First Ave 1982 Revisited

Recently Mace2theO commented that this bootleg from 1982 was the equivalent to his first girlfriend. We all have a similar first girlfriend experience – she may have had braces and carried some puppy fat, but she will always be special by the fact she was the first and painted in nostalgic hues forever more because of this. It was our first proper relationship, and doomed to a crushing teenage ending, but always conjures up warm memories that do not fade as time passes.

I’m sorry Mace2theO, but  in this case your first girlfriend got around a bit. Not only was she your first girlfriend, she was my first girlfriend too. Mace2theO acquired this concert on cassette (and all the nostalgic currency that that carries), while for me I found this bootleg on CD hidden away at the back of the record store. It was far from perfect in sound quality but I can assure you that when I took a listen it shook me to my core, and the fact that 35 years on I am blogging about Prince bootlegs demonstrates how much of an influence it had over the rest of my life. Like that first girlfriend, it was a formative experience. I didn’t quite know what I was doing and I have had better relationships since, but retains a special place in my heart.

A couple of weeks ago the soundboard recording of this show became widely available. It’s not always comfortable when we meet ex-girlfriends later in life, a messy divorce behind them, a couple of kids under their arm, and the first signs of a drinking problem hiding behind their forced smile, but in this case my first girlfriend has grown up into somebody I want to spend a lot of time with. The roughness of the audience recording is gone, replaced with a shiny soundboard, all slender legs, short skirts and long luxurious hair. Oh yes, my first girlfriend is now the hottest chick on the block. She is has grown up in every way, while retaining all the charms that I first fell in love with all those years ago. I may have talked about this first girlfriend before, but now she is in full bloom and stirring up those old feelings in me. It’s not very often that I spend time with ex-girlfriends, but in this case I am going to roll back the clock and wine and dine this girl one more time.

So with my first bootleg love rekindled, lets douse ourselves in cheap cologne, grease up the hair, and head straight to the heart of 1982.

(all photos by Mike Reiter)

8th March 1982, First Avenue, Minneapolis

There is a heat between the thighs from the opening minute, a few quick words by Prince and then a rage of guitar pulled down by Dez. With a punk rock assault Prince and the band hang it all out in these first minutes with both power and panache. In a frenzy of guitar scuzz “Bambi” storms into the room. It’s a wild eyed performance that bounces of the walls in a maelstrom of fuzzed up guitar and shrieked lyrics, capturing the listeners attention from the start. It is much cleaner than the previous audience recording, and the soundboard brings the musicianship to the the fore while retaining the fierce sound of the more familiar recording. That first girlfriend has cleaned up her defiant punk-rock hair style, but still has a fiery intent in her eyes that hints at an underlying violence that could bubble over at any second.

“All The Critics Love U In New York” is the most Princely sui genius song of the evening, and clearly maps out the territory that he will roam in the next few years. It wears its uniqueness proudly, face melting guitar work grafted to the undeniable beat that appeals to both my gut and my feet. I am never quite sure if I should be dancing or punching the air, the music insisting that I move my body in any way possible as Prince gives us perhaps the greatest performance of this song ever recorded. The keyboard solo gains on this pristine recording, Fink’s solo standing out among the more forceful blazing guitar and holding his own calm centre at the eye of the storm. For a minute we are in another world, before the hurricane of guitar solos return and swallow up the all the sound.

There is a glimpse of the first girlfriend I used to know in the opening of “When You Were Mine,” both the title and the sound taking me back to youthful summers that were equally long and lost. It is easy to project these feelings back on a song that has been with us so long, but even at this show it has a nostalgic feel – although it was only recorded just two years previous. This is the most comfortable song of the concert, and captures the exact feelings that I first had when I heard it all those years ago.

There is a world of difference between the audience recording and this soundboard recording when it comes to “Sexy Dancer.” A far more nuanced performance emerges on this recording, and whereas before it was strident and bold, here it becomes much more of a sassy walk rather than a march into battle. Both the bass and the keyboard via for attention, each adding to a show that I am already eminently familiar with. While the bass remains holding the song together, Dr Fink spins off into an intergalactic sound with his keyboards, making me draw a sharp breath in the thrill of it all. It is Dez who gets to put an end to these flights of fancy, his solo serving as an exclamation mark on all that has come before.

Things slow, sex and lust temporarily forgotten as Prince dips into a song of love and yearning with “Still Waiting.” Prince is on lead vocals, but it is Sue Ann Carwell who is the star attraction with her contribution. At almost ten minutes long there is plenty of time for the candles of love to flicker and flame, and musically one can hear the lights being turned down as the song slows to a velvety and warm breakdown. In this circumstance it is grating to hear Prince saying “I got cause to celebrate, because my girlfriend died” but as Brown Marks bass rises up from this crushed velvet sea all is forgiven, and I am again transported away on the winds of Sue Ann Carwell’s voice.

The recording slaps me in the face and snaps me out of this reverie with a furious “Head.” On the previous recording it was nasty and slutty, on this recording it is far more sexy and erotic. While the audience recording sounded like a blowjob in the Walmart carpark, this one speaks in the language of fellatio and sex on the hood of a Porsche at a Beverly Hills party. The outcome is still the same, but it doesn’t threaten to be as dangerous, and despite some superlative bass work I am comfortable that when it is all over I won’t be visiting the clinic in the morning.

If there is a moment that demonstrates how much better this new recording is, it is the final minute of the “Head” when we can hear Prince preparing the band for “Sexuality.” We have heard his yell into the microphone before, but this time we can hear him say it a couple of times earlier to the audience. It’s not a big thing, but it does show just how good the sound is. “Sexuality” is relatively short, most of the song is given over to the audience sing-a-long that dominates. It does lose some of it’s impact on this soundboard recording, the audience recording obviously doing a far better job of capturing this moment with the audience. This is crying out for someone to combine the two recordings in a matrix mix that would better give us that electrifying live sound that makes this recording so vital.

Prince’s brief speech introducing The Time has been often discussed, and for good reason. His easy banter with Morris is refreshing, and its hilarious to hear him and Morris go back and forth, trading lines and barbs that belie the darker waters that swirl just under the surface. “Dance To The Beat” maintains this veneer of lightheartedness, and provides a pop twist to a show that has been thus far guitar heavy and drenched in intensity. There is a lift in the atmosphere and the recording shines bright for these minutes.

Prince continues to fire broadsides at the band between songs, this time with the comment “I didn’t like that, play something you know how to play.” The response from The Time is a taunt version of “The Stick” that would satisfy the most demanding of audiences. As much as I like The Time and this song, it does feel as if they have gate-crashed the date, and there is an awkward third wheel experience to hearing them on the bootleg. The real draw card though isn’t the music itself though, rather their dynamic tension with Prince, a tension that fuels his music and will provide some of his most dramatic work in the following years.

“Partyup” fuses these two elements together in a climatic finish that delivers all it promises. The opening talk between Prince and Morris sets the scene, the back and forth continues between them continues as Morris takes his place at the drum kit for this final stomp. Prince and his guitar lead from the front, but most fans will be focused on Morris and his drumming. He lives up to expectations, and the foreplay of the opening talk is forgotten as the the song becomes further arousing. Morris’s drum solo almost brings us to orgasm, but Prince pulls him back just in time with some great bass work from Brown Mark. The final climax comes with an inflamed guitar solo from Prince,but as with the audience recording there is coitus interruptus as the tape fades out, the rest of solo never realized and leaving us to only wonder what might  have been.

I have loved this concert for as long I can remember. I have grown older, but it has remained forever young, even with the imperfections of the long circulating audience recording. With this soundboard recording we have a chance to revisit our youth, and a chance to reconnect with that elusive first girlfriend. I have mixed feelings as I know that the first girlfriend is forever gone and never again will I listen to the audience recording. This new recording has created new memories and sparked a new love. It is time to move on and file the audience recording in my box of faded photos, yellowed love letters and yesterdays glories. I am firmly looking forward as with this soundboard recording I feel reinvigorated, my love burning with a new intensity. I have made up my mind, this is the recording that I want to spend the rest of my life with.

-Hamish

Bonus material:

Mace2theO messaged me this quickfire review when I told him I was covering this bootleg. It’s not written with public consumption in mind, but he has agreed that I could share it with you. I am in full agreement with everything he has written here, and he is far more succinct than me!

Re 82 – reasons the show is important to me, rediscovered with the SBDs

The First Ave show came the night after the main show at the Met Centre so going back to a small club, it has the feel of an aftershow. It is the first Revolution in all its glory, with Dez as a proper Keith Richards lead as the Black Rolling Stones, all pre-Purple Rain. Starting with a raw punk version of Bambi, it then goes into a monster version of All the Critics. While “Let ’em out of his cage” is great, my favourite is before Doc’s solo when Prince and Dez start soloing and Prince yell’s “Wait a minute, Dez” before ripping off a monster solo.

Sometimes audiences make the boot and I had been living with crowd singing at the end of Sexuality for so many years, it took me a minute to adjust to the soundboard. Same with All The Critics – without that kickdrum in your face, the SBD didn’t feel the power of the earlier version…although it sounds much better.

Most important – this is really the closest we will ever get the inspiration for the Purple Rain battle. Before all the controlling issues that came along in 83-84, you can feel the real affection between Morris and Prince (“We used to be friends”) – as trivia, it has the only time in bootleg history where someone gives Prince shit “You wanna borrow my comb?” Also history, as only time live Prince with Morris on drums.

I have fallen in love with my first girlfriend all over again – not looking forward to telling the wife

Lakeland 1980 – Rick James Tour

Whats better than a soundboard from 1981? A soundboard from 1980! I have just taken my first listen to the new Eye Records release I’m Just A Freak and I have to say, I am most impressed. Not so much the release itself, but the music contained within. The music is fresh and exciting, and listening to it gives me the exact same feelings I had when I first started listening to Prince bootlegs thirty years ago, I am reborn as a fan as I am baptized by the music as if for the first time. So, lets rewind the clock and kneel at the alter of this recording, and in particular pay respect to the first concert of the set, 8th March 1980 at Lakeland, Florida.

8th March 1980, Lakeland, Florida

The “Boogie Intro” has me agape from the very first moment. It is a rambunctious ball of all that Prince does, a four minute blast that encapsulates all his sounds and genres. From the opening groove underpinned with the brute strength of Prince’s guitar riff, to the fantastically electric wonder of Dr Finks synth solo, we are immediately transported into Princes world. I shouldn’t read too much into this opening number, but already I can hear funk, rock, and hints of the Minneapolis sound that will come in later years. It is an engaging opening that never wavers from its unflinching servitude to the groove, no matter what euphoric sounds Prince pulls from his guitar, the dance floor is firmly in mind.

