Madrid 1993

1994 and 1995 were times of tremendous change for Prince, but looking back one can clearly see that the roots for this change were planted in 1993, the transformations of the next two years are signposted throughout the Act II shows. Prince’s concert performances of the Act II tour have evolved from the Act I portion of the tour, some of his more outrageous concepts have been reigned in, and although it still remains a wild ride he has tempered the previous excesses. It becomes a tighter show, and Princes overall story arc comes into tighter focus as he strips the fat from the show. This week I will be watching on of the better performances of the Act II tour, the concert from Madrid. It is a well filmed show, although incomplete in the middle portion. There is a full audio recording in circulation, although at this point I feel no inclination to to include it here. Even in this incomplete form, it is still essential viewing as Prince carves out a new niche for him and his music.

August 21, 1993, Plaza de Toros de las Ventas, Madrid

One can feel the thrill of excitement in the air as the concert opens with “My Name Is Prince,” and there is a vivid rush as the lights come up and the concert takes flight. Twenty five years on and we can join Prince with his tease of the crowd as Mayte plays his part while he sings off-stage. It’s all too obvious now, Mayte does a good impersonation but lacks the high heels, and one can hear the gasp of comprehension as Mayte strips of her disguise. Part excitement, part confusion,  it is a great concert moment as she reveals her athletic dancer’s body and writhes to the music.

Funk is in the air as Prince finally appears, a pocket rocket at the back of the stage singing “Sexy M.F.” The bootleg isn’t perfect sounding, or looking, but the performance remains one of his best, the band lock in a holy unison that makes this brand of funk a religious experience, Prince, Mayte and the music a trinity worthy of 1993.

For the briefest of seconds it feels as if I have stumbled across the wrong gig as the band effortlessly lifts us to the highs of “The Beautiful Ones,” the grease and funk of “Sexy M.F.” all but forgotten as Prince pitches the music at our hearts rather than our feet. Lust is replaced by pure love, and a younger Prince emerges from the music, the last 10 years shedding off him as he takes us back ten years in the blink of an eye. There is no need for the lights to bathe him in purple, the music itself wraps him in this noblest of hues, the song no mere exercise in nostalgia, rather a fully immersive Purple Rain experience just as passionate and uplifting as the era itself.

Prince continues to roll back the clock with a version of “Let’s Go Crazy” that stays reasonably faithful to the original. It does have an extra layer of funk, just a little extra slip n slide that we didn’t hear on record, and although the guitar heroics are down played, it is as fresh as I have heard it for a long time. It’s a punchy and playful few minutes and serves more than a hollow gesture and nod to the past.

“Kiss” takes this element of funk, blows it up ten times, and plasters it right across the next five minutes of the show. Prince is entirely subservient to the music, the funk remaining to the fore, Prince doing little more than riding on the music as it flows in a never ending stream from the stage. The horns and Levi on guitar do more than anyone in creating this whirlpool of sound, and are the mainstays of the band for the next ten minutes. As sublime as this music is, the bootleg becomes a frustrating experience at this time as it zooms back, rendering much of the action of stage a mere blur to us here at home.

The previously stripped back sound of “Irresistible Bitch” is inflated by this extended funk band Prince has on stage. The music remains the main focus, the song and performance disappearing under the layers of horns and guitar. And that is perhaps for the best as the camera work remains unfocused and heavily obstructed.

With guitar in hand, Prince and his instrument become for the sole focus for “She’s Always in My Hair” Forget the song, forget the vocals, this is performance is all about one thing – Prince’s guitar. It is not a storm, nor a hammer blow, instead it is a weapon of finesse, Prince delicately cutting the music up with scalpel like stokes, the guitar in hand opening up new vistas as it cuts through the night, Prince revealing new worlds through his instrument of choice. Of particular note is the final few minutes as his takes us from power chord rock into flamenco territory, much to the delight of the crowd (and me here at home). It is an extraordinary display that leaves me grasping for words to describe it. I want all my guitar gods to be like this.

The crowd loves “Raspberry Beret,” but the truth is it can’t compare to the previous few minutes. However it does raise the energy levels of the crowd, before Prince again lets them down gently, the opening verse and chorus of “Sometimes It Snows In April” falling as soft as snow before the video jumps to the introduction to “The Cross.” The song lacks some of the weight I have heard in other renditions, but as the song kicks of midway through the balance is restored. The camera is in sharp focus at this stage, and that no doubts lifts my enjoyment levels immensely as Prince does his finest guitar posing of the night.

The video continues to frustrate as it jump cuts through the end of “The Cross,” but the following “Sign O The Times” is incendiary and is the strongest performance of Prince’s back catalog of the show. Prince laces it with a fearsome guitar line, but it is Michael B who grabs the final headlines with his apocalyptic drum sound rounding out the song.

“Purple Rain” set’s the standard for the next portion of the show, the most frustrating portion, as the video drops out several times, robbing the song of any momentum or emotional weight. It is inconsistent, and seems to do it at the worst possible moments, for example taking us from mid verse to the middle of the finale.  Things don’t improve, we miss the entire instrumental interlude, before picking up at “Little Red Corvette.” It is apparently a stunning performance, with Prince alone at the piano, but we only see a minute of it, before catching 30 seconds of “Strollin” and “Scandalous,” and not much more or “Girls and Boys” before settling back in for “7.” The heart of the show is ripped out of the bootleg, leaving us to fill in the blanks from other sources.

The encores are much better served by the bootleg, the final 30 minutes playing like just the kind of party I’d like to attend. “1999” plays a brisk pace, leaving the album version huffing and puffing far behind. The camera is settled firmly on the stage, and this part of the show is very easy on the eye, with Prince and Levi holding court center stage. The segue into “Baby, I’m A Star” makes the two songs practically one, but there is better to come.

The band is at boiling point as they take on “America” a song that becomes an angry funk jam at this particular concert, especially with some furious horn riffs rising from the mix midsong pushing that song far beyond the stage and out into the stratosphere. Mayte shaking her thing is a pleasant enough distraction, but for  Prince connoisseurs the real joy comes as Prince takes a lengthy drum solo that demonstrates his mastery of another instrument. Plenty has been written about his skills with the guitar and keyboards, but to see him is a revelation, and one can see he plays with as much heart on the drums as he does with the guitar. This is an excellent bootleg (asides from the midsection) and nowhere is it better than this point here as Prince demonstrates another essential element to his musicianship.

With the audience clapping the rhythm the band switch it up again with “D.M.S.R.” It gives way to pure groove, the song secondary to the feel of it, in a performance suggests the lengthy, groove infused, jams that will propel Prince through 1994/1995. With Prince on bass we have an insight to what will be a familiar sight in the coming years and although he is playing to an audience of 58,000, one could easily see this taking place in a smaller club with the groove and crowd interweaving through each other. With this laid back bass sound dominating, Prince takes us back to the song, this time with his vocals infused with a blues sound that suits the slowed down beast that it has become.

After one final frantic groove, Prince returns for the last song of the show, another low and slow version of “Johnny,” a song we will be hearing plenty of in the post Prince landscape of the next couple of years. With the house lights on, this performance becomes an expression of love between Prince and the audience, they embrace his sound and take every opportunity to contribute. It threatens to take on an aftershow feel, especially as they take up the NPG chant, and the concert turns into a communal celebration. The show comes to a playful end as Mayte coaxes Prince off stage, or attempts to, before she finally drags him off, much to the delight of the crowd. It may be part of the act, but it creates the feeling that Prince never wants to stop playing for the crowd, something that could well be true.

The Act II differs greatly from the Act I tour just a few months previous. The bulk of the material from the Symbol Album has been dropped, replaced with more overtly Prince material from the 1980’s . Yet, watching the concert here, one can’t help but feel that Prince is looking firmly into the future with both his look and overall sound. He will push far further in this direction in the next twelve months, leaving his Prince material behind completely, yet keeping this band and their monstrous funk sound. Here we see him laying the ground work for the slave era, we may not have known it at the time, but twenty five  years later it is plain to see. This is one of the best video boots circulating from the Act II tour and as such must be held in the highest regard, an outstanding show, some great footage, albeit with the drop outs at the center of the show, and Prince on the cusp of the most interesting part of his career, this is definitely a must-see.

 

Thanks again
see you next week for the Act II finale

Hamish Whitta 

Glam Slam – June 10th 1994

The shows throughout 1994 are an extraordinary record of Prince burrowing further into this new persona and sound he has created, and looking across the year we can see the full scope and vision of Prince as he carves out this new territory. Today I will be taking a look at the final concert from Glam Slam Miami, the third from a three day period in June that captures Prince in the very middle of this transitional year. Each night is different, and this final concert neatly captures the spirit of the previous two in a pleasing one hour performance (on the bootleg at least) that touches on the best of the earlier performances. It is a smoking hot show, and of this three nights it stands head and shoulders above the other two in my opinion.

1994-06-09 (am) Glam Slam, Miami Beach, Florida

There is plenty of musical color that introduces the show as the instruments power up and create the expectation that something magical is about to it occur. It does, and Prince erupts with a volcanic rendition of his beloved “Santana medley,” a rendition that in this case turns the concert from a live show to an almost religious experience. There is a tremendous rush as Prince draws all the oxygen out of the room with his opening stanza, a breathtaking thirty seconds that suggests that Prince is truly on a higher plane than any other musician on the stage, or indeed on the planet. Thankfully the music moves through shades and echoes, allowing us to catch up with the previously stratospheric Prince, and Tommy Barbarella does well to maintain the flighty sound of the music without steeping into Princes fiery path. It is the second half of the song where Prince demonstrates that the previous minutes were merely a teaser, standing lost in his dreams and furies, his a guitar a portal that brings his visions to life, giving them earthly forms, before firing them deep into the dark of the concert where they lay burning and flickering in our memory forever more. There are no words, the boundaries and limitations of the concert evaporate leaving only music in its barest form.

It is the crunch of the guitar that batters us in “319,” the spoken intro and Prince’s vocals barely making in an impression as his guitar again holds court at the centre of the stage. The album version of this song is all sheen and shine, this live performance a far more wild ride, a bare back bronco that kicks and twists us through the air, leaving only the heavy intoxication of Prince’s grimy guitar work.

The previous night Prince took to reading hand written lyrics on stage, and he is at it again for “Hide The Bone.” Perhaps Mayte is too much of a distraction, she is certainly at her booty shaking best here, but what is most striking is how fresh the music is, and how invested Prince is in the performance and presenting it to his fans. The song is innately funky, and nowhere more so than later in the piece as Prince scratches deeper below the surface to reveal the dark pulsation heart of the song. With the drum providing the raw funk sound, the keyboards do just enough to lift it from the swamp and into the light. It is Prince who provides the finishing touches, his one eyed bass adding some rubbery bottom to a song that is already buried deep in the funk of the last thirty years. The bootleg reveals some of Prince’s most exciting music, but also provides a rare opportunity to see him playing bass – something he did regularly but rarely caught on a bootleg such as this one.

