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

Liberation (1996)

I have been continually surprised by how much I enjoy concerts from 1996/1997. At the time I wasn’t taken by them, but twenty years later I find that I have finally matured and caught up with Prince. The shows are an odd mix, Prince is aiming at the pop audience, yet the music and performance lacks the sparkle of his younger years. However, to my more mature ears there is plenty to keep me entertained. This week’s bootlegs covers an aftershow recorded in Chicago after Prince’s performance on Oprah. It doesn’t quite fit the classic aftershow mould and is more or less a run through of the Love 4 One Another tour setlist. It is a crowd-pleaser though, and Prince offers a couple of diversions that keeps the crowd well and truly involved with some loose renditions later in the show.  Despite being an audience recording, with all the baggage that comes with that,  I look forward to hearing this again and discovering something new.

21st November 1996 (am), Park West, Chicago

There is no denying, the recording gets off to a rough start. I have no issue at all with the music, “Jam Of The Year” opens with a long instrumental featuring some taunt guitar work that makes it all the more appealing. However, the recording is rough for the first few minutes, crowd noise overwhelming the music in places. Listening past that though and things aren’t so bad, this opening number having some cool keyboard work as Prince sings his lines to a highly charged and appreciative audience. “Jam Of The Year” doesn’t quite live up to its title though and I am already looking forward to what comes next in the setlist.

Doing a quick calculation, I have heard “Purple Rain” four or five times a week for the last twenty years, factoring when I listened to the album on heavy rotation from 1984-1994 when Prince was THE MAN, and Purple Rain was THE ALBUM, I estimate I have heard the song approximately 16,000 times. And yet I find I still enjoy it. The version on this recording is surprising for several reason,. Firstly, it appears very early in the setlist, where traditionally it comes later in the show. Secondly, it is a late night/early morning show, where the big songs don’t normally get an airing. And finally, this is a loose version, featuring a veil of intricate guitar work from Prince. The main solo pulls back as Prince begins to gently weave his way through the song before returning to the verse, almost rebooting the song at this point. It keeps me guessing, and even if I have heard the song 16,000 times before I still finish with a smile on face.

I am pulled straight back into the summer of 1996 with “Get Your Groove On.” Listening to it today I can almost feel myself in the car, windows down, music on, and the feeling of sun on my skin. Prince imbues the music with a sunshine feel that seeps through the song at every opportunity, and for my money this is a better representation of Emancipation than the earlier “Jam Of The Year.’ It certainly helps that a lot of the earlier sound problems have dissipated, and even though the crowd is loud and vocal, it adds to the sense being there, rather than detracting from the music itself.

Prince doesn’t dwell on “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” drawing it in after a minute to instead deliver a hard hitting “The Ride,” something that seems to go over very well with the Chicago crowd. I am with them on this one as the music churns and chews through the next ten minutes. At times the music is so low it almost disappears into the floor, and that is no bad thing at all as Prince lays down his blues sound in blues town.From this swampy festering sound, Prince’s guitar rises loud and proud, a flaming sword in the darkness of the music, a light to gravitate to. Its a great moment, but not the finest moment of the song, that comes later and Prince teases and taunts the audience with his talk, made all the better by the audience yelling encouragement – “Come on Boy,” “Alright now!”. In these moments I am right there in the audience, just the reason I listen to bootlegs.

There is a guttural grunt and snort to the guitar sound at the beginning of “The Cross,” a raw sound that transports me back to when I was a young punk. Prince keeps his guitar set to “Garage Band” as he plays a mighty rendition that comes from the gut. It may not be the cleanest sounding recording in circulation, but Prince more than makes up for it in raw, unadulterated power and force of will. Even twenty years later listening to a scratchy bootleg at home, it is easy to be swept up by the fervor of it all, and by the end of the song I too am desperately close to whooping and hollering with the rest of the crowd. The response to the end of the song is overwhelming, it is obvious that I’m not the only one deeply affected by the performance.

