crazy” is it’s combination of rock and pure pop, giving it an uplifting joy and energy. This arrangement strips out all the pop, and most of the joy, leaving it as a soulless plod. Prince does this with other songs too, usually to fit in with what ever mood he is creating at a concert (“1999” and “Kiss” are two that immediately spring to mind), but in the new arrangement of these songs who loses what it is that makes them what they are, the alchemy is undone and these once golden pop moments become leaden and dull. “Let’s Go Crazy” isn’t bad, but it’s certainly a far cry from what it once was, and I could happily skip over this arrangement.

The appearance of “Take Me With U” lights up the concert, even if the sound on the bootleg is rather one dimensional.  The recording has very little depth to it, and even though I can hear the music fine, it doesn’t jump off the page. Along with it’s sister “Raspberry Beret,” this is where Prince’s pop side comes to the fore, something people may not expect when they first see 3rdeyegirl take the stage. With Cassandra and Josh adding their keyboard talents to the core of 3rdeyegirl, the band is well rounded and better equipped to tackle some of these gems from the back-catalog.

“U Got The Look” is paper thin and a real disappointment. It is the weak man of this concert, and describing it as thin and sickly would be an understatement. Prince’s guitar break normally reinvigorates even the most ill of patients, in this case it is the death rattle that puts both the song and me out of our misery.

As a contrast, “Cool” is the best performance so far heard on the recording. The recording is clear, but still not strong, and it does just enough to catch Prince and the band finally giving us a song I can connect to. It is the keyboards that are the pulse that keeps this song moving, and for several minutes the rest of the concert disappears under this wave of keyboard swells and Prince’s cool.

I have previously been dismissive of the sampler set, but I must admit it has grown on me over the years. It is a nostalgic romp through some of Prince’s beloved 80’s material, a treat for those that have been with him through his musical journey. “Dove’s Cry” is the gold standard when it comes to his 1980’s output, and he matches it in this case with yet another funky version of “Sign O The Times” I can tell you both are great., and that’s not 1980’s me speaking, that is me in the here and now 2017 asserting that they sound just as good here as they did thirty years (how it hurts to to realize that) ago.

“Hot Thing” is notable for the eclectic keyboard solo that Cassandra delivers, it’s quirkiness elevating the song and bringing something fresh to the table. The song doesn’t reach any great heights asides from this, but I do recommend giving her solo a second listen.

I did yawn through the opening minutes of “Alphabet St,” but like the previous song one of the band members comes to the fore with something interesting. In this case it is Ida Nielsen with some sharp bass work that has me leaning forward to try and catch every note. She is one sharp player and I only wish there was more here for me to enjoy.

This sampler set closes out with “Forever In My Life,” the bass again being the most interesting aspect. It may start slow, but the final minutes is intoxicating as the bass comes from a variety of angles both providing something unexpected and joyful.

There is a full band rendition of “Controversy,” a song that hits the reset button on the concert as suddenly both the music and crowd come alive. There is finally some muscle to the music, and the concert rises in my estimation from this point onwards. Maybe it is because I have listened to so many earlier bootlegs recently, but “Controversy” does bring out the best of this recording, and it towers above the earlier tepid material.

Earlier I wrote that sometimes the soul of “1999” is sacrificed for the greater good of the concert, I am pleased to say that in this case that doesn’t happen. It is the full version, with all the correct sounds in the correct places, and the magic from 35 years ago is still in the air as Prince plays.

Prince sticks with the 1999 album for an electrifying performance of “Little Red Corvette” It has a rather conventional opening, but there is an appearance of the “slow down” refrain midsong that is captivating and goes for sometime, enticing the listener with it’s warmth while retaining a sense of regret. The song disappears and leaves Prince and the crowd singing, a poignant moment that hangs a veil of sadness across the show.

“Nothing Compares 2 U” stays with this sense of regret and loss, but doesn’t quite scale the same heights as the previous few minutes. Again, Prince has the crowd singing with him, but it doesn’t generate the same heat as the previous number. I find redemption in Cassandras solo, and I am again surprised at just how much of herself she injects into the performance, all for the better of course.

The is an extra kick in the bass of “Kiss” that has me listening carefully. It is another different take on this well worn classic, and although it doesn’t sparkle like the original it still has its own attention grabbing way. Laid back, with only the merest sprinklings of guitar from Prince, it is a deeper and darker listen. It has me eating my words from earlier, with it’s own soul it is a nice rework of a song that has had more different live arrangements than any other. The climax is the extended coda when the funk guitar appears, reminding us of the original sound on record.

There was the sampler set earlier, and at this stage of the concert Prince again takes a seat with the piano set. No surprises to hear “Diamonds And Pearls” first, the audience lapping it up and offering up their backing vocals early. The segue into “The Beautiful Ones” is also equally predictable, and although Prince sounds heavenly on vocals, the song itself suffers for being part of this set. Abridged, it is stripped of the climatic nature of the original, and there is no pay off for the pretty opening verses. The song rises, but never boils over, even with Prince’s final yelps there is a sense he is holding back.

I sit transfixed as Prince plays “Empty Room.” It’s a delicate trap, Prince drawing me in with his floating keyboard riffs, before Donna smites all with her axe. The guitar playing is sublime, filling with an intensity without overwhelming at any stage, Donna strikes her blows with maximum impact without overexerting the guitar. If there was a song on this recording that needed to be turned up to eleven, this would be it.

Guitars stay at the front of my thoughts, and Prince’s, with an energetic performance of “Guitar.” Although lightweight in it’s subject matter, and carrying no emotional baggage, it is still a worthy listen. It can’t match any of the previous songs on any level, but keeps things moving and brings 3rdeyegirl to the fore as we move into the rock orientated section of the concert.

The energy levels drop for “Plectrumelectrum,” although there is the feeling that Prince is merely using this as a warm up for the next few songs. There is plenty of guitar, but no heroics, and my overall feeling is that it is a couple of minutes too long.

I was no great fan of Prince’s cover of “Crimson And Clover” when he first started playing it (although I do have the Tommy James and the Shondells version on 45,somewhere). However, his take on it has grown on me the last coupe of years, and the version heard on this bootleg is a fair representation of what his arrangement sounds like. The “Wild Thing” chorus works well, and the final cascade of guitar is undemanding yet has plenty of fireworks for guitar aficionados.

Things have been building up to these next two songs, and Prince and the band deliver first up with yet another great rendition of “She’s Always In My Hair.” The recording is nowhere near as good as the performance itself, the two dimension sound of the recording sapping a lot of the intensity from the song. The music sounds intoxicating, but I feel like I am watching from a distance with the flat sound of the recording rendering Prince a paper doll. Still, the song is what is important, and it is another chance for 3rdeyegirl to rise up and make it their own.

