Columbia ’81

Although I have a great love for many of the peaks and troughs of Prince’s career, the Controversy tour will always have a special place in my still teenage heart. Not only was my first bootleg drawn from this time period, but as a young punk more attracted to unbridled energy and raw power these concerts spoke to me in a far stronger voice than the funk and jazz influenced sounds that I would later be ensnared by. While my ears often guides my hand to pulling a 1995 or 2002 concert from the shelf, my heart always sides with the electro rock performances that are colored by time and place as much as musical influence of the era.

There are a variety of excellent soundboard recordings of this tour circulating thanks to the well known City Lights series, and for today’s concert I have decided to listen to the superb 4DF remaster of the December 12th concert from 1981. The 4DF recording expertly patches the five second gap that had previously blighted other releases, and makes for a crisp clean listen of this already well known performance. The concert itself is one of the longest of the tour, clocking in at 78 minutes, and falls neatly between the equally well known bootlegs of 21 November (Washington) and 20 December (Houston).

12th December 1981, Carolina Coliseum, Columbia

The bootleg is missing the opening “Second Coming,” but that matter little to me as “Uptown” bursts out of the speakers with a freshness that belies the age of this now almost 40 year old recording. The energy of the music is equaled with the vibrancy of the recording, and to my great delight I can hear every yelp and breath of Prince with great clarity, along with the pop of the bass. The guitar is written in smaller scrawl, it’s in the mix but sits just behind the rest of the music, adding texture and color rather than being a driving force. All in all, this opening number sets a high standard in both performance and recording quality, a standard that will be met consistently through the rest of the bootleg.

“Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” is more than a match for this opening salvo, and everything I enjoyed in that first song is here again, and better in every way possible. Prince’s vocals are stronger, his yelps becoming shouts, his guitar turned up and becoming the the steel that sits at the centre of the song. The keyboards are playing with bolder strokes, and the song itself is bullet proof in its intent to both rock and funk the watching audience. It has been quite sometime since I listened to one of these shows and I had forgotten the fire and brimstone that Prince brings to his guitar solo’s here, and by the time his guitar ends in a a final squall I am practically frothing at the mouth. Take that as a recommendation.

Next we have somewhat of rarity for this tour, a live performance of “Sexy Dancer,” a performance that see’s it freed of it’s dancefloor roots and upended with a jagged guitar line from Dez turning it into raw and bloody battle for the soul of the song. Dez plays with a harder sound than Prince, his guitar work a blunt axe in comparison to Prince’s scalpel. It moves me, as all good music should, and it falls to Dr. Fink to pull the song from this unruliness and back to the dance floor with his own electro fused solo.

The first lines of “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” are given to the crowd, who are captured surprisingly well by the recording, before Prince and the band return for the chorus. I expect Prince to take control at this stage, but he leaves it as it is, the crowd taking the vocals for the rest of the verse, and most of the chorus. It is in the final minutes of the song that it’s true intent is revealed as the dark clouds gather within the music and we tumble into the centre piece of these shows – “Head.”

A deep wave of funk carries us for the first minute, the slip and groove of the bass only highlighted by the bright stabs of synth that appear like shafts of light through the clouds. At times “Head” can sound like a single dark entity, but listening closely it is a many layered beast, and I wallow in each and every sound as it continues to sprawl out over the next twelve minutes. As the singing subsides and we drop into the heart of the song it is Prince’s guitar that commands all the attention, sometimes scratching, sometimes whining, sometimes coming as a rhythmic chop, it always remains at the centre of what is happening and always remains the musical essence of the song. I only wish I could see it as well as hear it.

After the slow descent of “Head,” we are suddenly thrust upwards on the the back of the tireless “Dirty Mind.” The lyrics may live up to the title,but the music has a innocent exuberance that injects an energy into the recording that will carry it for the next few songs. This performance of “Dirty Mind,” isn’t as long as others I have heard on tour (Saenger Theatre, New Orleans springs to mind) but it delivers all it has to it it’s allotted time.

It is during “Do Me, Baby,” that 4DF’s work on the recording becomes apparent, the previous five second gap repaired (I’m not sure if the same work has been done on the recent PGA release, I don’t have a copy on hand to check). The song itself is soaked in Prince’s sultry tone, although this version is more restrained than heard elsewhere, Prince’s vocals not as pleading and desperate as I expect. Some of this emotion is lacking from the opening introduction, that although long, isn’t quite as drawn out and invested with feeling as is sometimes heard. Prince does deliver a smooth professional vocal performance though, and the song sounds pleasing on the ear.

We return to some funk with the title track to the album and subsequent tour, “Controversy.” It is as dry as it’s heard on record, and although Prince and the band threaten to stretch it out, we don’t get much more than what it expected. I had hoped for a lot more of Prince’s trademark scratch guitar work but it fails to materialize. I am consoled by the fact that the quality of the bootleg remains of an impressively high standard.

“Let’s Work” is the long funk jam that I had hoped “Controversy” would be. With it’s rollicking bassline and waves of synths, it keeps the dance floor moving under Prince’s steady command of “Let’s Work.” There is no drama to the song, Prince just keeps it moving under it’s own energy, letting the music and good times flow on their own accord. It is not the greatest song on this recording, but more than another song it captures the spirit of the times and the vibe that Prince was playing to.

From the remains of “Let’s Work,” Prince once again sweeps the crowd into a party, this time with a message attached, as he drives the band into a infectious rendition of “Party Up,” so infectious in fact that I spend the first couple of minutes playing air bass rather than writing about it. The keyboards sprinkle their color all over this, while the bass and drums keep us locked on the groove, but for me the real buzz comes with the blitzkrieg guitar break that Prince lavishes on the song as it reaches it’s climax. All the previous energy and power suddenly bubbling over with Prince’s hands ablaze the guitar. The final minutes are a steady comedown with Bobby Z stripping us back to just his sound, the bedrock of the song all along finally revealed.

As with the other concerts of the Controversy tour, it is a blazing “Jack U Off,” that closes the show, an uncontrolled ball of music and dirty lyrics crashing across the end of the bootleg. Sometimes it comes across as silly, but I can’t help but like it for it’s youthfulness and the feeling that anything works if you believe in it (and play it fast enough.) It is it’s standard three and half minutes, but I am still in shock as it suddenly disappears just as quickly as it came, those three and a half minutes seemingly compressed into two.

The Controversy tour is not he greatest tour of Prince’s career, nor is a sign post of what’s to come (who could have predicted Parade based on what is heard here?), however it is a great snapshot of his career up to this point, and an excellent marker before he steps up to the the next and bigger stage. An energetic performance, and a crystal clear recording make this yet another outstanding bootleg of this tour, and for those who like their Prince unfiltered (and quite frankly, who doesn’t?) this is a recording that should always be near to hand. The funk is funkier, the rock is rockier, and this is one last untemped look at Prince before he trades away some of his wilder aspects in search of a wilder audience. I followed him to this wider vision, but for me this is where it all started, and as such will always have a special place in my heart.

London 1999

With the recent reissue of Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic, and all the subsequent talk of the era, the time has come for me to dip my toe back into the waters of bootlegs from this period. Prince did not honor Rave with a full scale tour, instead promotional duties fell heavily on a round of TV appearances and a handful of one off shows. All of these are of course well documented, and for today’s bootleg I have elected to listen to the show from London on November 15th. This is his first concert post release of Rave, although the show contains very little material from that album. However, it is a good audience recording and I do have a natural affinity for a lot of the music that we hear through the course of this one-off show. While I am often mystified but Prince’s choices and his stance on which music he will promote, I always enjoy the live performance , not matter what he plays -and so it is in this case.

15th November 1999, Mermaid Theatre, London

Out of the silence comes a guitar drenched “Let’s Go Crazy,” that immediately appeals to my inner rocker. There is no break down or audience participation, it comes to us frayed at the edges and ragged with its bare electric sound tearing the song down and building it again from the ground up. The fact that it comes to us in a rush adds to this impulsive and hurly burly feeling, Prince plunging us into the future with this blistering two minute rendition.

The fiery start is tempered by a smoldering “She’s Always In My Hair,” the grit of Prince’s guitar still colors the recording but here it becomes a scalpel in his hand, his notes crisp and clean and cutting sharply across the recording, drawing appreciative cheers from the audience. The concert still hasn’t become an immersive experience, the quality just isn’t quite good enough to really suck me into the moment, but the first two songs of the bootleg are certainly of a high standard and with an intensity I hadn’t expected from this era.

This trio of guitar based songs is rounded out by “U Got The Look,” a song that doesn’t quite have the same driving intensity as the previous songs, although it too comes with an inflamed guitar break that does it’s best to unleash the song from the pop genre to which it is consigned. It never quite achieves what I hope for though, it is too firmly rooted in the pop magnificence of Sign O The Times, and despite Prince’s furious playing it remains rooted in the 80’s and never becomes the timeless classic we all want it to be.

The next song comes as pure groove, over a loop Prince delivers lines of several songs, although it remains rather directionless and never quite settles on one or another. It could have been a back catalog clearing medley, but remains uninteresting in it’s pure blandness and failure to commit. This meander does finally find a focus as Prince swings it into a short rendition of “Kiss.” It slips and slides as required in the first minute, but it gains a beating heart with other people coming to microphone during the breakdown. It is only a small section of the song, but captures the live experience better than anything heard in the preceding few minutes and makes it all worthwhile.

I am overjoyed to hear Prince’s guitar howl and shriek in the opening minute of “Gett Off.” It’s almighty sound stands proud as it rises out of the groove, and it soon becomes apparent that this will be the song, five minutes of Prince playing loud and proud, no storm or flurry of notes, instead his striking bold sound that soars and swoops, yet remain granite like it it’s heavy intent. Prince is playing with purpose, this is no flight of fancy, his guitar solo crafted rather than driven on pure inspiration.

“Gett Off (Housestyle)” cannot be compared to the previous rendition, there is again plenty of guitar work but this time it is Mike Scott playing in all his finery, his guitar work lacy and intricate as opposed to Prince’s previously architectural like structure. The appearance of the horn section signals a new direction for the concert, we are coming to a fuller sound as Prince draws from his wider palette of funk infused jams.

