“I’m back, and I’m harder than a heart attack”
It’s been six weeks since I last updated the blog, but I’m pleased to say I’m back and happy to be doing what I love most; listening to bootlegs and writing about them. Sorry for the extended break, I was exhausted and gave myself a couple of weeks to catch up, which became a couple weeks more as my oncoming wedding loomed into view. The wedding is still a couple of weeks away, but I’m on top of it all now and looking forward to listening to Prince.
I have covered the 2013 Montreux shows previously, but in light of the now circulating video I feel there is a need to revisit them. The video of the shows highlights different aspects of the performance, and for me feels completely different from the audio recordings of the concerts. I enjoyed both immensely, the video of the first two shows greatly elevating them in my opinion. I’m not going to go too in depth about the shows, I feel I have already covered them adequately, I will instead touch on the key songs and moments in the shows that I feel are worth looking at closer.
Montreaux Jazz Festival 2013
1.Count Basie Vs Jimi Hendrix
These shows highlight two different sides of Prince; Prince the band leader and Prince the guitar God. The first two performances sees Prince fronting a large band, a band he leads and guides through the show with ease, while the third night sees Prince strap on the guitar and deliver a night of fierce guitar performances that sees him alone in the eye of the storm. That one man could do both is amazing, and that he does both to such a high level is simply incredible.
The first two nights are full band performances, the stage crowded and cluttered with singers, dancers, a full horn section and the core band. Days Of Wild at both shows is the song that shows the band and Prince at their full potential as they bulldoze through the song. It has the feel of a circus maximus, everything and anything goes and the stage is awash in a confusion of bodies and sounds. On first viewing it is a busy scene, with the band and Prince creating a sound jungle, the music dense and tangled. Subsequent viewings show Prince to be a man in total control. There may be twenty people on stage, but all of them have their eye on Prince as he controls them with a glance or simple hand gesture. It speaks not just of Prince’s control and understanding of the band and the total sound, but of also the band themselves and their level of professionalism as they hang on Princes every move. Every eye on stage is following Prince as he commands not just the core band but also the extended horn section in a masterclass of band leading.
The third night has Prince stepping back from the large band and taking the spotlight on himself as he unleashes the full force of the guitar upon the audience. Again he is the centre of things, although this time attention is firmly focused on him and his guitar wail. Forget the leaden opening of Let’s Go Crazy, it’s the following Endorphinmachin that contains the real highlights, as Prince sets the stage ablaze in screaming guitar. With its lively energy it is a celebration of music and guitar heroics. Prince takes multiple solos, each one taking Jimi Hendrix as a starting pointing before stretching across all genres and decades in search of the right sound. There is plenty of good old fashioned seventies rock in the mix, and Prince is playing tribute to the past while searching out new sounds with his axe. This guy was leading a horn section the night before, now he’s laying waste to the arena with his guitar playing alone. Untouchable, we shall not see his like again.
2. I’m with the Band
Prince maybe leader of the band, but he also is part of the band. He may dominate the spotlight, but there are moments when he steps back into the shadows and plays well within the Band. This is never more apparent than the performance of She’s Always In My Hair from the third night. Yes, he’s in front, and delivering plenty of sparks early on, but this is offset by the guitar solo that Donna provides (while leaning in the crowd). A moment that could have been easily taken by Prince, he instead adds to the performance with another colour added to the palette by Donna. During this song Prince is seemingly all things to all people, starting as a rocker, before subverting the sound and become a soulman for the latter part of the song.
This again sees another band member take their moment, as Prince plays the breakdown he is seized by the music,and the moment, and pauses to let Ida play. It’s worth it too, as she provides some funky bass that fizzles and pops with energy, taking on a life of it’s own. These are only two moments, but they highlight how important it was for Prince to be part of a band. And it was an opportunity for 3rdeyegirl to have an identity of their own. Of the Prince songs they played, She’s Always In My Hair was the one they took and made their own. With an emotive performance this moment is a great record of them as a band, and serves as a fine way to remember the times they played together.
3. The man is music itself
The final moment that struck me most is the encore of the third night. Beginning with When Doves Cry, Prince plays a sampler set with the band backing him, the horns and extended band joining him on stage. This brings all the previous strands I have written about into a single performance in which Prince’s true character is revealed. He maybe a star, a performer, a band leader, but at the heart of it all he is just a man who loves playing music. Everything else is irrelevant, and that is never more apparent than this final encore. Darkening the stage for When Doves Cry, Prince makes the music the most important aspect and deflects attention from himself. This is heightened further as the encore progresses, first members of the audience come on stage to dance, then the extended band, until Prince can be barely seen at all. He sits at his keyboard, cocooned by the band and equipment. Head lowered over the keyboard, the performance is secondary to the music, he is in the moment and nothing else matters but the groove and the music.
As A Love Bizarre plays he is a man who looks content and happy, one feels that if the crowd and arena suddenly disappeared he would still be perfectly happy playing this groove to himself. Love brings the band closer to him, and surrounded by the horn section Prince is at the centre of a small, intimate gang. Prince is buried by the crowd as Larry takes on a bass solo that is so funky Ida looks as if she might burst into tears.
Equally funky is the horn solo provided by Sylvester Onyejiaka, as Prince holds the microphone for him he plays up a firestorm of a solo that comes dangerously close to making the room spontaneously combust. Housequake has Prince again riding the band, the horn section out front while Prince pulls the strings from behind. There is a moment for Hannah to shine, before Prince calls for Ida to commit. The is the final hit out for the band and the show ends in the best way possible with a solo from Donna and Ida before Prince brings the show to a close.
These three shows are really what Prince is all about; funk, rock, the band, leadership and music. Above all music. He has played larger arenas, bigger concerts with more spectacle, but this show boils it down to his essence. Prince was music. Music was the reason he existed, he lived music, he breathed music, he sweated music. These concerts have something for everyone as Prince gives all of himself in these performances, these were the moments that impacted on me, but I am sure there is many other moments in the concerts that others related to. A superb bootleg, it was worth the wait.