Hearing “Ripopgodazippa” in this context only saddens me that it didn’t make the final cut of The Gold Experience . With it’s sultry and sexy sound, it is perfectly in tune with the concert, and could well be the poster boy of the whole night. With this sweaty performance marking it’s first live appearance, it is all the more disappointing to find that its final live performance was only two weeks after this. The hot Miami night infuses the music with an extra warmth the is hardly needed as Prince and Mayte generate their own heat onstage in a performance that is intoxicating to watch as Mayte channels the music through her equally alluring dance. It is almost a relief to hear the song finishing, the humidity of the performance almost suffocating the bootleg in it’s thick sex-funk sound.

The bass is again the hands of Prince for “Get Wild,” a song that Prince himself introduces as their new theme song. The snap and pull of the bass is the tension that sits at the centre of the song, pulling the sound in before popping it back into life, all beneath the calm fingers of Prince. Watching it is almost like watching a magic trick, one watches as close as possible to see how his hands could possibly bring such a mystical tone into the world without some sort of incantation involved. As wild as Prince encourages the band to be, it is he that remains at the centre of all that is happening, and no one is as wild as he as he stomps and storms his new funk into life on the stage.

The video bootleg ends with “Johnny,” although there are several good audience recordings circulating that contain the remainder of the show.  Bathed in red light, the concert returns to a communal experience, and as good as the music is emanating  from the stage, it is the moments where the crowd and Prince come together singing that are the most satisfying. With the loping sound of the bass embracing the audience and holding it tight, there is no need for any part of the song to be hurried, and it isn’t and Prince tugs at the edges, pulling the song out longer and longer, and seemingly further away from the lyrics of the first verse, until we reach an epiphany with the “NPG in the motherfunking house” chant. It is as close to nirvana as you can get a Prince concert, and although the concert doesn’t end here, it is a fitting end to the video bootleg.

I cannot stress enough how important these concerts are to understanding Prince of the 90’s, nor can I find the words to tell you just how essential these bootlegs are to your collecting. Exciting music, presented in small venues to appreciative audience who understand what Prince is doing and wanting to join him on his journey, the barrier between performer and audience at this time has never been so slim, the possibilities so endlessly exciting. Watching a bootleg video is a mere facsimile of the experience, yet 25 years on it’s the best we’ve got. A great video that reminds us of these heady nights when Prince was shedding his skin, and reinventing himself right before our eyes. Pure magic.

 

Thanks for joining me
-Hamish

 

Glam Slam – June 9th 1994

1993 saw Prince change his name to a symbol, but it was 1994 when he seized upon  this new direction and killed off the Prince of the 1980’s. With a complete rejection of his former music and persona, the man we see in 1994 has completely reinvented himself,  all trace of his previous history completely erased. That makes for a thrilling ride as the bootlegs of 1994 and the next few years come from a completely revitalized artist, with fresh material, a new outlook, and a mesmerizing stage presence. The change is so striking, so dramatic, so strong, that the most surprising aspect of this metamorphosis isn’t the fact that Prince changed, but the fact that it didn’t change everything forever after. Watching these shows, it is hard to imagine that by 2010 Prince would have reverted back to his name, back to his songs, and was presenting greatest hits shows for the masses. 1994 was a lightening strike that made this future impossible to imagine. I have covered a number of concerts from 1994 already because they important in the overall arc of Princes career. The bootlegs are exhilarating celebrations of rebirth, and although at the time it left me, and many others, scratching out heads, in the wider context and 25 years on we can see just how momentous these concerts were. This week I will be looking at the second of three nights from Miami; hot sweaty concerts that very much capture the spirit of the time. It has taken me many years to catch up with him, but this is the Prince that I enjoy most.

1994-06-09 (am) Glam Slam, Miami Beach, Florida

With the metallic storm of electric guitar opening the show, Prince demonstrates that although his classic rock sound has been tempered, he remains committed to his instrument, more so than ever as it barely leaves his hands even as he plays an incendiary version of “Billy Jack Bitch.” Prince pushes deeper into territories he has previously successfully mined, in this case the funk of the song is just as strong as anything else he has produced, and the streak of steely guitar he inserts into it comes not from a rock background, nor a funk background, but rather his own unique vision and immediately adds a cold steel edge that the lyrics suggest but never quite deliver. Everything you need to know about the forthcoming show is in these opening minutes, the funk dark and heavy, the guitar sharpened and brutal, and the lyrics venomous and angry, not at past lovers as we heard in the previous ten years, but at the world at large, his anger no longer looking inwards, but now aimed outwards. The song may be aimed square at CJ, but there is a a much darker undercurrent that bites at the media, and the deeper hurt.

“The Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” neatly straddles pure pop and a ballad. It could be read as either, and there are moments in the song when it sounds so ethereal that Prince is merely the channel for the music that is emanating from the stage. A song that can be (and often is) over worked, Prince in this case chooses not to tinker with it, and that perhaps explains why it does have the feel that it does. At six months old, it had already peaked in the charts, and already it feels like an elder statesman at this concert.

The last album to be released under the name Prince is still two months away, so any song off Come still retains an unknown quality to this audience. “Loose,” has a modern club sound,at least for the time, and has Prince doing the best to bury his previous self, and music, under the busy sound. It’s a daring song, full of electronic noise that serves as the canvas that Prince and the band paint their own sounds across. With a bassline hot and heavy, seemingly rising up from under the floor, where it may well have been mined, the electronic whistles and drive is equally matched by this wall of thick sound.  The melodic Prince we heard earlier is gone, replaced by pure energy and rhythm, the only hint that this might possibly be the same man coming from the galaxy shattering guitar solo that cuts though all the excesses and brings us to a place that the music had previously promised, somewhere new, unknown, and thrilling –  a foreign planet that had been hiding behind the backhole that existed at the heart of the song all along.

Prince’s choice of cover version is interesting, where as usually we see an older song chosen, and typically by a funk artist, in this case we have a song that is only a year old at the time, and from a hip hop artist. His cover of Salt-n-Peppers “Shoop” is a odd affair, Prince reading lyrics to some of his own songs over the music, “Sexy MF” and “Gett Off,’ both make guest appearances, in what is a causal performance that updates some Prince material (although only a couple of years old) for his current palette.

In his 1977 obituary for Elvis, Lester Bangs wrote “We will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.” In the Prince world we may well say something similar – “We will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Purple Rain” Here Prince pushes that theory. Prince fans of various factions may share the love for Purple Rain, 1984, and all that it meant, but ever since Prince has pushed his music harder and further in different directions, testing how far his fans are prepared to go with him. His funk is funkier, his rock rockier and his pop poppier, as all those that follow him, the funkateers, the rockers, the pop-music fans, are pulled further and further apart from each other as he continues in this quest for new territories. The long groove that fills the second half of the song, Tommy Barbarella playing while Prince furnishes it with a bass line that barely simmers, would test a casual fan, but more than anything it makes a lie of the second part of Lester Bang’s quote “So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.” The new music of Prince is stretching in many directions at once, but it galvanizes the fans. They each may have their own sound that they seek from Prince, but all are held together by the uniqueness of this artist, and the sense that they are witnessing something special unfolding onstage. Never again would Prince fans have a single album or song to rally around, but now it is Prince himself that holds the fan community together, he has finally become one with music and to follow him is to follow all that he does. We are not saying goodbye to each other at all, but saying goodbye to familiarity and contentment, now committed to following Prince and wherever he may take us.

“It’s Alright” is the cover version we would expect from Prince.  It isn’t a full bloodied rendition, but it is the jolt that is required to again re-energize the concert. There isn’t a lot to it, and it is the much longer “I Believe In You,” (also from Graham Central Station)  that highlights the band onstage with Prince. Sonny T and Morris Hayes make a firm impression, but it is hard for anyone to hold a candle to Prince when he has the guitar in hand, and the final minutes belong solely to him as he lifts the song to a level previously only dreamt of.

Prince stands alone out in front of the music for his cover of Stevie Wonders ” Maybe Your Baby” While the band drape there sound across the stage, Prince alone brings the soul of the song to light at the front of the sage, first with his vocal delivery, then with his shattering guitar break that can barely be contained by the room. It is jarring against the smoothness of the rest of the song, but adds a sense of urgency to an otherwise laid back sound. The song ends with a bizarre hat show by Prince, as he models an array of hats to the adoring,and somewhat bewildered audience. It’s all good fun, but does leave me wondering what was the point. The video bootleg of the concert ends at this point, although there is circulating an audience audio recording that contains the following “Peach” and “Glam Slam Boogie”

The importance of these 1994 concerts cannot be understated. This is a man who having conquered commercial and creative heights is now seeking to push himself even further, to see just how far one can go as an artist. It may have been driven by commercial considerations and his war with Warners, but as an artist it offered him a chance to try something that perhaps he would not have dared had he been more comfortable. If you live long enough, you see the end of what you saw the beginning of, and this is certainly true for anyone who has followed Prince’s career. 1993/1994 were the beginnings of the name change, the war with Warners, and all the new music that came with it. Prince may have sought to bury his previous popself, he certain makes a good fist of it here, but time softened him, eventually returning to his name, and the music. This era, and the bootlegs of the time, now exist in isolation, an island that sits in the middle of his career, untouched and untainted by what came before and what came after. The bootlegs give us a new, almost unrecognizable, artist and his new creative domain, another time, another place, only existing on faded recordings and video tapes. This bootleg is entirely of it’s time , and serves as a reminder of what an adventurous artist Prince was at this moment. No hits (except for “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”) and none of the bombastic hype that came with his pop success, this is a man presenting his new music in the simplest way possible. Every one of these shows are worth studying, and this one gives us a brief peek into the monumental changes Prince was undergoing at the time, this concert is short, but it’s impact remains huge.

Its only fitting that next time I will take a listen to the next show from Miami, as Prince continues down this new road.  I’ll see you then for more of the same, but different.

 

take care
-Hamish

 

Malahide Castle 2011

The last few months I have been immersing myself in Prince’s 1990’s catalog. This is my favorite era of Prince, as he unveiled masses of new music and played with a variety of genres and styles, all the while digging further into a funk sound. Of this era, the song “Gold” isn’t particularly representative, one could easily enough imagine it slotting onto one of his mid to late 80’s albums, but it does live up to it’s name and shines brightly at the centre of this period. While following it the song through his career, I couldn’t help but notice that it was shelved in 1996 and only resurfaced in live performance in 2011, a mere fifteen years later. The bootleg I am listening to today’s opens with “Gold,” only it’s second live performance since 1996, the other performance being four days previous in Rotterdam, as Prince pulls this jewel from his vault and gives it another polish. It would continue to occasionally pop up in concerts through 2011 and 2012, before disappearing again back into the ether. The rest of today’s concert is typical of Prince’s 2011 European tour, a greatest hits package aimed at mostly 1980’s material, with the occasional surprise thrown in just to keep the hardest of hardcore fans satisfied. Expect no real surprises from this recording, but enjoy Prince playing his hits to an adoring audience who relive their youth in this sprightly performance.