These jams are best exemplified with his take on “Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing,” a horn driven groove that sweeps up elements of “Sex Machine,” and “It’s Alright,” as it sprawls across the next ten minutes. There are several treasures unearthed through this jam, the piano is early to draw my attention, along with a dedicated flurry of horns, before Larry Graham’s bass appears front and centre and continues to dominate the scene. It is typically Larry Graham, there is no mistaking his style and it lifts the song again as the band turn their full attention on “It’s Alright.” While it is not as vital as some of the other songs of the night, it perhaps best represents Prince and the band at this stage of his career as they take on these familiar tunes and spruce them up with their unique sound.

The steady hand of Prince guides the band into a sunset groove that on the back of guitar work revels itself to be “Purple House.” I am a fan of the concept more then the realization of the song, Prince’s guitar not burning with the intensity I desire, while his surrounding players detract from the song rather than add to it. That’s not to say there is anything bad in the performance, but it doesn’t measure up to Prince’s own material earlier in the set, nor does he lift the song beyond it’s well know roots. There is the prerequisite wail and shriek from Prince’s instrument, but it is apropos of nothing as it flounders in it’s own sound rather than taking the song to new horizons.

There is very little to distinguish “The Jam,” from the earlier “Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing,” they both spring from the same fertile ground and provide the band a chance to stretch out with the heavy bass of Larry Graham underpinning proceedings. As such it adds little to the concert, indeed it is almost unnecessary given what we have already heard. On a positive note, I always enjoy the contribution of Morris Hayes, no matter how many times I hear him, and again he is a highlight of “The Jam” for me. Mike Scott on guitar is also noteworthy, but the rest of the song I could take or leave. Mostly leave.

We finally get a Rave Unto The Joy Fantastic song in the form of “The Greatest Romance That’s Every Been Sold,” although by now we are approaching the end of the concert. It is a classy performance and one can plainly hear that it is of the modern era in comparison to all that has come before. It is mature and fits well with late 90’s R’n’B, Prince seemingly drawing inspiration from the current music scene of the time. What I enjoy most is his vocal performance, the band play in the shadows of his performance and I find myself cocooned in his vocals as the song flows easy through the speakers. As the lead single of the album it was promoted through a series of TV performances, which makes it all the more disappointing that it disappeared from live concerts within eighteen months of it’s first appearance. Hearing it at this show only strengthens this feeling, and as I sit back and enjoy the performance I only wish there were more of kind in circulation.

The instrumental version that follows is exquisite, especially as the clarinet weaves it’s way in and out of the music making for a hypnotic few minutes. I am snapped out of this dream like trance by a thoughtful trombone solo that surprises and delights in equal measure. I had previously thought the song leaned heavily on the vocals, yet this instrumental version makes me realize just how important and intricate the music is behind Prince.

From the other end of the Rave Unto The Joy Fantastic scale we next have an impertinent rendition of “Baby Knows,” a song that is enhanced by a snotty upstart of a solo provided by Prince, it may only be a few seconds of guitar work but it ignites the song and briefly steals it from the hands of the horn section who otherwise have their finger prints all over it.

A guitar driven groove propels the concert towards the ultimate number, Prince’s instrument grunting and choking in his hands, a wild dog pulling to be free. Prince never unleashes this guitar fury, the guitar snarls and threatens, but never breaks into the untamed wildness as I expect,wish and pray.

There is finally release, in name and nature, with the final “Release Yourself,” a song pulled directly from Larry Graham’s back catalog. After a quick turn around, the full band, horns included, leap upon the jam, led all the way by the good Larry Graham. The mix is a little uneven, the bootleg remaining very good but showing it’s limitations at this stage as the vocals come to us at different levels. The energy and enthusiasm is undeniable, a circus of sound cascading around my headphones as all the band members via for attention seemingly all at once. It is Prince that I strain to hear the most, but he is too clever and too well embedded in the band to stand out. He may well have been a superstar of supernova proportions, but he knew his place in the band and even as he contributes his solo’s he stays well within the confines of what else is heard on the tape.

The is one final twist in the tale of this bootleg, as the music ends and the room reverts back to chatter, one of the audience can be heard asking “was that Beck on the right of the stage?” It may or may not be, one certainly can’t distinguish him on the recording, and there is equally confusion among the audience as to whether or not it was him. The matter is never resolved, and it is a curious end to what has been an uneven concert. It was a concert I wanted to like a lot, especially in light if the recent reissues, but the show was too uneven for me to get a proper handle on. The audience recording was good, at times very good, but I found over all Prince resting too much on past glories and other peoples songs. Equally disappointing was the lack of songs from the Rave Unto The Joy Fantastic , the opportunity get some of this music out into the light of day and road test it to a critical audience. As such, this remains a good listen, but never reaches the heights of many of the other bootlegs in circulation, a curio that I am unlikely to revisit again.

Montreux 2009

The Prince performance of Montreux in 2007 opened the door on several more performances over the next few years. These all differ wildly from each other, and while his final three appearances in 2013 touch firmly on his three bases of funk, pop, and rock, the shows of 2009 are a stripped back and clinical presentation that while light in sound delivers some heavy hitting classics, along some guitar work that ranks with his very best. It is not fast and furious, but it is a mature performance that draws heavily from his fearsome guitar talent and genre jumping vocals. While heavily guitar infused, it never tips over into a full blown rock show, and remains a suitable fit for Montreux as it titles itself jazz festival.

18th July 2009, Auditorium Stravinski, Montreux

It is Renato Neto’s keyboard that first caresses the crowd as from the darkness emerges “When I lay My Hands On U.” This is merely setting the scene and it is Prince with his guitar that bends the song into shape. Prince dapples the music with his guitar work somewhat like a Monet painting, listening closely one can discern all his flourishes and nods, but it’s not util we sit back and take it as a whole do we begin to properly see the sonic picture Prince is painting. It is a picture of textures, darkness and light, powerful chords sharpened with howling notes, the song taking on a murderous tone as Prince warms to his work. It is a controlled fury, where previously I may have been drawn to Prince’s wild antics, especially in the early 80’s, here his intense Santanaesque tone speaks far more to the quiet rage I harbor as an adult.

Prince reinvents “Little Red Corvette” in the performance that makes this bootleg essential. Prince slows the song, his guitar squall adding anguish and hurt to this previously familiar pop song. It becomes a lament that cries out as the guitar voices its haunting refrain, it’s notes tortured and bleeding through the song, the lyrics becoming realized in the music the band is brewing before our very eyes . This is the first appearance of this slow downed “Little Red Corvette,” in the next few years it will become his rendition of choice, but this bootleg always remains that cut above the rest in that this is the first time .

A sultry “Somewhere Here On Earth” comes with it’s summer breeze sound to clear some of these dark clouds of the previous emotional intensity. Renato shines brightly as the music becomes a light jazz showcase. On album the song sometimes slips through the gaps, one could argue the whole album slips through the gaps, but the live performance reinvigorates and resurrects the song to my ears, Prince’s silky vocals glistening in the darkness while the band move smoothly beneath him. It’s not a song that grabs me, but the performance is slow seduction that gets serves the music and the show well.

“When The Lights Go Down” is in a similar vein, only tempered by some guitar playing by Prince that adds a jagged edge. One can feel the energy lift, and it is Prince’s distinctive guitar tone that stands out most to the ear. One can again clearly hear the Santana influence, Prince’s guitar again and again drawing from the same well. It is no mere imitation, Prince takes his influence, adds his own flavor, and elevates the guitar work to new heights. Ably matched by the band, he again gives us a clinical performance that belies the inner intensity that this music carries.

With a barely perceptible change, “Willing and Able” arrives and immediately becomes a call and response moment, the crowd finally pulled into the concert with their chants. It is perhaps a little short for my tastes, although to be honest I am often the first to complain when these crowd moments go on too long.

Renato draws tears with a divine “I Love U But I Don’t Trust U Anymore,” his piano bringing the hall to a silence for Prince to deliver this showstopper. Prince’s vocals contain all the emotion ever needed for this song, no matter what the music it doing, we always find ourselves back to the same place, hanging on Prince’s every word as he carves out his story of distrust and lost love. Renato softly colour’s this tale with his nuanced and gently tailored contribution, his playing underpinning Prince’s silky vocals with an polished sheen that becomes the backbone of the song. I am completely enraptured by the moment and seeing one of my favorite songs breathed to life by Prince.

I have already mentioned Santana several times and again Prince returns to this bedrock of his sound for a seventies soul smooth “She Spoke 2 Me” – a song that takes up the vibe, garnishes it with some of Prince’s guitar work, throws in a extended Renato solo and becomes an immediate highlight. It is an interesting diversion, but little did I realize the real fireworks are still to come.

“Love Like Jazz” and “All This Love” picks up these strands of funk, soul, jazz, and twist them together in a ten-minute highlights package that is the beating heart of the show. It is a slow burn, the initial “Love Like Jazz,” setting the tone, yet not quite combusting into the conflagration that Prince’s guitar solos hint at. It is only once all the band add their weighty contributions to “All This Love” that the song ignites, Renato’s piano solo giving way to a ferocious Rhonda bass solo comes that encourages the crowd to further ecstasy. It is perfectly placed, and paced, at this point of the concert, adding some impetus just when it needed it with a slippery funk feel underpinning it all and adding a fluid energy to the song.

“Empty Room,” is exceptional from the first note, it’s sense of drama permeating through the concert hall and recording. Prince paces this nicely, the song building slowly to a climax before he blows it through the stratosphere with an emotive guitar break that takes the lyrical narrative and turns it into a firestorm of guitar, Prince twisting and torturing the notes as they spew forth. This intensity burns through the recording, the song reaching new heights through Prince’s craft and surgical guitar work that cuts the song to ribbons on the back of his solo. There is no need to listen to anything beyond this point, this is Prince at his very best, taking the song far beyond what has previously been heard on the back of his fiery guitar playing.

We have a chance to catch our collective breathes with a wispy “Elixir” next blowing through the bootleg. It becomes an intangible moment, the song remaining smoky and unreachable, and following “Empty Room” there is no comparison, the previous song demanded you listen with its forceful intensity, while “Elixir” blows away on the breeze, leaving almost no impression on the listener.