On top of the cyclone of an intro, “Soft And Wet” plays as per its title, it is both soft and wet in comparison. Its only halfway through the song that the first musical punch is thrown, and the second half is a feisty drunk in comparison to the first sober minute. It does sound gorgeous in this quality though, and it only suffers in comparison to the earlier song.

The concert takes the phrase hot and heavy, and makes come alive in the music they are playing. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” bleeds a warmth through the recording, and Prince and Dez bring a heavier sound with their twin guitar onslaught. Its not about a wall of noise however, they play with a sparkling finesse that provides wings for the song to soar above such earthly sounds. If not grounded by Bobby Z’s insistent drive the song would threaten to disappear in its own swirl of smoke and mirrors, instead Bob is the captain who keeps it moored as he underpins Prince’s flight of fancy.

Prince stakes out his genre hopping style as he tackles a ballad, in this case “Still Waiting.” He plays it with a breezy style, there is space throughout the song and Prince feels no need to over complicate it with sound. It is a thoughtful performance and has a wistfulness to it that lies just beyond my ability to articulate. Its an immersive experience, the schmaltzy synths  a canvas for Prince to paint his vocals across.

After the color and sophistication of some of this earlier material, “Bambi” sounds positively caveman like. It plays as a battering ram, Prince clubbing us early with his muscular guitar riffs, but for me the real joy comes later in the song when he shakes of these rock cliches and plays his solos with his own unique electric fury. There is the feeling that I have heard it all before, but the unhinged final minutes awakens the fan inside me and I am caught up in this wave of untamed big guitar sheen.

The band introductions are timely, especially as “Sexy Dancer” is the moment when we can hear Andre and his bass in all it’s glory. With it’s nagging hook it is all about the dance floor, and even if I can’t see it I can certainly feel it in the low end. A coherent amalgamation of all the band’s talents, I am particularly taken by the synth solo that is sumptuous, yet lies entirely within the groove, always remaining slave to the beat. Andre’s bass solo goes one better, and leaves me full of regret that it isn’t longer, but the final guitar solo on the song cleanses me of any such thoughts and makes a strident statement across what had been a disco song.

There is a clutter about “Just As Long As We’re Together” and initially I aren’t drawn to it in the same way as I am with some of the other numbers. Prince is forceful though, and already he and the band are good enough to win me over with their evolving styles and hybrid sound. The bass and guitar battle to hold my attention, and I am the real winner as both are relentless in their drive for a petulant funk sound. Andre is thrilling in the bass lines he creates, I expect this of Prince with guitar, but Andre’s finesse and blistering skills is a revelation to me – this exactly why I collect bootlegs so passionately.

 

The show finishes with a strutting version of “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” From the first riff ringing out in the darkness it is a moment to stand up and celebrate the pure pop sound that lies at the heart of Prince’s music. Infectious and uplifting, there is nothing more to wish for, this concert may only be eight songs, but it holds everything you could want from Prince. The pop sound may reignite the audience, but Prince pulls the rug from under them as the final half of the song becomes an extended jam that touches on the bases all ready covered by Prince. He touches on the first base of pop, before sliding into the second base of funk. From here it is a helter skelter sprint for third base and his strong rock sound. The home run comes as all these are amalgamated in one glorious sound that can only be described as “Prince.” The music acts as a time machine, and this final jam has me right back in 1980, I am with Prince and the band every step of the way as they bring the concert to a close.

These Rick James concerts by Prince are short, but that matters not one bit as he crams every sound and genre he can into a short sharp set list. Each song comes as a jolt as he continues to change direction, but always the music is focused and  delivers a powerful experience. Eye records has done us all a favor with this release, these concerts are part of Princes legacy and an important part of his story that the estate are not telling, He was about the live performance as much as the studio, and this raw unfiltered Prince deserves every piece of coverage he gets. This will be on my player for a long, long time to come, and with every listen I remember just how electrifying Prince was in the 1980’s.

I’m going to give it another listen now,
See you next week
-Hamish

Pittsburgh, 20 November 1981

A funny thing happened on the way here tonight……

I had every intention of taking in another concert from Austria, as I have done the last couple of weeks, but when I turned on the computer this morning I was surprised to find a soundboard recording from 1981 waiting in my inbox. There is several things you should know about me at this point:
1. I love concerts from the Controversy tour
2. Especially soundboard recordings
3. I am not one to be patient and wait.

So although I know this a premature leak with a complete recording and art work to come, I can’t help myself. All thoughts of the Austria concert are gone, and here I am with this 1981 soundboard recording blasting in my ears already. Oh the joy.

There is much more to it than being a simple soundboard recording. It is the first concert of the Controversy tour, and a mere four weeks after Prince opened for the Rolling Stones (we all know how well that went). So when we look at it in a historical context it becomes far more interesting than it might at first appear. With the typical Controversy setlist, and one of Prince’s more rock orientated bands, this is one show where I know exactly what to expect, and quite frankly I can’t wait!

20th November 1981, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Part of the trade-off of not waiting for the full release is that we don’t get to experience “The Second Coming” in way of an introduction.  Any thoughts of this are tossed aside as the band burst out of the speakers with “Sexuality.” My first thoughts are”My God, is this a 36 year old recording.” It is so clear and fresh, I could swear I was onstage with the band. It doesn’t have the ragged glory of some of the other soundboards of the tour, Prince and the band are calm and measured at this stage, and the guitar especially sounds as if it is in the studio and someone has simply turned it up in the mix. We have several other soundboards from this tour already in circulation, and from the first song I can already say that this is perhaps the best sounding. With Prince right in my ear it is a wild ride and a spectacular start to the recording.

 

The phrase la petite mort bursts into reality with “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” With guitar in hand Prince is a gentle lover, and as he reaches orgasmic heights he remains focused on the others in the room, providing pleasure without over stepping into the realm of over indulgence and self pleasure. It may be a guitar solo, but the moment belongs to all, and even if six minutes is disappointing by his standards (especially compared to some unhinged renditions later in the tour) it is still a satisfying experience that leaves me feeling like a post-coital cigarette.

“Jack U Off” is the complete opposite. Not only is it a song about onanism, but Prince performs it in a manner than complements the material. It is an exercise in oneism, everything is about Prince as he pushes himself forward. His vocals and guitar fill the air, and although I know his tongue is placed firmly in cheek, it is just too much for me. I seek redemption in his final guitar solo, and I find it both in the quality of his playing and the quality of the recording.

On other recordings, “When You Were Mine” leaves me giddy with it’s teenage energy and spunk. In this case it is the recording that shines brightest, the out of control guitar lines reined in and Prince’s pristine vocals sitting at the centre of the recording. It doesn’t lessen the moment at all, and I am just as enraptured by this version as I am by any other on the tour.

The same can be said of the proceeding “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” All instruments are secondary to the vocals of Prince. That’s not by design, merely that the recording is so clean that Prince sounds much more in the moment. With the pristine recording one can clearly hear the precision of his delivery, and indeed of all the performers on stage. It is the last minute where the guitar raises its head from its slumber, and it is with the guitar’s slippery funk that the band segues into the inevitable “Head”

There are longer versions and there are dirtier versions, but the rendition of “Head” on this recording is a perfect fit with all that has come before. With a performance so tight that it is almost suffocating, Prince and the band leave no room for error and sound  faultless and they turn the normally greasy funk of “Head” into something creamy. This can be heard nowhere more so than the final minutes as the guitar again lights up the darkness. It is neither heavy or forceful, but it takes the song apart with a scalpel like precise that cuts but does not tear the song apart.

The recording has brightened every song heard so far, yet “Annie Christian” seems to suffer in this case. It sounds strangely neutered throughout, the anger of the band and lyrics betrayed by the gentleness and crispness of the recording. There is some rage to be heard, especially Prince’s line about John Lennon being shot (only 11 months previous at this time), but it never becomes threatening or dangerous.

Later in the tour “Dirty Mind” will become an epic centre piece. First night of the tour and here we have a standard rendition that gives no hint at what will come later. The payoff of this neat package of a performance is we can hear Lisa in all her glory as she sings with Prince. Its easy to forget all else as she appears on the recording, and even though Prince turns up he energy later in the song, it is the vocals of Lisa that linger longest once the song has finished.

“Do Me, Baby” has a beauty that is infused into the heart. It may be a song of lust, but it retains it’s dignity through the reverential vocal delivery of Prince. Paired with music that is equally seductive, the song reaches out from the speakers, no longer just a song but instead taking on a life of its on and becoming an emotional experience. I have gushed over this song repeatedly in this blog, but here it is in it’s infancy and already one can hear that Prince has written his first great seduction ballad. Others may come in future, but this will always remain the first.

There is snap, crackle, and pop to the bass line of “Let’s Work” the makes my heart skip a beat. Again, I can’t help but compare it to other renditions on tour. It is not as forceful or driven as some later concerts, but it does retain it’s groove and easy flow. Prince hasn’t turned it into a stomping party song just yet, but we can hear all the key components and they have never sounded as clear as they are here.

The following “Controversy” is of similar ilk. The song sounds great, there is no  denying, but it lacks the energy and impulsiveness that is heard later. There is still plenty to enjoy, the dry guitar line by Prince has me salivating as it wraps me up in its funk. Brown Mark carries a lot of the load through the song, and for me it is just as enjoyable to listen to his contribution as anything else.

I am surprised to hear the guitar so low in the mix for “Uptown.” The band play with plenty of passion though, and although Prince remains the epicenter of all that happening on stage, this is the song where it most feels like a complete band performance. Like everything else on this recording, it is faultless. Everything comes together in a holistic performance, and the only wiry moment that stands out to me is the final guitar solo that appears both spontaneous and fueled by a deeper emotion.

“Party Up” takes “Uptown” and turns it up to 11. At this point the band throw caution to the wind, and for the first time it feels as if they are playing with an inner freedom that seeps through the music. With choppy guitar lines, keyboards dropping in unexpectedly, and some wild sounding yelps from Prince, this is a song I can instantly relate to as it seems to capture the inner workings of my mind.  The moment that sums up Prince’s performance most is as he tells the band to quieten as the crowd can’t hear themselves. He draws the room in at this moment and from here on in it is about performers and the crowd together in the spirit of the song.  It’s not a mind crushing finale, but it is perfect for this recording, and as the final notes recede I sit back, still trying to digest this wonderful recording.

There will never be another first time. This was my first time to hear this concert, and as such I will always remember this day. It was a day when I heard one of the best soundboards to appear in recent times, a recording that takes in another significant concert in Princes career as he turns his back on the Rolling Stones debacle and begins his Controversy tour.  You may think I have been over the top with my praise for this recording, but it is another keystone bootleg in the discography, and one that you need to hear. No controversy about this one, go out and get it.