“Purple Rain” is alluring from the outset, the first guitar runs glistening in a newness that I haven’t heard before. It meanders for a moment, before setting off in a new direction, the introduction briefly covering new ground before Prince brings it back with his first line. I am almost disappointed, but Prince is too good to give us just another version going through the motions, he injects what he needs to into the performance and the crowd respond as they always do. It is not one for the ages, but it does maintain Prince’s high standards, and again the only disappointment is the flatness of the recording.

After the highs of these two rock songs, “Play That Funky Music” as the first encore is a come done. It has never been one of my favorite songs, and the blandness of the recording certainly does it no favors here. On a positive note, Cassandra provides yet another excellent solo, and there is just enough slippery guitar to bring a smile to my face.

I am far more enthused for “Screwdriver.” It has a kinetic energy about it and Prince sounds far more youthful than he really is. It doesn’t stand on the same pedestal as Prince’s classic hits, but it is a modern song that fits well into these setlists.

From the same place comes “Funknroll.” It doesn’t do it as well as the previous “Screwdriver,” there is a sense of purpose missing, and the song feels like it is by the numbers in places. An uneven performance that perhaps would have been saved by a better recording.

The bass and drum of “Housequake” are strong, and wash away any recording limitations. It has a lot more backbone than “Funknroll,” something that is highlighted further as the song progresses, especially as Prince pulls it back to “listen to the drums.” With the bass rooting the song in funky soil, the music blooms and grows into a sprawling vine of sounds and rhythms. This is easily the best part of the last thirty minutes, and something of a surprise with 3rdeyegirl.

The is further surprises with a strong electric version of “Sometimes In Snows In April.” It may not be to everyone’s taste, there is very little that is delicate about it, and it is in stark contrast to the original. It still has a softness to it, but it is more fleshed out and certainly a lot louder. I still rate it, especially the guitar break which shines new light on a song that is often constrained by its own history.

“Bambi” is far closer to what we expect from 3rdeyegirl, and the version heard here comes as a hammer blow placed as it is near the end of the concert. With guitars fighting over each other to be heard, it is a gleeful romp that at times descends into a cacophony of guitar white noise. I revel in it’s sound, and although I know it is old and almost a parody of itself I still find it excites me.

“Stratus” twists and turns through an array of eclectic movements, all of them highlighting the bands collective talent pool, and Prince’s prowess as bandleader. The guitar break may grab all the headlines, but there is much more to this performance that that one lightning bolt moment. It is a chance to sit back and reflect on the abilities of this band, a band that is sometimes underrated while a closer listen reveals they do what they do very well.

I haven’t done enough research to tell you how often “What’s My Name” was played on this tour, but I do know that it sounds fresh whenever I hear it and comes as one final surprise at the end of the concert. It still has a lingering sense of anger about it, and retains the sense of outrage first heard on the original. Twenty years on it still sounds biting, and Prince spits his lyrics with plenty of venom. There is still a fire burning within him, and it may have taken two and a half hours, but here it is in full effect, the concert ending on a note of real intensity.

The recording finishes with the “Funknroll” remix playing over the P.A. Good for the completists, but I don’t really need to hear it, the previous “What’s My Name” the blazing finish that raises everything to the ground, there is nothing more to hear after such a rendition.

I would like this concert a whole lot more if the recording wasn’t so flat. Looking past that through, and I can see that this is a great way to finish the Hit N Run II tour of Europe, and it neatly encapsulates all the shows that have come previously, while highlighting the continuing evolution of 3rdeyegirl as they adapt to new styles and songs. Normally I wouldn’t give my time to a recording of this type, especially as there are so many good recordings of these later tours available, but like the fans say, Prince always put on a good show in Austria. A hidden gem, I might just play this a few more times before I put it back into storage.

A wordy entry, congratulations if you made it this far.
Join me next week when I’ll have something festive for the season.
-Hamish

 

First Ave 1982 Revisited

Recently Mace2theO commented that this bootleg from 1982 was the equivalent to his first girlfriend. We all have a similar first girlfriend experience – she may have had braces and carried some puppy fat, but she will always be special by the fact she was the first and painted in nostalgic hues forever more because of this. It was our first proper relationship, and doomed to a crushing teenage ending, but always conjures up warm memories that do not fade as time passes.

I’m sorry Mace2theO, but  in this case your first girlfriend got around a bit. Not only was she your first girlfriend, she was my first girlfriend too. Mace2theO acquired this concert on cassette (and all the nostalgic currency that that carries), while for me I found this bootleg on CD hidden away at the back of the record store. It was far from perfect in sound quality but I can assure you that when I took a listen it shook me to my core, and the fact that 35 years on I am blogging about Prince bootlegs demonstrates how much of an influence it had over the rest of my life. Like that first girlfriend, it was a formative experience. I didn’t quite know what I was doing and I have had better relationships since, but retains a special place in my heart.

A couple of weeks ago the soundboard recording of this show became widely available. It’s not always comfortable when we meet ex-girlfriends later in life, a messy divorce behind them, a couple of kids under their arm, and the first signs of a drinking problem hiding behind their forced smile, but in this case my first girlfriend has grown up into somebody I want to spend a lot of time with. The roughness of the audience recording is gone, replaced with a shiny soundboard, all slender legs, short skirts and long luxurious hair. Oh yes, my first girlfriend is now the hottest chick on the block. She is has grown up in every way, while retaining all the charms that I first fell in love with all those years ago. I may have talked about this first girlfriend before, but now she is in full bloom and stirring up those old feelings in me. It’s not very often that I spend time with ex-girlfriends, but in this case I am going to roll back the clock and wine and dine this girl one more time.

So with my first bootleg love rekindled, lets douse ourselves in cheap cologne, grease up the hair, and head straight to the heart of 1982.

(all photos by Mike Reiter)

8th March 1982, First Avenue, Minneapolis

There is a heat between the thighs from the opening minute, a few quick words by Prince and then a rage of guitar pulled down by Dez. With a punk rock assault Prince and the band hang it all out in these first minutes with both power and panache. In a frenzy of guitar scuzz “Bambi” storms into the room. It’s a wild eyed performance that bounces of the walls in a maelstrom of fuzzed up guitar and shrieked lyrics, capturing the listeners attention from the start. It is much cleaner than the previous audience recording, and the soundboard brings the musicianship to the the fore while retaining the fierce sound of the more familiar recording. That first girlfriend has cleaned up her defiant punk-rock hair style, but still has a fiery intent in her eyes that hints at an underlying violence that could bubble over at any second.