There is a surprise with the appearance of “In A Large Room With No Light.” It had already debuted in March 2009, yet to hear it again in these circumstances still elicits that same sense of excitement and the feeling that we are privy to something special. It is not everyday that Prince pulls something from so deep in the vault, and the biggest surprise is perhaps the way it fits so easily into the setlist and sits comfortably with the more contemporary songs. It is a song that has finally come of age after waiting in the vault for twenty-three years, and this is just the right band for such a moment, its jazz flavors enhanced by the playing of Prince and Renato in particular. This is band that can take on anything Prince throws at them, and the way they take this buried gem and make it their own is impressive indeed. Prince adds a touch of weirdness and other-worldliness to the song with his final guitar break and makes its appearance all the more special and unusual.

There is an instant warmth and alluring sound to “Insatiable” that invites me right in with it’s crushed velvet sound. Prince sings with a light touch, not over burdening the song before he gives way to Renato Neto and his luxurious piano work. It may not be the longest song of the evening, but it leaves an aftertaste and I can still feel it’s yearning long after it’s finished.

With Morris Haynes joining the band, it transitions into a lush “Scandalous,” the band playing with a criminal ease. Prince matches with them with a vocal delivery that carries a chocolate and champagne sound, gradually upping the performance as he goes. It is a fine match for the previous “Insatiable,” the two coming as a silky seduction one-two punch.

I am not too surprised to see another ballad appear in the setlist – “The Beautiful Ones” rounding out this trio of what some might call “panty droppers”. It never blows into the storm that I hope for, Prince delivering the lyrics with a refinement that belies the emotion the words carry. It is only in the final minute that this raw bloodied emotion appears, Prince finally tearing down the wall between himself and the listener with the throaty howl we have all been waiting for.

It is “Nothing Compares To U” that is chosen to close the show, and as much as I like the song, I feel that it is an unsatisfying conclusion to what has otherwise been a stellar concert. The song lacks any real punch, either sonically or emotionally, and even the contrasting styles of Morris Hayes and Renato Neto can’t quite rescue it for me, the song floating away from all that Prince has built up in the previous 90 minutes, leaving us to to consider the earlier moments of passion and panache as the most fitting way to remember this show.

This is an interesting concert, with its varied setlist, highly skilled band and a polished to the point of perfection performance by Prince and those around him. This concert has been circulating for ten years now, and I am sure that most people have seen it, yet that doesn’t lessen the impact of seeing it again with fresh eyes. This is not the young firebrand I fell in love with in the 1980’s, this is a mature man with a mature and professional performance to match. As I have grown so too has Prince, and this show resonates with me just as much as a concert from 1981 did with the fifteen year old me. I know that I will be watching this one many more times over the years to come, this is a concert I could happily get old with.

Stars And Bars 1994

I have returned to 1994 as it is just too delicious to resist with Prince diving headlong into his new direction and new vision. I have listened to many shows from 1994, and this one ranks highly among them. It does contain the usual jams and songs that we expect, but the concert comes early in the year when Prince’s rebirth was still big news and offering a thrilling sample of things we have never seen or heard before. Prince’s two shows in Monte Carlo are the first time he appeared in this new guise away from Minneapolis, and from the reception we hear on the tape it sounds like the world is appreciating this new direction just as much as those in his home town. There will be plenty more similar concerts over the next two years, but none have the vitality and urgency of this one, which not only makes for a great bootleg, but a most intriguing one.

4th May 1994, Stars ‘N’ Bars Monte Carlo

It is a Hendrixesque guitar tone that shapes the introduction guitar jam. Normally I shy aware from Hendrix comparisons when it comes to Prince, but in this case I think it is valid as Princes guitar draws from the sound of some of Jimi’s pure blues sound. It is carefully crafted and subtlety signposts what will follow, a swampy blues infested “The Ride”

A staple of this era, the version heard on this bootleg does not differ greatly from what is heard elsewhere, although it does have a freshness that can’t ever be captured again on those other recordings. The flame of genius burns bright as Prince lifts the song far above it’s initial plodding sound with his guitar work scratching ever itch in it’s relentless phosphoric intensity. Prince paces it well, we have a long way to go, and everytime it threatens to ignite the building he pulls back and eases the tension with his ever cool vocals.

A melodic bassline picks up the threads of “Come” and soon after Prince spins it into the song we are now familiar with. It retains a cool atmosphere throughout, each instrument playing in it’s own refined way, never coming together to deliver the punches I expect and crave. It swirls and heaves with intent, but still hasn’t been sharpened to a point.

“Endorphinmachine” is where the show starts good and proper, and is the point where one can hear Prince firmly striding to break from the past. The music is strident and has a urgency that drives it firmly into the future, this is music that doesn’t stop and reflect, it is pitched at the future and never once lets up with this drive forward. Prince’s opening guitar riff leaps out ahead of the band, before they come together in a pounding crash to chase it down. This sense of forward motion is retained through the song, even as the guitar pulls back to give the other instruments a chance to breath. With a call of “turn me up,” Prince whips out a quicksilver guitar solo that with a surgical slice quickly amputates the past and throws the whole future wide open with the thrill of the unknown. He may not know where this ride is taking him, but we are with him every step of the way, the guitar solo both a declaration and a promise.

After such a rush we need some space , and this is provided by the aptly named “Space.” It is unfortunate that with such a song the limitations of the tape are revealed, and there is a distorting buzz in the right side. It matters little for a high octane rock song such as “Endorphinmachine, but on the gentle flowing “Space,” it is all too apparent and lifts me temporarily out of the concert. “Space” itself has a organic feel that offsets Prince’s outer worldly lyrics, and Tommy Barbarella’s keyboard solo sounds timeless and could be coming from any piano in the world. A nice counterpoint to the lyrics, it neatly balances the song as well as the concert.

My initial thrill of seeing “Interactive” on the setlist quickly subsides as Prince delivers a tepid and lukewarm version that fails to elicit any joy in me. It becomes apparent to me here that Prince did the right thing not giving it a proper release (asides from Crystal Ball) and one can understand why by July of 1994 it had been retired from live performance. It promises a lot but delivers little, the main hook not quite enough to fully snare the listener, while it’s stop start form destroys any sort of momentum that may have been building. The guitar makes an appearance, but it is self serving solo that does nothing to advance the song or the emotional pull of the moment, the song remaining emotional aloof despite my best wishes.

“Day’s Of Wild” gives me everything I had craved in the previous song – it’s new, it’s got something to say, an inner urgency, and drives it all home in a forceful performance. The rhythm section grinds under it all, musically recreating the sound of two bodies moving against each other, while Prince lays down his personal credo and a bold statement of where he is right here and now, these are truly his days of wild as he curses and jams the song until it becomes a sweaty lather of dirty funk, everyone of us rejoicing in this wild ride Prince is providing. Prince’s pointed lines at Michael Jackson stand out midsong, and coupled with his lines about Larry Graham open the door nicely into a quick “Hair.” The final sing-a-long draws the crowd into this new world Prince is shaping before their very eyes on stage, and sounds just as vital on the bootleg as I’m sure it did at the show.

The mood is lightened with a song played with a smile – “Now.” It has an uplifting spirit, and although light in it’s surrounding company it’s appearance is timely and brings some color to the concert. It has a freedom to it as vocally Prince is playful, while the music rolls and evolves beneath him. Tommy and Morris are the key players here, and although it is the drums of Michael B that make the first impression, it is the keyboards that build the esprit de corps that makes this song a beautiful snapshot of the era. It encapsulates the period of 1994-1995, the music coming at an easy flow, continually threatening to turn into a jam as every member of the band plays with an unreserved freedom.

There is a maturity to “Acknowledge Me,” the song at points touching on adult radio, while willfully pulling in the other direction with it’s lyrics and never settling music. It surprises me with it’s fierce integrity and how much of an input the band have. It shouldn’t be surprising given the two songs we have just heard, but I am caught unawares several times as band members come out of the mix with wild contributions. Prince’s rap is unhinged, as is the funk that shakes beneath him, and the final minutes of the song see us drifting far from shore in the back of the rolling funk.

It is an alluring “Dark” that appears next in the bootleg, the recording clean enough to capture it at it’s best. It has it’s refined smoothness fully intact, and retains this glassiness until the very end. The treat, and hook for me, is the appearance of the “Eye Hate U” speech midsong. An idea Prince is obviously toying with (the song itself wouldn’t appear live until the following year) it is fascinating to hear it pitched in here. It works well enough, but has yet to find it’s natural home. The other moment that stands out is the lightening bolt guitar solo that shatters the final minute of the song and brings lightness to the dark. It may not be the greatest of solo’s, but against the silky smooth of “Dark,” it becomes twice and loud and twice as dramatic. Contrast is everything.

The instrumental jam that follows is pure 1994 N.P.G. With Morris Hayes and Tommy Barbarella building a sonic wall on the rock solid foundation of Sonny T. and Michael B. there is plenty of room for Prince to direct the various directions the song will move to. It never settles on a firm hook, and as such remains unmemorable, but I enjoy it for the band and the unrelenting energy they bring to the performance.

“Race” is notable for how closely it resembles the recorded version, and for the horn samples that make an appearance. The bass stays at a low rumble, making the horn stabs all the more noticeable as they flash bright against this darkened background. It is Tommy Barbarella who is called out for his contribution, Prince apparently deriving great satisfaction from what he is providing. I am inclined to agree, and it is the keyboards and various triggered samples that pique my interest throughout.

I have been listening to bootlegs for thirty years now, and I think I have reached the point where I could quite happily skip “The Jam.” A staple in Prince setlists since early 1994, the song is predictable in the direction it will go with Prince introducing each band member. Although they each briefly play their assigned part, the song offers no real meat to chew on, and at points it does feel like it’s becoming a meander. Prince fails to whip it into anything memorable, and as much as I love each band member and their contribution, overall the song leaves me empty and unfeeling.

There is a further nod to Larry Graham with “I Believe In You,” which has me considering what was Prince’s motivation for these cover versions at the time. It was a fertile period of songwriting for Prince through 1994-1995, as testified by the projects and aborted projects of the era. One only has to listen to The Dawn bootleg that draws all these together to see what an arsenal of music Prince had to draw from, which makes his affinity for these cover versions perplexing. However, it is what it is, and while “I Believe In You,” fails to elicit any real excitement within me, it does again give the band a chance to demonstrate their chops.