Next week normal service resumes,
until then, take care,
-Hamish

20TEN, Vienna

I remember 2010 well. I separated from my ex-wife, changed jobs, moved house, and came back to my own country after living abroad for six years. It was a year of upheaval, change and uncertainty.  Stability was a stranger to me. So when Prince toured through Europe in summer, playing another greatest hits package, I found myself devouring the shows as soon as they became available.There was a satisfaction in hearing the comforting songs I knew so well, and it was reassuring to know that those songs still existed as they were when my life was on steady ground. I often dismiss these hits shows, but these songs tie us back to a time when Prince was on top of the world, and his songs were the soundtrack for every aspect of our lives. Thirty years on they remind me where I came from and who I am as the world swirls around me in constant change. Sometimes it good to have that rock in our past that we can anchor ourselves to.  I have  rarely listened to the 2010 concerts since then, they are just on the wrong side of vanilla for me, but as a live package presenting some of Prince’s most well known material, they serve their purpose well.

13th July 2010, Vienna, Austria

Of the summer tour of 2010 this was the only concert to be played in doors. The assumption is that ticket sales weren’t as strong as expected, and from that we can further infer that Prince isn’t playing to a strong fan base here, there are more fans that fall closer to the casual end of the scale rather than the hardcore end of the spectrum. If that is indeed the case, then “Purple Rain”  is the ideal choice to open the concert with. A song that appeals to the most casual of casual fans, it immediately sets up the greatest hits show as it unfurls its away across the first minutes. The introduction itself is almost seven minutes, the tide slowly rising with the trickle of keyboards that slowly rise to a river. The first fingers of Prince’s guitar wraps themselves around the song, crushing the delicate and intricate lace of the keyboards and giving the song an extra power and emphasis. In this case however, the song doesn’t belong to Prince, but rather to the crowd who are involved throughout. Prince knows he is onto a good thing and doesn’t give them anymore than they need – his final guitar solo plays within the flow of the song, and instead of an emphatic exclamation mark it is little more than than a pleasant outro that equals the introduction of the keyboards several minutes previous.

 

“Let’s Go Crazy” is little more than a thin veneer over the insistent beat. With chants, the scantest of guitar riffs, and a quick verse and chorus, there is no real meat to the song. Its recognizable, but is an anorexic version of the Rocky-Balboa-punch of a song we know so well from the 1980’s

I prefer “Delirious” in this case, it is longer with punchy drumming and some added harmonica which brings a different flavor to a familiar tune. It is hardly a pulsating performance, but it keeps the show bouncing forward and provides me a chance to sing along.

The “Let’s Go Crazy” coda with it’s “Oh no, lets go” chant isn’t worth mentioning, but “1999” certainly is. I often underrate “1999,” and I have been dismissive of it’s live performance more than once on this blog. If “1999” was a person I would  apologize to it right now. Prince and the band play a lean and cohesive rendition of it at this concert, and to my ears it has never sounded better. With a sense of purpose it brings the concert onto an even keel, as well as satisfying the old school fan inside me that wants to hear these songs as they should be heard. It’s an exhilarating few minutes, and if it is nostalgia you want to hear then this is the place to start.

The opening stabs of “Shhh” contain far more keyboard than drums, and it doesn’t come as the intoxicating rush as we so often hear. The vocals though are far more noteworthy, Prince is in his element as he weaves his vocal magic through the song before topping it with the beguiling guitar work I have been waiting for. I am almost sick as he plays a head-spinning few minutes, the sound and the emotion perfectly enmeshed making for an alchemy that can be only found on live recordings.

“Cream” comes from the other end of the scale. Where “Shhh” had depth and emotional weight, “Cream” is shallow and narcissistic.That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable though, and with Prince’s guitar still adding body to the song, it does come across better than I expect. A lightweight and creamy sounding song, here it has a bolder sound that Prince will carry forth for the next few numbers.

That punchy guitar sound stays front and centre for “Dreamer.” No real surprises there, but it is an arresting few minutes as Prince and the band up the intensity and assault of sound from the stage. The only time this assault eases is when the harmonica makes an appearance and Prince eases the band back to allow the  crowd to clap. This merely signals things about to get a whole lot better, as Prince takes up his axe to deliver several killer blows that close the song on a murderous high.

“Stratus” is forceful and makes it mark with plenty of purse and direction. Sometimes I find it meanders, but not at this concert, Prince and the band play a tight version that contains several key elements – Prince’s guitar, the harmonica of Frederic Yonnet, and the drumming of Cora. Taken as a while they become a feast, and I dine on each of them individually as they have their moment on stage.

Sheila E. is on board for “The Glamorous Life” and although I love the song, I find this rendition just a little too thin sounding. It may or may not be the recording, but other songs have sounded strong, so in this case I’m going to assume it is indeed the performance. Prince isn’t on stage, leaving plenty of space for Sheila to get some shine. The singing is good, but it is the final percussion that makes the song valid and real, bringing something to the show that only Sheila can bring.

The natural pairing of “The One” and “The Question Of U” stands alone as the towering landmark at the centre of this concert. Building from Prince’s quiet lyrics it becomes an intricate maze of delicate vocal performances before the strident guitar builds architecture around  these more organic moments. It doesn’t have to be loud to be the most captivating part of the concert, I am completely enthralled throughout as the music continues to intrigue and swirl. Forget the rest of the recording, skip straight to this song and stay there.

I feel completely deflated as “Musicology” plays, the preceding song has sucked everything out of me. It doesn’t help that the recording sounds distant at this point, and a lot of the emotional tension that Prince has build up dissipates as the band rumble through the song. Sheila on percussion is a positive, but overall the song feels hollow and empty, leaving e hoping that the following numbers will raise the ante.

The hits arrive in the form of “Take Me With U.” Confident from the start, it sounds like a different concert entirely as Prince does his best to recreate his 1980’s sound. He’s not quite there, it harks back to the sound of his 2007 concerts more than his 1984 concerts, but it still retains an energy that gets the crowd moving. I think it sounds good, until I do actually compare it to a rendition from 1984. It’s at that point that I realize that it is missing a spark that lifts it from an energetic performance to an exhilarating ride.

From the same place comes “Kiss.” All the key components are in place, yet it remains flat when compared to its younger self. It’s dangerous to always look back and compare ourselves to the people we were 20 or 30 years ago, but when I hear “Kiss” on the radio I have no choice but to compare it to the more recent versions. Its still a great song to sing along with, and this performance has plenty to recommend it, but its not what it once was.

With Shelby J. singing with him, Prince plays a version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” which again consigns Sinead O’Connors version to the dustbin of history. With Rosie Gaines in the 90’s and Shelby J in the 2000’s, Prince’s live version has consistently eclipsed the more well known version, and he has clearly stamped it as one of his great songs. At this particular concert we get a solid rendition that still stands head and shoulders above Sineads rendition, Prince and Shelby invest themselves in the song making it much more than just a greatest hit.

Prince continues to reclaim his songs from other artists with a feisty performance of both “The Bird” and “Jungle Love.” They are watered down from what we have come to expect from The Time, nevertheless they fit well with the set Prince is presenting, giving the show a push towards the all dancing, all singing last half hour that Prince was doing at the time. With a couple of funk tunes thrown into the mix (“Play That Funky Music”, and “(I like) Funky Music”) Prince makes it quite clear where he is coming from. Neither excite me, but the blowtorch of a guitar break does have me raising my head with a smile.

I am fully on board for “Controversy.” It is another exercise in nostalgia, and one I happily buy into as Prince plies us with lashings of scratch guitar. The performance is tightly focused, and even with the audience interaction and harmonica solo it remains insistently on course and funky. It may not be as dry as some early performances, but it works well in it’s updated form.

It is Princes guitar that introduces “A Love Bizarre,” and if there was a song that was going to get me on my feet, this would be it. The crowd evidently feels the same, there is a noticeable increase in crowd enthusiasm as the song begins and this is maintained throughout. At only three minutes, it comes as a short, sharp shock, a feeling that is only heightened by the high voltage guitar break that short-circuits the song and introduces the next number.

Ah yes, “Dance (disco heat),” I had forgotten that this was a regular on the setlists through 2010. At the time I found it unappealing, and as I listen to it now I find that that feeling hasn’t changed. The clapping and guitar are relentless, but they never build to anything rewarding and I feel shortchanged by the performance. I want to like it, I really do, but this just isn’t for me.

The inevitable come down from this mad party follows, and that comes in the form of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” The concert is transformed again as Prince takes us from the stomping dance numbers to a revealing piano confessional. I revel in the contrast and am rewarded by the backing singers joining Prince in the final minutes to lift it into the realm of spiritual music. A surprise package this late in the concert, it was well worth the wait.

An out of kilter lilt to “Mountains”  leaves me off balance as the band begin. It isn’t helped by the left turn late in the song as they veer into “Shake Your Body” Much like “Let’s Go Crazy” earlier in the concert, it is shorn of its cohesive sound as Prince breaks it down to a collection of ear grabbing soundbites, none of which work as well as the song as a whole.

There is something entirely predictable about “Everyday People” and “I Want To Take You Higher” Neither are show stopping in their intensity, they keep the show simmering rather than bringing it to a boil over. The show still sounds as if it has more to give, but these songs don’t bring us to the climax I crave.

I was looking forward to hearing “Ol Skool Company” again, and I am more than happy with the feisty performance on this recording. It has sass and attitude that elevates it beyond a mere recap of all that has come before. Even the “funky” chants in this climate sound better, and to my ears this is better than the funky songs that Prince played in quick succession earlier. Prince is indisputably better when he sticks to his full renditions of his own songs, rather than watered down covers, or abridged arrangements of past glories.

The last song on the recording is “Peach.” A late encore, we miss the first minutes, but it matters not as the joy lies in the unbridled guitar flurry that makes up the back end of the song. Prince doesn’t dominate though, as he has throughout the concert he lets Fredric Yonnet have time to come centre stage with his harmonica. The final burst though is pure Prince, and just as regal a guitar solo as we have ever heard. The final slash from the guitar is only fleeting, but a timely reminder of who Prince is and what he could do.

All in all, an enjoyable show. As you can see, I wasn’t enamored by every song in the performance, but at two and a half hours, there was plenty of something for everyone. Three songs stood out above all others for me, “The One,” “A Love Bizarre” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore.” All three had an emotion to them that appealed to me, and played on my feelings of nostalgia. Prince was often at his best when he was looking forward, in that aspect these concerts from 2010 don’t serve him well. But they are a fitting time capsule of how far he had come, and as a look back these concerts do serve a purpose. 2010 is a year I would prefer to forget, and these concerts will probably go back in the vault now for sometime. They served their purpose and got me through at that time, but like Prince I too am at my best when looking forward. Sometimes it’s good to glance back, but it’s dangerous to spend too long there.

