It feels like a long time since I started listening to the concerts that Prince payed in Austria. After a diversion through the latest EYE releases, today I finally come back to the final Austria concert featuring 3rdeyegirl.
I have had a lot of interesting feedback from fans who were at last weeks 2010 concert in Vienna, a rash of fans declaring vehemently that it was the best concert they ever went to. And not just casual type fans either, some of these people have seen 50+ concerts, making me wonder if Prince really did play the best concerts in Austria. The concert from 2010 sounded good, but not great as those attending tell me, which serves as a reminder that these bootlegs only give us half the story, and there is no replacing the experience of actually being at the concert.
Today’s show from Vienna is the last concert of the European leg of the 2014 Hit n Run tour. I have previous written about a lot of these 3rdeyegirl concerts before, at the time there was quite a buzz about Prince playing in this smaller format, although looking back three years later some of this lustre has worn off. The concept was initially thrilling, but not strong enough to carry a whole tour. 3rdeyegirl were great for the rock side of Prince’s Gemini personality, but of course Prince wanted to push a range of genres across his concerts. The outcome of this was naturally enough an elongated sampler set, addition musicians brought into the fold, a longer piano set, and new arrangements of some songs to fit in with 3rdeyegirl’s style. None of these are a negative, but it does make for an uneven and bumpy ride through the gig. To my ears there is an odd inconsistency and the concerts never quite settle into a groove – Prince is always changing things up as the concert evolves. Still, it does keep people like me guessing and interested in these shows, something that can’t be dismissed.
7th June 2014, Vienna, Austria
There is no explosive opening to the concert and bootleg. Skipping Hannah’s spoken introduction and a couple of songs over the P.A. the first song performed is a limp “Let’s Go Crazy.” While I admire the intent in the rearrangement of the song, with its low and slow riff, it does take away all the is good and great. The strength in the original “Let’s Go Crazy” is it’s combination of rock and pure pop, giving it an uplifting joy and energy. This arrangement strips out all the pop, and most of the joy, leaving it as a soulless plod. Prince does this with other songs too, usually to fit in with what ever mood he is creating at a concert (“1999” and “Kiss” are two that immediately spring to mind), but in the new arrangement of these songs who loses what it is that makes them what they are, the alchemy is undone and these once golden pop moments become leaden and dull. “Let’s Go Crazy” isn’t bad, but it’s certainly a far cry from what it once was, and I could happily skip over this arrangement.
The appearance of “Take Me With U” lights up the concert, even if the sound on the bootleg is rather one dimensional. The recording has very little depth to it, and even though I can hear the music fine, it doesn’t jump off the page. Along with it’s sister “Raspberry Beret,” this is where Prince’s pop side comes to the fore, something people may not expect when they first see 3rdeyegirl take the stage. With Cassandra and Josh adding their keyboard talents to the core of 3rdeyegirl, the band is well rounded and better equipped to tackle some of these gems from the back-catalog.
“U Got The Look” is paper thin and a real disappointment. It is the weak man of this concert, and describing it as thin and sickly would be an understatement. Prince’s guitar break normally reinvigorates even the most ill of patients, in this case it is the death rattle that puts both the song and me out of our misery.
As a contrast, “Cool” is the best performance so far heard on the recording. The recording is clear, but still not strong, and it does just enough to catch Prince and the band finally giving us a song I can connect to. It is the keyboards that are the pulse that keeps this song moving, and for several minutes the rest of the concert disappears under this wave of keyboard swells and Prince’s cool.
I have previously been dismissive of the sampler set, but I must admit it has grown on me over the years. It is a nostalgic romp through some of Prince’s beloved 80’s material, a treat for those that have been with him through his musical journey. “Dove’s Cry” is the gold standard when it comes to his 1980’s output, and he matches it in this case with yet another funky version of “Sign O The Times” I can tell you both are great., and that’s not 1980’s me speaking, that is me in the here and now 2017 asserting that they sound just as good here as they did thirty years (how it hurts to to realize that) ago.
“Hot Thing” is notable for the eclectic keyboard solo that Cassandra delivers, it’s quirkiness elevating the song and bringing something fresh to the table. The song doesn’t reach any great heights asides from this, but I do recommend giving her solo a second listen.