“Glam Slam Boogie,” has the freshness I desire, appearing here in only it’s second live outing (the previous live performance the night before). It is uptempo jam, the band playing with new life on the back of Prince’s commands. Again every member has a chance to play, but there is a looser feel to the jam, the band shedding the weight of playing someone else’s music and instead playing with freedom and investing fully in their own unique sound. It is far more fulfilling than the previous two songs, and the energy in the playing carries well on to the bootleg, it sounds just as vital here at home twenty five years after the fact. The most interesting part of the song comes when Prince challenges Eric Clapton, “Eric my boy, but I’m gonna get in that ass,” a challenge that never comes to fruition, Prince instead choosing to close the song, before final coming good on his threat of a guitar onslaught in the final “Peach”

The song itself has very little malice or venom in it it is instead a celebration of guitar frenzy as Prince plays with unbridled abandonment and little regard for the constraints of a three minute pop song. Although not a brilliant recording, it nevertheless is a fantastic rip roaring version that doesn’t outstay its welcome, Prince working the song hard without over burdening it with a morass of guitar white noise. There is the much expected guitar fireworks, a spectacle in itself, but there is enough of the bones of the song present to maintain its form through the maelstrom of guitar fury in the final minute, a minute that almost overwhelms the taper, as the bootleg stays just on the right side of listenable.

I could easily categorize every bootleg of the 1994/1995 period as essential listening as Prince metamorphoses before our eyes to harder more extreme funkateer and square jawed rocker. This one though is a cut above the rest, not for the quality of the recording, but where it falls on the timeline. This is one of the earlier shows of 1994, and much of the material heard over the next two years is heard here in a fresher form, Prince and the band far more enthusiastic with their new sound, as are the listeners, than what comes later. The sound quality is of it’s time, but the show itself overcomes any short comings in this department and remains as fresh today as it did back in May of 1994. This is Prince and the band taking their first steps into a brave new world, and it is a journey well worth taking with them.

Paisley Park 2009

What a curious year 2009 was. No concert tour, but a variety of one off concerts including an Oscars aftershow party, the Nokia gigs, Montreux, shows in Monaco and Paris, before rounding out with this particular show- a performance back at Paisley Park. It is a long, sprawling show, but unfortunately the recording we have off it is mostly incomplete. The recorder has done a good job with what they have recorded, we could wish for more, but it is what it is – the opening song, and then thirty-five minutes of the encore. On the positive side, this is where the real funk lies and Prince buries us in his funk grooves throughout the recording, as we used to say “All killer, no filler.” So, short and sweet – lets dive on in.

24th October 2009, Paisley Park

There is some grime and a sense of danger in the opening “No More Candy 4 U,” Prince howls along with his guitar line in the opening seconds before the song comes fast on the heels of this shotgun blast of a beginning. The recording sounds a little shallow to my ears, it is clean enough, but with some distance with takes us half a step out of the performance. I don’t have time to get a firm grasp on the song itself, it runs for barely a minute and a half before we are abruptly cut and find ourselves surprisingly dumped into the encore.

The crowd wasn’t present on the recording for the first song, but they are here now and the first thing I hear is the sound of someone near at hand with a tambourine – the bane of my existence on many a recording. It’s only brief though and soon enough the audience is content with hand clapping, much to my relief. The song itself could have been plucked straight from the 1980’s, it still has every element we expect, but with one key addition – the vocals of Shelby J. The bass is still the king of the house, but Shelby brings the slightest hint of modern sheen, enough to polish the song without bringing it right into the present era.

With the appearance of “Cool” I expect to hear more from Shelby, but the first minutes belong to Prince and the the groove of Morris on the keyboards, ably assisted by the deeper groove of Josh and Cora. The scratch of the guitar satisfies my itch for further funk, the bass remaining just close enough to the surface of the recording to give it some contrast and depth. It’s funky, but not quite with a capital F.

I am very hard to please when it comes to live renditions of “Kiss,” but the arrangement on this recording hits my sweet spot and is one of my favorites of recent times. It’s well balanced, with a firm nod to it’s 1980’s roots, while updated without losing the skeletal sound that left so much room for the magic to seep in. I’m not fussed by the audience participation (when am I ever?) but it’s a well rounded version that see’s Prince dipping it deep into the funk trough in the final minutes, the guitar scratch reaching new heights while he takes it down low and lets the recording marinade in its stench.

From the other end of the spectrum, Prince draws the sweetest of “Sometimes It Snows In April” from the ether, the song suddenly shimmering and appearing amidst the chaos and the funk. It’s stronger than I first give it credit for, and it stands starkly bold, resting up hard against the other songs of the evening, blowing gently with the breeze but never breaking as it remains true to itself. The contrast to the other material see’s it appearing more beautiful than it might otherwise be, and it it sits proudly as a cool oasis in an otherwise hot desert of funk.

Prince digs deeper into his catalog for his by now familiar run through of “The Bird,” Jungle Love,” and “The Glamorous Life.” “The Bird” opens the door on this trio, introduced as a ballad, Prince immediately tears off his own version that takes Morris’s cool and rips it to shreds with a burning intensity that carries through “Jungle Love.” The verses and chorus matter little in this song, it is all about the guitar fury that Prince injects with a furious venom later in the song. It’s shorter than what I have heard elsewhere, but still worth the price of admission.

The final of this trio is “The Glamorous Life.” It gets a fuller performance than the other two songs, and with the female voices being heard it lifts the song beyond the raw-boned funk sound of the previous two songs. I like it for what it is, a modern update of a song that Prince was reclaiming form his back catalog, and the four minutes it plays it sparkles and shines in a way that it hadn’t for years, glistening as it is at the rear of the concert.

Prince gentle croons a vocal melody across the opening of “Purple Rain.” It sounds a lot like what I would expect him to noodle through the introduction on his guitar,and to hear him vocalizing instead adds a nice touch and a point of interest in this otherwise all to familiar song. The song retains at this uniqueness throughout, Prince sometimes toying with lines, or rolling them in ways unheard before, that I find myself completely engrossed. They aren’t huge changes by any means, but after listening to thousands of versions of “Purple Rain,” I do appreciate anything new or different, and this rendition feels looser and more personal that anything else I have heard for a while. This carries through to the guitar solo, and Prince riffing before the final reprise of the singing is joyous indeed.

What I have heard here makes me all the more disappointed that the recording isn’t complete. The shows of 2008 and 2009 all have a certain sameness and sound about them, and yet I find myself enjoying them immensely, far more than I should perhaps, and this one sounds just as good as any other I have heard. The audience recording is obviously not as good as some of the other shows circulating, but it is of the modern era and far beyond the scratchy audience recordings we had in the 1980’s and 1990’s. All in all, another good addition to the collection, it won’t ever make one of my greatest lists, but it is far from skippable. I usually rate these recordings by how long would I listen to them in the car, and this one would certainly last three or four days in the car before I changed it. Is that a recommendation? – you decide.

Montreux Jazz Festival 2007

Superficially the recording of Prince playing the Montreux Jazz festival in 2007 seems to be something unique, a chance for Prince to display another side of his catalog and his more jazzy orientated oeuvre. However, when we look at the other shows of 2007 we can see that this show is much more a stepping stone between the two halves of 2007, as Prince comes off his run at Las Vegas and heads to his residence at the O2 for 21 nights. Many of the songs heard at Montreux are familiar to us from his concerts in the previous months, and later in the set Prince moves to a performance that is much more in tune with what is heard during his 21 nights concerts. The real magic with this bootleg is that it is the Montreux Jazz festival, one of the gold standard festivals in the world, and this occasion is matched with a soundboard recording, giving us an intimate ear on a luxurious sounding performance. It’s been a heck of a week, I look forward to losing myself in the music and magic for a couple of hours as I disappear into Prince’s world and the Montreux festival.

16th July 2007, Auditorium Stravinski, Montreux, Switzerland

A jazz festival needs horns, and here they are right at the start of Prince’s performance as Greg Boyer, Mike Phillips and Lee Hogans play a bombastic take on “When The Saints Go Marching In,” a song I haven’t always enjoyed in Prince’s live canon, although in this case it is entirely appropriate and provides an enthusiastic start to the concert.

The concert settles and quietens, a sense of intimacy embracing the recording as the “Footsteps” emerges from the speakers. It is thoughtful in it’s delivery, the band washing it around the auditorium, building power and momentum not just from themselves, but the audience as well as they provide a handclap for the beat. The music comes as waves, washing in and out on the back of some skillful horn work that has me in admiration for the band who seamlessly bring a fresh sound to a style and song that is all too familiar. It is the final appearance of Prince and his bold guitar sound that brings this all to a sharp focus, the music one again accelerating and burning up under the guidance of this master craftsman.

“The World Is A Ghetto” was covered by Prince only through 2007, and this version is skittery and unsettling, completely suiting the title. It is the keyboards that sketch out the bones of the song, the other instruments secondary to this landscape of unease created. The contribution of Mike Phillips and his vocoder is completely representative of the era, and there is very little surprise registered as he crops up midsong to provide a detached vocal.

The horns and bass come together in a potent brew for a furious “Mind In 7” that picks up the jazz theme of the evening and pushes it further than anywhere else heard on the recording. This is the pinnacle of this first section of the show, with no vocals the music itself dominates, as does Prince’s forceful guitar that overwhelms the second part of the song. It is briefly out of balance, but Prince does pull back and the equilibrium is restored with further horn solos. After this the show will take on a more traditional form with Prince compositions being the mainstay of the concert, and this song is one last chance to indulge in a less familiar sound.

There is plenty of light and breeze to the impulsive sounding “Down By The Riverside.” I have always heard this as filler in Prince’s mainshows, in this context though it takes on a new life, and although lighter in touch than the previous songs it still insists you listen, especially Greg Boyer’s trombone that serves as a call to arms midsong. It is not just the horns that catch my ear, Renato Neto once again flashes across the keys, delivering up a solo that, although not memorable, is a lot of fun.