Thanks again, next week I continue with my Austria concerts and will be taking in an aftershow.
-Hamish

Act II Vienna

Last month someone kindly suggested that I should take a listen to some shows from Austria, with the promise that Prince always played something special when he played there. The obvious place to start would be a couple of aftershows, or a main show from later in Prince’s career. Instead I have elected to run with an Act II show from 1993, mainly because I have a DVD of the show but have never quite got around to watching it due to the very 90’s looking cover. I probably have a better audio copy of the concert somewhere, but I know that during this period the look was just as important as the music (although I could probably say that about every stage of Prince’s career), and I am pretty excited to watch a full concert again.

25th August 1993, Vienna, Austria

The first minutes of the video are entirely typical for an audience recording of the era, filmed from the far left we begin with the camera out of focused and shaking. This is matched by the audio which is equally shaky and thin sounding. The visual aspect rapidly improves though, with the zoom utilized we have a nice close view of the action unfolding on stage, which is timely as the pseudo Prince onstage strips off his clothes at the end of “My Name Is Prince” to reveal Mayte’s shapely body. However, the audio never improves, and I resign myself to the fact that it is what it is and I had better get used to it. “My Name Is Prince” is a frantic way to start with plenty of motion all over the stage, although to be honest I only have eyes for Mayte.

Prince makes his appearance for “Sexy M.F.”, the greasy funk of it highlight by the person who can be seen crossing the stage with a mop.  The audience may have be agape any the bombastic opening, but they come forward for “Sexy M.F.” and can be heard all through the song with their singing and clapping. Asides from Prince and Mayte, it is Levi who gets plenty of spotlight, and I can’t deny it is definitely his guitar sound the oils the funky cogs.

 

The soft sound of “The Beautiful Ones” is unwittingly matched by the soft focus of the camera as we temporarily have a blurry image at the song’s beginning. The look of Prince is casual/cool, and this is equaled with his low key delivery of this normally heavy hitter, he maintains his facade of cool and never digs as deep into the song as I hope. This isn’t helped by the sound quality which stays shallow, and I am sure I would have a much better opinion of the song if I heard a better recording of the concert.

The concert is front loaded with hits, it is “Let’s Go Crazy” that vanishes any thoughts of “The Beautiful Ones” from the stage. With an elongated keyboard opening from Tommy Barbarella I am immediately impressed by the extra depth to it, and Prince delivers with his punchy guitar line that gives the song a steely force that I haven’t previously heard at this show. With guitar a blaze, and lights and streamers adding to the moment in a spray of colour, I expect the song to go for longer than it does, but we only get a few minutes. Prince gives us plenty in that time, but it only makes me hungry for more.

“Kiss” is too busy for my tastes, and the stage is awash with horn players and musicians which takes away from the stripped back funk sound that first drew me to the song. Visually Prince is looking great as he works his way back and forth across the stage, but I can’t find an entry point for me to really get into the song, and it leaves me feeling ambivalent about the whole performance.

The performance of “Irresistible Bitch” isn’t a patch on the original, and with the previous “Kiss,” this becomes a flat spot in what has been otherwise a funky show.

Redemption comes with a blistering “Always in My Hair” The organ stabs come as soft punches, before the Prince hits us with jabbing guitar that leaves a burning impression. Coupled with some of his trademark showmanship, one feels that at this point the show has reignited and the next portion of the concert might be the essence of the performance.

From the high voltage “She’s Always In My Hair,” Prince easily transitions to the pure pop of “Raspberry Beret” It’s always too sweet, and Prince knows this as he ends it quickly before one has time to tire of it’s upbeat joy. “The Cross” is a polar opposite, the music is joyous and the lyrics celebrating Princes spiritual beliefs, but it is a heavy and sincere rendition giving us a sense of how important this song is to Prince. All things considered, it is wonderfully filmed and Prince looks brilliant in the spot light while his Cloud guitar provides a stunning contrast in it’s deep blue color. This is easily the part of the concert that demands watching most, and I drown myself in the music through it’s entirety.

Prince stays with the heavy hitters, “Sign O The Times” just as compelling and every bit as intense as “The Cross.” They are a good match, despite the bleakness of “Sign O The Times,” it is countered by the note of hope that Prince hits in “The Cross.” Both sound weighty and deal with themes that you wouldn’t normally hear at a pop concert, and that excites me about the music even more. The music is the main focus of “Sign O The Times,” and even with Mayte being a visual supernova it is still the music that stays to the fore.

“Purple Rain” is light weight in comparison, but that may well be due the previously mentioned audio limitations. There is a lightness to Prince’s performance though, hand in pocket early on does give an indication that he is holding back from a full blooded performance. The guitar break more than makes up for it though, and I am most pleased to see him on top of the piano, head thrown back and guitar howling. If you’re looking for an iconic image of Prince, this would be it.

I have strong feelings about the medley of “Thunder,” “When Doves Cry,” and “Nothing Compares 2 U.” I don’t like it. The first two songs are merely throw away hooks that introduce the slightly longer “Nothing Compares 2 U.” All are instrumental, and even with Mayte providing some sense of spectacle with her dancing, my interest begins to wane. This interlude continues with “And God Created Woman,” and “Diamonds And Pearls,” but there is no doubt that without Prince on stage this feels like a different concert entirely.

Last time Prince was on stage he was blazing with his guitar, his return see’s him conquering another instrument as he delivers the intimate piano set. As is his way so often, this begins with the gentle “Venus De Milo.” With very little moving on stage, the melody is the motion that carries the performance and sketches out where Prince might go with this set.

If not for an annoying buzz on the recording, “Condition Of The Heart” would be be one of the quietest moments on the bootleg. Its only a verse, but the audience is reverentially  quiet as Prince delivers it. “Little Red Corvette” comes from the same place, and gets equal respect from the audience. It’s easy to forget how big this concert is as Prince draws the crowd in with his intimate delivery.

There is a major tape drop out for “Strollin.” The picture rapidly deteriorates into grainy static, before stopping all together a minute into the song. When the picture resumes it is in time for us to enjoy the final portion of “Scandalous.” Prince whoops and squeals to the crowd, but without the foreplay of the first half of the song it is a unsatisfying climax.

The NPG do a fine job of taking us back to 1986 with their take on “Girls And Boys.” Eric Leeds may not be in the line up, but Prince has the band stuffed with horn players, all who are eager to make their mark on this song. It isn’t particularly clean sounding, but it is energetic and engaging and that more than makes up for any audio inconsistencies.

On audio boots, the Arabic intro is enjoyable enough, on video boots it becomes much more as we witness Mayte dancing with a sword perched on her head. I’m not convinced it belongs in a Prince concert, but there is no doubt that this is just the kind of thing we expect at a Prince concert. Expecting the unexpected was always part of the anticipation of a new tour or album, and Prince certainly delivered that in the early and mid 90’s.

Predictably, it is a smooth “7” that follows. The person filming is evidently in love with Mayte, and the camera follows her relentlessly for the first part of the song, Prince only seen when she is nearby. Prince gives a highly staged performance, it is almost too slick, every note and moved planned,all rehearsed with very little sign of spontaneity in the song. I enjoy it, but it just makes me wish he would break out and give something extra at this stage of the show.

The encores open with another predictable song for the moment – “1999.” With the large ensemble on stage it becomes lost in the crowd, the song is there somewhere, but I can’t see it for all the bodies and different sounds emanating from the stage. It is only near the end as Prince and Levi play up with their slick guitar sound do I finally engage with the song, and just in time too for the quick transition into “Baby I’m A Star.” This is a far better song for this group, this time all the bodies and instruments make sense as they have a strong hook to play against and plenty of time to display their skills. It becomes and evolving jam at this point, and as “America” pounds out I am completely in awe of the moment, even the slightly tacky US flag made of fireworks has me excited. The horns are a fantastic addition to the song, and one can only imagine how overwhelming this musical assault must have felt in the flesh.

The funk continues to flow through “D.M.S.R,” this time the trombone becoming a key player and adding some depth to a recording that is otherwise high in treble. Morris Hayes cuts into his work, fleshing out the sound further with his muscular keyboard. Prince’s diversion into the lyrics of “Gett Off” doesn’t enthuse me, but the NPG is simply untouchable throughout, and I fall easily into their orbit. Another drop in the tape breaks me out of this moment, and when it resumes I find Prince in the middle of “Johnny,” a song so laid back it is almost comatose and a million miles away from the previous rambling medley.

Prince ups the pace as he closes the concert with a quickfire “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night.” It comes at breakneck speed, and there is barely enough time to register what song it is before Prince ends with his traditional “thank you, good night.” The crowd reaction isn’t as vocal as I expect, and I think a lot of them find it hard to believe that it is actually all over.

This would not be my first choice to watch or listen to from this time period. We have better videos circulating from the Act I tour, and soundboard quality audio circulating from the Act II tour (especially the Germany festival show just one week later). However, this show does have its place in the bootleg canon. It is yet another record of the NPG as they were really hitting their stride and driving Prince’s music in a new direction. There are parts of this show where I felt the NPG were almost upstaging Prince, and with Mayte serving as a visual foil there were times when Prince disappeared into the performance going on around him. With a setlist nicely balanced between old and new tracks, the concert is a marker of the two eras Prince was straddling, the slave era is almost upon us and this is a final goodbye to his back catalogue for the next few years. It is difficult to recommend this bootleg, but I know how addictive this game is and I am sure most fans would want to see it anyway.

Thanks for reading,
Back next week for more of the same
-Hamish

Purple Rain Finale – Miami

Last week I took a closer listen to one of the earliest shows of the Purple Rain tour, one of the opening concerts in Detroit. To close the circle, this week I will be taking a listen to the final performance of the Purple Rain tour, the finale from the Orange Bowl, Miami. This particular day is well covered, we have a stupendous soundboard of the rehearsal, which clearly demonstrates that The Revolution have lost none of their fire as the tour progressed. If anything, they are playing harder, faster and playing with just as much to prove on the opening nights. We also have the opening act of Sheila E. in soundboard quality which gives the main show added depth and context when these supplementary recordings are taken as a whole. The main show itself is widely circulating, and I know very few people who don’t have this in their collection. As such, you might think there is no need to cover this ground, but I do want to listen to it again with the hangover of that Detroit concert in my mind.

7th April, 1985. Orange Bowl, Miami

When it comes to classic pop-rock songs, there is no song more pop, rock, or classic than “Let’s Go Crazy.” The phosphorescent guitar breaks by Prince paired with the contagious keyboard riffs fill every crack of the song. The rendition presented on this recording leans toward the pop end of the scale, a lot of the furious guitar work sits low in the mix, leaving Prince and the Linn drum to carry the song forward with their sparse rhythm. It is an energized start to the recording, and even 30 years on I can yet again feel myself being caught up in the fervor of the moment.