30th July 2011 Malahide Castle, Malahide, Ireland

The first strains of “Gold” are almost lost on me as I am trying to remember if I have been to Malahide or not (I decided that I have been there) and when I do register what I am hearing it is with an air of disappointment. There is a thinness to the sound, and not just because of the audience recording. The keyboard chips in with a childlike quality, a children’s toy that has somehow managed to find it’s way onto stage, and it’s tinny and fragile sound detracts from the power of hearing “Gold” again in this context. Prince’s lyrics stir up the feelings of old, but without a muscular and well polished sound behind him, it amounts to very little. The song itself still rises up, it’s uplifting spirit still present, but sonically it stays firmly rooted to the ground, it’s wings clipped of the soaring quality by the an overall sound that is damp and heavy.

The first strains of “Let’s Go Crazy” have the sound that I had hoped for the previous “Gold,” there is a tautness, and tension, as the guitar pulls hard at the music, before the song lifts it’s skirts and swirls into Prince’s upbeat Las Vegas version of the song, all chants and pounding keyboards, the guitar becoming a mere adornment to the chaos of sound emerging from the stage. Sure enough, it does reappear, but only as a facsimile of itself, as if someone is playing it from another room, it’s sound ghosting through the recording. “Delirious”  is far more satisfying, the band and it’s loud brash sound suddenly focusing on a song that carries these gifts with a lightness.  Its far from perfect though, and at times even the keyboard disappears behind the beat, in this case due to the audience recording rather than the performance.

“1999” is overplayed, but today it hits me just right, the opening guitar singeing the recording with a touch of fiery guitar that has a quiet intensity that hasn’t been heard thus far on the recording. As it settles into it’s groove, it is Shelby J that comes to the fore, her personality so large that she temporarily threatens to overwhelm the song with her vocals, and huge smile that one can hear captured on the bootleg. It never settles on the song “1999” proper, instead Prince and the band prefer to hand it off the crowd for chanting, and their chance to become part of the performance. I can’t complain too much, although it does pull a little shine off this old favorite.

The extended slow down version of “Little Red Corvette” isn’t quite as extended as I anticipated, the opening howls giving way all too quickly to the verse, surrendering some of the power of the song before it has had a chance to properly marinate in the emotional cry that Prince is providing it his guitar whine. However, the rest of the song is a well paced rendition, and there is enough meat on it’s bones to satisfy both old and new fans alike. It’s hard not to be caught up in the gravitational pull of Prince’s guitar playing in the breakdown section, and his black-hole sound pulls every strand of emotion from the song to this one point, creating a stellar sound that rings out for the next few minutes, providing a moment that rewards both your ears and your heart.

Andy Allo is sadly buried by Prince’s vocal throughout “Take Me With U.” Visually striking on stage, sadly I just don’t hear enough of her on this recording. There are moments where she burst out of the recording, but for the moist part it is Prince booming out the lyrics, making for an uneven and unsatisfying moment.

There is an element of pop missing from “Raspberry Beret,” and this campfire singalog version, although great at the live show, is light on the recording as the pure pop sound is substituted for enthusiastic audience noise. This is how Prince wants it, and one can’t fault him for delivering to his audience exactly what they want.

The smooth pop returns for “Cream.” Its a strong sounding rendition, the band adding an inner steel to it’s buttery sound, crafting the song into life with every aspect aspect strengthened by the performance and this iteration of the NPG’s take on it. All play with a strength, so much so that Shelby J is matched by the rest of the bold players on stage.

The keyboards propel “Cool” constantly forward, but it is the lyrics that keep us in the moment as Shelby temporarily distracts with “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” before Prince claims the spot light with his own “Cool.” It is impossible to stay seated for a song such as this, and even on the bootleg you can feel the groove reaching out through the speakers for you, lifting you from your seat and forcing you to move to the rhythm of Prince’s boasts.

The introduction to “Purple Rain” creeps slowly across the recording, the opening strains barely perceivable, before building gently into an audience singalong. The recording becomes drenched in this purple sound and Prince’s performance connects both he and the audience directly back to the his 1980’s peak. The song is played with due respect, nothing is tampered with and every piece is still sitting in place as in 1984, barely diminished by time and place. Prince has barely aged in the years since, and his guitar solo even less so as it rises out of the heart of “Purple Rain,” as the same hurricane force that it it always has been. It may not be as loud on this audience recording, but it plays with the same demand that you listen that it always has, and remains the linchpin of Prince’s greatest hits package.

With Prince absent for stage, it falls to Shelby J to carry the following cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” Since it’s release in 1997 it has been covered by numerous artists, including Billy Joel,  Adele, Kelly Clarkson, and Garth Brookes. Shelby J’s cover could look anyone of them in the eye as she elevates the lyrics on the the wings of her soulful voice, and even though Prince is no longer on stage, I remain riveted to the recording by this searing performance.

All that is forgotten though as Prince returns for “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” it’s bare funk revealed in these performances later in his career. The bass slips and slides behind the beat and swirling keyboard that adds the smoke to an otherwise icy sound. The audience input is a little too much for me, distracting from the purity of the music, but with Casandra on the keyboards there is plenty to revel in from the onstage performance.

The party starts with a greasy version of “Kiss,” the scratch guitar usurped by a rubbery keyboard and elastic bassline.  It plays on shaky ground, there is nothing firm to clutch onto as the song shifts and shakes throughout, the only dependable feature being Prince’s clever lyrics that remain at the heart of the song.

The pacing of the concert is uneven, and “Musicology” feels shoehorned into this part of the show. As much as I enjoyed Shelby’s earlier performance of “Make You Feel My Love” it did temporarily derail the show, and although we hear the audience singing along to “Musicology” it does have the same effect on the show after the crowd pleasing “Kiss” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” As a showcase for the band it works well enough, but on this particular bootleg I can’t warm to it, instead I much prefer the versions heard on the Musicology tour.

Over half of “The Bird” is given over to the introduction, and as much as I like the rest of the song, it fails to live up to all the promises made in those first two minutes. There is a renewed energy at this point of the show, and a quick check of the setlist reveals that from here on in the songs will come faster than ever as Prince rips through his back catalog, strip mining it of hits.

More bass for “Jungle Love” would have been nice, and as hard as I strain to listen, I can’t decide if it’s the live mix, or the audience recording that is depriving me of it’s chest thumping bass groove. Thoughts of the bass disappear as Prince tears up the guitar break, leaving the breakdown a scorched earth chance to regain some composure before the segue into “Play That Funky Music”

The funk of “Play That Funky Music” can’t compare to the previous two songs, and as much as Prince injects into the song it is no match for his own Minneapolis funk.  However, the crowd are all onboard for the moment, and perhaps at this point the bootleg isn’t as good as the live show, especially as Prince again ups it a notch with further guitar heroics that elevate the song to a previously unheard intensity.

I hadn’t expected to hear “Sometimes It Snows In April” at this stage of the show, and it does sound a little lost in this larger concert. The introduction is so light it almost disappears into the audience chatter, and its not until Prince’s vocals that song truly reveals itself. The chatter remains strong, and the intimacy of the song is lost as it floats easy over the heads of the audience. Even as the audience joins softly for the chorus, there remains the feeling that Prince has lost most of the crowd with a song that is just too delicate for a crowd this size.

From the same era, “Nothing Compares 2 U” goes over much better. With Shelby J adding her passionate vocals, the song has a power that connects much better with the audience, and with the recording. It certainly helps that the song has an Irish connection through Sinead O’Conner, and Prince and Shelby deliver up a stirring version that pays homage to Sinead and this Irish audience. This is one of the best recorded songs of the bootleg, and a strong way to enter the final phase of the concert.

“Sign O The Times” is a fine start to the sampler set, its bare-boned funk matching the empty electronic sound of Prince at the sampler. It is the longest of the songs appearing in the sampler set, the following “Alphabet St,” barely a head nod to the original, and it’s minute run time is mostly given over to the excellent Ida Neilson on bass.

There is the briefest of teases for “Nasty Girl,” before “Doves Cry” teases in its initial appearance before Prince drags a longer rendition  further into the setlist. Stripping the song of most of its treasures, it gets a verse and chorus here before Prince switches gears with “Hot Thing,” – another song shorn of most of charms be this heavily abridged version. The bouncing bass is worthy, but there is little else to recommend it.

The concert returns to it’s roots with a lively rendition of “A Love Bizarre.” Andy’s contribution is again lost in the noise of the band, but the song has always firmly remained Prince’s and this performance is true to form with his vocals bold and to the front. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect for me is the quirky keyboard solo that can barely be heard in the din. It adds a new sound to the mix and would have changed the song on a better recording.

I wait with anticipation to see if “Controversy” will be the standard 2011 take, with  “Housquake” and it’s “jump up and down” refrain making an appearance. Sure enough it does revert to this, and Shelby imploring us to clap our hands and stomp our feet, always great in concert and always terrible on bootlegs. Still, the first minutes of “Controversy” are excellent, and good enough for me to put up with the later part of the song.

We stay in the era with a great version of “Let’s Work” that has the rubbery bassline matched by Prince’s classic falsetto. There is plenty of shake in the keyboard lines as the song works the dance floor to it’s own groove, the concert again becoming a purely musical moment as the music becomes paramount.

The final song of the show is a basic take on “U Got The Look.” Sadly it becomes lost in the moment and the frenzy of the crowd, the song disappearing in it’s own sound and the pure thrill of the concert. Prince’s guitar break is always worth mentioning, but this performance isn’t essential, the thought of the song closing the concert is far more thrilling than what is heard on the bootleg.

The concert tours of 2011 often serve up this uneven mix of songs and sounds, and although the hits are played it all their glory it can be an unsatisfying experience. It was the song “Gold” that brought me here, and the performance didn’t live up to expectations. It was weak sounding, and pale in comparison to it’s mid-90’s glory. However the rest of the concert was enjoyable enough, and although unevenly paced provided plenty of fun. As a representation of a 2011 show, this is par for the course. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea all the time, but it does deliver as expected and on the right day can be a great experience. 2011 is a placeholder in Princes live canon, and this bootleg reflects that. It’s good enouigh, but never reachs the thrilling highs of other concert tours in circulation.

Thanks as always,
Hamish

 

1999 Tour Finale

After dancing through several 1999 concerts earlier in the year, today I have bitten the bullet and am heading straight for the good stuff -the tour finale in Chicago which well and truly lives up to it’s billing. The 1999 shows are generally short, punchy affairs that distill the sprawling genius of the 1999 album into a more palatable one hour set. This concert isn’t much longer than that, but it does give us more than we would normally expect, including a couple of crowd pleasing treats. With the 1999 tour coming to a close, Prince has paved the way and built an expectation for his next project, the world conquering Purple Rain.This concert in many ways is a farewell to Prince and his formative years, everything that follows will be scrutinized under the hash spotlight of publicity and fame, and the youthfulness we hear on the recording replaced with a self awareness that steals this last vestige of innocence.

