Today’s post comes via a rather random route. I was just thinking that I hadn’t written about anything from the Diamonds and Pearls tour, when I happened upon a comment on prince.org stating that the best performance of Purple Rain was at Rotterdam 1992. The person posting then went on to say the whole gig was very good, and well worth a listen. “Well, why not?” I thought. If I am going to listen to something from about then, this sounds like the place to start. So today, a random gig recommended by a random person. The head phones are on, my laptop is humming, so let’s see just how good this is.
28 May, 1992, Rotterdam
The start isn’t terrible. I didn’t really know what to expect as the recording begins, but I wasn’t surprised to hear that it is an audience recording. The show opens with some electronic noise, and a voice intoning a digital countdown. It sounds somewhat dated now, but I am sure that at the time it was pretty cool. The crowd cheers as you might expect, but they quickly quieten down as some keyboard intro music plays. There is then a woman’s voice singing Take My Hand, Precious Lord. I am convinced it is Rosie, and here she sounds strong, and soulful. It’s only a few lines, but I would gladly pay good money to hear much more like this.
The show really begins in the next minute as we hear Prince singing the start of Thunder. I can’t remember the last time I heard this song, it’s been many years since I last listened to Diamonds and Pearls album, but as this song gets going I am thinking I should listen to it more often. The sound is muted due to recording limitations, but asides from that its relatively clean, there is crowd noise, but Prince voice and the drums come out nice and strong. The other instruments are a little lost, it’s a shame, as I can hear some great guitar playing, but it’s not right out front like I would want. I very rarely mention Michael B, but he is a star here. His drumming is so strong, its sounds like he is really pounding away. I am pleased that Prince is concentrating on his singing, and only a couple of times he yells encouragement at the crowd- a pet hate of mine as you well know. The guitars go up a notch in the latter part of the song, and I can only close my eyes and imagine what it must have been like to be there at that time. I find Princes look at this time to be thin and delicate, but his music here is very big and strong- a pleasant surprise to me.
Tony M shouting out an introduction to the crowd begins us into a long jammed out rendition of Daddy Pop. Again, I had forgotten this song even existed until now. It begins well, the organ has me nodding in enjoyment, and Princes vocals too have me on side. However things slide as we reach the chorus, and we have Prince and the band enthusiastically singing “Pop Daddy, Daddy Pop”. I’m just not feeling it. I thought for a second maybe the music in-between would be enough to satisfy, but sadly Tony M appearance again derails even that for me. There is a nice little breakdown, with some cool bass runs, and as much as I enjoy them, it only highlights further the unevenness of the song. Prince and the band persevere with the song, long past the point where I would have normally listened to. I keep hoping for some music magic to save it, and Tony M keeps popping up his head and killing my moment. The final straw comes when he finally delivers a shouted rap, and I concede and hit the skip button. Sorry, but I just couldn’t take anymore.
I am so used to hear abridged versions of Diamonds and Pearls nowadays, that to hear the full version here is like hearing a new song for the first time. Normally I would dismiss this song as being too syrupy and sweet for my tastes, but since it’s more than 10 years since I last heard it in full I’m going to give it a pass. Rosie nicely complements Prince throughout, and I had forgotten how well they sounded together on this. Her deep power nicely offsets Prince delicate vocal delivery. Some of the subtleties of the song are missing in the recording, but the chorus shines and is the strongest part of the song. Michael B makes an immediately impact midsong, and there is some nice deep sounding rolls coming from him. Overall the second part of the song sounds much better to my ears, and Rosie is easily the star of the show. That is until the unmistakable sound of Princes guitar begins, and then for the last minute of the song he dominates.
Lets Go Crazy gets the shortest of intros before the riff begins. Its an overall short version here, and the drum beat is prominent and up-tempo. As you might expect Prince dumps most of the verses and concentrates on the guitar playing. But it is by no means a festival of guitar love, and after only a minute of guitar fireworks Prince takes us into the next song.
As you might expect, the arrangement of Kiss is different from that heard on other tours. This one concentrates more on the rhythm guitar underneath and the horns, and all in all it comes across as some sort of Sexy MF bastard child. And that’s not too bad at all, I find myself listening carefully to it and enjoying the groove. The horns add a lot of brassiness to it, and it’s far from the barebones skeletal song we hear on record. It’s never going to be my favorite arrangement, but it is good. There is even time for some call and response near the end of the song “let me hear you scream!”
I tried not to judge Jughead before it started, but as soon as Tony M picks up the mic and starts extolling the crowd to party it was over as far as an objective review goes. Of interest, after a minute of playing with the crowd he does rap the first few lines of Dead On It, which I find interesting in itself. You can even hear some of the crowd respond with “On it” when he says “the only good rapper is one that’s dead”. Oh, if only. I feel especially sorry for Rosie when she begins to get involved in this mess. The music can barely be heard under the relentless shouting and it doesn’t leave us much to listen to and enjoy. I did like it more when Prince was rapping, and the onslaught of noise dissipated a little, but it was only a brief moment in what is a dire song.