The 1999 songs that follow are only two or three years old at this time, yet sound light years away from the music Prince was currently producing. “Delirious” is bright and youthful, yet sounds less well considered than the Purple Rain songs that will fill the setlist. The second half of the song features piano work from Prince and some horns that speaks far more of Prince at this time, and nicely updates the song for the Purple Rain audience.

The song “1999” falls into the same category for me, even by this stage it is already sounding dated, and although it keeps the energy levels up and provokes an enthusiastic response from the crowd, it does sound very much like the era that it is from. That aside, I like it. The verses, with their relay of lines from the Revolution, are very clean sounding, as is the greasy guitar line by Prince and I whole-heartily approve of both. To my ears the ending is over worked, but that is just my own personal taste rather than anything that is happening at the concert.

I am warmed by the introduction of “Little Red Corvette,” and although it offers no surprises I welcome it like an old friend. Princes vocals emerge from the soft fog of synthesizes, standing alone and stark in contrast. It doesn’t get any better than this opening moment, the rest of the song can’t carry the emotional weight that Prince sets out at the beginning. It is crowd pleasing though, and I enjoy it for what it is here at home.

There is a wonderful jangle that first catches my ear in “Take Me With U,” the guitars creating a youthful and energetic fill that Prince and the rest of the song rides across. The bulk of the song is filled by a long rise that neatly joins the first part of the song to what promises to be a longer jam. This jam gets off to a fine start, in particular Brown Mark and his bass pull the pop of “Take Me With U” back, and instead root it firmly to the dance floor. This is sharpened with Wendy’s contribution on the funk guitar and although only two minutes it is one of the early highlights to be heard on this recording.

We can all catch a breath with the “Yankee Doodle” section, and even though I could easily skip it, I stick with it to complete the concert experience for myself. Prince’s spoken word section is interesting at first, but after numerous listens there is nothing more to be had from that section. The payoff for enduring this section is “Do Me, Baby” that follows, and for the first time we have a direct comparison to what we heard on the Detroit concert earlier in the tour. “Do Me, Baby” isn’t quite as lush as the Detroit show, but on the same hand its isn’t as indulgent either, which leaves us with a crisp,clean rendition of one of Prince’s most enduring ballads.I prefer it when Prince wrings every drop of yearning and lust from it, but having this in soundboard quality more than makes up for any thoughts.

The Detroit concert segued from “Do Me, Baby” to “Fathers Song.”  Prince has altered the setlist by the end of the tour, and we have an injection of James Brown styled funk with “Irresistible Bitch” and “Possessed.” Both provide drive and focus, and drive the concert forward after the brief lull of “Yankee Doodle.”  The Revolution are sounding great, but it is the supplemental players that elevate these songs for me, the saxophone in particular used to great effect in the last minutes of the performance.

The contrast as Prince moves to the solo piano couldn’t be greater, and although he plays with plenty of swing and swagger, the previous funk quickly dissipates. “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” sees Prince playing the audience as much as he plays the piano. In fact there is very little music after the first stanza, and most of the song consists of Prince teasing the audience with his smutty talk.

He also teases as he introduces the next song as “Temptation” from the new album. It is only that though, a tease, and all we get is a couple of lines as he plays the piano riff of “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” With the saxophones present it is infectious, and is definitely one to get the crowd moving. Wendy too gets things moving with guitar contribution which nicely matches Prince on the piano, and all in all it is a hit out for all the band before Prince pulls things back in the next few minutes.

With Prince at the piano, we get several minutes of audience  interplay before he finally settles on “God.” In the Detroit concert this was paired with “Father’s Song,” and even though we don’t get “Father’s Song” at this show, we do get a quieter and more respectful audience as Prince plays “God” It is a much better sounding performance than the Detroit concert, and I find I listen intently throughout. I’m not so thrilled about the final minutes of weirdness, but I am perfectly accepting that this is part of being a Prince fan.

The is a vicious snarl to “Computer Blue” that brings an animalistic fury back to the show. The first minutes there is a sense of shock and awe as Prince unleashes the Revolution, and before I can regain my senses the song is already morphing into the second half. I am always hoping for more with “Computer Blue,” but Prince always pitches it just right. Anymore would just be tiring, and he brings it to a close as it climaxes, leaving me to indulge myself in post coital rendition of “Darling Nikki”

“Darling Nikki” is to be expected, and there are no surprises or extras tacked on here. It is a pleasing few minutes, it is never too challenging a listen and the minutes slips quickly by.

There is a sheen and polish to “The Beautiful Ones” that leaves me feeling a less satisfied than a lot of recordings I have heard. Is the soundboard too clean? I just don’t know, but there does seem to be an element of intensity and emotion missing from the performance. It sounds beautiful though, and I can only think that this is one song where one would tire from investing too much into it. Maybe, just maybe, as the last show on the tour Prince is skating through this song.

The opening guitar riff of “When Doves Cry” rips through this soundscape, and tears up the previous gloss of “The Beautiful Ones.” The guitar gives way to that irresistible keyboard hook, and I know that it will stay with me for the rest of the day. Prince’s vocals sound shallow on this recording, but it does give us more space to hear Wendy and Lisa, and that’s no bad thing. It is mid song that the song begins to fly, Brown Mark’s bass ushering in a harder, denser sound that brushes up hard against Wendy’s fearsome solo. She is absolutely formidable for the minutes she plays, and her piece is the strongest moment in the song.

Normally it is the drum machine that I hear most in “I Would Die 4 U,” in this case it is the bass of Brown Mark that I gravitate towards. The song isn’t as bright as one might expect, and certainly not as sparkling as the show I listened to from the first days of the tour. However, it is a pop song, and can carry itself despite a rather lackluster performance. The song explodes in the final minute as it becomes a jam that will eventually be “Baby I’m A Star.” One gets the feeling that this is the moment The Revolution have been waiting for, and they explode out of the gate with wings of funk.

“Baby I’m A Star” is flexible and on the Purple Rain tour could be dragged out for as long as needed. The performance at this concert is relatively short, and clocks in at a sprightly thirteen minutes. With Sheila E. and her band joining the fray there is plenty to take in. Her percussion adds an exotic quality to the song, and coupled with the bass of Brown Mark, the song is becomes a mixture of styles that removes it far from the album version. My only reservation is there is some tremendously busy saxophone to be heard, but it is low in the mix and one must strain hard to catch it all. It does come further forward later, but nearly as much as I would like. If it was louder and to the fore I would rate this rendition highly, and even as it is I thrilled to hear these new additions to Prince’s music at the time.

One would assume that the final “Purple Rain” of the tour would be an emotional one, and from the first moments the guitar is infused with a sense of melancholy and finality. Like any great art, what you bring to it is what is reflected back at you, and in this case I can feel the end of the era and the swirl of emotion that I associate with that time as Prince puts Purple Rain behind him and strides confidently into the future. It sounds big, as it should, and even though the introduction is long there is never the feeling that the band is dwelling on it, they are simply letting the song move in its own way. Prince’s opening move on the guitar is stunning, and I would be more than happy if the song ended simply at this point. However, there is so much more to come as Princes blazes a trail across the recording, his guitar a comet that lights up the arena sky. 55,000 move and sing with him, and that becomes 55,001 as I lose myself in the magic of the moment.  Even after 97 concerts, and 97 renditions of Purple Rain, Prince and the band nail it one last time with a rendition that is just as good as any other heard on the tour. I expect the guitar solo to be overwrought, instead Prince keeps it clinical and generates a inner intensity as he plays. A final goodbye from Prince closes the concert and there is a simplicity and power in his words.

A well known show, one can see why this recording has retained it’s popularity over the years. Not only is it a noteworthy mark in history, it is an equally powerful and affecting concert. Comparing it to the show from the first week of the tour, we can see that Prince has streamlined the show,in particular the sagging middle section is brightened with the addition of “Possessed” and “Irresistible Bitch.” Likewise, the piano set has been tightened up, and although still a little ponderous, it does engage the audience far more. There is no need for me to make a recommendation on this recording, most people already have it and are no doubt overly familiar with it. It has stood the test of time, and thirty years later I still label this as a must listen.

Thanks again for reading,
next week I’m going to start digging through some European concerts.

-Hamish

Detroit 1984 Purple Rain Tour

I am now firmly ensconced in the bosom of the motherland, and surrounded by the books and records that I so dearly love. Now I am back in my comfort zone I thought it would be cool to revisit the Purple Rain tour, something I have been meaning to do for a while now. It might be interesting to listen to one of the earliest concerts of the tour and see how it stacks up against the final concert of the tour. Disregarding all the one-off shows Prince performed in the lead up to the tour, the first concert we have recorded from the tour itself is 5th November in Detroit. This is the second concert of the tour, but with the hit record and movie behind him, the sold out audience is already well primed for the performance. The recording is unfortunately incomplete, I will be listening to only the last ten songs of the concert, but these are the Purple Rain songs so I aren’t too upset. There is also some confusion over the date, the recording says the 5th, but the bonus Sheila E song comes from the following night (she states its their third night in Detroit). I am going to take the Prince songs at face value, they are tagged as the 5th, so the 5th it is.

5th November 1984, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

The recording begins with the piano set coming to a close. It is an angelic “Do Me, Baby” that is the doorway into this show. I like it, some of the vocal audience members near the microphone, not so much. I have to chuckle as one guy can be heard saying “He’s good, but he gotta play more tunes and get the fuck away from this shit.” Purple Rain concerts are well known for dragging in the middle, and obviously it’s all too much for this guy. I have to disagree, and with this only partial recording I can fully appreciate the minute and a half of “Do Me, Baby” for what it is – graceful, delicate, and heartfelt.

The audience don’t settle for “Father’s Song” and although I can hear it just fine, the crowd can be heard talking and cheering most of the way through it. It doesn’t spoil the moment, but they certainly don’t show it any respect.

After these two shorter songs, we get something substantial with Prince’s “God.” On record I like it, in the live context, although it sounds good, it never quite works. The opening stanzas a little too ponderous for an amped up crowd, and in this case even at home I feel like I am just waiting for something, anything, to happen. The audience recording though is pretty good, and Prince’s spoken words in the midsection are well recorded and seems to again connect with the crowd, that is if the screams are anything to go by.

I had hoped for an longer version of “Computer Blue,” instead Prince gives me a fiery intense four minute version that razes everything to the ground. It is a scorched earth rendition and Prince and the band burn with a incandescent rage from start to finish, something I fully approve of.

Prince concerts are often about contrasts, and “Darling Nikki” is certainly that, coming hard on the heels of “Computer Blue.” As always it is a crowd pleaser, and even though the first twenty minutes of this recording has been full of audience screams, they still find it in themselves to scream louder. At times it does sound almost like Beatlemania, but things quieten for Dr Fink’s off the wall solo, he is easily the highlight of these few minutes.