The first real vocal performance of the evening is a sultry “Satisfied,” even if it is undone initially by the appreciative audience. Prince’s opening “Awww” immediately sets the tenor of the song, he is going to be loud and in your ear throughout. That thought stays with me for the first minute of the song, Prince is considerably louder than the rest of the band, and it’s not until the mix is corrected later in the song that I can properly sit back and indulge in it’s smoking late night sound. Prince’s vocals aren’t the standout for me, it is Morris Hayes and his organ that grab all the headlines with his break, his organ adding a sense of depth and sexiness that Prince’s clever lyrics don’t quite capture. Prince is almost too smug and aloof, while Morris Hayes grounds the song and adds the organic feel that it is otherwise lacking. With “Beggin Woman Blues” drawing from the same well, Prince neatly wraps up the song in a satisfying package.

The concert takes wings and flies with a fiery rendition of “Girls And Boys,” the wheeze of the keyboards giving it a sense of urgency and here and now. Prince and Shelby do the stomp, and that is what this song sounds like, a gleeful stomp through a song I thought I knew well. Renato adds a new dimension with his intergalactic keyboard beaming in, updating the song while acknowledging it’s 1980’s roots.

We stay firmly in the 1980’s with an abridged rendition of “Purple Rain,” Prince acknowledging his most famous song without being beholden by it. Prince crams alot into it’s six minutes run time, we get all the verses and choruses and a guitar solo that hits all the right spots. It’s not the dragged out epic we often hear, but it is close enough to appease most fans and it’s appearance in the show nods to his past without ever detracting from what has come in the half hour previous.

“What A Wonderful World” serves the same purpose as “Down By The Riverside,” giving Prince a break from the stage, and as a standard it is almost invisible to me. I do enjoy parts of it, but is suffers from over familiarity and without the focus of Prince there is nothing really to hold my attention here.

I am brought back into the concert with “Gotta Broken Heart Again,” Prince still suffering for his art twenty five years after he wrote the song. It comes as a downbeat lament, Prince’s melancholy long distance call tortured through the empathetic music and tearful horn solo. It may not be the stand out of the evening, but it is a poignant moment that shines brightly in this new context and surroundings.

With Shelby J at the helm, “Love Is A Losing Game,” takes “Gotta Broken Heart Again” and raises the stakes, the melancholy turned upon itself, the protagonist no longer wallowing in his loss, but now recognizing it for what it is, a game that can never be won. Prince’s guitar adds to this sense of drama and hopelessness, it doesn’t shine out of the darkness, but rather spirals and turns within it, never quite making sense out of the loss and heartbreak. It can’t come close to the rendition that Prince plays with Amy Winehouse later in the year, but it is a stepping stone towards that concert, and that final heartbreaking duet with Amy before she passed.

There is recovery and the sweet balm of “Sweet Thing” to lift us from the previous songs, Shelby’s voice singing us out of the gloom on the back of some shining guitar cascading through the song. It is Prince’s final guitar break that tips the song right over the edge, it sings out in hope and positivity, his music lifting us far beyond the reach of Shelby and the lyrics of the song.

Very little surprises lurk in the creases of “Musicology,” it is a song that had been stretched as far as it could go since 2004, and the emergence of different instruments and players through the song don’t offer the same sense of purpose as it did in 2004. There is no need for Prince’s mantra of “real music by real musicians,” in fact he doesn’t resort to that here at all, it is all apparent by the quality heard onstage,and indeed on the bootleg. Prince on the bass is what my ears are listening out for here, his moment cool enough, but not as earth shattering as one would have hoped. There is a sting in the tail, “Prince And The Band” blindsiding me with a sharp ending.

The snarl of Prince’s guitar buries the funk of “Play That Funky Music,” the groove merely the vehicle for Prince to show off his guitar prowess. It is a venomous solo that vanishes any other thoughts I may have about the song, even the music bowing down before his immense talent and guitar fury.

With just the beat,Prince builds a quickfire “I Feel For You,” a song that he rips through like a twenty year old man with places to go. It’s poppy, bright,and youthful, giving the concert another lift as we head into the final third.

Following this kick start, the concert is again reinvigorated by a lively “Controversy,” bursting forth into the arena.It’s stark funk is sacrificed for an all inclusive sprawling arrangement, one that is guaranteed to get the party started, as well as providing Shelby plenty of time to extol the crowd to clap their hands and stomp their feet. It’s covering old ground, but I care little as it’s inner energy energizes me and for a few minutes the worries of the world are forgotten as I clap my hands and stomp my feet here at home.

The cover of “Crazy” is pure 2007, and immediately takes me to that year. Although the song was released 2006, Prince’s cover came to prominence in concert throughout 2007, and as such I cannot disassociate the two. Shelby doesn’t quite make the song her own, but she gives it a good shot, and it is more than a karaoke rendition that it may have been in lesser hands.The reappearance of the vocoder for “One Nation Under A Groove” adds to the moment, giving it funk credentials buried deeper in the mix. Another song that is light on Prince, it nonetheless has it’s moments and deserves it’s place in the set.

Prince reclaims the microphone for a “Nothing Compares 2 U,” the partnership with Shelby still in the making so what we get here is Prince singing alone, while it is Mike Phillips who provides an anguished counterpoint on his saxophone. It’s not the most striking version in his canon, but he hits enough of the emotional marks in the song to make an impact, even if it is not long lasting.

“Take Me With U,” starts brightly, but after the first chorus it is abruptly brought to a halt, for reasons unclear, and Prince instead delivers a driving version of “Guitar.” While the opening of the song fails to inspire any sort of strong feeling within me, Prince’s later guitar solo grabs me by the shoulders and gives me a damn good shaking as he delivers fast and furious. It’s great to listen to, but it does lack the heart and soul that so often give Prince’s breaks a killer edge, and as such I must relegate it to an “also ran” of Prince guitar solos.

A strong bassline dominates “7,” the song out of balance on the bootleg with Prince’s vocals equally loud. However, it is only short and soon enough it segues naturally into “Come Together,” a song we heard plenty of times through 2007. There is the spirit of coming together in the song’s coda as the music disappears and leaves the audience singing the main refrain for the final three minutes. It is perhaps the best way to finish the show, and leaves the main part of the concert with the feeling of togetherness that live concerts often give us.

The sound of the acoustic guitar sets the scene for the final two songs of the night, first “Little Red Corvette” crawls slowly from its garage as Prince delivers a carefully pitched solo version. It isn’t as quite as effective as it was on the Musicology tour, but on this soundboard recording there is enough of the nuance and delicacy for me to appreciate not just his song writing, but also the intricacy of his guitar playing.

Ending the concert strongly is an equally delicate “Sometimes It Snows In April,” a song that has taken on a deeper meaning since Prince’s passing. Prince’s vocals sit stark at the centre of the recording, so clear that I almost feel I could reach out and touch them. The song is temporarily forgotten as I indulge myself in Prince’s vocals, and I can think of no better way to end the concert than this gently crafted moment of emotion.

Asides from the name “Montreux” being attached, this concert is no different from many to the others we heard in 2007. The key thing that makes this bootleg what it is, is the fact that it is a soundboard. With a more jazz influenced sound coming to the fore, a soundboard recording is the best way to catch the more intricate and subtle sounds that the band bring to the music. 2007 isn’t the year I go to first when I want to hear a bootleg, but this concert would be one of the first I would choose from that era, based on the quality of the recording and the performance.

Brisbane 2012 Aftershow

“The greatest show I ever saw”
Not my words, but the words of the guys over at the Peach And Black Podcast (although, I must admit, I have uttered these words several times over the years). The show in question is the afterjam from 27th May 2012(am), just over a week since the last aftershow from Brisbane on the 19th. I have a lot of time and respect for the Peach and Black podcast, and although they were addressing the show rather than the bootleg of the show, it was enough for me to rummage in the collection to find it. A great show does not guarantee a great bootleg, but those words “the greatest I ever saw” keep rolling around my head, and I hoping the recording captures something of the magic of that live performance. Even though Prince is not present throughout the whole show, the setlist is certainly appetizing, and the guest appearance of Andy McKee suggests that we may hear some different arrangements at his concert. There is only one way to find out if this performance lives up to expectations, so let’s jump right in with Shelby and a performance of The Gap bands “Outstanding”

27 May 2012 (a.m.) Eatons Hill Hotel & Function Centre – Grand Ballroom, Brisbane

The word outstanding haunts me as the N.P.G. and Shelby play what turns out to be an outstanding cover of “Outstanding.” The bootleg is well balanced, as is Shelby and the band, the song playing to my sense of nostalgia while drawing the spirit of a party out of the audience. A warmth envelops the recording, and although I have sometimes dismissed shows from 2012 as being soulless, this one is anything but as Shelby and the N.P.G. create a safe space, the bootleg sounding as intimate as someone’s living room, a casual sense of ease and soul that will pervade the rest of the recording.

The concert steps up a cog with “We Party Hearty,” a song that eases us from the opening “Outstanding” into a more uptempo jam, a song that sets the standard for the rest of the evening both by name and nature as the band come to the fore with a variety of sounds that are aimed squarely at the dance floor. For the first time we hear the horn section, giving the recording added impetus and raising it above the heavier bass and keyboard that otherwise keep the music flowing. There is still no Prince on stage, but the band is stamped with his trademark sound, and this part of the concert is just as enjoyable as what will come later.

Built on the steeping stones of some heavy organ riffs, “You Got The Love” see’s Shelby and the band add a substantial and forceful power to the recording. There is some rock guitar appearing through the cracks in the bassline, a new dynamic we have not previously heard at the show. Normally this would appeal to me, but in contrast to the soulful sounds of the first songs, it feels light and throwaway. The guitar eventually twists itself up into Shelby’s vocals and the bass, making for a noisy centre of the song that doesn’t quite hit the right spot for me.

Although “(Theme Song From) Which Way Is Up?” was only played occasionally at shows, it seems to have appeared often in the shows I have recently listened to. Shelby is enthusiastic by nature, and the song plays to her natural ebullient self, the driving beat and groove matched by her tempestuous vocal delivery. It is punchy and sharp, the snappy keyboards rounding out the chorus beneath Shelby’s more obvious hook. The vocabulary of the second section of the song is steeped in the keyboard and it’s tight partnership with the bass, both stealing each other’s rhythms and influences as two of the unsung heroes of the band come forward. There is the feeling that the show is beginning to reach a point where it might truly breakout into what it has threatened to become for the first half, and after this song it can no longer be contained by the stage itself, and the real spirit of the show is released into the atmosphere with Prince coxing “Mutiny” from the band.