“All The Critics Love U In New York” is the most Princely sui genius song of the evening, and clearly maps out the territory that he will roam in the next few years. It wears its uniqueness proudly, face melting guitar work grafted to the undeniable beat that appeals to both my gut and my feet. I am never quite sure if I should be dancing or punching the air, the music insisting that I move my body in any way possible as Prince gives us perhaps the greatest performance of this song ever recorded. The keyboard solo gains on this pristine recording, Fink’s solo standing out among the more forceful blazing guitar and holding his own calm centre at the eye of the storm. For a minute we are in another world, before the hurricane of guitar solos return and swallow up the all the sound.

There is a glimpse of the first girlfriend I used to know in the opening of “When You Were Mine,” both the title and the sound taking me back to youthful summers that were equally long and lost. It is easy to project these feelings back on a song that has been with us so long, but even at this show it has a nostalgic feel – although it was only recorded just two years previous. This is the most comfortable song of the concert, and captures the exact feelings that I first had when I heard it all those years ago.

There is a world of difference between the audience recording and this soundboard recording when it comes to “Sexy Dancer.” A far more nuanced performance emerges on this recording, and whereas before it was strident and bold, here it becomes much more of a sassy walk rather than a march into battle. Both the bass and the keyboard via for attention, each adding to a show that I am already eminently familiar with. While the bass remains holding the song together, Dr Fink spins off into an intergalactic sound with his keyboards, making me draw a sharp breath in the thrill of it all. It is Dez who gets to put an end to these flights of fancy, his solo serving as an exclamation mark on all that has come before.

Things slow, sex and lust temporarily forgotten as Prince dips into a song of love and yearning with “Still Waiting.” Prince is on lead vocals, but it is Sue Ann Carwell who is the star attraction with her contribution. At almost ten minutes long there is plenty of time for the candles of love to flicker and flame, and musically one can hear the lights being turned down as the song slows to a velvety and warm breakdown. In this circumstance it is grating to hear Prince saying “I got cause to celebrate, because my girlfriend died” but as Brown Marks bass rises up from this crushed velvet sea all is forgiven, and I am again transported away on the winds of Sue Ann Carwell’s voice.

The recording slaps me in the face and snaps me out of this reverie with a furious “Head.” On the previous recording it was nasty and slutty, on this recording it is far more sexy and erotic. While the audience recording sounded like a blowjob in the Walmart carpark, this one speaks in the language of fellatio and sex on the hood of a Porsche at a Beverly Hills party. The outcome is still the same, but it doesn’t threaten to be as dangerous, and despite some superlative bass work I am comfortable that when it is all over I won’t be visiting the clinic in the morning.

If there is a moment that demonstrates how much better this new recording is, it is the final minute of the “Head” when we can hear Prince preparing the band for “Sexuality.” We have heard his yell into the microphone before, but this time we can hear him say it a couple of times earlier to the audience. It’s not a big thing, but it does show just how good the sound is. “Sexuality” is relatively short, most of the song is given over to the audience sing-a-long that dominates. It does lose some of it’s impact on this soundboard recording, the audience recording obviously doing a far better job of capturing this moment with the audience. This is crying out for someone to combine the two recordings in a matrix mix that would better give us that electrifying live sound that makes this recording so vital.

Prince’s brief speech introducing The Time has been often discussed, and for good reason. His easy banter with Morris is refreshing, and its hilarious to hear him and Morris go back and forth, trading lines and barbs that belie the darker waters that swirl just under the surface. “Dance To The Beat” maintains this veneer of lightheartedness, and provides a pop twist to a show that has been thus far guitar heavy and drenched in intensity. There is a lift in the atmosphere and the recording shines bright for these minutes.

Prince continues to fire broadsides at the band between songs, this time with the comment “I didn’t like that, play something you know how to play.” The response from The Time is a taunt version of “The Stick” that would satisfy the most demanding of audiences. As much as I like The Time and this song, it does feel as if they have gate-crashed the date, and there is an awkward third wheel experience to hearing them on the bootleg. The real draw card though isn’t the music itself though, rather their dynamic tension with Prince, a tension that fuels his music and will provide some of his most dramatic work in the following years.

“Partyup” fuses these two elements together in a climatic finish that delivers all it promises. The opening talk between Prince and Morris sets the scene, the back and forth continues between them continues as Morris takes his place at the drum kit for this final stomp. Prince and his guitar lead from the front, but most fans will be focused on Morris and his drumming. He lives up to expectations, and the foreplay of the opening talk is forgotten as the the song becomes further arousing. Morris’s drum solo almost brings us to orgasm, but Prince pulls him back just in time with some great bass work from Brown Mark. The final climax comes with an inflamed guitar solo from Prince,but as with the audience recording there is coitus interruptus as the tape fades out, the rest of solo never realized and leaving us to only wonder what might  have been.

I have loved this concert for as long I can remember. I have grown older, but it has remained forever young, even with the imperfections of the long circulating audience recording. With this soundboard recording we have a chance to revisit our youth, and a chance to reconnect with that elusive first girlfriend. I have mixed feelings as I know that the first girlfriend is forever gone and never again will I listen to the audience recording. This new recording has created new memories and sparked a new love. It is time to move on and file the audience recording in my box of faded photos, yellowed love letters and yesterdays glories. I am firmly looking forward as with this soundboard recording I feel reinvigorated, my love burning with a new intensity. I have made up my mind, this is the recording that I want to spend the rest of my life with.

-Hamish

Bonus material:

Mace2theO messaged me this quickfire review when I told him I was covering this bootleg. It’s not written with public consumption in mind, but he has agreed that I could share it with you. I am in full agreement with everything he has written here, and he is far more succinct than me!

Re 82 – reasons the show is important to me, rediscovered with the SBDs

The First Ave show came the night after the main show at the Met Centre so going back to a small club, it has the feel of an aftershow. It is the first Revolution in all its glory, with Dez as a proper Keith Richards lead as the Black Rolling Stones, all pre-Purple Rain. Starting with a raw punk version of Bambi, it then goes into a monster version of All the Critics. While “Let ’em out of his cage” is great, my favourite is before Doc’s solo when Prince and Dez start soloing and Prince yell’s “Wait a minute, Dez” before ripping off a monster solo.

Sometimes audiences make the boot and I had been living with crowd singing at the end of Sexuality for so many years, it took me a minute to adjust to the soundboard. Same with All The Critics – without that kickdrum in your face, the SBD didn’t feel the power of the earlier version…although it sounds much better.