After listening to “The Beautiful Ones” across Princes career, I am always knocked out by how great it sounds in 1984/85. It is a great song, but at this time it is right for the moment, and it’s right for Prince. Afterwards it always had too much associated with it, but here is the perfect moment in time, and it is simply glorious. The audience recording is superb, and even through the audience are with us every step of the way it still sounds divine, as if Prince is channeling it from a higher plain. It is a lengthy performance, but it feels all too short as Prince howls, screams and emotes his way through the entire six minutes.

“When Doves Cry” is one of the main pillars of the show, and it is given a respectful amount of time accordingly. The recording, while good, isn’t quite good enough for my tastes. The bass, and general power of the band, is diluted. Under normal circumstances I would say this recording is great (there is no distortion or muffle), but for these few minutes I wish it was even better. Wendy’s impassioned guitar break snaps through any thoughts about the recording though, and at the end of the day the music wins through with Prince’s sheer will power and conviction in the music he is playing.

The best part of the recording is “I Would Die 4 U,” with Prince’s vocals crystal clear from the very start. The song shines in this context, and after the previous intensity of “When Doves Cry” it is pure sunlight. As always it is short and bright, and it really is a song that I have come to appreciate a lot more over the years. The final couple of minutes become looser as it becomes pure groove, and I can’t help but fall in love with Wendy a little more as her guitar rings out.

It is only the second show of the tour, but “Baby I’m A Star” is already a behemoth, The Revolution riding Prince’s energy with their own vitality and animated style. It doesn’t reach the same level as some of the unhinged jams later in the tour, but the essential elements are all in place as it twists and turns through a maze of solos, brief musical thoughts, and throw away riffs. For all the ups and downs, it stays surprisingly focused, and there is a crispness to the performance that makes it all the more captivating. The solo bestowed upon it by Prince is noteworthy, butmy the player of the day award goes to Brown Mark and Wendy, who heighten the level of funkiness present with their inspired playing.

It is still the epic high point of the show, but “Purple Rain” doesn’t scale the same heady heights heard later in the tour. The animalistic snort of guitar in the introduction bodes well, but the rest of the song is still by the numbers. I don’t say that as a negative, this is “Purple Rain” played on the Purple Rain tour, and as such it has a majestic and regal aura of purple about it as Prince guides us through his most beloved song. Thirteen minutes is short by “Purple Rain” standards, but Prince has all the key milestones in place throughout the song (you can practically check them off as the song progresses) and anyone here for the Purple Rain album experience would leave happy. Even though this concert recording is short, it feels like we have come a long way since “Do Me, Baby,” and with “Purple Rain” it does feel like the end of a journey.

This audience recording was much better than I expected, and even though there was some audience talking early on, the music was still the key feature and remained at the forefront of the sound.  The Purple Rain tour is well covered in the world of bootlegs, being the breakthrough tour that it was, but not many of them are as good as the recording we have here. It is short, but that works to it’s favor and the concert plunges through the Purple Rain album. Don’t be put-off by the audience recording, this is still worth hearing.

Next week, I will take a listen to the final show of the Purple Rain tour, I am curious to see how it evolved from this early concert to that final showcase.

Thanks again
Hamish

Lovesexy Dome – Tokyo 1989

We are into our final days of our Tokyo sojourn, I have loved every minute I have been here but I ready to sleep in my own bed again. Before we fly back to New Zealand we have time to visit one more bootleg from Prince’s tours of Japan. This one comes from the Lovesexy tour and captures a performance at Tokyo dome. Everyone knows there are some great soundboards circulating from this tour, this recording comes from the other end of the spectrum and is an extremely poor audience recording. Its muffled, thin, the audience is overly loud and Prince is overly quiet. I have chosen this one because it is the longest concert of the Japan leg, and although the recording is terrible, the show is great. I in no way recommend this one, it borders on unlistenable, but I am a die hard and am quite prepared to listen to it so you don’t have too (and after a month of Japanese TV, this is a welcome relief).

February 5th, 1989 Tokyo Dome, Tokyo

You know what you’re in from the start as the recording captures several people chatting and clapping. At first I treat it as a pleasant scene setter, that is until I realize later that there is music playing, and the crowd is drowning it out. They clap the beat, and in the distance and can hear the all too familiar opening to the Lovesexy concerts, almost ghost-like it is so faint.

I know the Lovesexy shows very well, so even though the music is distant I can easily make out the opening “Housequake.” It sounds typical of the rest of the tour, what I can hear of it. A lot of nuances are missing on the recording, but one can easily recognize Prince’s vocals and the distinctive beat. The final half of the song is frantic, and I find I listen closely to try and catch what crumbs I can.

“Slow Love” sounds better, bigger and fuller and Prince’s vocals swell and fill the recording. This holds through the following “Adore,” and I briefly consider the recording might be as bad as I thought, especially the spoken part that segues into “Delirious”

“Delirious” again displays the recording limitations we have encountered so far. The crowd is far too much in the recording, and “Delirious” is buried under a layer of grime. The same can be said of “Jack U Off,” only the horns can be heard through the fray. I can hardly hear the lyrics of “Sister,” and for the first time I think the quality of the recording might be a blessing. On a positive note, the final flurry of guitar can be clearly heard, and inspires me to listen further.

The first strains of “Do Me, Baby” has me light headed, and as the bass pops I am in seventh heaven. It slows the medley, and I begin to connect with the concert as Prince puts the crowd through their paces. A heavenly song, it rises above any other negativity that can be heard. The final spoken part from Prince has me feeling fifteen again, and visions of ex-girlfriends swim before my eyes as he seduces with merely words.

The opening riff of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” is a call to arms for truefunk soldiers, and Prince rewards with a grand rendition “Head.” “Head” has always been down and dirty, and here even more so as the recording matches it from griminess. The main riff rings out loud and clear, but again that is the only positive of the recording. Even Dr Finks solo, although brilliant kinetic, is lost in the general crowd noise. I do, however, enjoy the call and response, and Prince’s continual call of “this is now a discotheque.”

I want to like “Girls and Boys,” I really do, but on this recording it is neither here nor there and leaves very little impression upon me. On the other hand, “A Love Bizarre” is fast, frantic, and utterly compelling. Prince airs it right out, and this is one of the longest songs on the recording.  The call and response briefly has me wishing I could be there, and I find this is one of the more passionate Lovesexy shows in circulation. Generally I find them almost too well staged and tight, this concert retains a looseness and a feeling that I can relate to and that makes it all the more appealing to me. The calls and response continue for sometime, although they are never boring and the momentum of the song, and the concert, is retained. Oh, and Miko is brilliant!

Prince singing happy birthday to Mr Udo (the promoter) is an interesting moment, but for me the real treasure comes next with a rough and ready “When You Were Mine” jumping out of the blocks. As always it touches the inner rocker in me, and I am just excited to hear it as the overly vocal crowd obviously are. At two minutes Prince seems to have a guitar fault, but the song and the band barrel on without him.

The arena is warmed with the first strains of “Little Red Corvette.” The rest of the song delivers on this promise of warm nostalgia, and the crowd are more than happily to sing along as required, as well as providing the necessary screams to herald in the guitar solo.

The show again accelerates from this point, with “Controversy” providing the first thrust that will carry the following numbers. It is short, and it is “U Got The Look” that continues this onward momentum. “U Got The Look,” sounds dreadful on this recording, the crowd far too loud,and the mix badly out of balance. Things don’t improve for “Superfunkycalifragisexy,” and I begin to regret that I am such a completest.

“Bob George” sounds cool, although in the Lovesexy concert it is a visual experience as much as an audio experience. It is easy to imagine what is unfolding on stage, and I find myself smiling at Prince’s dark humor.

Balanced is restored with “Anna Stesia” bringing closure to the first half of the show. It stirs up far more feelings of nostalgia than “Little Red Corvette” earlier in the setlist, I am right back in high school as I close my eyes and listen to Prince play. There is some echo, but Prince’s vocals ride over any such storms and in some ways it reminds me of the old chewed up cassette tape of Lovesexy that I used to listen to over and over.

A light is shined into the darkness in the form of “Cross The Line,” the mood of the show already lifting as it welcomes in the second half of the concert. The white noise that introduces “Eye Know” is hard to distinguish from the general noise heard on the recording, and I inwardly smile at myself as I hear Prince say “The reason my voice is so clear…”  “Eye Know” has the crowd well and truly involved and its pleasing to hear that I’m not the only one who clearly loves this song. One of the things I have found about attending Prince concerts is that you always find other like minded people who seem to cheer and appreciate the same small things as you do. Prince fans really do feel like family sometimes.

The theme of the album is maintained through  “LoveSexy,” in this case giving me an urge to pull out the original album and give it a listen. There is plenty going on in this live rendition, we may not be able to hear it all, but I know it’s there.

“Glam Slam” features more audience singing, both at the venue and all over the recording. Its not as long as the previous two songs, but I still enjoy hearing it, and I especially enjoy hearing Prince fully engaged with the album he was promoting at that time.

It’s very hard to listen to “The Cross” without comparing it to the Dortmund show. That show created such a powerful visual image and sound that any recording would struggle against it, and especially so this one. In this case I like the rawness of Prince’s guitar sound, and for a while I fool myself into thinking the echo is making Prince sound better. But who am I kidding, I would rather watch the Dortmund performance of this song anytime.

There is a lightness to “I Wish U Heaven,” not just on this recording but on all performances, that doesn’t quiet work on bootlegs. As compensation we get extra audience vocals, but they aren’t as delicate, or as beautiful, as Prince’s. It is only the last half of the song where the guitar awakes that I become interested, its too little too late, but it is a nice touch.

I love the bass of “Kiss” in these Lovesexy shows, and here is no different and it both anchors the song and propels it forward at the same time. Prince is barely audible, so its just as well the bass and guitar are so divine, and I am more than happy with what little I can hear.

“Dance On” is merely the introduction for Sheila E and her rap and drum solo, something I whole heatedly disapprove of. Not because of Sheila herself or her performance, but because I think “Dance On” should get much more time than it is allocated. That disappointment aside, it is always fun to hear Sheila as she hammers away and the next few minutes I have a happy grin as she indulges me in her trademark drum style.

Finally, one of my favorite parts of the Lovesexy concerts – the piano solo. “Venus De Milo” has my weepy eyed from the opening moments, the following few minutes containing all you could want from Prince’s sweeping piano playing. “Starfish And Coffee” isn’t quite on the same plain, but it still retains the sweetness of the moment.