I did yawn through the opening minutes of “Alphabet St,” but like the previous song one of the band members comes to the fore with something interesting. In this case it is Ida Nielsen with some sharp bass work that has me leaning forward to try and catch every note. She is one sharp player and I only wish there was more here for me to enjoy.
This sampler set closes out with “Forever In My Life,” the bass again being the most interesting aspect. It may start slow, but the final minutes is intoxicating as the bass comes from a variety of angles both providing something unexpected and joyful.
There is a full band rendition of “Controversy,” a song that hits the reset button on the concert as suddenly both the music and crowd come alive. There is finally some muscle to the music, and the concert rises in my estimation from this point onwards. Maybe it is because I have listened to so many earlier bootlegs recently, but “Controversy” does bring out the best of this recording, and it towers above the earlier tepid material.
Earlier I wrote that sometimes the soul of “1999” is sacrificed for the greater good of the concert, I am pleased to say that in this case that doesn’t happen. It is the full version, with all the correct sounds in the correct places, and the magic from 35 years ago is still in the air as Prince plays.
Prince sticks with the 1999 album for an electrifying performance of “Little Red Corvette” It has a rather conventional opening, but there is an appearance of the “slow down” refrain midsong that is captivating and goes for sometime, enticing the listener with it’s warmth while retaining a sense of regret. The song disappears and leaves Prince and the crowd singing, a poignant moment that hangs a veil of sadness across the show.
“Nothing Compares 2 U” stays with this sense of regret and loss, but doesn’t quite scale the same heights as the previous few minutes. Again, Prince has the crowd singing with him, but it doesn’t generate the same heat as the previous number. I find redemption in Cassandras solo, and I am again surprised at just how much of herself she injects into the performance, all for the better of course.
The is an extra kick in the bass of “Kiss” that has me listening carefully. It is another different take on this well worn classic, and although it doesn’t sparkle like the original it still has its own attention grabbing way. Laid back, with only the merest sprinklings of guitar from Prince, it is a deeper and darker listen. It has me eating my words from earlier, with it’s own soul it is a nice rework of a song that has had more different live arrangements than any other. The climax is the extended coda when the funk guitar appears, reminding us of the original sound on record.
There was the sampler set earlier, and at this stage of the concert Prince again takes a seat with the piano set. No surprises to hear “Diamonds And Pearls” first, the audience lapping it up and offering up their backing vocals early. The segue into “The Beautiful Ones” is also equally predictable, and although Prince sounds heavenly on vocals, the song itself suffers for being part of this set. Abridged, it is stripped of the climatic nature of the original, and there is no pay off for the pretty opening verses. The song rises, but never boils over, even with Prince’s final yelps there is a sense he is holding back.
I sit transfixed as Prince plays “Empty Room.” It’s a delicate trap, Prince drawing me in with his floating keyboard riffs, before Donna smites all with her axe. The guitar playing is sublime, filling with an intensity without overwhelming at any stage, Donna strikes her blows with maximum impact without overexerting the guitar. If there was a song on this recording that needed to be turned up to eleven, this would be it.
Guitars stay at the front of my thoughts, and Prince’s, with an energetic performance of “Guitar.” Although lightweight in it’s subject matter, and carrying no emotional baggage, it is still a worthy listen. It can’t match any of the previous songs on any level, but keeps things moving and brings 3rdeyegirl to the fore as we move into the rock orientated section of the concert.
The energy levels drop for “Plectrumelectrum,” although there is the feeling that Prince is merely using this as a warm up for the next few songs. There is plenty of guitar, but no heroics, and my overall feeling is that it is a couple of minutes too long.
I was no great fan of Prince’s cover of “Crimson And Clover” when he first started playing it (although I do have the Tommy James and the Shondells version on 45,somewhere). However, his take on it has grown on me the last coupe of years, and the version heard on this bootleg is a fair representation of what his arrangement sounds like. The “Wild Thing” chorus works well, and the final cascade of guitar is undemanding yet has plenty of fireworks for guitar aficionados.