 10th April 1983, UIC Pavilion, Chicago

The opening spoken introduction quickly reveals the quality of the recording – an audience recording that, although contains all we might want on the musical front, also includes a large portion of crowd noise. As far as audience recordings go, it’s not too bad, but as always leaves me wishing for something just a little cleaner.

Loud and upfront, “Controversy” storms to the front of the stage, the music so muscular and powerful that it practically drags the band in it’s wake. The noise and loudness  is all in its favor and Prince and the band remain pressed against the wall in the background while the song itself stomps the concert into life. The previous sheen of the 1999 concerts gives way to a real rawness that harks back to the Controversy tour and it’s almost punk rock energy. Prince may be riding the pop wave to the top with his current chart successes, but this performance roots him back to his unfiltered punk/funk sound that had propelled him thus far. The quality of the recording is temporarily forgotten as Prince and his band stir up a storm of sound that washes over the audience.

I would normally expect “Let’s Work” to bring some sense of decorum to the concert, and bring the dance floor back to the fore. However, with the levels pushed high it continues to ride on the coattails of the previous punky explosion, the groove is present, but so too is a vocal delivery that is unconnected to any measured delivery, instead coming as Prince sees fit with shrieks of delight as the words themselves are lost to the sound of the recording, leaving just the intent of the singer and the band impressed upon the bootleg.

I can finally catch my breath as the tempo slows for “Do Me, Baby,” although it is only a temporary reprieve as Prince’s delivery leaves me breathless with wonder and delight. And it’s not just me, the audience reaction matching my feelings at home as they trace the song with their own outline of screams and squeals. The intricacies of the vocals are lost in the smear of the recording, but the intent is clear from the sultry and all enveloping music. As I listen, cocooned in the sound of the band, Prince continues his seductive patter that remains undecipherable to me. Whatever he is spinning seems to have the desired effect, and the final cheer of the crowd suggests that this battle has well and truly been won. If only we could bottle such sexual energy.

The first 1999 song to make an appearance is Prince’s shorthand manifesto – “D.M.S.R.”  For the first time Prince’s vocals emerge from the sonic mist, the sharpness of the beat leaving room for him to emote the song’s central theme. Unfortunately not all the instruments are served so well by the recording, the bass is murky at best and the guitar is almost non-existent, leaving Prince and the sythns to carry most of the funk and the groove. The cold, clinical sound of the 1999 album laid down a strong template for many of these songs, and this particular night the live settling isn’t the best match for “D.M.S.R.”

I am enraptured by Lisa’s solo, as it brings a cleaner sound to the concert, and reveals new sounds and influences swirling around Prince at the time. As it ebbs and flows, waves and washes, it cleanses the palate for the next treat that Prince will bestow upon us.

The instrumental “With You’ sets the tone for the piano set, and although it is desperately short, some would say criminally so, it does whet the appetite for what will surely follow. What does follow is a sublime rendition of “Free.” It may not be to everyone taste with it’s somewhat naive lyrics, but there is no doubting the message of the song, and at barely a minute Prince pulls the rug from under it before its shaky premise is revealed.

Keeping things moving is the name of the game, and with that in mind Prince presents and equally quickfire “Something In The Water You Drink (Does Not Compute)” There is no time to scratch beneath the surface and reveal the true depths of the song, Prince’s lyrically delivery is perfunctory at best and only hints at the true emotion of the song. I do enjoy it for it’s appearance, but there is far deeper(and darker) renditions circulating that I would prefer to listen to.

“Still Waiting” brings a lengthy performance from Prince, the song dripping off the tip of his tongue as the piano lilts beneath his fingers. The song has a motion to it, the music non linear, instead swaying easily under Prince’s command. One could easily fall between the cracks of the uneasy structure, yet it remains an easy ride, the song sliding to the most natural of finishes that it seems not to emanate from Prince himself, but rather it rising up from the piano and into the universe.

Familiarity breeds contempt, and “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” can’t overcome the staleness of my ears.  There is no doubting that Prince is fully invested in this performance, one can hear it in his screams and the subsequent audience reactions, but I can’t escape the feeling that I have heard it all before. Time catches up with us all, and this is one song that I know just too well from years of listening, stealing the freshness and youthful yearning I used to know so well.

There is a jolt with the arrival of “Lady Cab Driver” and the concert is jump started into life again. As with so many of these songs, the clean groove is lost in the excitement and noise of the show, very little of the song stands proud above this fog of noise. I have high hopes for the guitar as the song nears it’s end, and this certainly delivers as it’s wailing sound cuts though the din, finally giving a focus to the uncertainty of the rest of the song.

The emotive swells that wash “Little Red Corvette” ashore are undone by the persistent crowd sound and a drum machine beat that seems intent on dominating proceedings. The song settles on neither pop, nor raw emotion, and considering it is the current hit of the time is perhaps the most disappointing part of the show. It’s hard to accurately gauge if this is due to the quality of the recording, or the performance itself, it’s certainly hard to imagine that Prince hadn’t polished this song to the brightest point by this stage of the tour, and overall I feel that it is the recording that is letting him down.

There is another great rush of energy as “Dirty Mind” arrives unannounced and slightly unhinged. At almost seven minutes this is one of the pillars of the concert as Prince buries my previous disappointments in a youthful avalanche of pure lust and longing, something the teenage me could easily identify with, and even now I can feel that teenager inside me emerge as Prince calls him forth with his impulsive and furious sound. The raw boned guitar break midsong says far more than words ever could, and all that Prince needs to say is in that electric howl and scream released from the strings.

The most disappointing aspect of “Sexuality” is that it is short. After hearing some excellent full blooded renditions, what we have here is a quick facsimile that is as unsatisfying as it is disappointing. It is a song that lacks a heart, or a clear direction, and the full version we are accustomed to is neutered in its brevity.

I am pleased to hear “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” in its entirety, the unevenness of the previous few songs forgotten as Prince sights the finish line of the concert and delivers a triumvirate of triumphant songs.  “Let’s Pretend We’re Married’ obits around the synth hook, never quite striking out on it’s own as Prince keeps it moving to his own whim. The synths stretches and pulls, but it never breaks and the song continues in its own galaxy of sound and colors. The song climaxes naturally with the crowd chanting for Prince and the final encores.

Prince responds with a climax of his own as he swoops and dips into his seductive side for a dripping rendition of “International Lover” The vocals may be syrupy, but the music does just enough to keep the concert moving forward, even if Prince lulls and lingers over some of his lyrics. The finale is almost silly in it’s audaciousness, but Prince delivers it with such earnestly that one can’t help but buy into whatever he is selling. Even as I grown man I can’t help but feel a weakness and he pleads and rolls his way through his final lines with all the maturity of a drunken teen. Silly, but completely essential.

The 1999 album, the 1999 tour, and finally this, the “1999” song. As a finale to the concert, and indeed the tour, it can’t be faulted. The song serves as a rallying call to all those who have embraced Prince, and those about to take the next step with him to a world with a purple hue. The mood is celebratory, and although the sound isn’t as good as I hoped, the song stands strong at the centre of the recording, Princes vocals and the all too familiar sythn refrain pulling us through a purple black hole and directly into the heart of Prince’s world. I can’t think of a better way to end the tour, and although the show has at times been uneven, Prince is right here ending it on a high.

This is not a bad way to finish the 1999 tour. There are better recordings of the tour circulating, but none of them to lay claim to being the finale such as this one, and as one of the longest this recording again stands apart from most of the crowd. I could bemoan the quality of the recording, but for me the performance remains paramount, and Prince and the Revolution are firing on all cylinders as they close out the tour. An interesting boot, this is one that shouldn’t be overlooked when considering the 1999 tour, and although I have enjoyed other concerts of the era more, I still find this one a worthy listen.

Thanks again
-Hamish

 

1980 – Carolina Coliseum

I want to go back to the beginning. I have previously taken an indepth listen to two of the three shows from the Rick James Tour (the Omni recording, and the Lakeland recording) , and this week I will complete the currently circulating shows from this tour with a concert just eight days after the Lakeland concert, and a mere twelve days from the earliest Prince concert in circulation – The Omni concert from March 6th, 1980.
Although these three bootlegs all fall in quick succession, each has its own personality and feel, making each one a unique listening experience. Today’s bootleg is the shortest of the three, (eight minutes shorter than the Omni boootleg, and fourteen minutes shorter than the Lakeland recording). I have done some research in regards to this, and the concert recording appears to be complete, it just happens to be a shorter show than normal with a couple of songs dropped from the setlist. So with that in mind, I am fully prepared for a short sharp shot to the system as I crank this recording up in the early Sunday morning here.

16th March, 1980. Carolina Coliseum, Colombia

The band opens with “Boogie Intro” and only eight days after the Lakeland concert it is sounding a lot more raw and dirtied up, the guitars growling with a barely restrained aggression, while the synth does little to defuse this general feeling, it’s squiggles and noodles barely light decoration across the far more solid and unrelenting guitar drive. There is a sense of showmanship with some of the guitar work, but the main riff is all muscle, tough and sinewy.

Although “Soft And Wet” doesn’t grab me in the same way that the opening “Boogie Intro” did, it is nevertheless warm and inviting, with the music sounding playful against Prince’s lyrics. It does threaten to become a purely pop vehicle for Prince to ride, but a midsong guitar break gives it a jolt of energy that elevates it beyond pop pulp.

The guitar sound that has threatened to rise up in these first two songs is finally unleashed for “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” and immediately conquers all in its path with a sound that at first supports and elevates the song, before later running off on it’s own and making the latter half a pure guitar onslaught. I like it both ways, but in the end it is the latter stages of the song that remain most memorable for me, as the guitar becomes the musical manifestation of all Prince has been singing about, and his inner hurt and anger is released in the shriek and howl of the guitar, before Prince ends it by returning to the simple groove and the heart of the song.

The recording is warm for “Still Waiting” and Prince and the band linger on the opening, giving us a slow descent into the emotional body of the song. From the descent, the next five minutes we slowly rise again, until we hit a high point when the band, Prince, and the underlying emotion, all boil over, before Prince brings it back to a gentle simmer for the remainder of the song  It’s a seductive piece, it seduces me almost unknowingly, it wasn’t until much later in the song that I realized how closely I was listening and how invested I was in the music. This is a surprise package, and one that carries this centre point of the show before the final two songs take us out on a high.

The band introductions are lowkey, and very respectful, as Prince takes the time name check each bandmember. The music returns to the fore with an extended work out of “Sexy Dancer.” It doesn’t have any fizz to it, instead it stays an easy groove, albeit one with its own natural way as it swells and rises as if it was breathing. Of note is the keyboard solo that sounds like a classic 1970’s cocaine fuelled jam that was heard on so many albums of the late 70’s,  updated and modernized for Prince’s more musically propelled sound as he brings the disco feel into a 1980’s context. Of course, the song is furnished with a guitar solo, this one sitting lower in the mix, only breaking cover as it builds into a flurry of notes.