There is only a brief moment of “Raspberry Beret” before Prince settles into a tender “Condition Of The Heart.” I am disappointed that it is only fleeting, but there is a treat in the form of a rare appearance of “International Lover’ that more than makes up for it. Only thirty seconds, but it raises my pulse through the roof, and for half a second a hear a teenage girl squeal of delight escape from my forty-year-old manly lips.

The piano version of “Strange Relationship” is now familiar to most people. As always, there is plenty of funk and feeling in Princes finger tips, although the audience clapping takes me out of the moment.  However, the following “Free” again has me in fanboy heaven, and delivers up the second seismic shock of this piano set. A rarity buried in the setlist, this is one of the reasons I elected to listen to this recording, and the sound has improved by this stage that I can actually say its an enjoyable moment.

An instrumental “With You” carries us through to the finale of the piano set – “When 2 R in Love.” I may not approve of his spelling, but I definitely approve of the song, even if it is barely a chorus and a slow fade.

I know what to expect with “Let’s Go Crazy,” and Prince gives it to me with the standard 1988/89 run through. The “go, go, go” chants leave me cold, as does the rest of the song, and although it is a sacred cow I find I dislike it.

Prince makes short work of the Purple Rain album – “When Doves Cry” is truncated, and lacking some of the bite of other concerts (more specifically, the dog bark). The audience seem to like it though, true to the form they sing loudly throughout and they are stronger than anything else on the recording.

It is a thin “Purple Rain” that makes an appearance at this show. Prince’s vocals remain distant, and its hard to know if this is a great performance or not. The guitar solo is equally lost on the recording, which surprises me as I expected the recording would pick it up much better. Of all the parts of “Purple Rain,” it is the audiences “oohhh oohh ohhh” that sound closest to what is on record, and the song belongs to them as much as Prince on this occasion.

There is no “Alphabet St.” at this concert, and it is instead “1999” that closes out the show. It is a worthy rendition with Prince at full voice as he extols the crowd to party. Its a fitting end to the show, although my ears are pleased its over. Its only in these last minutes that I let myself acknowledge just how bad this recording was.

I do not recommend this recording in the slightest. I do however wholeheartedly recommend this particular concert. It is coming near the end of the tour, and the band are razor sharp and deliver a great performance. Add in the couple of rarities and arresting moments and it makes for a curious listen. I would be far more effusive if the recording was even slightly better, but it is what it is. Not one to revisit, but it gives us an idea of the quality of some of Pricnes perforamnces at the time.

Thanks again
next time I will safely ensconced back home in New Zealand
-Hamish

 

ONA – Budokan

My Japanese odyssey continues, we are still in Tokyo where today I visited the Budokan. For me it is a venue that I was always associate with the Cheap Trick album Cheap Trick at Budokan, an album that was played ad nauseum when I was a child. Prince has played at the venue during two tours, he did four nights there during his 1996 tour of Japan, and another two nights in 2002 during the One Night Alone tour. Perhaps in this case we should call it the two nights alone tour. I am going to take a look at one the shows played during the ONA tour, as much as I like the 1996 concerts the shows from 2002 are more attuned to my current tastes. Not everyone is a fan of the One Night Alone tour, I find the tour is divisive between fans – it is either one you really love, or one you really hate. I have yet to find many people on the middle ground. I am going to stake my claim early, it is a tour I am a big fan of, so expect the following write up to be completely biased for the positive.

18th November 2002, Nippon Bodukan, Tokyo

The audience know what to expect from the start as is the norm for the ONA shows Prince begins with a distorted voice and heavily distorted drum solo. I like it, although it has no flow to it and is little more than a minute of sound that builds anticipation to the opening “The Rainbow Children.” The unease that “The Rainbow Children” creates can be heard in the music, but as always it is kept in balance by the band and their light sound that counteracts some of Princes unsettling vocal effects. By the time Prince sings “Tokyo!” I am fully on board and ready for this song to roll on and on. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea (and I’m aware of plenty of people who downright hate it) but I can’t deny, Prince’s guitar work is pretty sweet on the ear, and I would hope most people would listen past the lyrical delivery and instead gravitate to this mesmerizing guitar performance. I like that the song continues to strike new ground, and it keeps me fixated without ever repeating itself.

If anyone in the audience was worried about what might come next, Prince reassures them with the more accessible, and eminently more pop, “Pop Life.” Prince’s voice may not be as crisp as we have come to expect, but the rest of the song shines like polished silver, the recording sparkling as Prince turns the music this way and that under the lights. Renato and his jazz touch late in the song speaks to me, and I am filled with regret that I never saw this band live.

Prince brings discomfort to the pop audience with his introduction to “Xenophobia,” and the following song challenges expectations. At the time it came across as something new and shocking, fifteen years on I know what to expect and I am more than happy with the way the music unfolds over the next ten minutes. With Maceo playing there is very little to dislike, and as the horns run back and forth Princes message gets lost in the raw sound of the music itself. It is the last half of the song that is the most challenging, and it feels good to hear this again, something far removed from his 80’s pop sheen, here is something with grit and body, something that looks both backward and forwards at the same time, a song that contains something new every time I hear it.

Prince can’t quite keep to his promise to challenge and test the audience. It is “Purple Rain” that follows quickly after and soon enough any questions raised by “Xenophobia” are quickly painted over in the shade of purple. The audience recording is remarkably clean, there is very little background noise aside for cheers at the appropriate moments. Should I thank the recorder, or the restrained crowd, I don’t know,  but I do know it sounds very good indeed and I am more than happy with the performance of “Purple Rain” that matches it. It never ignites into the blazing wildfire it sometimes becomes, but it delivers everything that one would expect at a Prince concert, be it your first concert or your 100th.

“The Work Pt 1” surprisingly fails to fire. I had such hopes. I was expecting funk by the bucket load, instead I get a series of solos that never quite build into a much wished for payoff. I like the music just fine, but it is a platonic relationship and never becomes an intense love affair. Prince is too fickle and the music comes and goes as it pleases without giving me the time I need. I do like the “To-k-yo, woo-hoo” chant, something I may have been guilty of singing under my breath for the last three weeks as I wander the streets of Tokyo. The inevitable dancers on stage is the last straw for me, the heart of the song belongs to the audience in the building, and not us listening here at home.

For me, “Mellow” is all about the sound and vibe. I have very little idea what Prince is singing about, but I do love the feel of the song. This performance is cool, and “Mellow” lives up to its name, aside from the occasion burst of horn. It is unlike anything heard thus far on the recording, and for me it again highlights the scope of music Prince created. It wouldn’t be the first song I’d put on, but it is one that I always like when I hear it.

The concert energy again surges with engaging rendition of “1+1+1 is 3.” Of course it can’t lose with Maceo adding his years of experience with an instantly funky solo. Prince may claim that he is funky, but in this case it is Maceo who brings the funk to the party. There is a funky guitar underneath that is pure Prince, but for my money it is the horns that make this worth hearing. Nothing is added by appending “Housequake” and “Love Rollercoaster” to the second half of the song, and they could have easily been left off in my opinion.

The melancholy dip and swoop of Prince’s guitar brings the concert into a more traditional  realm, and the performance here could have come from any show in the last twenty years. That’s no bad thing, the guitar wail calling most Prince fans to duty with it’s mournful call. There is a heavy influence from the band, and the flashes of jazz later in the song reminds you just what configuration of the NPG this is. The final few minutes belong all to John Blackwell, and that makes this rendition well worth a listen as he kicks and stutters around the kit.

I am pleased to find that “Strange Relationship” is just as funky as it has every been, the band locking together in a solid squelching riff. If anything, it is aged even better, and like a fine wine I find it strong and more flavorsome than its 1980’s incarnation. Prince in particular seems to get a real kick out of playing this song, and he pulls the audience with him with his unbridled enthusiasm. It stands far above anything else heard on the recording with its energy and pure Princeliness.

“Pass The Peas” I am happy to take a pass on. I like Maceo, but Prince and the band don’t add anything to the song we haven’t heard before. It does give the horn section a chance to strut, but it pales compared to the previous “Strange Relationship.” Although, to be fair, almost anything would pale compared to that.

A torrent of guitar notes fly from Prince’s hands, and serves as a great introduction to “The Ride.” What is great about this show is that every song gets a full rendition and plenty of time to marinate in its own juices. Every song runs five to ten minutes, and after years of feeling short changed by Prince medleys with these concerts I finally feel Prince is letting us fully appreciate his music. His comment “Can I take my time” gets full approval from me. The song contains the unrestrained howl of his guitar as he finally lets it off the leash and it runs rampant for the next few minutes. It is a biting performance that snaps and chews in equal measure.

As a Prince fan I fail miserably, not recognizing “Sign O’ The Times” immediately as Prince elicits to shroud the intro with his chugging guitar. The song never really settles on a style from here on in, sometimes the horns come to the fore, giving it a brighter sound, while the record scratching pulls it in another direction entirely. And then pulling in in a third direction is Prince’s guitar. I would happily take any style, but to my ears all three don’t quite gel. There is some lighter guitar later in the song, which with the horns would be a much better fit for this band.

Ahh, the old “Take Me With U,” “Raspberry Beret” combination. Regular readers will be familiar with my feelings about this. I like sweet pop sugariness as much as anyone, but not so much now I am older and, ahem, more mature. I happily digest “Take Me With U,” but by the time Prince segues into “Raspberry Beret” I have had my fill and am ready for something more substantial.

“The Everlasting Now” wouldn’t be my first choice for something more substantial, but I do find it more rewarding than the previous couple of songs.  The first few minutes are a nice little appetizer as Prince gives us a taste of what’s to come with parcels of funk and chants. The main course comes with some Santanaesque guitar before the rest of the band add their sauce of horn riffs and piano twinkle. It’s a flavorsome combination, and one that I happily indulge myself in. It is Maceo that rounds out this feast of sounds, with his dessert of saxophone sprinkling chocolate sprinkles over all that has come previous. I am sold on it, and as it all comes to an end I feel well nourished and satisfied.

A short break lets me digest what we have heard so far, before the encores open with Prince at the piano. “Condition Of The Heart” is simply divine, I am beyond words as I sit and listen to it, letting Princes music and lyrics washing over me. It does become a medley, “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” getting a line, before Prince indulges us with a slightly longer “Diamonds And Pearls.” It is “Adore” that gets the most time and attention however, with John Blackwell ever so gently adding a heartbeat to the song. The crowd sit in an enraptured silence throughout, making this recording pristine and clean for the next few minutes.

Prince piles on all his tender ballads at this part of the show, and “The Beautiful Ones” brings a further string of heart tugging moments. It is almost too easy listening, some of emotional strength of the song sapped by its easy sheen and polish. I am engaged though, even if its not the heart stopper it used to be.