Most important – this is really the closest we will ever get the inspiration for the Purple Rain battle. Before all the controlling issues that came along in 83-84, you can feel the real affection between Morris and Prince (“We used to be friends”) – as trivia, it has the only time in bootleg history where someone gives Prince shit “You wanna borrow my comb?” Also history, as only time live Prince with Morris on drums.

I have fallen in love with my first girlfriend all over again – not looking forward to telling the wife

Lakeland 1980 – Rick James Tour

Whats better than a soundboard from 1981? A soundboard from 1980! I have just taken my first listen to the new Eye Records release I’m Just A Freak and I have to say, I am most impressed. Not so much the release itself, but the music contained within. The music is fresh and exciting, and listening to it gives me the exact same feelings I had when I first started listening to Prince bootlegs thirty years ago, I am reborn as a fan as I am baptized by the music as if for the first time. So, lets rewind the clock and kneel at the alter of this recording, and in particular pay respect to the first concert of the set, 8th March 1980 at Lakeland, Florida.

8th March 1980, Lakeland, Florida

The “Boogie Intro” has me agape from the very first moment. It is a rambunctious ball of all that Prince does, a four minute blast that encapsulates all his sounds and genres. From the opening groove underpinned with the brute strength of Prince’s guitar riff, to the fantastically electric wonder of Dr Finks synth solo, we are immediately transported into Princes world. I shouldn’t read too much into this opening number, but already I can hear funk, rock, and hints of the Minneapolis sound that will come in later years. It is an engaging opening that never wavers from its unflinching servitude to the groove, no matter what euphoric sounds Prince pulls from his guitar, the dance floor is firmly in mind.

On top of the cyclone of an intro, “Soft And Wet” plays as per its title, it is both soft and wet in comparison. Its only halfway through the song that the first musical punch is thrown, and the second half is a feisty drunk in comparison to the first sober minute. It does sound gorgeous in this quality though, and it only suffers in comparison to the earlier song.

The concert takes the phrase hot and heavy, and makes come alive in the music they are playing. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” bleeds a warmth through the recording, and Prince and Dez bring a heavier sound with their twin guitar onslaught. Its not about a wall of noise however, they play with a sparkling finesse that provides wings for the song to soar above such earthly sounds. If not grounded by Bobby Z’s insistent drive the song would threaten to disappear in its own swirl of smoke and mirrors, instead Bob is the captain who keeps it moored as he underpins Prince’s flight of fancy.

Prince stakes out his genre hopping style as he tackles a ballad, in this case “Still Waiting.” He plays it with a breezy style, there is space throughout the song and Prince feels no need to over complicate it with sound. It is a thoughtful performance and has a wistfulness to it that lies just beyond my ability to articulate. Its an immersive experience, the schmaltzy synths  a canvas for Prince to paint his vocals across.

After the color and sophistication of some of this earlier material, “Bambi” sounds positively caveman like. It plays as a battering ram, Prince clubbing us early with his muscular guitar riffs, but for me the real joy comes later in the song when he shakes of these rock cliches and plays his solos with his own unique electric fury. There is the feeling that I have heard it all before, but the unhinged final minutes awakens the fan inside me and I am caught up in this wave of untamed big guitar sheen.

The band introductions are timely, especially as “Sexy Dancer” is the moment when we can hear Andre and his bass in all it’s glory. With it’s nagging hook it is all about the dance floor, and even if I can’t see it I can certainly feel it in the low end. A coherent amalgamation of all the band’s talents, I am particularly taken by the synth solo that is sumptuous, yet lies entirely within the groove, always remaining slave to the beat. Andre’s bass solo goes one better, and leaves me full of regret that it isn’t longer, but the final guitar solo on the song cleanses me of any such thoughts and makes a strident statement across what had been a disco song.

There is a clutter about “Just As Long As We’re Together” and initially I aren’t drawn to it in the same way as I am with some of the other numbers. Prince is forceful though, and already he and the band are good enough to win me over with their evolving styles and hybrid sound. The bass and guitar battle to hold my attention, and I am the real winner as both are relentless in their drive for a petulant funk sound. Andre is thrilling in the bass lines he creates, I expect this of Prince with guitar, but Andre’s finesse and blistering skills is a revelation to me – this exactly why I collect bootlegs so passionately.

 

The show finishes with a strutting version of “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” From the first riff ringing out in the darkness it is a moment to stand up and celebrate the pure pop sound that lies at the heart of Prince’s music. Infectious and uplifting, there is nothing more to wish for, this concert may only be eight songs, but it holds everything you could want from Prince. The pop sound may reignite the audience, but Prince pulls the rug from under them as the final half of the song becomes an extended jam that touches on the bases all ready covered by Prince. He touches on the first base of pop, before sliding into the second base of funk. From here it is a helter skelter sprint for third base and his strong rock sound. The home run comes as all these are amalgamated in one glorious sound that can only be described as “Prince.” The music acts as a time machine, and this final jam has me right back in 1980, I am with Prince and the band every step of the way as they bring the concert to a close.

These Rick James concerts by Prince are short, but that matters not one bit as he crams every sound and genre he can into a short sharp set list. Each song comes as a jolt as he continues to change direction, but always the music is focused and  delivers a powerful experience. Eye records has done us all a favor with this release, these concerts are part of Princes legacy and an important part of his story that the estate are not telling, He was about the live performance as much as the studio, and this raw unfiltered Prince deserves every piece of coverage he gets. This will be on my player for a long, long time to come, and with every listen I remember just how electrifying Prince was in the 1980’s.

I’m going to give it another listen now,
See you next week
-Hamish

Pittsburgh, 20 November 1981

A funny thing happened on the way here tonight……

I had every intention of taking in another concert from Austria, as I have done the last couple of weeks, but when I turned on the computer this morning I was surprised to find a soundboard recording from 1981 waiting in my inbox. There is several things you should know about me at this point:
1. I love concerts from the Controversy tour
2. Especially soundboard recordings
3. I am not one to be patient and wait.

So although I know this a premature leak with a complete recording and art work to come, I can’t help myself. All thoughts of the Austria concert are gone, and here I am with this 1981 soundboard recording blasting in my ears already. Oh the joy.

There is much more to it than being a simple soundboard recording. It is the first concert of the Controversy tour, and a mere four weeks after Prince opened for the Rolling Stones (we all know how well that went). So when we look at it in a historical context it becomes far more interesting than it might at first appear. With the typical Controversy setlist, and one of Prince’s more rock orientated bands, this is one show where I know exactly what to expect, and quite frankly I can’t wait!