I said earlier that I thought this was a complete recording, but there is a fade at the end of “Sexy Dancer” that suggests otherwise. There may be more to this show, but it is hard to make a definite statement one way or the other. Prince’s set finishes with his major song of the time – “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” Although poppy, it doesn’t snap or crackle in the way I expect, and initially it doesn’t interest me. However it runs for ten minutes, and the second half of the song is given over entirely to a groove aimed at making the crowd move, while some guitar work arrives pitched squarely at creating an interstellar sound, a sound that I am mesmerized by, an audacious move for a pop song, and especially one that is playing to a pop audience. Prince is certainly creating a splash, and as an ending for the bootleg it is perfect as I immediately want to hear the next step in this evolution. Like a good book, Prince’s music keeps me wanting to read the next chapter.

Short, yet highly enjoyable. Of course, I whole heartily recommend this bootleg to anyone who follows the early part of Prince career and his trajectory to the top. An impressive soundboard recording, this is one bootleg that I am sure will only grow in stature with time. It has been circulating for a while now, and I am sure that those who follow the bootleg world are well aware of where to hear this. As always, it comes highly recommended by me.

Thanks again,
Hamish

 

Detroit 2015

It’s been quite a journey over the past couple of months as we trawl through the bootlegs originating from Prince’s Detroit shows, but today we reach the end of that journey with his Fox Theatre concert of 2015. There is some sadness to this post, in the last few weeks we have covered the full gamut of Prince’s career, the highs, the lows, and all the inbetweens, but today’s concert is his last from Detroit, and sadly just a year before his passing. Prince may be gone, but what remains is testament to his unwavering dedication to live music, and ever expanding musical horizons, both for himself and his audience. I will treat today’s listening experience as a celebration of Prince’s life, and the hours of pleasure I have gained from his music.

9th April 2018, Fox Theatre, Detroit

Hello 3rdeyegirl, it’s been too long. This blog started when 3rdeyegirl were at their peak, and as much as I always enjoyed the shows at the time, I have been rare to revisit them since. It is with fresh ears that I listen to the introduction music “Million $ Show,” here sounding far more like a manifesto for the next two hours than I had previously realized. The lyric ” Welcome to the million $ show, this is something that you never seen before, welcome to the million $ show, this the kind music make you lose control” jumps out me as a statement of intent. I was thinking as I started this, it had been a while since Prince had last played Detroit, and this is confirmed by his statement that it had been eleven years. “Let’s Go Crazy,” begins the onslaught of music, the rhythm section heavy and lumbering, yet the guitar packed with a crunch and thrilling excitement that this is something new for Prince. The solo feels embedded deep in the bedrock of the song, this is no solo that disappears off into oblivion, instead it remains a servant of the heavy riff, pushing at the edges of the music without breaking through the constraints of the sound.  It comes as a heavy blow, a strong body shot that hits you in the gut rather than snapping your head back.

From the same era, “Take Me With U,” excites both in it’s familiar uplifting refrain, and in the way the band lifts it far beyond the heavy grind of the previous song. It is at this point that I remember that it is a soundboard recording, thus every nuance and inflection Prince adorns the song with can be heard. In particular the vocals of Liv Warfield brings a further lightness that was no where to be seen in the opening minutes.  It’s not a particularly important part of the concert, but it does play to the more nostalgic of those in the audience.

There springs forth a new sound in “Raspberry Beret,” an almost child like sounding keyboard that at moments sounds like a kids toy. This only heightens the feeling of youthfulness in the music, and although I find myself distracted by it, it is an essential part of the mood and spirit that Prince is evoking onstage.

A guitar playing a funk riff underpins “U Got The Look,” and although I spent a long time listening to it, I can’t quite pinpoint where I have heard it before. It matters little, but it does add some slip and glide to the song, even as Prince does his best to weigh it down with his guitar work. The song has it’s own energy, it lifts off without Prince’s help, and his guitar merely colors it rather than controls it. In a longer rendition Prince may have had more time to readdress this balance, but I like it for what it is, a refreshed and revamped version of a song that had become stale.

It is 10 years on since the Musicology tour, and the song itself takes on a different feel with this pared down band. With the NPG horns supplementing 3rdeyegirl it does have the full sound of the 2004 tour, yet at the same time it feels sharper, less flabby, and far more precise than previously. It is no longer an extended showcase for real music played by real musicians, rather it touches on the feeling of an aftershow as Saeeda Wright takes the band through “Mama Feelgood,” before a quick sax solo again gives it an aftershow feel.

The sampler set falls early in the overall setlist, it feels rushed to me, as if Prince wants to display all his gifts as early as possible. I have no problem with the music however, “When Doves Cry,” coming as a plaintive cry in the dark, a cry that is picked up by the crowd, bringing the song full circle as they take it from it’s barren and lonely sound to a communal experience for the singalong chorus. This is further heighten with the briefest of call and response that ends the song, both Prince and the audience reliving a younger version of themselves.

Contrasts and tensions build “Sign O The Times,” into something that threatens and comforts in equal measure. There is vitriol in the underlying guitar work, but Prince’s vocals have a warmth and looseness to them, he even ad-libs a line about “This ain’t September, it’s June.” This casualness does nothing to undermine the seriousness of the songs, and despite the lighter touches it remains as a dark warning from the front page of the newspapers.

With it’s alien synth sound, “Hot Thing” beams in with its intergalactic funk leading us willingly back to the dance floor. Lyrically it is no match for the preceding “Sign O The Times,” but it wears it’s own funk credentials with pride, and the next few minutes leave us marinating in the funk of 1987.

“Nasty Girl” is barely worth mentioning, 2015 Prince was never going to pull those lyrics out, despite is willingness to indulge us with an instrumental that barely makes it to the minute mark. He is far more indulgent when it come to “Housequake.” It is not as demanding as we heard in the 1980’s, it asks no questions that we don’t have the answer to, but it is a sweet indulgence. I miss the days of Eric Leeds as the horns come to the party, but in compensation we have the most delicate of guitar solo’s from Donna that tip-toes across the end of the song, lifting it gently from the heavy funk and briefly showing us the stars before she lowers it back to the rhythm section.

There is flatness to “I Would Die 4 U,” a lack of energy, that surprises me. This is one song that finds a way to sparkle even in the most dreary of circumstances, but here it remains firmly 2-dimensional and stuck to the page. Perhaps Prince senses this, and after a minute he quickly calls for the segue into “Cool.” It is the horns that both lead the music, and drive it forward, their rich sound not just supplementing the sythn, but in places supplanting it. Normal service resumes as the vocal trio of Liv, Saeeda, and Ashley pick up the song and bend it to their style. There is never any doubt though, this is Prince’s song, and as he throws down his boastful lyrics there is no mistaking this is a song that he may well have written about himself.

The funk that lies in Prince’s guitar stings is revealed in the opening of “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” as he gives a brief masterclass in the sound of the funk guitar. The rest of the song doesn’t live up to this opening promise, the band is too smooth, too polished, to really stink up the funk sound, but they are more than capable of keeping up with Prince and his musical whims. As he leads them down a rabbit hole of funk, they gladly follow him, disappearing into the swirl of “Play That Funky Music” Any thoughts of the band vanish as Prince’s guitar stands proud at the heart of the song, a raised fist in the face of the previously sedate sound. It brings danger to the moment, there is no sign of a riot, but it does suggests an undertone of aggression that I wouldn’t normally associate with the song.

“Controversy” isn’t just revamped, it is completely overhauled to reveal the massive groove engine that lies beneath it’s sleek exterior.  Through the first few gears it remains as expected, but by the time the horns arrive we are into overdrive and the horns punch it forward with an exhilarating rush of acceleration and sense of purpose. 30 years on, and “Controversy” still delivers.

Prince stays in the past with a plodding version of “1999.” I applaud it for being a full version, and an arrangement that remains loyal to the album, but it fails to spark anything inside of me, and indeed sounds rather lifeless itself. I wait hopefully for something, anything, to happen, but it remains willfully low key and flat.

We are reconnected for “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore,” as Prince pulls me close with his lyrics and piano playing, piano that sounds just as emotionally invested, and playful, as his vocal delivery. It is more delicate than heard on other tours, there are tours where he bangs it out with a great swing, pivoting on the rhythm in his hands, but in this case it remains a delicate operation, Prince delicately picking the notes purposefully and  letting them carry the weight of the song. An old favorite, this rendition reminds me why I keep going back to the older material.

“Little Red Corvette” has a smooth pop sheen that seems more in tune with modern radio, and one could easily see this arrangement appearing on modern playlists. It is a mature rendition, befitting a man in his fifties, and the raw emotional edge that the original had is burnished to a fine, almost too delicate, point. It is the final minutes where Prince has to really inject the emotion into the song, breaking it down to speak directly to the crowd before the emotive sing-a-long gives the song to the audience, their singing washing back and forth across the bootleg, bringing the concert right into the room.

The most striking thing about “Nothing Compares 2 U” is the opening keyboard which sounds as if it could well have been lifted from the Beatles during their late 60’s heyday. It pulls me out of the concert temporarily, and leaves me floating  with a whiff of nostalgia, heartbreak and loss. Prince builds on these feelings with his lyrics, especially as he injects himself right into the story with his line “Where did Prince go wrong” It is lacking the female counterpoint that has been previously present for all of Prince’s previous performances, but Prince carries the song himself, and there is a female influence with Cassandra O’Neal’s keyboard solo that spins the song further into psychedelic  landscapes.

“Kiss” is lightweight in comparison to these two songs, and as good as it it, there is no doubt in my mind that it suffers for it’s position in the setlist.

Contemporary might be the first word that springs to mind for “Clouds,” and after a string of Prince’s older tunes it is refreshing to be again thrust into the present. The concert may have firmly rocked for the first half hour, but we are far from that with “Clouds” and the concert feels a lot fresher for it.

A medley dominates the next ten minutes, and Prince lets Liz, Saeeda, and Ashley loose on a string of songs from the musical past, demonstrating his sense of place in the music continuum and a willingness to educate the audience.  He is open to sharing the spotlight with the other players on stage, and Liz, Saeeda, and Ashley all take their turn to keep this medley flowing. “Yes We Can Can,” “Thankful N’ Thoughtful,” “You’re The One,” and “Green Garden” all make an appearance, causing me to go back myself and search out the originals, thus stretching my own musical knowledge further than expected. “Green Garden” is the emphatic exclamation mark that finish this medley, Judith Hill stirring the music into a different flavor with her fully bodied vocal performance, a vocal perfection that would be called barn-burning, if not for the final blazing guitar break by Prince that burns the song to the ground, leaving us standing in the smoldering remains as the vocals return to cool the heat and close out the song.

3rdeyegirl emerges from the ashes for “She’s Always In My Hair.” The song plugs into something raw and real, and is one of the few genuine moments of the recording that stirs the heart. Donna’s guitar break opens the door on the heart of the song, and it is Prince who plummets to the core of emotion, his guitar solo fluttering ribbons of euphoria behind him as he plunges deeper into the raw nerved centre. His axe carves out great swathes of emotion, each too big to digest fully in one listening, his playing conveying the intensity of emotional landscapes he is walking through, thoughtfully plucking notes from the air late in the song as less and less becomes more and more.

