If you fall off a horse the best thing to do is get back on it, and that’s exactly what this week’s post feels like after listening to last week’s recording from 2004. It was an assault on the eardrums, and I need to get back to listening to other shows from 2004 to reassure myself that not everything is so tough to listen to. This week’s show is just the tonic, recorded a month later it is a joy to listen to, both the recording and the performance. The show at Club Black is recorded at the aftershow coming on the heels of the Rock N Roll hall of fame induction, and is well regarded in the fan community, and from my initial impression I can see why. It’s got crowd noise, like all recordings, but the band is heard crystal clear through the whole show, and they are playing a great set. This one is a breath of fresh air, and I feel refreshed as soon as I begin to listen.
16th March, 2004 Club Black, New York
The sharpness of the recording is apparent from the very first note that is heard. There is a considerable cheer from the crowd, but once they sit back and listen you can hear the band just fine. The opening song is a showcase for the horns and keyboard, a full and clean Footprints is the first song of the evening. There is some sax work, be it Maceo or Candy, to begin with, and this is well worth the time it gets. Not to be outdone, Greg Boyer blows up a storm on his trombone, it’s got a big bounce to it and fills out the sound. The best is saved for last however, with a piano solo dominating the final third of the song. A great moment early on, this is the cue to close your eyes, sit back and take it all in. Already the memories of last week’s blog are receding.
Prince gives Musicology plenty of hype from the get go, pausing the band early on to tell the crowd “you’ll ain’t ready”. After the obligatory applause the song starts proper, Prince has the band in his pocket, everything is smooth and fits together perfectly. There’s no fire in the performance, the band is too cool, and they glide through the song with ease. The saxophones do raise the levels somewhat, but for the most part it’s smooth as glass.
Things do morph, and Maceo plays us into Tighten Up. Maceo never lets me down, and as the crowd chants “Don’t stop Maceo” he blows up a storm. As he steps back, Mike Scott steps forward with a guitar break that is distinctly his. With the guitar sounding so clean and funky, Mike is in his element. The consummate bandleader, Prince keeps everyone involved with firstly a piano break, and then another chance for the rest of the horns to play. As an easy jam this song works, and it’s a great chance to highlight the band early on.
Shhh is introduced as “a quiet ballad” which greatly undersells in what is in all honesty one of his greatest songs. The band keep things low-key and the song belongs to Prince and Prince alone, firstly with his vocal performance, and then with his guitar break that starts with a lone whine, and ends several minutes later in a howl. Normally it would be Prince’s guitar playing that would have me waxing lyrical, and although the guitar here is of his usual high standard (the second guitar break in particular), it’s the vocal performance that gets under my skin, Prince still sounds as if he means every word even after all these years. The final workout on the guitar leaves us on a high before we get funky with the next song.
Mike Scott always sounds great playing D.M.S.R, his guitar tone has a sharpness and gives the song a new lease of life. Prince too seems to be sharper, he sings with a freshness that belies his age, and the age of the song. The horns add some sparkle, the song suddenly sounding brand new again. I Like The Way You Move is seamlessly brought into the mix, and Prince acknowledges OutKast as the crowd chants and sings. The band hit the groove as the crowd join them and the next few minutes are the perfect storm where the show becomes a party. With the horns and guitar all jamming and adding different lines it becomes an irresistible dance, time seems to slip away as I am caught in its funky web.
House Party continues on right where D.S.M.R. left off, it’s down low steady funk keeping the band locked in tight to a groove. Its slower and heavier, and keeps the heads bobbing as the band play. It’s for the most part a showcase for the horns, they play plenty over the steady groove, and they sound brighter against the low heavy beat.
The flurry of A Love Bizarre and Glamorous Life run us into a sprightly sounding I Feel For You. Princes vocals aren’t the sharpest, it’s up to the horns to inject the sunshine and brightness into the song. They are everywhere, their clean sound elevating the song wherever they riff.
We stay firmly in the Eighties with the appearance of Controversy. The guitar is initially low key, before it explodes out of the gate at the one-minute mark with some fabulously funky sounding playing. Prince and the band play well, and it’s an enjoyable listen, but when the rhythm guitar plays it becomes something else altogether, the moments are short and easily the highlight of the song.
The piano interlude by Renato is light and undemanding. It’s a tasty morsel between courses, and at a minute long it doesn’t out stay its welcome before we return to something special from Prince.