20th November 1981, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Part of the trade-off of not waiting for the full release is that we don’t get to experience “The Second Coming” in way of an introduction.  Any thoughts of this are tossed aside as the band burst out of the speakers with “Sexuality.” My first thoughts are”My God, is this a 36 year old recording.” It is so clear and fresh, I could swear I was onstage with the band. It doesn’t have the ragged glory of some of the other soundboards of the tour, Prince and the band are calm and measured at this stage, and the guitar especially sounds as if it is in the studio and someone has simply turned it up in the mix. We have several other soundboards from this tour already in circulation, and from the first song I can already say that this is perhaps the best sounding. With Prince right in my ear it is a wild ride and a spectacular start to the recording.

 

The phrase la petite mort bursts into reality with “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” With guitar in hand Prince is a gentle lover, and as he reaches orgasmic heights he remains focused on the others in the room, providing pleasure without over stepping into the realm of over indulgence and self pleasure. It may be a guitar solo, but the moment belongs to all, and even if six minutes is disappointing by his standards (especially compared to some unhinged renditions later in the tour) it is still a satisfying experience that leaves me feeling like a post-coital cigarette.

“Jack U Off” is the complete opposite. Not only is it a song about onanism, but Prince performs it in a manner than complements the material. It is an exercise in oneism, everything is about Prince as he pushes himself forward. His vocals and guitar fill the air, and although I know his tongue is placed firmly in cheek, it is just too much for me. I seek redemption in his final guitar solo, and I find it both in the quality of his playing and the quality of the recording.

On other recordings, “When You Were Mine” leaves me giddy with it’s teenage energy and spunk. In this case it is the recording that shines brightest, the out of control guitar lines reined in and Prince’s pristine vocals sitting at the centre of the recording. It doesn’t lessen the moment at all, and I am just as enraptured by this version as I am by any other on the tour.

The same can be said of the proceeding “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” All instruments are secondary to the vocals of Prince. That’s not by design, merely that the recording is so clean that Prince sounds much more in the moment. With the pristine recording one can clearly hear the precision of his delivery, and indeed of all the performers on stage. It is the last minute where the guitar raises its head from its slumber, and it is with the guitar’s slippery funk that the band segues into the inevitable “Head”

There are longer versions and there are dirtier versions, but the rendition of “Head” on this recording is a perfect fit with all that has come before. With a performance so tight that it is almost suffocating, Prince and the band leave no room for error and sound  faultless and they turn the normally greasy funk of “Head” into something creamy. This can be heard nowhere more so than the final minutes as the guitar again lights up the darkness. It is neither heavy or forceful, but it takes the song apart with a scalpel like precise that cuts but does not tear the song apart.

The recording has brightened every song heard so far, yet “Annie Christian” seems to suffer in this case. It sounds strangely neutered throughout, the anger of the band and lyrics betrayed by the gentleness and crispness of the recording. There is some rage to be heard, especially Prince’s line about John Lennon being shot (only 11 months previous at this time), but it never becomes threatening or dangerous.

Later in the tour “Dirty Mind” will become an epic centre piece. First night of the tour and here we have a standard rendition that gives no hint at what will come later. The payoff of this neat package of a performance is we can hear Lisa in all her glory as she sings with Prince. Its easy to forget all else as she appears on the recording, and even though Prince turns up he energy later in the song, it is the vocals of Lisa that linger longest once the song has finished.

“Do Me, Baby” has a beauty that is infused into the heart. It may be a song of lust, but it retains it’s dignity through the reverential vocal delivery of Prince. Paired with music that is equally seductive, the song reaches out from the speakers, no longer just a song but instead taking on a life of its on and becoming an emotional experience. I have gushed over this song repeatedly in this blog, but here it is in it’s infancy and already one can hear that Prince has written his first great seduction ballad. Others may come in future, but this will always remain the first.

There is snap, crackle, and pop to the bass line of “Let’s Work” the makes my heart skip a beat. Again, I can’t help but compare it to other renditions on tour. It is not as forceful or driven as some later concerts, but it does retain it’s groove and easy flow. Prince hasn’t turned it into a stomping party song just yet, but we can hear all the key components and they have never sounded as clear as they are here.

The following “Controversy” is of similar ilk. The song sounds great, there is no  denying, but it lacks the energy and impulsiveness that is heard later. There is still plenty to enjoy, the dry guitar line by Prince has me salivating as it wraps me up in its funk. Brown Mark carries a lot of the load through the song, and for me it is just as enjoyable to listen to his contribution as anything else.

I am surprised to hear the guitar so low in the mix for “Uptown.” The band play with plenty of passion though, and although Prince remains the epicenter of all that happening on stage, this is the song where it most feels like a complete band performance. Like everything else on this recording, it is faultless. Everything comes together in a holistic performance, and the only wiry moment that stands out to me is the final guitar solo that appears both spontaneous and fueled by a deeper emotion.

“Party Up” takes “Uptown” and turns it up to 11. At this point the band throw caution to the wind, and for the first time it feels as if they are playing with an inner freedom that seeps through the music. With choppy guitar lines, keyboards dropping in unexpectedly, and some wild sounding yelps from Prince, this is a song I can instantly relate to as it seems to capture the inner workings of my mind.  The moment that sums up Prince’s performance most is as he tells the band to quieten as the crowd can’t hear themselves. He draws the room in at this moment and from here on in it is about performers and the crowd together in the spirit of the song.  It’s not a mind crushing finale, but it is perfect for this recording, and as the final notes recede I sit back, still trying to digest this wonderful recording.

There will never be another first time. This was my first time to hear this concert, and as such I will always remember this day. It was a day when I heard one of the best soundboards to appear in recent times, a recording that takes in another significant concert in Princes career as he turns his back on the Rolling Stones debacle and begins his Controversy tour.  You may think I have been over the top with my praise for this recording, but it is another keystone bootleg in the discography, and one that you need to hear. No controversy about this one, go out and get it.

Next week normal service resumes,
until then, take care,
-Hamish

20TEN, Vienna

I remember 2010 well. I separated from my ex-wife, changed jobs, moved house, and came back to my own country after living abroad for six years. It was a year of upheaval, change and uncertainty.  Stability was a stranger to me. So when Prince toured through Europe in summer, playing another greatest hits package, I found myself devouring the shows as soon as they became available.There was a satisfaction in hearing the comforting songs I knew so well, and it was reassuring to know that those songs still existed as they were when my life was on steady ground. I often dismiss these hits shows, but these songs tie us back to a time when Prince was on top of the world, and his songs were the soundtrack for every aspect of our lives. Thirty years on they remind me where I came from and who I am as the world swirls around me in constant change. Sometimes it good to have that rock in our past that we can anchor ourselves to.  I have  rarely listened to the 2010 concerts since then, they are just on the wrong side of vanilla for me, but as a live package presenting some of Prince’s most well known material, they serve their purpose well.