It is a once familiar, and yet at the same time brand new as the band put a spin on it, the groove coming slower, demanding that you pay attention as much as dance to it. It is a Frankenstein version, “Ice Cream Castles” coming strongly over the top as Prince flits between the two. It is a classy performance, and just the sort of twisted version I would normally be attracted to, unfortunately in this case I don’t feel it as much as the band on stage, and for me the untouchable highlight is the organic organ solo that pulls the song back to earth after it’s previous alien and cold sound. The rolling groove remains the bedrock it is all built on, and no matter how Prince stretches and toys with the song, it always snaps back to shape on the back of this groove.

The first real treasure of the recording comes with Andy McKee’s appearance and a pared back rendition of “Africa.” It is a song that is instantly recognizable,and this arrangement with just Andy and Elisa Fiorillo highlights the songwriting craftsmanship that shaped the song, even in this form it is catchy and has me easily singing along. There is no Prince here, but it is another dip into the nostalgic past, the mists swirling around the recording as we venture back to my teenage years.

I don’t have the same warm feelings for “Emotion,” the performance sounds warm enough, but the overall effect leaves me cold. I do enjoy the sound of the three female voices coming together, and Andy McKee has a light touch of sound behind them, but it is not a song I have heard often, and I am impatient to more forward through the recording.

I am suddenly fifteen again as the song of “More Than Words” laps against my ears. The crowd can’t help but join in, as do I at home, the distance of time shrunks as the song rises out from a modern context played by this modern band. The vocals are again gentle, I am caressed by the sound rather than battered by it, and although I am a punk rocker at heart, this song captures my imagination and I am transported away as it plays.

“Paisley Park” is drawn gradually from the audience’s hand clapping, the song slow to reveal it’s true self in public, before Andy McKee’s guitar sketches it into shape and makes the moment real. The song remains untouched by the band, asides from a beating heart of a drum beat, and it strolls softly across the sonic territory it inhibits, remaining an elusive dream that is always one step ahead. It is undoubtedly the highlight of the show, and although we will have stronger songs later on the bootleg, none can touch “Paisley Park” for raw beauty. It is the very heart of the show itself, a whimsy rendition that captures the spirit of the song in it’s organic sound.

The sonic tease that opens “The Bird” stretches on for minutes, the song constantly threatening to burst into life behind the ever building keyboard riff, yet it remains firmly under the strong will of Prince’s hand. The first cracks appear with the horn’s building, before Prince unleashes the band for a full blooded rendition that goes across a storm with the audience. The recording remains unblemished, but to my ears this part of the concert doesn’t sound quite as good as the previous few songs. Prince does call for sound adjustment on stage, but this in no way has anything to do with the recording which suddenly becomes a whole lot stronger on the back of a precision strike of a guitar solo, not a single note wasted in an efficient and timely break.

We have a call for “guitar up in the house” at the beginning of “Jungle Love” that immediately raises unrealistic expectations for what will follow. I was hoping for a storm of guitar, but we have instead is a paint by numbers run through of song, and as much as I want to project my own sense of occasion and thrill upon it, in truth it doesn’t deliver much beyond it’s reach. There is the requisite guitar solo, and as good as it sounds, it is not one for the ages, Prince keeping everything neatly trimmed as he rushes to the audience participation led by Shelby. A lot of fun to be there, the bootleg not quite as fun as the music chops and cuts beneath the audience chants.

We stay firmly entrenched in this era as the band ease the sound into a wider vista, and a sharp take on “Glamorous Life.” The bootleg is a little uneven at this point, and as much as I want to love it, I merely like it. John Blackwell on the drums adds some excitement late in the piece, but not enough to overturn my earlier verdict.

Things become far more serious as Prince and the band turn their hand to a brooding “Stratus.” It straddles two worlds, the guitar wiry and sharp, while the galloping bassline funks and rolls beneath. It is a beguiling performance, the previous songs appearing almost throw away in comparison to this far more studious and unhurried piece. The guitar and keyboard together provide an expressive melancholia that seeps through the music at every turn, the sound of the song far more important than any lyrical riff or idea. It is a predictable arsenal, “Stratus” has been heard numerous times through the years, but at this moment it is just the right song for the performance and reinvigorates my interest in the show.

“Stratus” is the Trojan horse that sneaks “All Shook Up” into the show, the music remaining with it’s dark atmospheres while Prince reaches to Elvis’s infectious lyrics to offset this impenetrable sound. There is an unease as the two worlds rub against each other, a friction that sparks but never bursts into flame, the music pulling the lyrics down to its own shuffling uncompromising vision.

I admire the grandiose intentions of “Insatiable,” intentions the remain unfulfilled as Prince’s vocals remain one step detached and just beyond any true sense of soulful. It’s a close enough facsimile, and I am satisfied with the performance, although again the bootleg doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness that I crave.

A plush “Scandalous” has me one step closer to heaven, Prince pulling his submerged incantation from deep within the song, each breath and word crafting an atmosphere and drawing the crowd further into his ever expanding web of seduction. The electric fury of earlier in the evening is now replaced by a soundscape drawn from velvet and silk. I can feel the greatness of the performance crawling out of the speakers, and for a few minutes I am inclined to agree with the assessment of the Peach and Black crew.

It is the twinkle of the piano the lights the path into a emotionally crushing “Adore.” Following “Scandalous,” it comes as a heavy one-two punch, “Adore” as emotional and loving as “Scandalous’ was sexy and seducing. It is wholly immersive, I can feel the recording swallowing me as I am again buried deep in Prince’s world for this performance of a song that I shall never tire of hearing. There is gentle ache to Prince’s lyrics, and with the backing vocals playing as a heavenly choir, the song has a sense of purpose, Prince is pitching it squarely at the heart of the audience, and I can attest from the recording, he is squarely hitting the mark.

With an upbeat spray of color, “Jam Of The Year” springboards us into the final section of the show. It sounds shallow and thinner than it did back in it’s prime during the 90’s, but it retains its fun and Prince’s sense of music being a party. It suffers in comparison to the previous few songs, but it sets the scene for Princes final few songs, as always with every intention of raising the party.

“$” was only played during 2012, and here it is presented only in the briefest of introductions to a medley that also includes “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and “The Song Of The Heart.” I heard “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” on a golden oldies radio station today, and it was a lot more fun that the insipid version that gets tossed into this medley. Rounding out this flash in the pan threesome is “The Song Of The Heart,” it brings it to a close, but it does nothing in terms of adding to the performance or music.

Unfortunately the circulating recording is missing the final pièce de résistance “Days Of Wild,” no doubt the show stopping highlight as it always is. It is paired with “Wild And Loose,” which makes me only want to hear it more, one can only imagine what a wild end to the how this would be.

This bootleg is not the greatest ever, but there is evidence here that this is a great show, and for all that saw it I am sure it was the greatest. It is a reminder that as much as we enjoy these bootlegs, they will always remain a poor cousin to seeing a live performance, and no matter what quality we have them in they will never live up to that experience. As a bootleg it is very good, and has some spectacular moments. It also has a couple of flat points, but overall it is a timely reminder that these shows from the 2000’s are in some ways just as good as the aftershows of the 80’s, time has jaded us to just how special and amazing these shows are no matter what era they are. Of course I recommend this recording, and for those that were there I am sure this is fine reminder of a great show. Peach and Black have their memories of the show,but for the rest of us, this is the closest we will get. It points to greatness, but that is a peak that can never be conquered by a mere bootleg.

Buffalo Aftershow, 2002

All the talk this week has been of the appearance of a soundboard recording of the Buffalo 2002 aftershow. Any new soundboard is welcome, and although this show is not new to us (a Sabotage release of an audience recording has been circulating for sometime) it is a welcome addition to the bootleg canon. Unfortunately, it is incomplete – there are sections of the show missing, but when we put it together with the Sabotage release we can get a well rounded picture of the show. What excited me more than it being a soundboard, and it surprises me that this is not spoken of more often, is the sublime setlist and accompanying performance. The concert is relatively short, an hour and a half, but the setlist contains some show stoppers, including “Beautiful Strange” and “Paisley Park,” two songs that always deliver. The setlist is matched by a high spirited performance that permeates a sense of joy and fun at every turn. All in all, this looks a fantastic recording, and today I will be listening to it with the Sabotage recording near at hand to fill in any gaps, a stop gap measure that works well until something better comes along.

8th March (am) 2002 – The Tralf, Buffalo New York

An unsurprising call for no cameras – “It’s blinding up here,” is Prince’s opening line, and it immediately takes me back to his Copenhagen show later in the year – a show he infamously stopped to berate the audience for taking photos (and incidentally a show I consider on par with Small Club). The music begins with a groove constructed from the bass and organ, it’s warm and inviting, and rather than throwing down a challenge it lures me in with it’s easy sashay. Renato Neto is an obvious hero, but a closer listen reveals Larry Graham’s distinctive bass as the glue that holds it all together. The first surprise if the night comes with Prince’s first line, drawn directly from “4 The Tears In Your Eyes.” It is the essence of why I collect these bootlegs, to hear such a rarity, and appearing in a completely foreign context. My heart lifts as Prince continues with this lyrical line, the groove remaining subservient to his willful indulgence in this song from his past. The song continues to delight, the keyboard is the first draw, but also with a cameo appearance of Prince’s guitar briefly revealed before Prince folds it back in behind the soft curtain of groove the band continue to tinker with. “Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa” remains its own man, the insistent horn lines barely make an impression on the groove and colour the song ever so slightly with their input. Finishing with a soft drum solo, the song leaves me feeling nothing but good thoughts as we roll onward and into further groove territory.

The is a laid back feel to “The Work,” a song that normally I associate with a undeniable groove that I can’t resist. In this case the groove remains tightly in Prince’s pocket. It comes as a gentle wash, Prince depowering it and instead of weakening the song it strengthens as it as each player contributes a more nuanced performance. The soundboard recording doesn’t contain the whole song, but the Sabotage release is good enough for the final four minutes. Captured on the audience recording is Maceo’s solo, a piece of art that stands far above the quality of the recording and can be admired even under the most trying of circumstances.