There is a thoughtful opening to “Purple Rain” as Prince treads his way slowly into the song from “She’s Always In My Hair.” It is only a short opening, but long enough to let the dust settle from the previous song. “Purple Rain” makes its entrance with a familiarity that undoes some of the emotional depths I wish to draw from it, but nevertheless it retains enough of it’s former grandeur for me to lose myself in the next few minutes. The band stroll easily through the opening verses and chorus,and it is at the guitar solo where we are suddenly confronted by the reality of the song, it is merely a vehicle to carry the most epic of Prince guitar solos, everything building to this point where he releases all that the Purple Rain era and experiences  promised, here it is made real as his guitar builds a wall of wailing, howling, shuddering, emotion turned into music, and then it reaches the point where Prince is not longer channeling music, but instead channels everything else that music carries to us- joy, loss, sadness, heartbreak and hope, all of it wrapped up in a three minute solo that no matter how often I hear it still shakes me to the core.

From such epic heights, we are brought firmly into the here and now, and back inside the four walls, for a party starting version of “Act Of God.” Sure, the lyrics speak of some serious matters, but the music is instantly playful, and it’s hard not to feel my feet moving as I listen. With its infectious rhythm, it definitely gets things moving, and we have a delightful few minutes of keyboard work that gives way to Marcus and his horn, which for me is the real heart of the song and the highlight of the next few minutes.

This is swing and funk is maintained and the band effortlessly glide into “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” a song that belongs to the band for the next few minutes as they dust it off,  infuse it with some energy, and send it spinning out into the crowd. There is no drama at all, its all groove, music that one can’t help but smile with. The medley continues through  “Northside,” “Theme From Which Way Is Up,” “Partyman,” and “Dancing Machine.” Some squelching bass underpins all of it, and with the horns adding flurries of brass over top it becomes a storming performance, Liv and Shleby guiding us through this blizzard of a performance. There is the feeling that we are avalanching towards the end of the show, all tumbling and upside down, and downside up, as we rush through these songs, one last chance for the band to demonstrate their skills before we emerge from the other side and into the bright light of another sampler set.

With only the piano for accompaniment, Prince gives us a taste of “Diamonds And Pearls.” It is merely an entree to a piano set that will soon enough give way to the a sampler set. “The Beautiful Ones” pick up where “Diamonds and Pearls” left off, the piano flourishes thrilling it their briefness and suggestion of a colorful performance to suit, and it is a disappointment to hear “Darling Nikki” cut it short as it opens a second sampler set.

“Darling Nikki” teases the audience beyond comprehension, and “If I Was Your Girlfriend” has the same effect on me here at home. Neither go anywhere beyond an opening tease, and it is a reverb infused “Forever In My Life” that gets a much longer play. And by much longer, I mean a verse and chorus. It’s not much, but I’ll take it at this time.

These teases continue, “Alphabet St” giving no time to ripen, it is crimally cut short before it comes to fruition and the following “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” fares even worse, as Prince makes it clear it in his speaking, he is just staking out his territory as far as hits go.

“A Love Bizarre” signals that perhaps Prince will give a complete performance, but that too quickly morphs into “The X’s Face” and “U Know,” both so short that there is barely enough time to register them before Prince moves to the next song.

There is some hope for me with “Pop Life,” I enjoy the verse that Prince delivers, and at least I get to sing along at the chorus before he switches to bass for “777-9311.” I don’t enjoy the sampler aspect, but Prince’s bass makes it all worthwhile, bring a hardness to the sound, and grounding it firmly in the category of real music by real musicians. A better mix, with the bass turned right up, would have been heart stopping, but even as it is I am thrilled in it’s inclusion.

Although from another era, “The Love We Make,” feels like the right way, the only way, to end this gig. Prince’s lyrics strip back all the glamour and glitz, revealing another spiritual message that speaks to everyone, a message of hope, positivity, and a universal love that he sung about so often. The song stands alone at the end of this show, the band paying homage at it’s feet with a rendition that cuts to the core of the song and makes it resonate in a way that is seldom heard elsewhere at this show. Donna’s final guitar break reaches for the heavens, the sound of righteous joy and a spiritual fulfillment found through the pureness of the music itself. Its a quiet ending to a concert that started with a whirlwind of rock n roll, but it leaves me with a feeling of satisfaction and a well rounded experience.

This show is a balancing act between the rock of 3rdeyegirl, and the funk of the the NPG horns. Prince treads a fineline, and with a soundboard bootleg to match the concert, it is more apparent than ever just how good he was at taking desperate styles and blending them together in a concert that retains balance.Some of the sampler moments were overworked, but this is tempered by the emotional highs that are achieved on several songs, and to be fair, if the concert was all emotional highs I would be exhausted by the end of it. One of the most well-known of Prince’s bootlegs in the last five years, one can appreciate why this is held in high regard. It never threatens his 1980’s work, but it does play with a maturity that as an adult I can clutch onto in turbulent times. Like warm comfort food, this bootleg always makes me feel good, and I guess there can be no better recommendation than that.

Thanks for reading,
Be good to one another,
-Hamish

 

Detroit 2004

Detroit – yes. Pro-shot – yes. Complete show – unfortunately not. But the forty minutes of circulating footage of Detroit in 2004 contains the essence of the concert as it cherry picks the songs that create the biggest splash. Even at forty minutes, it is still essential viewing as Prince and his band play to some of Prince’s greatest strengths with a party song, a ballad, some scorching guitar work, and then at the heart of the show, Prince at his purest with just him and his songs as he highlights that more than anything else he was one of the greatest song writers. It’s a heady mix, and I look forward to watching this again just as much as any live show I have listened to in the last year.

July 31st 2004,  The Palace of Auburn Hills,  Auburn Hills, Michigan

The concert is about history, both Prince’s history and the history of music itself (and subsequently his place in that history). This is made clear from the first minute as Prince opens with “Musicology,” a song that not only name checks the musical past, but draws directly from it with its sound, and I might add with some of the personnel Prince has on-board, especially if we consider Maceo Parker and Greg Boyer in the band. There is a further nod to Prince’s own past with his suit, a subtle acknowledgement of his purple era. “Musicology” comes as a parade celebrating all of this, each band member a float that pays homage to the past, both musically and an underlying sense of Americana. Prince leads this parade, feeling the music as much as he is singing it, his body flowing with the rhythm, a performance that touches all the senses. Next to go by is Greg Boyer, his horn bringing the sound of classic R n B to the fore, a distinctive Americana sound hard coded into his style. John Blackwell storms by, arms flailing, the percussion propelling the song forward to Rhonda, who along with Mike Scott brings the funk back, blanketing the song with a familiar funk and roll, before we rock back into the finish with the song itself as it draws a straight line back through the last sixty years of American music.

Prince puts all his cards on the table from the start for “Shhh,” face up, all aces. The rest of the band can’t match him, and the rolling drums of John Blackwell see’s the chips and cards go flying as the battle for the soul of the song commences. It is short lived, Prince’s opening guitar note aching through the air, a knife like flash, before he plunges it deep into the heart of the song, skewering the song to an emotional core that had only previously been hinted at in the opening verses. No matter how you come by this, old fan looking back, new fan discovering, a rocker here for the axe, or a player for the seduction, the guitar break remains the impenetrable, immovable, cold steel that is the very essence of the mood Prince seeks to create. Even as Prince smothers the song in in a vocal delivery that matches the blue lighting, it is this guitar that demands you take notice as it ventures into sonic territory that no words could ever hope to penetrate. The final death rattle that unfurls from Prince’s fingers underlines all that has come before and is the only possible ending to such a song.

“D.M.S.R” is a wild ride, even by Prince standards, and is as funky as the previous “Shhh” was deep. Prince uncages the inner beast that lay dormant on the album recording, and here it is unleashed in all it’s glory. On record “D.M.S.R’ is as smooth as the fur of a lap dog, here it is a wild beast in the way it fiercely grabs the listener, forcing them to move in one way or another least they be eaten alive by the groove that obliterates all in its path.The song briefly becomes circus like with Prince’s clowning and diversion into Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love,” before Prince flips it into a celebration of his band, a celebration that one must stand for as Maceo and the band play not just to the heart, but to the feet. It is the final minute where Prince well and truly smashes through the artificial construct of the album cut as he drags the carcass of the song through the wall that separates audience and performer, bringing himself, band, and audience together to “dip down!”  in a moment that  embodies the live concert experience where audience and performer become one in the celebration of music. If there was ever a moment where a bootleg captures the live experience, this is it as it comes barreling out of the speakers and into the room.

The bootleg cuts to later in the show and Prince’s acoustic set, with another song that harks back to his eighties heyday, yet given new life in this acoustic setting. “17 Days” still has it’s interminably downbeat feel, even as the acoustic guitar brings a light drizzle to the song rather than the sweeping sound of the bass that normally flows under the lyrics. It’s all too brief, but yet another nod to the older fans in the audience, and those that lived through, and experienced, the Purple Rain era. The fact that we can hear these people singing along suggests that a lot of this Detroit crowd have stayed with him in the intervening twenty years, and this is their moment to once again feel the hurt and confusion of the teenage years as Prince leads them through his purple melancholia.

We go even further back for “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute).” the angst is replaced by the rhythm of the guitar, and if I could have a choice, I would choose the angst any day. The guitar is crisp, but it leaves the song far behind as it corkscrews off in a new direction.

There is a lack of venom in “Prince and The Band,” the music oddly at odds to the vocal delivery. The real poison is carried in the lyrics Prince is singing, one of the most honest songs Prince has ever composed, each word carrying his struggle of the previous ten years against record labels. I like the idea of the song far more than the performance, I find myself enjoying the lyrics and ignoring the music as Prince ensures the crowd are by his side in his ongoing crusade against the record companies. Overall though, the song remains flaccid, a word I never thought I would use for the highly sexualized Prince.

There is no surprise at all to see that this bootleg ends with the obligatory performance of “Purple Rain.” There is nothing driving the song, it moves with it’s own weight and momentum, Prince is merely a spectator for most of it as the music channels effortlessly through him. It sounds tired, the most important parts of the show have already been heard, and felt, and this is merely here because it is expected. Prince doesn’t even trust himself for the final guitar break, as he is assisted by an intrusive horn section that brings a Las Vegas sound to what should be the most earthy and powerful of Prince’s songs. The early songs in the set carried the weigh and sheer force of Prince’s abilities, and emotional impact, a sense of the here and now, that just isn’t present for “Purple Rain.” It should be one of the most important songs of the set, the song that opened all the doors for Prince, but instead it plays as a pretty bookend, not even matching the power and message of the opening “Musicology.”

A short bootleg, to be sure, but a very good one. Don’t be put off by my final thoughts on “Purple Rain,” the overall performance is again as smooth as anything else Prince has done, and it all looks superb in it’s professional shot glory. These are the key songs of the performance, although I must admit without the full show some of Prince’s message (real music by real musicians) is lost, as is his homage to the past as he seeks to cement his place as an icon. Widely circulating, and well known, it is no surprise to see how popular this particular bootleg is, as it is a nice companion piece to the full Los Angeles show from earlier in the tour that is currently available. If you haven’t seen this for a while it’s well worth a second look, but be warned, it may well lead to listening to a lot more from the Musicology tour.