Next, the reason why I chose this gig. Purple Rain begins very well, the soft guitar sounds amazing after the previous song. The difference between the two is like night and day. The crowd have been waiting for this one and commence with the “ow ow ows” right from the start. The gentle strum gives way to a much harder lead guitar and the guitar break played is better than I could have anticipated. It’s not fast, but it does have a good loud crunch to it. A couple of howls from Prince, and he begins singing the verses proper. As with the guitar playing, the difference between this and the last song is light years. Prince is note perfect and is in peak form. There is just a twinkle of a piano in the background, and it nicely adds a sparkle to the verses. When the chorus rolls around, Rosie nicely adds her voice in behind Prince, and gives it a little extra kick. The release when Prince opens up the guitar solo is fantastic, and a definite highlight in the song to me. He plays the start of the solo the way he always does, but when he starts it here it sounds like someone popping the cork off a bottle of bubbly, there is such a release and rush. The crowd is in fine voice and towards the end they sound great and the guitar goes in a few directions I haven’t heard before. Nothing too much out of the ordinary, but a couple of bars where I thought “oh, that’s cool”. I’m not sure the song reaches the heights that were promised, but I will say that it’s a very good performance.
Live 4 Love maintains prince on the guitar and the opening minute of it has some more crunching guitar tone from Prince. The playing is strong, and I do like this lead guitar sound. The crowd sings along with the song, and it’s obviously well known to a lot of them. The verses don’t quite have the flow as they do on the album, but then again Prince does let the crowd do most of the singing. Sonny T gets an introduction from Prince, and plays an excellent bass line, he is one of my favorite bass players with Prince. Unfortunately things nose dive immediate after with another rap by Tony M. I wouldn’t want to be labeled a hater, but this show would be so much better without him. Prince returns with some hot guitar work, and I am pacified again, and by the end of the song I am even prepared to concede that it’s pretty good. Except for that 40 seconds midsong it was very strong.
This arrangement of Willing and Able is just the type of thing I like to hear from Prince. I have always found it light on the album, but I have always rated the version on the video very highly. What we get here is closer to the latter, Rosie is an excellent counter balance to Prince. The horns are nicely in the back ground, filling the spots they need to fill, and overall the NPG are sounding very tight. I could give each of them a shout out on this one, Michael B sounds great, the bass is rumbling along nicely and there is loads of different instrumentation to listen to. I hold my breath waiting for the inevitable appearance of Tony M, but even he can’t ruin the smooth groove the band is laying down. This is the surprise highlight of the gig so far, and it gets even better with some great horn runs near the end of the song to carry us out.
Damn U surprises and delights me even more. Still six months before its release on record, it gets a nice reception form the audience here, and once again it’s the nice horn work that draws me in. Princes vocals are seductive, but it’s the horn swells that draw me in and have me leaning in to hear more. The horn solo is delightful, without being over the top. There is something about the live version that I enjoy more than the album version, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. It seems to have slightly more passion and realness to it. It closes to a hearty cheer from the crowd, and here at home I want to applaud to.
Prince tells the audience that they want to do one more new one for them, then dedicates it to “All the sexy motherfuckers” Although a new song, the crowd unsurprisingly quickly learn the chorus and are soon yelling the appropriate line back to Prince. It’s not as smooth sounding as on album, and it loses some of its appeal to me because of this. Some songs I enjoy a little more rawness, while others like this it’s the smoothness I like. I do like the solos played by the band, Tommy Barbarella is good, and Levis part has always been a favorite for me, he really does fly. The only dark cloud is Tony M, but mercifully he doesn’t get too long on this track. The horn that finishes the song is nice and sharp, and its shrillness stands up well next to the heavy organ. The song comes to an abrupt stop that catches me off guard.
The opening notes of Thieves in the Temple sound, before a suitably long atmospheric introduction featuring the beautiful sound of Rosie, and some gentle piano work. The intro has me salivating, I am hoping that we get a great version of Thieves In The Temple. My prayers are answered, when the song does start as we hear on album it is nice and full sounding with a good crisp piano sound. After a low key start, things really accelerate when the full band join, it’s played a shade faster than I am used to hearing. I don’t have a problem with it, but I feel it does detract from Princes vocals as he goes through the verses faster to keep up with the beat. The breakdown after a couple of minutes is the best part of the whole thing, the guitar plays a sweet little loop, and the crowd begin with an “ow we ow” chant. Prince then begins to sing over the bare music, and the over all effect is very cool. He then does a couple of lines of It, as well as some lewd talk. The audience is back on board with some chants and singing and Prince reverts back to It. At this point it has a real concert feel, and I feel what it might have been like to be there. While the crowd chants “all right” there is some Princely runs on an acoustic guitar. He then gets a funky rhythm going on it, and I decide that this is the best song on the recording. Not perfect, but it’s the song that I feel the most.
