I have been a listening to Prince for more than 30 years now. The main reason I have stuck with him for so long without losing interest is the diverse range of shows and music available, there is always something different to listen to if I get tired of whatever I am currently listening to. The last few weeks I have listened to an after show with Amy Winehouse, a tight Revolution rehearsal, as well as a stripped back piano show. This week’s show is in many ways completely different from those recordings, we are looking at a show from the Act 1 tour of 1993, a tour that is high on spectacle and theatrics. The music couldn’t be considered ‘classic’ Prince, but it is refreshing to see him play most of the album that he was promoting at that time. A lot of the songs in this show have disappeared from his live performances now days, this show is a good chance for me to revisit them again and remind myself just what a fun, yet mad, period this was.
24th March, 1993 Radio City Music Hall, New York.
What drew me to this show was the fact that it’s a DVD of the concert, and that is important as these shows are a treat for the eyes, and often we need to see the action on the stage as Prince and the band play out various subplots through the show. Visually it’s an exciting ride, and the music too gives me a thrill. The opening My Name Is Prince sets the tone for the evening well, plenty of Prince braggadocio, strutting around stage with cane in hand and chain hat on. I may not be the greatest fan of the rest of the cast on stage, but I do like the guitar chopping away under it all. There is always something on stage to hold my attention, so as Tony M spits his lines I find myself looking and listening for other action on stage. The appearance of the ‘Arab Princess’ and a couple of other Arabs seems completely unconnected and over the top, yet it is perfectly of the time and these over the top shows.
Sexy MF has the music back to centre stage, for the first part of the song anyway. I can’t fault the sound of the band or the performance at all, the song sounds great. I admit, I love looking at Mayte too, but at times it seems the music takes second place to the other shenanigans on stage and the dancers, Mayte and Prince all engage in moves and sequences. Like I said earlier, this show is all about spectacle.
Things settle down with Damn U, and for the first time in the show I find I can listen to Princes voice, and the music is the first priority. It’s a very 90’s looking performance with the dancers and in their colourful suits and moves. The best moments for me come is as Prince is alone at the microphone singing, much to the delight of the crowd who squeal in appreciation.
This show is great in that it highlights so many songs from the Symbol album, and the performance of The Max that comes next is a real treat. The music sounds thick and powerful, and Prince brings his best dance moves to the party. The highlight though has to be when he sits at the piano and belts out a few bars, the crowd cheer and I know that I aren’t the only one that feels it. Prince loses me late in the song however, as he snaps polaroid’s of the band as the music softens. As he sits at the piano again for a seduction scene with Mayte I hope for more playing from him, but in this case the piano is little more than a prop.
The reporter sequence is just as unnecessary here as it is on the Symbol album, the payoff here though is we get a nice rendition of Morning Papers with Prince playing the piano, before climbing on it for a guitar solo. The solo is a lost opportunity, he doesn’t shred the guitar, electing instead to play a very tame solo, by his own standards at least. The final solo is better to my ears, although that could be because I pinned so much hope on it.
The guitar levels go up considerably next as Prince stays strapped up for Peach. The intro gives a good insight to what will come next, and we get some minutes of grunting/chugging guitar through the song. It’s still young and fresh sounding, and it gets a pass from me here. Prince finally releases the guitar frenzy I have been waiting for, not one of the greats but definitely a lot of fun and the highlight of the show so far.
Then from left field we get the reggae infused Blue Light. Prince is the master of changing moods and sounds at a drop of a hat, and this is no exception. This song is not often played at my home, yet it has its place, and listening here I find it very enjoyable indeed. For its lightness it still has enough of a groove for me to lean back and enjoy. It does capture that summer feel that was Prince’s intention.
The Continental is great to watch, and equally good to listen to. The first part of the song comes on strong, and has plenty of Prince swagger and guitar sound. It’s got an intensity that the recording doesn’t capture, but I know that if I had have been there it would be pulsating. I also have just as much praise for the coda, with Prince singing his “how you wanna be done” lines before Mayte takes her part of the song. This is where watching it becomes a bonus, as Prince performs plenty of lewd dance moves as Mayte sings.
Now for something I never thought I would say. Prince segues into Everyone Get On Up and my first thought is that I much prefer Camen Electra’s version. You might think from that comment that it is incredibly bad, it’s not. It just comes across as lacklustre, and Prince is dialling it in. The crowd singing and dancers on stage make it look like a fun time, and I am sure it is, it’s just not that great to listen to.
Another annoying reporter segment before we get Prince spinning into Flow. I like the Prince section of the song, my attention sags when Tony M is on the microphone. The whole song gets a great lift with a trumpet solo, which makes up for some of the theatrics being performed on stage. There is an element of silliness to it all that makes me wish they would just stick to the music. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s all part of the show and the spectacle.
Johnny is much more the sort of thing I like, slowed down I find Tony M’s rap much better, and Prince’s lyrics always have me chuckling away to myself. It’s a nice break in the show, and the slow groove works for me at this stage of the concert. Normally I much prefer Prince to Tony M, but both of them are good here.