Prince may have declared “Prince is dead” a year earlier, but here he is full resurrected and digs deep into his back catalog for a performance of “Do Me, Baby,” a performance that sounds as if the song had only been written the day previous as Prince plays it with unbridled emotion and feeling. Again, the crowd are right with you as the song plays, it may be too much for some but I do get a buzz hearing the audience screaming their appreciation, even if they do swamp the music at times. Prince unleashes an exquisite scream that has the crowd baying for more, and who can blame them when Prince is sounding this sexy. With lyrics thrown in from “Scandalous”, “Adore”, “Insatiable”, and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore”, it becomes a tour de force of Prince’s most seductive songs, no bad thing at this stage of the concert.

The following “Sexy M.F.” is most welcome, with its horn refrain it brings a fresh sound to the concert. However, the verses can’t quite live up to this, and the recording does Prince no favors. While the horns are recorded well, Prince himself sounds a touch fuzzy, and the slippery guitars underneath are mostly lost to my ears. A song that promises much, in this case the bootleg just can’t do it justice.

When I was fifteen, “If I Was Your Girlfriend” sounded like the most important song in the world. Thirty years later, and as much as I try, listening to it here I can’t recapture that feeling. The weight of the song has gone, and now when I listen all I can hear is the easy groove the the song rolls across. Getting older is a bitch. However, as a live bootleg experience it is perfectly serviceable, and when I take my personal feelings out of the equation, I find it an easy going three or four minutes.

Prince’s spiritual side again comes to the fore with his intense cover of Joan Osbourne’s “One Of Us.” One can see the attraction, and with the snare sound anchoring the beat it fits in well with Prince’s oeuvre. It could do with a better quality recording, but Princes playing is forceful enough that it overcomes most sonic limitations. It’s not quite the key song of the evening, but it is a good pointer to where Prince was at this time.

The encore begins with “Sleep Around” from the Emancipation album. It may not be the best sounding song on the bootleg, but it is good enough that I feel I should pull out the original album and give it a listen, which I guess is the point of these concerts; to promote the album of the time. The Emancipation  songs may be firmly fixed in the mid-Nineties by their sound and style, but they still have their own spirit and for me nicely capture the zeitgeist of that time. The bootleg itself is a passable listening experience without ever blossoming into something essential.

This is followed by the final song of the evening as Prince segues “A Train” into an all encompassing jam. There is some bass work, that judging by the screams is the man himself, and the crowd are fantastically vocal with their “play that funky bass”  encouragement. This jam is the highlight of the show for me, the thumping bass (or should I say thumbing bass) is glorious in its chest thumping vibration. Princes chant of “C, H, I, love you” is pretty cool, and coupled with the contributions from the other band members it is a fitting end to what has been a lot of fun.

The first five minutes give a false impression, and after a bumpy start the concert settles into something very cool indeed. Putting aside any recording issues, I found that even though it wasn’t an aftershow in the true sense (the setlist being pretty much a condensed mainshow) , the interaction between the band and audience made it feel like one, and especially so in the final couple of songs. Of the concerts of this era there are certainly better ones, but this is the one I have enjoyed most so far. One to avoid if you an audio purist, but for anyone who likes plenty of passion and crowd interplay this is pretty darn good.

Thanks for reading, until next time take care

Osaka, 1996

This week’s show I will be diving back into the Gold era, and a show from Prince’s Japan tour of 1996. This is an absolutely fascinating period, not just musically, but the whole drama and change surrounding him. I may not have fully understood it all at the time, but now in retrospect I see there is a lot going on, and some great shows to revisit. Having shed his ‘Prince’ persona, his music and look strikes out in a bold new direction, and it’s hard for me to remember what I thought at the time, but I now know that it was something extremely brave and creative. Money and his battle with Warner Bros. may have been the motivating factor, but it ended up being so much more interesting and creative. In 1995 he steadfastly refused to play any of his back catalogue, here in 1996 the first cracks are being to show and quite a few ‘Prince’ songs are on the set-list, as well as the opening music which nods to his past. By 1997 the doors to his past are reopened, with him again embracing his back-catalogue. It’s somewhat of a shame, and it would have been very interesting to see what would have happened if he stuck to the path that he struck out on 1995, one can only wonder. Today’s show is from Osaka in early 1996, his only tour of the year being a Japanese tour in January. The quality isn’t great, but anything that documents this era is well worth a listen.