13th July 2010, Vienna, Austria

Of the summer tour of 2010 this was the only concert to be played in doors. The assumption is that ticket sales weren’t as strong as expected, and from that we can further infer that Prince isn’t playing to a strong fan base here, there are more fans that fall closer to the casual end of the scale rather than the hardcore end of the spectrum. If that is indeed the case, then “Purple Rain”  is the ideal choice to open the concert with. A song that appeals to the most casual of casual fans, it immediately sets up the greatest hits show as it unfurls its away across the first minutes. The introduction itself is almost seven minutes, the tide slowly rising with the trickle of keyboards that slowly rise to a river. The first fingers of Prince’s guitar wraps themselves around the song, crushing the delicate and intricate lace of the keyboards and giving the song an extra power and emphasis. In this case however, the song doesn’t belong to Prince, but rather to the crowd who are involved throughout. Prince knows he is onto a good thing and doesn’t give them anymore than they need – his final guitar solo plays within the flow of the song, and instead of an emphatic exclamation mark it is little more than than a pleasant outro that equals the introduction of the keyboards several minutes previous.

 

“Let’s Go Crazy” is little more than a thin veneer over the insistent beat. With chants, the scantest of guitar riffs, and a quick verse and chorus, there is no real meat to the song. Its recognizable, but is an anorexic version of the Rocky-Balboa-punch of a song we know so well from the 1980’s

I prefer “Delirious” in this case, it is longer with punchy drumming and some added harmonica which brings a different flavor to a familiar tune. It is hardly a pulsating performance, but it keeps the show bouncing forward and provides me a chance to sing along.

The “Let’s Go Crazy” coda with it’s “Oh no, lets go” chant isn’t worth mentioning, but “1999” certainly is. I often underrate “1999,” and I have been dismissive of it’s live performance more than once on this blog. If “1999” was a person I would  apologize to it right now. Prince and the band play a lean and cohesive rendition of it at this concert, and to my ears it has never sounded better. With a sense of purpose it brings the concert onto an even keel, as well as satisfying the old school fan inside me that wants to hear these songs as they should be heard. It’s an exhilarating few minutes, and if it is nostalgia you want to hear then this is the place to start.

The opening stabs of “Shhh” contain far more keyboard than drums, and it doesn’t come as the intoxicating rush as we so often hear. The vocals though are far more noteworthy, Prince is in his element as he weaves his vocal magic through the song before topping it with the beguiling guitar work I have been waiting for. I am almost sick as he plays a head-spinning few minutes, the sound and the emotion perfectly enmeshed making for an alchemy that can be only found on live recordings.

“Cream” comes from the other end of the scale. Where “Shhh” had depth and emotional weight, “Cream” is shallow and narcissistic.That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable though, and with Prince’s guitar still adding body to the song, it does come across better than I expect. A lightweight and creamy sounding song, here it has a bolder sound that Prince will carry forth for the next few numbers.

That punchy guitar sound stays front and centre for “Dreamer.” No real surprises there, but it is an arresting few minutes as Prince and the band up the intensity and assault of sound from the stage. The only time this assault eases is when the harmonica makes an appearance and Prince eases the band back to allow the  crowd to clap. This merely signals things about to get a whole lot better, as Prince takes up his axe to deliver several killer blows that close the song on a murderous high.

“Stratus” is forceful and makes it mark with plenty of purse and direction. Sometimes I find it meanders, but not at this concert, Prince and the band play a tight version that contains several key elements – Prince’s guitar, the harmonica of Frederic Yonnet, and the drumming of Cora. Taken as a while they become a feast, and I dine on each of them individually as they have their moment on stage.

Sheila E. is on board for “The Glamorous Life” and although I love the song, I find this rendition just a little too thin sounding. It may or may not be the recording, but other songs have sounded strong, so in this case I’m going to assume it is indeed the performance. Prince isn’t on stage, leaving plenty of space for Sheila to get some shine. The singing is good, but it is the final percussion that makes the song valid and real, bringing something to the show that only Sheila can bring.

The natural pairing of “The One” and “The Question Of U” stands alone as the towering landmark at the centre of this concert. Building from Prince’s quiet lyrics it becomes an intricate maze of delicate vocal performances before the strident guitar builds architecture around  these more organic moments. It doesn’t have to be loud to be the most captivating part of the concert, I am completely enthralled throughout as the music continues to intrigue and swirl. Forget the rest of the recording, skip straight to this song and stay there.

I feel completely deflated as “Musicology” plays, the preceding song has sucked everything out of me. It doesn’t help that the recording sounds distant at this point, and a lot of the emotional tension that Prince has build up dissipates as the band rumble through the song. Sheila on percussion is a positive, but overall the song feels hollow and empty, leaving e hoping that the following numbers will raise the ante.

The hits arrive in the form of “Take Me With U.” Confident from the start, it sounds like a different concert entirely as Prince does his best to recreate his 1980’s sound. He’s not quite there, it harks back to the sound of his 2007 concerts more than his 1984 concerts, but it still retains an energy that gets the crowd moving. I think it sounds good, until I do actually compare it to a rendition from 1984. It’s at that point that I realize that it is missing a spark that lifts it from an energetic performance to an exhilarating ride.

From the same place comes “Kiss.” All the key components are in place, yet it remains flat when compared to its younger self. It’s dangerous to always look back and compare ourselves to the people we were 20 or 30 years ago, but when I hear “Kiss” on the radio I have no choice but to compare it to the more recent versions. Its still a great song to sing along with, and this performance has plenty to recommend it, but its not what it once was.

With Shelby J. singing with him, Prince plays a version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” which again consigns Sinead O’Connors version to the dustbin of history. With Rosie Gaines in the 90’s and Shelby J in the 2000’s, Prince’s live version has consistently eclipsed the more well known version, and he has clearly stamped it as one of his great songs. At this particular concert we get a solid rendition that still stands head and shoulders above Sineads rendition, Prince and Shelby invest themselves in the song making it much more than just a greatest hit.

Prince continues to reclaim his songs from other artists with a feisty performance of both “The Bird” and “Jungle Love.” They are watered down from what we have come to expect from The Time, nevertheless they fit well with the set Prince is presenting, giving the show a push towards the all dancing, all singing last half hour that Prince was doing at the time. With a couple of funk tunes thrown into the mix (“Play That Funky Music”, and “(I like) Funky Music”) Prince makes it quite clear where he is coming from. Neither excite me, but the blowtorch of a guitar break does have me raising my head with a smile.