I am not convinced that “The Jam” needs to be in this setlist given the quality of the two jams that opened the show, however with Larry Graham on board for the first three songs I can’t say I’m surprised. It is Larry that gets things started with his distinctive vocal delivery, something that is only matched by his equally distinctive bass playing. It plays as we have heard throughout the years, everyone has their part to play, but to my ears no one player stands out – they are all valuable yet equal, as they should be. With Prince’s guitar break kept to minimum, the song quickly moves through its paces, enjoyable yet undemanding.

Suddenly the sound of beach camp fires and relaxing with friends fills my ears with the gentle strum of “Paisley Park.” It has a simplicity to it that speaks to my nostalgia, and in this bare form one can easily imagine hearing it played at house parties over the years. Prince keeps this thought at the front of my mind as the he asks the audience to take up vocal duties after the first verse, a task they take to with great gusto and enthusiasm, albeit not with great musicality. There is sense of ease and humor present on the recording as Prince tests the audience of their knowledge of the lyrics, a test I may well fail myself if put on the spot. It is playful and light, adding a sense of intimacy to a concert that only has 300 people to begin with. Prince’s return to the song wraps it all up in a pop bow that neatly caps the most fun part of the recording.

“Paisley Park” would be my favorite part of the recording, if it were not followed by “Beautiful Strange,” a song that is itself both beautiful and strange. It weaves it’s way slowly onto the recording, shimmering in and out of focus as the sound of a solo horn tries to tie it to something solid amidst it’s smoke and mirrors, hide and seek sound. There is only one way to hear this song and that is live. In the live setting it becomes bigger than on record, more mysterious, and several levels deeper as Prince and the band bury it in untempered guitar work and keyboards that add a sense of unease to the sound. It is a song that exists outside of the people playing it, in fact at times it sounds as if it plays itself as it becomes more unworldly as we fall deeper into the web of guitar that Prince weaves across the latter part of the song. It is the horns that I cling to in the final minutes, the anguish of Prince’s guitar replaced by their hopeless melancholy sound that only adds to the allure of the song. It is a song to be wallowed in, and in the last two minutes there is plenty of wallowing going on at my place.

The tight fisted guitar sound of Prince builds us into “Calhoun Square,” a song that feels rooted in the Seventies, especially compared with the choice of covers in this setlist. With an organ rolling back and forth underneath, and the horns adding their sound, it takes me to another time, while Prince’s guitar work draws from the same era – rocking and rolling but never dominating in the way that he often does on this song. It is a tidy performance, classy and missing any sense of danger, but then again this is real musicians playing real music, danger belongs to the young and the dispossessed.

This bootleg has thus far given so much, and that continues with a performance of “Dolphin” that is just as good as any other I have heard elsewhere on the tour. It draws from the well of sadness, Prince’s vocals saying so much in what he not saying, and even the quickening chorus remains low and serving a greater purpose. Prince inhabits the song, one senses he is not playing a character, rather he is himself directly speaking through the song. I cannot separate Prince from the message he is singing, and for me this is the true weight and power of the song, much more than the notes played and the lyrics sung. It is another heavy blow in the concert, and matches “Beautiful Strange,” for it’s beautiful and perfectly pitched delivery.

“The Ride” isn’t as essential as it was in the mid-Nineties, and Prince is more than happy to give way to Greg Boyer and Maceo Parker, before he finally takes up the cause on his guitar. The horns are sharp, but Prince buries them under a landslide of guitar work, the notes coming thick and fast as he plays with a quickness belying the slow crawl nature of the groove. The song returns to form as the groove sinks back into the undergrowth, encouraged by Prince and the steadiness of John Blackwell’s hand and Rhonda Smiths sense of time.

It is the loop and hook of the rhythm guitar that holds court throughout the cover of Jame’s Brown’s “There Was A Time,” it is relentless in it’s energy and ensnares me from the start. Unfortunately the soundboard is again incomplete, Sabotage’s release picking up the slack for the second half of the song. With Maceo picking up the lead vocals Prince sits back in the band, it’s no loss as the music remains central and one can hear his influence throughout.

Maceo doesn’t take the vocals for “Pass The Peas,” it is presented as an instrumental and initially it is the organ that has me salivating with it’s evolving wheeze and stomp. However, Maceo reclaims the song with his contribution, he was the man at the birth of it and in this context it is his baby and he squeals and shrills the room to a standstill. Even John Blackwell’s solo can’t upstage him, and the moment belongs to Maceo as the song crashes to a close.

Larry Graham returns for the final song, a quick run through of Sly Stone’s “Sing A Simple Song.” Compared to the rest of the show it is somewhat throw away, but one can’t deny the quality of musicians Prince has on stage with him and they certainly live up to their billing. However, the song remains firmly rooted in the past, and no matter what the band bring to it, it remains overly familiar in my mind. I am unable to hear any freshness to the performance,and even Prince’s guitar solo fails to excite me as it so often does. Again, it’s not without quality, but in the case it just doesn’t appeal to me in the way the earlier songs did. The show had to end somewhere, and here it is, not the exclamation mark I had hoped for, but a competent display by some world class musicians.

This old friend has been taken out and polished up with the appearance of the soundboard recording, and it certainly deserved it. I have previously enjoyed this, but perhaps didn’t give it the respect it deserved being an audience recording. That has changed for good with this new recording, and I can only hope it reaches an wider audience in this form. I am sure most people have heard it by now, but if you haven’t I urge you to find a copy, or pull out the old Sabotage release. This is real music by real musicians, and the recording is at it’s very best when Prince reinterprets his own music rather than take on covers. 2002 is a golden era in my eyes, and recording like this only cement this thought. Prince was striving for new heights, and as this show demonstrates, he was hitting them.

Musicology comes home, Paisley Park 2004 Part 3

I have mixed feelings about this third and final concert from Paisley Park. I have enjoyed all three immensely, and this third show is another stunning performance. I think perhaps show two eclipses it for unbridled joy and pure musical muscle, but there  isn’t much that separates them. I think the best solution would be to load all three together in a playlist, lest anything be missed, and turn up the volume. As a triumvirate they are unparalleled, I am struggling to think of a better group of concerts than this, and they gain strength together as each has nuances unheard in the other shows. This third concert also has a decent audience recording, perhaps not quite as good as previously heard, but certainly very listenable and clear. 

19th June 2004(am) Paisley Park

Prince sets out his stall early with a rendition of “Call My Name” that curls around the listener and suffocates one into Prince’s world. It’s a glorious death as Prince chokes us with his glistening vocal performance, each line hanging as he imbues it with heart and soul giving it a weight that belies it’s easy delivery. Candy Dulfer draws her saxophone solo from the same place, the song filling the room and the recording from end to end with a inescapable softness, a gentle surrender of the senses to Prince’s sweet poison.

“Joy In Repetition,” stalks slowly on to the scene, Prince revealing the story slowly, flashes and pieces revealed, and concealed, as he tears slowly at the edges of the fabric of this internal world. The drama is finally brought into the light with the lyrics settling and becoming focused, the room becoming the story as Prince sketches out all the poets and part time singers. The song stays low and to form, the smoke of the music clearing for a part time singer to come to the mic, Prince giving way for the audience. It is brave move, the song let loose in the hands of the crowd, losing some of it’s tension as this unknown singer lets the drama drain away. Prince does regain control in time to right the ship, the song sailing through to the end on an even keel, the band almost secondary as the music moves under it’s own gentle way. The guitar is obvious in it’s absence early on, but all is forgiven as Prince surrenders the moment to Maceo Parker and his horn, giving the song new life, and adding to it’s sense of moment and story of darkened, smoke filled clubs. There is time for Prince to return with his trademark guitar bluster and burn, the song set a fire in the final minute as Prince razes all before him with one final and emphatic full stop. 

The pairing of “Girls And Boys” and “Mustang Sally” is interesting, especially as Prince’s song becomes a soundalike tribute. The band pick up the groove early, and they never let it go as it pushes and pulls beneath Prince’s vocals. It is the lyrics that get the attention, but it is this constant drive and boogie of the groove that propels the song, giving Prince a bedrock to build upon. It is Greg who is first unleashed with his trombone, pulling a classic soul sound down to the groove, welding the past and present together in one foot stomping solo. The stage is set for Maceo, and he is the physical embodiment of the two eras Prince is bringing together, his contribution more than just his name however though and he blows up a storm for the next few minutes. When Prince calls “I love you baby,” it is hard to know if he is singing the song or shouting out for his joy in the music.  

This soul revue continues with Chance Howard taking vocal duties for “Knock On Wood.” It has the same groove and sound as the previous song, but at merely five minutes it is considerably shorter. Although it’s not rushed, at points it does feel like it’s going all too quick, this time the band have no time to build the song, instead they tear through the heart of it, they have the essence of it but very little time to convey this to us, leaving the song enjoyable but hollow.

There is a welcome return of the guitar as Prince again takes centre stage for a blistering rendition of Tower Of Power’s “What is Hip?” It is Mike Scott who gives us the punchy guitar lines, his contribution the final eruption on top of an ever building bass line. This is a complete band performance, the organ solo by Renato Neto demanding just as much attention as he demonstrates his considerable skill. Prince final comment confirming my thoughts -“tighter than a mosquitoes behind” 

We reach the eye of the storm with a twenty minute performance of “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute),” the fire of the earlier songs replaced by a purposeful cold intensity that takes the bare-bones  of the song and fleshes them out into a Frankenstein monster of a funk jam. With a five minute intro of funk guitar and slow building bass and drums, the song generates it’s own power that will carry us through a variety of funk songs and musical history presented with Prince’s own unique interminable grooves. The original song is present by name only as Prince touches the lyrics but keeps the groove in another realm as the horns and band keep us swiftly moving. Mike Phillips raises the stakes with a solo that rises out of the stage and finishes in the heavens, the song lifted by his presence and Prince inspired to take on to a range of call and response that is primeval in delivery and emotion. It is a performance that comes from the gut, and that’s where I feel it as John Blackwell keeps with the theme and serves up and propulsion filled solo that maintains the momentum. I am not normally one for drum solos, but this one is brisk and keeps the concert thrusting forward into the future. The music suddenly fulls back, leaving Renato Neto exposed for the final minutes, his contribution an icing on an already sizable cake.