Its very hard to clear my feelings about “Nothing Compares 2 U.” A song I heard countless times in the 80’s from Sinead O’Connor, and then hundreds of times since from Prince, it is a song I am overly familiar with. Sometimes it breaks through and gets me in a soft moment, and sometimes it passes by making barely an impression. The rendition on this recording is good, but it fails to break my jaded exterior and I find I listen to it in an almost emotionless state.

On the other hand, “The Ladder” shoots straight for my heart and does make the emotional impact I crave.  The drums are a little too much, but Prince’s vocals and delicate piano carry the moment. It is one of the shortest songs on the recording, barely a minute and a half, but it feels real to me and sincere.

This pleasant stroll through Prince’s piano songs is rounded out by “Starfish And Coffee” It may not be on a par with the other ballads and emotional heavyweights in the setlist, but it does keep things light.

The final song featuring the piano is “Sometimes It Snows In April,” a song that has taken on an extra significance since Prince’s passing. This rendition is a fitting tribute, his vocals alone out front in the recording, smooth and velvety and carrying a hint of emotion that makes it all the more powerful. A moment to sit back, listen, and reflect.

“Days Of Wild” isn’t as sinister and threatening as sometimes heard, but it is still a stone cold classic. There are better versions on this tour (see Antwerp a month earlier where I swear Prince tears the roof of the place), but it is still eminently enjoyable, and as always I find my head bobbing and without even being aware of it I am singing along with Prince. The grind and churn of the song brings several different players to the surface, Dudley D can be heard on the turn tables midsong, and it is the horns that bring a different feel to the song. The song drops intensity half way through though, and as the bass is pumped up for the first time the recording distorts. This mars the occasion as the final few minutes becomes a difficult listen. The rest of the recording has sounded great, making this part sound all the more worse.

This show is fairly typical of the ONA tour, but is very well recorded (asides from the final “Days Of Wild.”) There is a plethora of material available from the ONA tour, I would happily listen to any one of them, but I do enjoy this concert for the  quality of the performance and the recording. The setlist doesn’t throw up anything too much in the way of excitement, but this bootleg does a nice job of capturing the standard ONA show. Very good without being essential.

Thanks again
Hamish

 

Yokohama, Final 1996 Japan concert

We have just had a lovely day at the Yokohama Triennale and I am currently overloaded by the art on display. Asides from Prince bootlegs my other great loves are traveling and art, so as you can imagine today has been a great day for me. I have enjoyed my time in Japan the last two weeks, even time with the in-laws hasn’t been as bad as I thought! We still have a couple more weeks here, we have been so busy I think I will need another holiday when I get home. In keeping with my Japanese theme, today I will be taking a listen to a concert recorded in Yokohama in 1996. It takes in the final concert of the Ultimate Live tour, and it’s a shock to me when I realise that it is more than twenty years ago now. It feels like only yesterday, and that pleases me as it must mean that the 18-year-old in me still lives on. There have been several releases of this concert over the years, but I have chosen the Zion release as it has particularly beautiful art work, and is in-depth in its coverage of the concert itself. Not only does the recording feature the concert, but also the entire 35 minutes of preshow music (in this case the Exodus album) that is played over the PA. It’s almost too much, I doubt I will ever listen to the preshow music again – not when I have the CD readily available, but it is a nice touch and makes for an immersive experience.

  20th January 1996, Yokohama Arena, Yokohama

Skipping over the preshow music, it is a video medley that begins the concert. An easy enough listen, it is merely a taster of Prince’s back catalog of music and not really representative of the show that will follow, nor of the live bootleg experience. At ten minutes long, it would be a nice mix for the car, but I am here for the live performance and as such I find I sit through it rather impatiently.

The introduction of “Prince…is dead, long live the New Power Generation” followed by a roar of music and scream that almost has me on feet here at home. An audience recording, it still captures the power and fervor of the moment, that rush as Prince and the band create the wall of sound that is “Endorphin Machine”. It is in itself an endorphin rush, and I feel washed away in its sound as soon  as I hear it.

The rush is short lived, but Prince gives us something even better with the power of “Shhh” masked behind his slow vocal. The guitar break is the iron fist in the velvet glove, and even though the song is criminally short it serves warning that the show will contain a multitude of styles all delivered straight from the heart.

Some of the power of “Days Of Wild” is dissipated in this setting. I can’t tell if its the Japanese audience, the size of the arena, or the mix, but what ever it is the song lacks the suffocating intensity I usually associate with it. The bass guitar solo is most welcome and for me it easily overshadows everything else heard in the song. The bass returns to finish the song, this time with a brief “777-9311,” something that briefly has me gasping for breath.  As much as I love the “Days Of Wild,” there are much better renditions out there, and I find this one a little ho-hum.

The introduction of “Now” has Mayte comparing it to “Irresistible Bitch,” “Housequake,” and “Sexy M.F.”, but as the song ignites I find it lacks the finesse of these and is about as subtle as a sledge hammer. The chorus is exciting and bold, but not the slinky dance number of the songs it was compared to. It is still fun, and I enjoy the performance even if just a little too punchy. I only wish we could see Mayte’s final dance during  “Babies Makin Babies” as the crowd chants her name, after all a Prince concert is as much a visual experience as an aural one.

The show opened with Prince declaring “Prince is dead,” and yet here we have a Prince song, the first verse of “Anotherloverholenyohead” jammed over the top of “Race.’ I like it. I like the groove of the song, I like the lyrics, but especially I like the sound of the keyboards. They are electrifying in both sound and style, and I am transfixed by the performance I am hearing. Other songs promised more, this is one surprise package that keeps me listening to bootlegs.

“The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” is a start stop affair that ably demonstrates how tight the band are, but as for overall enjoyment of the song it does detract a little. However, I have heard “the Most Beautiful Girl In The World” enough times in my life,and I am more than content to sit back and admire this configuration of the NPG.

One of most well known tracks from the Gold Experience follows, in the form of “Pussy Control.” It’s not as strong as it is on record, it’s a slightly different mix and the music is busy which does distract from Prince’s rapping. I expect it to come as a punch to the face, instead it is more like a slap in the face – it’s a challenge, but not quite the out and out threat that it should be.

I am much more attuned with “Letitgo.” With its low key groove it seduces me, and I fall in love with the interaction between Prince’s vocals and the music. Its all too easy, and I slip easy under it’s charms. Surrounded by some big songs, it holds its own with natural grace and beauty.

Although its short on the album, “Starfish And Coffee” in this context is given the royal treatment and Prince plays a regal five minutes with it. The twist comes in the tail and the song slips down a musical rabbit hole, its sound becoming suddenly darker as complexities steps out of the shadows. It is in complete contrast to the first minutes, and ends with a Michael B solo – completely unexpected for a song such as “Starfish And Coffee”

Compared to other renditions of the era, “The Cross” is almost delicate in its delivery. Prince’s guitar a gentle lace rather than the blanket of sound it sometimes is, and there is layers of complexities early in the song. A lot of this is unpicked however once the song reaches its apex and Prince tears up all that came before with plenty of rage and howl on his guitar. As a guitar aficionado I am in blue heaven, and as always my only complaint is that it is all too short.

I think I have heard “The Jam,” almost as much as I have heard “Purple Rain” over the years. It’s hard to get too excited by it here, it is the standard run through we have all heard before. Michael B is mighty in his contribution, although the rest of the song I could take or leave.

Prince proclaims his love for Joan Osbourne’s “One Of Us” before serving up his own take of her song. It is a great match for him, both in theme and style, and the final guitar saturated minutes is where it becomes purely Prince as he drenches the song in his trademark sound.

To my ears, “Do Me, Baby” has never got old, and the rendition on this bootleg is pretty standard, yet entirely mesmerizing as Prince works himself and the song up into a lather. It is not as an intense experience as I have heard on other bootlegs, but it still remains an unmissable part of the show.

The seduction and sexiness of “Do Me, Baby” becomes pure sex with the appearance of “Sexy M.F.”  Normally I am captivated by the grease of the guitar, but in this case it is Tommy Barbarella who has my full attention with an upstart of a solo that is a livewire in its delivery. The rest performance is smooth, the only jolt coming from this solo.

I am more than happy with “I Am Your Girlfriend” The recording is top notch, and I can hear every nuance of the song as the band walk us through it. It is a classic, and deservedly so, as Prince twists up a gender bending mix of personalities and musical styles into a drama underpinned opus. Beautifully recorded at this show, I could easily feast on this for days.

One of the great things about listening to concerts form this Japanese tour is the appearance of “Vicki Waiting” in the setlists. Rarely played, when we do hear it on bootlegs it always sounds fresh and exciting. That feeling is heightened here by the twin keyboard attack of Morris Hayes and Tommy Barbarella,  they both bring some heavy musicality to what otherwise would be a simple pop song.

I am tempted to skip over the “Purple Medley” as it is just as unnecessary in concert as it is on record. Hearing it only makes me yearn to go back and listen to the original songs, all of them having being done a disservice by this medley. It is dire, and a colossal waste of time. Redeeming features? None.

Prince immediately wins me back with a sweet version of “7”. There is nothing to demanding, it never once challenges, but it does sound easy on my ears and is a thousand times better than the preceding “Purple Medley.” The song comes and goes in its own easy way, and I am deceived by the track listing that has it at seven minutes, when in reality it is half that before it gives over to the break between encores.

Things kick off in grand style with a smoking rendition of “Billy Jack Bitch.” I might be biased at this point, as this is one of my go to songs on those days I need music as a prop. Princes vocals are a little weak against the wall of music, and it is the Fishbone sample that comes across loudest on the recording, something that will rattle around in my brain for the next few days now. I have a lot of fun listening to it, although before I know it, its over and we move quickly on.

The show stays in this uptempo groove with a quick fire rendition of “319.” There isn’t much to it, and just as I find myself singing along it ends.

It is entirely predictable that “Gold” is the last number of the night, yet it is just as uplifting and sweepingly epic as you could want for a show closer, or even a tour closer. I may not be able to see what is happening, but I can hear it in the music, and in the audiences response, and my heart quickens with every sweep of guitar and every homily spun by Prince. It may be cheesy but it does the trick, and I am converted to the message Prince is preaching. The final whine of the guitar adds one last golden sheen to all that has come before and although it does become rough in places it stays on message with its uplifting sound and soulful howl.

I recommend all concerts from the 1995/1996 time period. The music bristles with a revitalized energy and enthusiasm and it is hard not to be captivated by the sound of it as Prince begins his new journey, shedding his 1980s skin and persona as he strikes out in new directions. The final concert of the tour marks this as something special, and Prince delivers in concert, and on the recording, with a sparkling set delivered at maximum rock n roll velocity. There are a couple of weak moments in the concert, but the bootleg is good enough that I am more than happy to overlook the moments that drag. A worthy release of one of my favourite eras, this one can sit easily along side any other show of the era.

Thanks again
Hamish