Thanks again
Hamish

 

Detroit 2002

This week, worlds collide as my love for the ONA tour crashes headlong into the always dynamic and vibrant Detroit audience. Detroit has been a fervent supporter of all the Prince concerts to this point, and this continues today with the more challenging Rainbow Children material and ONA show. The new songs and presentation phase the audience not one bit, and from the first note to the last they provide a knowledgeable and supportive base for Prince to play to. It is also worth noting that today’s audience recording is considerably better than anything else we have heard of late, so expect today’s post to concentrate a lot less on sound quality and a lot more on performance quality.

6th March 2002, Detroit Opera House, Detroit

One might expect a somewhat muted reaction to “The Rainbow Children,” but the Detroit crowd let the love flow from the first minute with their passionate embrace of Prince’s new direction. The lyrics may cause some diversion among the Prince fan community, but one can’t deny that it sounds oh so good, especially the flinty guitar licks that Prince provides, given a sharp counterpoint to the otherwise downbeat groove.  When people speak of Prince’s greatest bands this one is often left out of the conversation, but listening here it seems desperately unfair as they stretch and flow in every direction Prince needs them, creating a sound that perhaps non of his other bands could reach.

The slide and croon of “Muse 2 The Pharaoh” has me enraptured, and with the audience providing a soft percussion of hand claps it has a natural and organic sway. This smoky atmosphere Prince creates is blown away by the stern and sententious second portion of the song, and it is only the cool breeze of Renato’s piano that reminds us of the sweeter opening of the song.

“Xenophobia” picks right up where “Muse 2 The Pharaoh” left off, as Prince continues his musical sermon. His comment about “coming to get your Purple Rain on” is greeted with a cheer, but not as loud as the cheer when he says “you’ve come to the wrong place,” a reminder of just how close this Detroit crowd was to Prince, and how they had a deeper understanding of what he was trying to achieve. The horn of Maceo Parker, along with Greg Boyers trombone, subvert this message as they swamp the recording with their full sound, and John Blackwell’s final solo is a timely reminder of just how much he contributed to Prince’s sound, and how much we still miss him. Prince pointing out Morris Day in the house surprises me, it’s not something I remember hearing before, and although it’s only a few seconds it makes for a cool moment on the bootleg. The final few minutes is where the song spins off in a new direction, and with a furious Maceo blowing up a storm, with Prince matching him on the guitar, it is a dramatic rush to the finish.

The fragile beauty of “A Case Of U” is just as poignant here as when we first heard Prince’s cover of it back in 1983. The lyrics flow easy from him, as if they were his and his alone, and listening to the song now I can see how it is a good fit for both the concert Prince is constructing, and for this band as they bend it ever so slightly with their delicate jazz touch.  It is again the second part of the song where Prince wades deeper into unknown waters, the song by turns becoming darker, deeper and all the more ominous.

I don’t get as lost in the “Mellow” as Prince would like me to, it treads the same sonic territory as some of the earlier material at the show without reaching the same ethereal heights, while not touching me as much as the previous “A Case Of U.”  However, it’s not as demanding as anything else we have heard, and makes for an easy listen without forcing the listener into any corners.

The bootleg becomes far more like a regular concert with the appearance of ” 1+1+1 Is 3,” a song that has an insatiable groove and draws the best out of every player on stage. With the Detroit crowd providing the double time hand clap, Maceo again enters the fray with a cameo of a solo that raises the temperature of the performance. The rest of the song lives up to the opening jam, never once do the band lift their foot off the gas as they power the song through to the finish in a shower of horn blasts, buttery funk and laughter.

I aren’t overly enthused for “Love Rollercoaster,” but Prince’s final flurry of guitar work cleans any negativity and leaves me feeling like the exercise was worthwhile. A tiny triumph that cleanses my palate before the next course.

A soft and feathery “The Other Side Of The Pillow” lowers the energy levels in the building, but keeps the crowd engaged as they provide a gentle accompaniment to Prince’s pillow talk. The song itself is almost too soft, and compared to the earlier material of the evening it kills with a slow smother rather than a hammer blow. The later meanderings of the song bring the piano to the fore, before it washes up to a horn solo that nicely rounds out the moment.

The first song to really look back at Prince’s past is the spruced up “Strange Relationship,” brought back for the One Night Alone tour, refreshed and refurbished it carries its funk as well as it ever has. There are other far more impassioned versions on the tour, but the song itself remains undiminished here and it shines brightly in the middle of the set.

I do enjoy Maceo and “Pass The Peas” and it only suffers in that I have heard it far too often. I would have liked to hear Maceo contribute some other songs from his past, but  one can’t complain, as Prince himself says midsong “music for music lovers”

Prince stays with his musical history lesson as he steers the band into “Sing A Simple Song.” It’s a good fit for the band as they bring there smooth yet funky style to the party. And it is a party, one can hear the crowd enjoying the moment, and Prince has chosen his cover versions well. There are some dark clouds with the guitar bringing a a winter sound later in the song, before retreating and leaving us with the warm summers funk sound.

The next cover version in this run is The Delfonics “La,La, La Means Eye Love U.” Prince owns the song for the next few minutes with his croon holding centre stage, before the release of the “la, la, la” chorus.  It falls soft as rain, the song seemly falling from heaven. It may not be the first song that one would gravitate towards on the recording, and I am surprised by how much I find myself falling for its hidden charms.

Rhonda Smith provides a steady lead vocal performance for Eryka Badu’s “Didn’t Cha Know.”  There’s not a lot to it, the song dissolves as Prince gives some praise to Rhonda, and it is a moment that could have become something special had it gone for longer.

I looked forward to “When You Were Mine,” but when it comes there is too much high end, and some of the basic rock n roll feel that I associate with it is waterblastered away by the over the top keyboard. It is glassy and shiny, the bedrock guitar subverted by this keyboard shrill, and leaves me feeling that this could have been so much more.

There is a slow burn to “Avalanche” that appeals to me, and I listen enraptured as Prince smolders through the opening verse. The embers of the song continue to flicker and glow for the next few minutes as the piano smokes it’s way through the the final minutes.

“Family Name” is an important part of Prince’s One Night Alone concert. It returns us to one of his key themes of the album and tour, and although its unconventional with it’s opening, the following music keeps the concert on track as the band play behind Prince’s message heavy lyrics. Prince’s guitar picks up where his lyrics left off, a hint of spite, malice, and pure anger present as he applies the pressure with his solo. It is a uneven song as it challenges expectations, and Prince rewards the audience after with another jewel from his past in the form of “Take Me With U.” Obviously it can’t compare to his new material, but it once again turns the concert into a celebration rather than a lecture.

This spirit of celebration is maintained throughout “Raspberry Beret” as we return to a style more in tune with Prince’s previous tours. I sometimes tire of this song, but in this case it works well in a concert that hasn’t really had any pop moments, or hits, until now.  The energy levels jump up on the recording, and it’s just as well as Prince is about to unleash his full arsenal for the next song.

Prince and the band turn everything up to ten for the “Santana Medley” and with Renato Neto’s keyboard going blow for blow against Prince and his guitar it becomes titanic with the music swirling into an intense storm. There is no victor, and the real winner is the listener who gets to experience this maelstrom of musical fire and fury. It is ten minutes of carnage as Prince whips me into a fervor with his take on the Santana sound, and he carries the Detroit crowd with him with the same deep intensity and forthright guitar sound.

Again Prince builds on contrasts and adds another level of sophistication to the concert with his precisely placed piano set. The Detroit crowd is all screams and cries for “Adore,” and in fairness to them there isn’t a crowd in the world that wouldn’t react the same. It’s short, there are plenty of longer versions from this tour, but it doesn’t matter as for the couple of minutes as he plays Prince holds the audience in the palm of his hand. “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” comes from a similar place, and although I love the piano sound of it, Prince only gives us the opening line before he switches things up again.

“Free” works well with Prince’s theme of emancipation, and here it sounds glorious as the band rise up behind Prince with their uplifting sound. Again, its short, but I do like it for the time it appears.

The next three songs stay in this shortened manner – each barely a minute as Prince ticks off a few of the boxes for his hardcore fanbase. “Starfish And Coffee” has a whiff of teenage nostalgia, while “Under The Cherry Moon” speaks to the more serious music lovers. Both are well appreciated before “Nothing Compares To U” completes this diversion through the 1980’s. In later tours Prince would choose to have other singers accompany him, here it is just his lone voice and the Detroit crowd that create an intimate moment that one feels the recording doesn’t quite do justice to.

There is a spring in the step of Prince’s piano playing as he leads us up the musical garden path before the verse of “Girls And Boys” reveals it for what it really is. Just as good as anything heard on the piano and microphone tour, this is my personal highlight of the piano set, my only disappointment coming with it’s ending after five minutes. It has a groove that I could roll on for days, and I feel cheated as Prince brings it to an end long before I am ready.

“Venus De Milo” and “One Night Alone” are mere footnotes and it is “Sometimes It Snows In April” that returns us to a more conventional full song. It is a light version, there is no real emotion depth here, but it sounds pretty enough, and like all good art often what you experience is what you bring to it.

And that rings true for the following “I Love U, But I Don’t Trust U Anymore,” a song I feel far more connected to as I live through Prince’s heartbreaking lyrics. It is a perfectly pitched performance, Prince emoting just enough without giving over to the drama that is already inherent in the music he is playing.

If “I Love U But I Don’t Trust U Anymore” was Prince’s moment, then the following “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” belongs to the Detroit crowd, at least for the first portion of the song as they are word perfect with Prince. The arrival of the full band sees them slipping back, but they are still present to the end of the song, although they can’t match Prince’s final anguished squeal.

There is a bold guitar sound that sits at the heart of “Anna Stesia” and this colours the song throughout. Prince lets it cry out later in the song, and overall it is much stronger than what we know so well from Lovesexy, Prince’s vocals are full of power and punch, and the guitar drives the song into darker and unfamiliar corners. There is a final speech from Prince, you’d expect nothing less, but it is the final refrain that hits me. I have heard this song for 30 years now, but that chant of “Love is God, Love is God,” still touches me in ways I can never get used to. Prince brings it back round to his current beliefs as the crowd join him for his “rise up” Rainbow Children chants, before the band bring the curtain down with several minutes of jazz infused groove. A fitting end for this band as they play to their strengths, and a lovely way to end the show.

Of the Detroit bootlegs, this is one of the better ones. After a string of great concerts and poor recordings, we finally have one where the concert has a suitable recording to match. The concert offers the usual smorgasbord of music we have come to associate with the ONA tour, and it’s captured for prosperity with a worthy audience recording. ONA tour is well documented in the bootleg world, and this is another worthy addition to that catalog, the fact it comes with a passionate and knowledgeable Detroit crowd is just a bonus. Everyone has a favorite ONA concert, this is one of mine.