I am fully on board for “Controversy.” It is another exercise in nostalgia, and one I happily buy into as Prince plies us with lashings of scratch guitar. The performance is tightly focused, and even with the audience interaction and harmonica solo it remains insistently on course and funky. It may not be as dry as some early performances, but it works well in it’s updated form.

It is Princes guitar that introduces “A Love Bizarre,” and if there was a song that was going to get me on my feet, this would be it. The crowd evidently feels the same, there is a noticeable increase in crowd enthusiasm as the song begins and this is maintained throughout. At only three minutes, it comes as a short, sharp shock, a feeling that is only heightened by the high voltage guitar break that short-circuits the song and introduces the next number.

Ah yes, “Dance (disco heat),” I had forgotten that this was a regular on the setlists through 2010. At the time I found it unappealing, and as I listen to it now I find that that feeling hasn’t changed. The clapping and guitar are relentless, but they never build to anything rewarding and I feel shortchanged by the performance. I want to like it, I really do, but this just isn’t for me.

The inevitable come down from this mad party follows, and that comes in the form of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” The concert is transformed again as Prince takes us from the stomping dance numbers to a revealing piano confessional. I revel in the contrast and am rewarded by the backing singers joining Prince in the final minutes to lift it into the realm of spiritual music. A surprise package this late in the concert, it was well worth the wait.

An out of kilter lilt to “Mountains”  leaves me off balance as the band begin. It isn’t helped by the left turn late in the song as they veer into “Shake Your Body” Much like “Let’s Go Crazy” earlier in the concert, it is shorn of its cohesive sound as Prince breaks it down to a collection of ear grabbing soundbites, none of which work as well as the song as a whole.

There is something entirely predictable about “Everyday People” and “I Want To Take You Higher” Neither are show stopping in their intensity, they keep the show simmering rather than bringing it to a boil over. The show still sounds as if it has more to give, but these songs don’t bring us to the climax I crave.

I was looking forward to hearing “Ol Skool Company” again, and I am more than happy with the feisty performance on this recording. It has sass and attitude that elevates it beyond a mere recap of all that has come before. Even the “funky” chants in this climate sound better, and to my ears this is better than the funky songs that Prince played in quick succession earlier. Prince is indisputably better when he sticks to his full renditions of his own songs, rather than watered down covers, or abridged arrangements of past glories.

The last song on the recording is “Peach.” A late encore, we miss the first minutes, but it matters not as the joy lies in the unbridled guitar flurry that makes up the back end of the song. Prince doesn’t dominate though, as he has throughout the concert he lets Fredric Yonnet have time to come centre stage with his harmonica. The final burst though is pure Prince, and just as regal a guitar solo as we have ever heard. The final slash from the guitar is only fleeting, but a timely reminder of who Prince is and what he could do.

All in all, an enjoyable show. As you can see, I wasn’t enamored by every song in the performance, but at two and a half hours, there was plenty of something for everyone. Three songs stood out above all others for me, “The One,” “A Love Bizarre” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore.” All three had an emotion to them that appealed to me, and played on my feelings of nostalgia. Prince was often at his best when he was looking forward, in that aspect these concerts from 2010 don’t serve him well. But they are a fitting time capsule of how far he had come, and as a look back these concerts do serve a purpose. 2010 is a year I would prefer to forget, and these concerts will probably go back in the vault now for sometime. They served their purpose and got me through at that time, but like Prince I too am at my best when looking forward. Sometimes it’s good to glance back, but it’s dangerous to spend too long there.

Thanks again, next week I continue with my Austria concerts and will be taking in an aftershow.
-Hamish

Act II Vienna

Last month someone kindly suggested that I should take a listen to some shows from Austria, with the promise that Prince always played something special when he played there. The obvious place to start would be a couple of aftershows, or a main show from later in Prince’s career. Instead I have elected to run with an Act II show from 1993, mainly because I have a DVD of the show but have never quite got around to watching it due to the very 90’s looking cover. I probably have a better audio copy of the concert somewhere, but I know that during this period the look was just as important as the music (although I could probably say that about every stage of Prince’s career), and I am pretty excited to watch a full concert again.

25th August 1993, Vienna, Austria

The first minutes of the video are entirely typical for an audience recording of the era, filmed from the far left we begin with the camera out of focused and shaking. This is matched by the audio which is equally shaky and thin sounding. The visual aspect rapidly improves though, with the zoom utilized we have a nice close view of the action unfolding on stage, which is timely as the pseudo Prince onstage strips off his clothes at the end of “My Name Is Prince” to reveal Mayte’s shapely body. However, the audio never improves, and I resign myself to the fact that it is what it is and I had better get used to it. “My Name Is Prince” is a frantic way to start with plenty of motion all over the stage, although to be honest I only have eyes for Mayte.

Prince makes his appearance for “Sexy M.F.”, the greasy funk of it highlight by the person who can be seen crossing the stage with a mop.  The audience may have be agape any the bombastic opening, but they come forward for “Sexy M.F.” and can be heard all through the song with their singing and clapping. Asides from Prince and Mayte, it is Levi who gets plenty of spotlight, and I can’t deny it is definitely his guitar sound the oils the funky cogs.

 

The soft sound of “The Beautiful Ones” is unwittingly matched by the soft focus of the camera as we temporarily have a blurry image at the song’s beginning. The look of Prince is casual/cool, and this is equaled with his low key delivery of this normally heavy hitter, he maintains his facade of cool and never digs as deep into the song as I hope. This isn’t helped by the sound quality which stays shallow, and I am sure I would have a much better opinion of the song if I heard a better recording of the concert.

The concert is front loaded with hits, it is “Let’s Go Crazy” that vanishes any thoughts of “The Beautiful Ones” from the stage. With an elongated keyboard opening from Tommy Barbarella I am immediately impressed by the extra depth to it, and Prince delivers with his punchy guitar line that gives the song a steely force that I haven’t previously heard at this show. With guitar a blaze, and lights and streamers adding to the moment in a spray of colour, I expect the song to go for longer than it does, but we only get a few minutes. Prince gives us plenty in that time, but it only makes me hungry for more.

“Kiss” is too busy for my tastes, and the stage is awash with horn players and musicians which takes away from the stripped back funk sound that first drew me to the song. Visually Prince is looking great as he works his way back and forth across the stage, but I can’t find an entry point for me to really get into the song, and it leaves me feeling ambivalent about the whole performance.