Prince at the piano raises my hopes for what might be coming next. What we get is Prince playing as he sings into Maytes eyes. His lyrics cover a range of songs, and although I recognize all of them instantly I fail to pick the titles. The And God Created Woman/ Three Chains Of Gold is off the wall crazy, and something I could only see Prince doing. He does it supremely well here, playing at the piano as the band and the dancers carry the weight of the visuals. The scope and ambition of the Symbol album is all here with Prince giving us a sound and performance that seems equally brilliant and completely mad. And best of all, it all works in the live setting. There is plenty of theatre to match the music, and all that comes to a head as Prince plays his guitar in front of a row of performers pointing pistols at him. I don’t know if I should be saying bonkers or brilliant.
Any other show with a woman dancing with a sword on her head, I would say what the heck were they thinking? Instead, with this being the show it is, it all seems perfectly normal. The dance and the Arabic intro is the perfect lead into 7, and it makes perfect sense. The song gets a great reception, having been a moderate hit only a couple of months before. The performance is lively with Prince playing and singing at the microphone. Musically it’s not too different from the version I know so well, and I do get a kick out of seeing Prince perform it with a smile on his face.
A brief break, then the encores begin with an arrangement of Let’s Go Crazy that is a little too ‘busy’ for my tastes. There is a lot going on, and Prince and the song is lost in the noise of it all. It is a thrill to see him in the light, guitar strapped on, it’s a shame the music isn’t quite so iconic in its sound.
Kiss is also lacking that clarity of sound that I think would give it a lot more emphasis. It maybe the recording, or the show, but there is a sharpness that is missing from the sound of it. The performance I do find employable, especially when I sit back and watch it rather than think too much about it.
The groove slips easily into Irresistible Bitch, and it seems a good match for this 1993 Prince. It stands up well when compared to songs like Sexy MF, and I like Prince having a foil to sing to in the form of Mayte. Her sassiness is a good counter to his cocky rap, and the music gets a nice round funk sound that is timeless.
The funk doesn’t last too long, Prince goes for a guitar driven song next with one of my favourites – She’s Always In My Hair. In this show where all sorts of things have been happening on stage, it’s a joy to see Prince playing something heartfelt, and seeing him pouring it into his guitar playing is fantastic. It grounds the show after some of its other flights of fancy, and I connect with Prince and the show at this point.
An interesting guitar interlude that goes for several minutes has me speculating what might be coming next, but I failed to guess at Insatiable and Mayte on roller skates. It’s Prince the balladeer at the piano again, and as he sings bathed in blue light I am completely drawn in. None of the distractions matter when the music is as great as this. It’s a double header with Scandalous incorporated easily into the music. Again, it shines in the fact that there aren’t distractions to the music, Prince simplifies the show and the music is all the more stronger for it.
The concert is getting stronger as it goes, and Gett Off I another solid performance. Prince and his guitar both sound great, and the crowd responds well as he segues into Gett Off (Housestyle). Prince does well to keep up with the music, and the crowd are part of the fun as they sing along. The band interplay is great, especially the guitar and the percussion. The biggest surprise is I expect it to go like this for some time, instead the music suddenly slows into Goldnigga. I like the sudden change and groove, although it’s very short.
Purple Rain swells and floats into view next, with plenty of audience singing long before the song starts proper. The song is given plenty of time to breath, and is played quite solemnly compared to the over the top show we have seen previously. Prince seems invested in the song, and he not only sounds great but he looks great as he sings and plays onstage. Kneeling on stage to sing, or arched back playing guitar, he is physically playing the song and the performance is just as important as the sound. My only reservation is the guitar does sound a little thin in places, but overall it’s no big thing. The highlight of the song is the coda Prince plays after the rest of the band has stopped, just the single guitar sound before he finishes the song with one final refrain.
The is a final encore and a sense of inevitability as it opens with a frenetic sounding Partyman. A lot of the subtleties are lost as it is pounded out and Prince puts his all into the visual performance. I can’t deny, its a lot of fun, and when I stop being so uptight I find that it does live up to it’s name.
Without pause we quickly cut to 1999, its uplifting sythn riff a clarion call to all who want to party and have a good time. The backing singers aren’t very clear, but I can hear Prince and that all important main riff well enough. Its just as frantic as Partyman before it, and before I know it we are chanting “party”. It does weary me by the end, however my flagging spirits are lifted by the sound of Baby I’m A Star.
The horn section sound very good on Baby I’m A Star, it’s a pity that the recording doesn’t capture them very well. Prince is well and truly showboating now, his dance moves carrying him back and forth across the stage. It’s all a lot of fun, and things get even better when he puts on the purpleaxxe to jam at the front of the stage. Of this final 10 minutes of the show this is my favorite moment, and Prince too seems to be having a great time. Prince then plays puppet master to a couple of dancers, which I read all sorts of things into. It’s an anticlimactic ending as Prince disappears from stage and the music comes to an end.
This show captures a moment in time where the show itself almost takes precedence over the music. There was certainly times in the show where I felt Prince was putting all his creative energies into the stage show rather than the music. It’s no bad thing, but in my mind Prince is all about music, and this is my primary focus when I see these shows. The show itself is very interesting, he is certainly trying many different things, some work and some don’t, and he isn’t afraid to try something new. Although not my favorite look and sound, I still found it fascinating to watch. This is a great document of a very interesting time in his career.
Thanks for reading
take care- Hamish