Thanks again
Hamish

 

Detroit 1998

One thing that has struck me as I listen to these concerts out of Detroit is how Prince never stopped evolving throughout his career. I had previous lumped his late 1990’s material together, but now as I revisit them I realize that he was still going through rapid changes. This week I am listening to his Detroit concert from the New Power Soul Festival, just 18 months on from the 1997  Love 4 One Another concert  I wrote of last week. The set-list contains some of the same material, but also a lot more cover versions, as well as some songs from the Newpower Soul album. It makes for an intriguing mix, and with a run time in excess of two hours (three and a half if you listen to the full bootleg that also covers Larry Graham’s and Chaka Khan’s sets) there is plenty to digest.

24th October 1998, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

This blog covers all types of recordings, so it should come as no surprise to know that again this week we are listening to an audience recording. This makes “Push It Up” the standard by which the rest of the recording lives up to, and with a bass heavy sound and audience noise we know where we stand. The audience is hyped from the start by Doug E Fresh letting us know who we’re here to see – “N…P..G.” It very much has the sound of a party rather than a concert, and this doesn’t help Princes vocals and rap when he hits the stage, the party overwhelming his performance in the first moments. “Jam Of The Year” is stronger as it comes tacked onto the rear end of the opening jam, and is far more representative of the sound for the rest of the gig. 1997 also saw a similar start with a new song, but here Prince is pushing the jam further into new vistas and the audience along with it as he challenges expectations, and himself.

“Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing” keeps up a relentless pace, and although it doesn’t possess the best sound the bass remains to the fore, propelling the listener and the concert forward with a driven energy. Prince taking flight on the piano adds to the kinetic energy, and gives the song further life as he evolves it through several changes. I could do without the stops and starts he throws in, but I can’t deny that when he is funking he is funking. The final minutes are unconvincing however with Doug E Fresh failing to give us anything extra and the rest of the jam falling flat. A song that could have been colossal, instead Prince pulls his punches making it an uncompelling few minutes.

Doug E Fresh stays to the front of our minds as he raps over “Flash Light” before giving us a fleshed out “La-Di-Da-Di.” Fifteen years early this would have blown my little teenage mind, but in 1998 it feels like they have missed the boat, and although I enjoy it well enough it doesn’t feel like a great fit for the concert. In comparison to the concert of 18 months ago, this opening stanza is crumbling under the weight of Prince’s own high standards.

The focus returns to Prince with a short, sharp rendition of “Let’s Work,” that reminds us that Prince has his own style of funk and doesn’t need to ride on the coattails of Larry Graham. My own infatuation with Prince’s 1980’s oeuvre colors this brighter than perhaps it deserves as Prince draws from his tool box of Minneapolis funk and connects the song back to my teenage memories.  The concert changes direction at this point, and the next few songs remain firmly with Prince and his 1980’s output.

“Delirious” is equally sprightly and lightens the recording considerably, especially with its bouncing piano line. There isn’t a lot of vocals, and the song is carried along by the oily guitar line that later ignites into molten solo that has me temporarily forgetting about the quirkiness of “Delirious”

This of course raises hopes that “Purple Rain” will be similarly adorned with a snarling solo, and things look promising with an opening passage that has the chords hanging with emotion. Prince’s talk to the crowd is largely incomprehensible (at least to me) but the music remains in focus as it washes back and forth behind his speech. The verses remain in same form as his opening speech, but I hear him loud and clear for the chorus, and the all important guitar solo is the most powerful bit of the recording as Prince burns magnesium bright in the last minutes, scorching the recording with his  guitar bearing its teeth in a quiet fury for the most unforgettable part of a concert that until this point has been relatively flat.

The final howl of “Purple Rain” fades into the opening strains of “Little Red Corvette.” It loses some of its emotional baggage as it is a little quick, and the recording slightly muddy, but Prince is playing with the opening, adding his own simple yet effective guitar work to the introduction. The song is keep short, the intro making up the first minute, while the second minute is just enough time for Prince to punch out a verse, a chorus, and the quicksilver solo.

“I Would Die 4 U,” gets the same treatment, the bare bones of the song presented just enough to inflame the crowd, but not to the point of giving us the full song. The second half of the song is loaded with “Jin-Go-Lo-Ba” and “Get Yo Groove On,” both which echo in the cavernous sound of the recording and arena.

The next portion of the concert sees Prince playing lengthy versions, and the concert gains a lot more intensity at this point. First comes “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man,” front ended loaded with some revving guitar noise that powers the song for the next few minutes. The vocals cannot be made out well, but my ears are straining for that glorious guitar noise, and Prince delivers with an energetic and vitalized performance. The music quietens for a break down, and I wait patiently for Prince to reenter the fray, but the music never returns to its previous heights, and instead we enter Prince’s spoken introduction to “The Christ”

I can’t make out most of Prince’s speech, but it is definitely loaded with his beliefs at the time. I’m not sure how it’s going over with audience, but they are certainly very quiet at this point in the show. It’s a brave move by Prince, and one I admire him for, but as a listening experience on a bootleg it is beyond me and I find myself counting the minutes until the music starts again. “The Christ” has a run time of seven minutes, but the first three and a half minutes are given over to Prince’s speech, making the rest of the song barely the same amount of time. With the quality of the recording it is only the final triumphant minute that sounds great, the rest of it suffering from a lack of energy which is clearly sapped by the recording.

An intense canopy of mystical sounds hangs over the introduction of “The One,” and this permeates through the rest of the song, making for one of the most interesting parts of the concert. On a better recording this would be magical, and even on a recording as poor as this one can hear the spell Prince is weaving on stage. Eight minutes is not long enough to contain all the mists of emotions that spread though the recording, and as it finishes I am disappointed that it feels all too short, as well as lamenting again the quality of the bootleg.

The next section is messy to listen to as Doug E Fresh returns to hype the crowd for “Courting Time” It takes some time for the song to properly start (almost four minutes in fact) and it is a relief when it does finally start with a chorus and verse to sing along with. Doug E Fresh can still be heard hyping the crowd, but with Prince on the microphone it becomes far more balanced, and a better listen than I anticipated based on the opening.

“Do Me, Baby” is the last of these songs to get the full treatment, and despite the ups and downs of this concert, it still settles into it’s own velvety groove. It is an immersive experience as Prince dwells on the introduction, giving us plenty of time to soak in the red-light glow of one of his sexiest songs. One may not be able to understand every word that Prince sings, but there is no doubting the intent as Prince loads his vocal performance with the syrupy come-on that he is so famous for. It compares well to the same version he played on the previous tour, and again he brings some of his other seduction pieces into the song , but there really is no need as “Do Me Baby ” is all we need – all day, everyday.

The screams of pleasure from the audience continue into “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” The beat is excellent here, even if I can’t hear it 100%, and it’s just as well as Prince’s vocals remain dirtied by the recording. I am happy enough with the performance in this case, but I remain frustrated by the recording.I don’t have too long to suffer though, and the final stabs are easily the strongest moments to the song.

I am initially skeptical in regards to how the piano set might fare with a recording such as this, but it is robust, and the lack of instrumentation works in it’s favour. We can never quite shake the Detroit crowd however, and they are obviously intoxicated by the moment, especially the first minute of the song, but Prince’s work on the keyboard is strong and stands as a steel core to the songs he is playing. “Adore” is all too brief, but “The Ballad Of Dorothy Park” finds the sweet spot, and the tone and mood of the performance is perfectly pitched,the downbeat recording working to it’s favor again.

I am surprised by just how fresh “Venus De Milo” comes across in this context, it has a brightness that lifts it far above the heavier sound of the tape. Paired with “Diamonds and Pearls” it becomes a glistening centre to this piano interlude, a shining bright spot a the heart of what otherwise is a dense and heavy concert.

The return to “Adore” rounds out the first half of the piano set in fine style, it doesn’t burn as bright as the previous couple of songs, but it has all the heart and emotion that one might expect, and the crowds familiarity and expectation make Prince’s job a whole lot easier.

As one might expect, “The Beautiful Ones” has the warmest of welcomes from the crowd, and Prince dwells on his previous glories with an abridged version that does just enough to keep the crowd satisfied. It would be nice to have the full version, but what we have here ticks all the boxes, and is a highlights package that appeases most fans.

The loudest crowd noise on the recording comes with the opening keyboard hook of “Darling Nikki” The screams and cheers are prolonged, and loud, as Prince pauses and goads to audience to further ecstatic heights. It’s not great on the bootleg, but I get a sense of the fans excitement to hear the song again, and I am relived that after a couple of minutes of this frenzy Prince finally plays enough of the song that the crowd can sing a single verse.

By 1998 Prince had well and truly reclaimed “Nothing Compares 2 U” and the audience reaction to it’s appearance at this concert is just as intense as their reaction to any Prince classic. The band have returned at this stage, and asides from Prince’s vocals it is the organ swirling in thickening streams of gospel, the heartbeat of the drums, along with Prince’s carefully crafted guitar break that mark this is a great performance, even if it is diluted by the quality of the tape.

The joyous ending of “Nothing Compares 2 U’ is matched by the equally uplifting “Take Me With U,” and “Raspberry Beret” double shot. While I am not particularly enamored by either, I do find the transition gives me life as my heart lifts for a second in it’s easy optimism.

The encore takes some time to begin, and when it does it is with a bare drum beat and guitar line that hints a long jam to follow. Whats does follow is the promised long jam, the audience chanting us into the first minute before the music opens up into “(I Like) Funky Music” featuring, of course, Larry Graham. There is a keyboard section early on the brings to mind “The War,” but this thought slips away as the band take on a far more funk infused performance. There is no surprise at all as Prince leads the crowd through the chant “I like funky music” at several points throughout the song, even as it stretches out beyond the ten minute mark. The great attraction for me in this song is the interplay between Larry Graham and Prince as the weave around each other building the funk organically from the ground up. It is a master class, an aural lesson on the power of the bass in the hands of two of the greats.

“Baby I’m A Star” sends us barreling towards a finish, although it feels too slick after the previous minutes of bass work out. It is merely the entrance to a final “1999” that carries the concert through to it’s conclusion. To my ears, it only highlights how far Prince had come over the course of his career to this point, and in comparison to the music he was producing at the time it feels almost teenage in it’s pop sparkle and energy. It’s a welcome addition to the set, a nod to those in the audience that have followed Prince thus far, but at the same time it is a disjointed fit to the rest of the set. Prince’s final comment in regards to Newpower Soul and Love 4 One Another brings us back to 1998 and returns us back to where we started – 24th October 1998.

The guest appearances and Purple Rain songs are unnecessary, at the heart of this concert lays some great music, and even if Prince’s vision wasn’t as bold as it had previously been there are still new flavors and textures here to enjoy. Propelled by the  buoyant Detroit crowd, this poor recording is as good as place as any to dip into the Newpower Soul era.  There are better concerts in circulation, and this one serves as merely a teaser for those that want to dig further. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but for those that were there it is a timely reminder that Prince was still a force to be reckoned with in the late 1990’s.

Thanks for joining me again
-Hamish