The performance of “Irresistible Bitch” isn’t a patch on the original, and with the previous “Kiss,” this becomes a flat spot in what has been otherwise a funky show.

Redemption comes with a blistering “Always in My Hair” The organ stabs come as soft punches, before the Prince hits us with jabbing guitar that leaves a burning impression. Coupled with some of his trademark showmanship, one feels that at this point the show has reignited and the next portion of the concert might be the essence of the performance.

From the high voltage “She’s Always In My Hair,” Prince easily transitions to the pure pop of “Raspberry Beret” It’s always too sweet, and Prince knows this as he ends it quickly before one has time to tire of it’s upbeat joy. “The Cross” is a polar opposite, the music is joyous and the lyrics celebrating Princes spiritual beliefs, but it is a heavy and sincere rendition giving us a sense of how important this song is to Prince. All things considered, it is wonderfully filmed and Prince looks brilliant in the spot light while his Cloud guitar provides a stunning contrast in it’s deep blue color. This is easily the part of the concert that demands watching most, and I drown myself in the music through it’s entirety.

Prince stays with the heavy hitters, “Sign O The Times” just as compelling and every bit as intense as “The Cross.” They are a good match, despite the bleakness of “Sign O The Times,” it is countered by the note of hope that Prince hits in “The Cross.” Both sound weighty and deal with themes that you wouldn’t normally hear at a pop concert, and that excites me about the music even more. The music is the main focus of “Sign O The Times,” and even with Mayte being a visual supernova it is still the music that stays to the fore.

“Purple Rain” is light weight in comparison, but that may well be due the previously mentioned audio limitations. There is a lightness to Prince’s performance though, hand in pocket early on does give an indication that he is holding back from a full blooded performance. The guitar break more than makes up for it though, and I am most pleased to see him on top of the piano, head thrown back and guitar howling. If you’re looking for an iconic image of Prince, this would be it.

I have strong feelings about the medley of “Thunder,” “When Doves Cry,” and “Nothing Compares 2 U.” I don’t like it. The first two songs are merely throw away hooks that introduce the slightly longer “Nothing Compares 2 U.” All are instrumental, and even with Mayte providing some sense of spectacle with her dancing, my interest begins to wane. This interlude continues with “And God Created Woman,” and “Diamonds And Pearls,” but there is no doubt that without Prince on stage this feels like a different concert entirely.

Last time Prince was on stage he was blazing with his guitar, his return see’s him conquering another instrument as he delivers the intimate piano set. As is his way so often, this begins with the gentle “Venus De Milo.” With very little moving on stage, the melody is the motion that carries the performance and sketches out where Prince might go with this set.

If not for an annoying buzz on the recording, “Condition Of The Heart” would be be one of the quietest moments on the bootleg. Its only a verse, but the audience is reverentially  quiet as Prince delivers it. “Little Red Corvette” comes from the same place, and gets equal respect from the audience. It’s easy to forget how big this concert is as Prince draws the crowd in with his intimate delivery.

There is a major tape drop out for “Strollin.” The picture rapidly deteriorates into grainy static, before stopping all together a minute into the song. When the picture resumes it is in time for us to enjoy the final portion of “Scandalous.” Prince whoops and squeals to the crowd, but without the foreplay of the first half of the song it is a unsatisfying climax.

The NPG do a fine job of taking us back to 1986 with their take on “Girls And Boys.” Eric Leeds may not be in the line up, but Prince has the band stuffed with horn players, all who are eager to make their mark on this song. It isn’t particularly clean sounding, but it is energetic and engaging and that more than makes up for any audio inconsistencies.

On audio boots, the Arabic intro is enjoyable enough, on video boots it becomes much more as we witness Mayte dancing with a sword perched on her head. I’m not convinced it belongs in a Prince concert, but there is no doubt that this is just the kind of thing we expect at a Prince concert. Expecting the unexpected was always part of the anticipation of a new tour or album, and Prince certainly delivered that in the early and mid 90’s.

Predictably, it is a smooth “7” that follows. The person filming is evidently in love with Mayte, and the camera follows her relentlessly for the first part of the song, Prince only seen when she is nearby. Prince gives a highly staged performance, it is almost too slick, every note and moved planned,all rehearsed with very little sign of spontaneity in the song. I enjoy it, but it just makes me wish he would break out and give something extra at this stage of the show.

The encores open with another predictable song for the moment – “1999.” With the large ensemble on stage it becomes lost in the crowd, the song is there somewhere, but I can’t see it for all the bodies and different sounds emanating from the stage. It is only near the end as Prince and Levi play up with their slick guitar sound do I finally engage with the song, and just in time too for the quick transition into “Baby I’m A Star.” This is a far better song for this group, this time all the bodies and instruments make sense as they have a strong hook to play against and plenty of time to display their skills. It becomes and evolving jam at this point, and as “America” pounds out I am completely in awe of the moment, even the slightly tacky US flag made of fireworks has me excited. The horns are a fantastic addition to the song, and one can only imagine how overwhelming this musical assault must have felt in the flesh.

The funk continues to flow through “D.M.S.R,” this time the trombone becoming a key player and adding some depth to a recording that is otherwise high in treble. Morris Hayes cuts into his work, fleshing out the sound further with his muscular keyboard. Prince’s diversion into the lyrics of “Gett Off” doesn’t enthuse me, but the NPG is simply untouchable throughout, and I fall easily into their orbit. Another drop in the tape breaks me out of this moment, and when it resumes I find Prince in the middle of “Johnny,” a song so laid back it is almost comatose and a million miles away from the previous rambling medley.

Prince ups the pace as he closes the concert with a quickfire “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night.” It comes at breakneck speed, and there is barely enough time to register what song it is before Prince ends with his traditional “thank you, good night.” The crowd reaction isn’t as vocal as I expect, and I think a lot of them find it hard to believe that it is actually all over.

This would not be my first choice to watch or listen to from this time period. We have better videos circulating from the Act I tour, and soundboard quality audio circulating from the Act II tour (especially the Germany festival show just one week later). However, this show does have its place in the bootleg canon. It is yet another record of the NPG as they were really hitting their stride and driving Prince’s music in a new direction. There are parts of this show where I felt the NPG were almost upstaging Prince, and with Mayte serving as a visual foil there were times when Prince disappeared into the performance going on around him. With a setlist nicely balanced between old and new tracks, the concert is a marker of the two eras Prince was straddling, the slave era is almost upon us and this is a final goodbye to his back catalogue for the next few years. It is difficult to recommend this bootleg, but I know how addictive this game is and I am sure most fans would want to see it anyway.

Thanks for reading,
Back next week for more of the same
-Hamish