The next part of the concert begins with a drum roll, and we have a short instrumental piece, lead by the horn section. It’s neither here nor there, but it does give us a break and changes the pace of the concert nicely.
It morphs rather naturally into Strolling. Not Strolling sung by Prince, but Strolling sung by the crowd. It’s only half a minute, but the crowd knows every word.
Without missing a beat we move into Insatiable. I stopped writing for the first minute, it was just too good. I completely forgot it was an audience recording and just concentrated on the purity of Princes vocals. A cheer from the crowd brings me back, but nothing can diminish the beauty of this song, and this performance. With the stripped back band sound, there is plenty of space for Princes vocals. Levi places a soft, and equally beautiful solo, and for a few minutes I am in heaven. The first half of this show was uneven, but we are into the good stuff now. There are some random cheers from the crowd, and I can only guess that Prince is giving some sort of performance on stage.
“23 positions in a one night stand” kills the moment, as does the vocal styling’s of Tony M yelling “NPGs in the motherfucking house!” Talk about a buzz kill. Luckily Gett Off is strong, the guitar line and Princes singing has plenty of power behind it, as does the power drumming from Michael B. Prince isn’t the greatest of rappers, but he gets a pass on this one for me, mostly because there are other parts of the song that I musically enjoy. Especially the guitar line, and near the end where he plays a brief break. He does break out from the song, but it’s still good. The pace picks up as we run into Gett Off II. Its fun, but not really note worthy. Prince runs through it again at the faster pace, and the horns and keyboard swing along with him. Once again Levi gets to play a quick solo, before Prince gives us a selection of screams.
The next song is listed as Turn This Mother Out, but I believe its The Flow. To be honest, Tony M is all over this one, and I find it very hard not to skip it. The first minute or so he does indeed deliver his flow fast and furious, but he also yells it in such a way that I can’t make out what he’s actually saying. Now I aren’t some old guy who doesn’t appreciate rap, it’s just that Tony Ms delivery is such that he is hard to listen to.
Cream comes at us calmer and easier to listen to. It’s always nice to hear this one with some horns, and on this recording it’s the guitar and horns I enjoy the most. Along with the backing vocals from Rosie they add just a little more punch. I actually quite enjoyed this song, Prince sometimes sounds lazy with his delivery in cream, but on this recording he sounds like he is giving it a little more. Just to get me more excited Prince throws in a touch of La La La he hee he. Its subtle, but its there. Prince leading the audience into a chant of “Woof, meow” has me very amused, before a funky little guitar break from Levi.
Rosie finally gets her chance to do a full song with a rendition of Dr Feelgood. Not too many surprises here, she has the right voice for the song and she sings it pretty much as you would expect her to. Musically the band is in back ground except for one guitar break which has a heavy electric sound. I am going to guess it is Prince. It’s not played fast, but it does have a loud sound to it. It’s confirmed that it is Prince when Rosie says “oh Prince, you playing so good” and the guitar answers. The song ends not long after and the opening of 1999 sounds.
1999 is up-tempo, and brassy sounding. The funk guitar is buried in the mix, and it doesn’t sound as clean as I would like. But it’s not bad, it’s still sounding like a good time. It is very truncated though, and after only a minute the chant of “party” from the outro is sounding. It does go on for some time in this way, with plenty more horns and hand claps from the crowd. It sounds dated in this form, you could easily guess its early 1990’s Prince.
We segue into Baby I’m a Star. As another up-tempo fun song, it’s obvious now that Prince is pulling it all out for the end of the show. We get a rushed first verse and a chorus before they move on to Push.
Push seems like an odd choice to put into the show now. The band is good at melding it into the previous two songs, but the dreaded Tony M bursting onto the scene bursts my bubble somewhat. Prince does then get the crowd to sing along for a bit, before singing a new song at that time ‘My Name Is Prince’ over the music. He only sings one verse, buts it’s interesting to see it developing at this stage. The up-tempo party theme continues with a final burst of horns before it pulls back into a slow groove. Tony M thanks everyone and then we are left with the same electronic noise for an outro as what began the show. It’s a nice symmetry.
So what to make of this one? Well, there were plenty of negatives, that can’t be denied – audience recording, Tony M, setlist. But let’s be positive, there were also some great moments. I thought Purple Rain was very good (not great) and I was knocked out by Insatiable. Damn U and Thieves in The Temple were also well worth the listen. In the larger scheme of things I think I would take a couple of these for a playlist, rather than listen to the whole show. Prince was excellent, but I just couldn’t get past Tony M. This recording hasn’t dated well, but it did help put his whole career in perspective.
Thanks for reading, if you have any recommendations let me know