That something special is a soulful rendition of The Beautiful Ones. The song flows easy, firstly with some piano, and then some sax playing that has wings. For a while I forget that this is even The Beautiful ones, with the sax playing for some time, before we return to some cascading piano playing for a couple of minutes. All of it is classy, and it’s even better when I consider that Prince has yet to sing. And sing he does, when he does appear on the mic it’s with a gracefulness and measured performance. He sings beautifully, seemingly without pushing himself. There is emotion in his vocals, not over wrought, and well balanced performance that demonstrates his experience, showing us all that sometimes less is more.
Nothing Compares 2 U is noteworthy for the contribution of the Candy Dulfer. Prince’s vocals are as to be expected, but it’s the sax solo that soars and lifts the song. With no female counterpoint to Princes vocals, it’s this saxophone sound that provides colour and contrast to the performance, and it’s only fitting that the sax is the last thing we hear as the song fades out.
Prince pours it on for Insatiable, and gives a vocal performance that befits the subject matter. I have heard plenty of great performances of this song before, and I can safely add this one to that list. Prince’s vocals are smooth as butter, and have a creamy thickness to them that washes over you as you listen. Prince does deliver a spoken thanks to a list of people midsong, he’s very gentle with it and it doesn’t interrupt the mood at all. The transition to Call My Name is equally smooth, he called for the lights to be turned down low early in the song, and it still retains that late night dimly light through the whole 7-8 minutes. Call My Name is softer than on record, and Prince’s lyrics are dripping with passion and lust as he sings. As Renato plays some piano I reflect on Princes vocal performance on the last few songs, he has been sublime throughout, and this really is a master class.
The rhythm track of Sign O The Times has a heavy dose of funk in it, and the introduction takes on a more dance-able tone as Prince hypes up the crowd. His vocals come quick and clearly, before the horns again begin to raise the heat a little. In fact, with the horns and piano playing it becomes an entirely different beast altogether, the seriousness of the song washes away and we are left with a funky little jam.
The balance is restored with a low key The Question Of U. Prince gives us plenty with this one, his guitar early on sounds as good as it ever has, there are some nice runs and fills that keep us engaged, before the song strips back for some guitar noodling. Things get even better as he sings new lyrics over the quiet music. It’s refreshing and intriguing, I find myself listening closely as he sings these words. I can’t believe how fantastic the last 30 minutes have been, and Mike Phillips puts his spin on things with a solo that easily matches every else thus far, this band is on top of their game right here. His playing in the last minute is outstanding, it demands listening.
The One and Fallin’ come together, intertwining with each other, and fitting well. The One has always been a song I look for in setlist, the version here is good, but it can’t compete with all we have just heard. Prince does come back strongly on the guitar, at first it doesn’t grab me, but it does get stronger and stronger and soon enough I am swept up by it and carried away.
Things change direction as Prince calls for the house lights and the band groove into Let’s Work. The bass isn’t as loud as I would like, and it does sound brassy with all the horns playing. In some ways it loses it attraction for me because of this, it doesn’t have the sweaty sound that I normally look for. The band do give it plenty of energy though, and soon enough it becomes U Got The Look.
U Got The Look has an electric sound to it, the guitar isn’t strong at all, and it has a more interesting sound because of this. That is until Prince calls “Turn me up Scotty” and begins to solo, crisp and clean in this case. The crowd come to the party with some singing that doesn’t add much to it, but does sound like fun.
It’s at this point that it becomes a jam and a party as Prince begins to call people on stage and the band begins a medley of party songs. All the usual suspects are in the mix, Talkin Loud And Sayin Noting, Life O The Party, and Hot Pants are prominent, as is Princes ‘Uptown up’ chant. Things move quickly, the beat and the dancing being the most important things. Soul Man adds some brightness, and seems appropriate for the performance that Prince has thus far delivered. Chance Howard takes on the vocal duties, leaving Prince to party up and keep things moving. It all ends with a crisp and poppy sounding Kiss. The horns and the guitar outdo each other to be heard, and the song is full and bright sounding. The guitar has a superb tone, and for me is the star of the song, I could have done with the song being a whole lot longer. Prince ends with a simple good night, and suddenly it’s all over.
This recording was better than I could have ever imagined. I had heard others speak highly of it, and although I have heard it before I don’t remember it being as good as it was. The first third was great, but the second third was outstanding, and it’s this part of the show that I found mesmerizing, Prince was at his peak with the band doing a fantastic job of supporting him. The end was weaker, but still well worth the time. I rate this recording highly indeed, and I am almost tempted to call it essential. When I think of 2004, this is how I want to remember it, a great show and a brilliant recording.
Thanks for reading
See you next week