There is another surprise lurking in the setlist, Prince’s one and only performance of Beyonce’s “Speechless” It is a faithful rendition, glassy smooth in it’s delivery, although Prince foregoes the lyrics, leaving it as an instrumental, the band and the music enough to carry the emotional heart of the song. It is a stunning performance, a thoughtful moment that lingers long after the music has drifted away, the music resonating in its intoxicating spell. 

One of Maceo’s own songs makes it into the set with “Shake Everything You Got.” It opens the door on another funk workout, it’s sprawling twenty minutes containing an array of riffs and horn solo’s that continue to evolve the music to their own ends. They spin the music to dizzying heights, a cacophony of brass that final gives way to some electric piano that pulls the music back to something I can keep up with. With the guitar finally appearing in the final few minutes the song flattens and takes on a new shape, the frenzy of the horns early on tempered and tamed by the appearance of this measured guitar break. 

The music takes a soft transition into “Superstition,” but the bootleg and concert take a sharp upturn as vocals appear. The recording is clear throughout, and these last two songs give a good test drive, the recording never wavering under wave after wave of high horns and deep bass.  As a bootleg it is very strong, and it is more than a match for the concert it captures. 

I am temporarily excited by the appearance of the “777-9311,” but as is so often the case it is merely an introduction to disappointment, the opening bass salvo giving way to nothing and a brisk transition into the next song. In this case it is complimented by some fast horn work, but I am happy enough as “Skin Tight” takes the bass and twists it into it’s own classic sound, the song landing a heavy blow with it’s weighty funk. The bass remains king throughout, and no amount of horn from Maceo can detract from its infectious groove. 

“No Diggity” reveals itself slowly, at first peering from behind the familiar riff of “P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up),” before Chance Howard drools the opening lines, the song carrying a sense of it’s own musical history with years of funk and soul built into the DNA of the song and revealing themselves as dark gems throughout. The song is another strong moment, Candy Dulfer given a chance to contribute with a solo that briefly flashes bright in the otherwise dark heart of the song.

Prince’s vocal bark is a sledge hammer striking blow after blow at the start of “The Jam” It’s a violent opening to a song that otherwise is inoffensive in its familiarity and  place in the setlist. There are better long jams at this concert, and this one fails to top what has come before, it is almost filler coming as it is near the end of the concert. I can’t deny, I do enjoy Larry and what he brings to it, but there is nothing here that we haven’t heard before on better and brighter nights.

With the piano leading the way, “Purple Rain” delights with it’s horn infused opening. The song stays in this unique fashion, the piano rising and falling, swirling and sweeping across land cleared by the horn, Prince only coming to the microphone long after the piano has left an indelible mark. There is no guitar in the song at all, the music drifting back and forth without the guitar to pull it all together in a satisfying knot of emotion that I have become so used to. I can’t quite connect to it in the way I want, it is just too slight in this form, but I do love and admire it for it’s uniqueness. 

There is a further treat with “Adore” appearing out of the mists, Prince’s vocals beaming down like heavenly angels providing a mood that the vocals can barely capture. It is just as youthful as it first sounded in 1987, I may have aged since, but the song hasn’t in the slightest and it still elicits the same emotions in me as it did when I was fifteen years old. For the next few minutes I am lost in the music as Prince takes me on a nostalgic ride back to my youth. Candy’s solo snaps me back to the here and now, her horn a little too shrill for my tastes and breaking the spell. However, this is a sublime way to finish the set, and delivers more than I could have ever asked for with it’s performance and nostalgic value. 

Still basking in the after glow of this performance, I am convinced that this is my favorite of the three nights. Who knows how I might feel in an hours time, but right now this concert and bootleg has stolen my heart. With a stunning recording to match the superlative performance, this is one bootleg that is worthy of praise, the unique renditions of some familiar songs making it all the more worthy. I still think all three of these aftershows should be heard together, they fit together as a well rounded package, and on any given day any one of them could be considered a favorite. 2004 is often skimmed over, but these recordings stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the popular bootlegs of the 1980’s and are worthy of the place in the catalog. 

Musicology comes home, Paisley Park 2004 Part 2

This week I continue listening to the trio of aftershow’s Prince played at Paisley Park as his Musicology tour rolled into town. Each show is unique, and as much as I enjoyed the first of the three last week, this week’s show ups the stakes and looks even better. The setlist is shorter, but the songs played are stretched out further than the previous show, giving the band more time to embed themselves deeply in the music they are creating. The sound is sophisticated with the maturity of the band shining through, and once again we are faced with a sublime audience recording, all the better for catching the nuances of the performance.

18th June 2004(am) Paisley Park

The jazz influence is heavy from the first moments, and the intricate piano flourishes that Chance Howard provides “Footprints” sparkle and burst out of the recording. I had expected more horn work, but the keyboard remains at the heroic center of the song, giving the performance a jazzy, lilting feel that lingers throughout the entire twelve minutes of “Footprints.”

The previous show saw “Dear Mr. Man” appear late in the setlist, this time around it is in the front seat and driving the concert from the beginning. It picks up the jazz strands of the previous song and twists them up with some funk squelch, giving the song a two pronged attack that feels good on many levels. The lyrics remain key to the song, despite the music competing for attention, and one can feel Prince’s message as much as hear it as he sings his lyrics. It’s early to the concert to lavish praise, but this song stands out as a highlight from it’s first note to it’s last.

“I Know You Got Soul,” is a staple of shows such as this, and here it takes the stage and doesn’t let go for twenty minutes as Prince and the band wring every ounce of soul they can from it. From the elongated introduction that takes the groove and loops it to heavenly levels, to Mike Scott’s effortless guitar grease, the song continues to snake through the recording, keeping the concert moving beneath Prince’s command. The horns add further impetus to music, but it is an easy drive with Prince staying on top of the music throughout with his relaxed command of the stage. The song continues as a simmer, never reaching boiling point but continuing to cook as the horns add a heat that hits the feet as much as the head.

With a laugh “Skin Tight” begins, continuing with Prince’s rummage through the funk and soul of the 1970’s. Surprisingly he doesn’t take the vocal duties, instead letting the band carry the load as he embeds himself deeper in their midst. The song blooms and grows in ways not heard elsewhere, the raw funk supplemented by a colorful arrange of horn work, and some Mike Phillips vocoder, something that always makes me smile. The overall feel is one of a looseness, and a band having fun onstage, a feeling that translates nicely to the recording.

There is a lack of intensity to “D.M.S.R,” the song slowly appearing from the previous song and remaining formless for the first minute until the drum and bass finally take control and shape it into the song we are familiar with. The horns and bass are the twin towers that stand at the center of the song, although Prince’s constant call for the drums suggests he thinks otherwise. As always Mike Scott brings the chicken grease and combined with the horns gives the song a brightness that belies the otherwise heavy bass and drum sound. A reappearance of the vocoder is welcome, although it is given quite a while and has me laughing with crazy delight. It’s all capped off by some Maceo Parker playing that is to be treasured, his horn finding new ways to define the music and add his own distinctive funk style to the moment.

“House Party” is another song that reappears from the previous night, Maceo staying the center of attention as again he attends to vocal duties. The song is a slow burn, Prince calling dancers to stage long before Maceo takes to the microphone, the music steadily building on the back of the groove. There is a sense of release as Maceo sings, the true nature of the song revealed as the band live the lyrics, their own house party swirling around them as they play.

There is a stark boldness to “Sexy Dancer,” the song looking us straight in the eye as the band give it a fierce backbone and inner intensity. This is no mere disco groove, this is a song that has matured over the years, a song that now has a hardness to it that no longer asks you to dance, but rather insists you dance. Listening carefully, there is some tasty piano work that starts deep in the song before burrowing it’s way to the surface, exposed to the light for all to appreciate the light joy it plays with. It counters the raw groove, and Mike Phillips contribution with the saxophone a minute later comes from the other end of the scale, raining down from the sky upon the song, his horn as forceful as the groove of the bass and drums. It makes for a lively mix, the song demanding attention throughout as each player brings something different to the mix, never quite settling on a single sound.

It is a groove that serves as the introduction for the next song, the horns refrain rising “Mustang Sally” out of music. It is a Trojan horse, a burst of guitar that could only come from Prince hinting that we might be in for something else entirely. As the groove of “Prince And The Band” continues, the guitar rises in intensity, Prince devoting more and more attention to his instrument until it eventually steams into “Peach” It is hard for me to dissociate the song from Mayte and her hot pants, but Prince plays with a steady and controlled intensity that has me forgetting my teenage infatuation and instead fully focusing on the guitar energy at hand as he runs up and down his fret board. The guitar eventually gives way to Prince singing “Prince And The Band,” a moment that can’t compare to what we have just heard from his guitar work. One final flurry restores the balance as the song ends on a high, leaving me very happy indeed.

The dark elegance of “Beautiful Strange,” floors me, especially as the recording captures it’s slow moving melancholy while it drifts across the stage. The architectural weight of the introduction collapses beneath the pressure of the bass and guitar, the strange yet beautiful opening minutes disappearing beneath waves of electric rubble. Prince’s forlorn guitar howl emerges from this debris, it’s wail a beacon amidst the dense bass growl, giving us a sense of something to hold onto. The song continues in this fashion, the sea of noise swamping the recording, while Prince’s guitar continues to float over top with it’s own agenda, at once competing with the rest of the band and yet at the same time complementing it. It is the keyboard that lays the song to rest, Prince’s guitar staying silent as the keyboard squeaks and shrieks it’s own unknown message out into the darkness, once again shrouding the song in mystery as it comes to an end.

I enjoyed the previous show immensely, and I am only to happy to say this one tops it. With the shorter setlist, the songs speak for themselves, and have plenty of time to stand on their own feet, their true personalities revealed as they play. “Dear Mr. Man,” and “Beautiful Strange,” are the obvious highlights, each bringing a sense of integrity to a concert that is otherwise drenched in fun. With a quality audience recording, I can easily recommend anyone who has grown tired of the Musicology tour and wants to hear something more demanding from the same time period, a concert that retains the key elements of the era, but with an added dash of intensity and solemnity.