Things have been building up to these next two songs, and Prince and the band deliver first up with yet another great rendition of “She’s Always In My Hair.” The recording is nowhere near as good as the performance itself, the two dimension sound of the recording sapping a lot of the intensity from the song. The music sounds intoxicating, but I feel like I am watching from a distance with the flat sound of the recording rendering Prince a paper doll. Still, the song is what is important, and it is another chance for 3rdeyegirl to rise up and make it their own.
“Purple Rain” is alluring from the outset, the first guitar runs glistening in a newness that I haven’t heard before. It meanders for a moment, before setting off in a new direction, the introduction briefly covering new ground before Prince brings it back with his first line. I am almost disappointed, but Prince is too good to give us just another version going through the motions, he injects what he needs to into the performance and the crowd respond as they always do. It is not one for the ages, but it does maintain Prince’s high standards, and again the only disappointment is the flatness of the recording.
After the highs of these two rock songs, “Play That Funky Music” as the first encore is a come done. It has never been one of my favorite songs, and the blandness of the recording certainly does it no favors here. On a positive note, Cassandra provides yet another excellent solo, and there is just enough slippery guitar to bring a smile to my face.
I am far more enthused for “Screwdriver.” It has a kinetic energy about it and Prince sounds far more youthful than he really is. It doesn’t stand on the same pedestal as Prince’s classic hits, but it is a modern song that fits well into these setlists.
From the same place comes “Funknroll.” It doesn’t do it as well as the previous “Screwdriver,” there is a sense of purpose missing, and the song feels like it is by the numbers in places. An uneven performance that perhaps would have been saved by a better recording.
The bass and drum of “Housequake” are strong, and wash away any recording limitations. It has a lot more backbone than “Funknroll,” something that is highlighted further as the song progresses, especially as Prince pulls it back to “listen to the drums.” With the bass rooting the song in funky soil, the music blooms and grows into a sprawling vine of sounds and rhythms. This is easily the best part of the last thirty minutes, and something of a surprise with 3rdeyegirl.
The is further surprises with a strong electric version of “Sometimes In Snows In April.” It may not be to everyone’s taste, there is very little that is delicate about it, and it is in stark contrast to the original. It still has a softness to it, but it is more fleshed out and certainly a lot louder. I still rate it, especially the guitar break which shines new light on a song that is often constrained by its own history.
“Bambi” is far closer to what we expect from 3rdeyegirl, and the version heard here comes as a hammer blow placed as it is near the end of the concert. With guitars fighting over each other to be heard, it is a gleeful romp that at times descends into a cacophony of guitar white noise. I revel in it’s sound, and although I know it is old and almost a parody of itself I still find it excites me.
“Stratus” twists and turns through an array of eclectic movements, all of them highlighting the bands collective talent pool, and Prince’s prowess as bandleader. The guitar break may grab all the headlines, but there is much more to this performance that that one lightning bolt moment. It is a chance to sit back and reflect on the abilities of this band, a band that is sometimes underrated while a closer listen reveals they do what they do very well.
I haven’t done enough research to tell you how often “What’s My Name” was played on this tour, but I do know that it sounds fresh whenever I hear it and comes as one final surprise at the end of the concert. It still has a lingering sense of anger about it, and retains the sense of outrage first heard on the original. Twenty years on it still sounds biting, and Prince spits his lyrics with plenty of venom. There is still a fire burning within him, and it may have taken two and a half hours, but here it is in full effect, the concert ending on a note of real intensity.
The recording finishes with the “Funknroll” remix playing over the P.A. Good for the completists, but I don’t really need to hear it, the previous “What’s My Name” the blazing finish that raises everything to the ground, there is nothing more to hear after such a rendition.
I would like this concert a whole lot more if the recording wasn’t so flat. Looking past that through, and I can see that this is a great way to finish the Hit N Run II tour of Europe, and it neatly encapsulates all the shows that have come previously, while highlighting the continuing evolution of 3rdeyegirl as they adapt to new styles and songs. Normally I wouldn’t give my time to a recording of this type, especially as there are so many good recordings of these later tours available, but like the fans say, Prince always put on a good show in Austria. A hidden gem, I might just play this a few more times before I put it back into storage.
A wordy entry, congratulations if you made it this far.
Join me next week when I’ll have something festive for the season.