Osaka 1996a

11 January, 1996 Osaka, Japan

My anticipation is at an all time high as the show begins, and it more than delivers as the first words we hear from him are “Osaka, Prince is dead, long live the New Power Generation”. It thrills me just to hear it, and I know I am crossing over dangerously into FAM territory. There is the immediate nod to the past that I alluded to earlier as the synth intro of 1999 is heard, but Prince reclaims the here and now with opening riff of Endorphin Machine. What a start, a blaze of guitar, lights and screams- from both Prince and the audience. It’s a lively way to open the show, and I can only think that had I had been there it all would have been overwhelming. The sound of the recording isn’t great, and sometimes isn’t even good. Yet, for all its faults, its still captures the sound of the moment rather well. I may not hear the band all that well, and Princes vocals aren’t all that clear, but I can still hear the energy and enthusiasm of the performance, and in my book that counts for a lot. And besides, if the sound isn’t good I can always just watch Mayte and her dancing, always a pleasant distraction. Prince drops a verse and chorus from the song, and shortens it considerable, he never lets up on the driving guitar sound and momentum of the song. I am surprised by how much noise he can generate from a single guitar, the NPG are doing a great job of rounding out his sound and giving him a fat sound to play against.

Osaka 1996

With Prince still working his guitar we are straight into the next song, which is the excellent Shhh. The band is on the money for this one, as is Prince. His vocals sound just like they do on record, and if this was a soundboard recording I am sure we would hear much better just how good he sounding. It’s disappointing he cuts this song short too, after a verse he does play a great solo, and then suddenly cuts it short as the grind of Days Of Wild begins.

I always think of this as an after show song, which is a folly as it always sounds great, even in the bigger concerts. The recording isn’t good enough to truly capture the ominous rumble of the song, but it’s easy enough for me to imagine how it would have sounded. The highlight is always when Prince says “oh by the way, I play bass guitar”. This show is no exception and we get a couple of bass breaks, the first one, and then another one later in the song as the crowd chant. Prince looks the business as he plays, and I would love to see a show where he played bass only through the whole show. He makes it look so effortless, as well as a lot of fun. The camera jumps around a bit at this point, and I kind of like it. It’s that old fashioned sort of boot, where you know it’s not going to be great to look at, and yet you need to watch it. Some more chanting, and then the briefest of pauses before Now.

Osaka 1996b

What I like most about Now is the keyboard sound. Prince’s rap doesn’t do much for me, it’s all about that organ sound for me, and I know that yet again it’s Morris Hayes giving it to me. The song is hollow sounding when he isn’t playing, it’s the chorus that has the full sound that I like. Prince implores the crowd to ‘jump up, jump up, now!”, and I don’t know if they do or not, but I know that I certainly want to. The song quietens to a groove and while Mayte plays with the audience Prince straps on his purple axe and gives us some funky keyboard sounds. For me the song becomes much more interesting for me at this stage, as there is plenty of keyboard jamming for me to listen to. A few lines of Babies Making Babies is sung by Prince at this stage, which is pretty standard for this song. He then even goes so far as to plug in his guitar, so in the space of two songs we have seen him play every instrument onstage, bar the drums.

Osaka 1996c

I am loath to use the word ‘funky’ too much, but as they lurch into Get Up (I Feel Like Being A)  Sex Machine, that is indeed the first word that comes to mind, and rightly so. The keyboards and guitar play right up hard against each other, before easing back and Prince singing. There is a lot going on, and all the instruments via for my attention. Be it Princes guitar, his singing, or the keyboards and bass line, I want to hear it all and soak it all up. Of course I just want to unplug my headphones and dance around the room, but that wouldn’t be much of a blog post now, would it? The song winds to a close with a minute of Prince playing alone on the guitar, before the band jump back in for a furious finish.

Osaka 1996d

The Most Beautiful Girl In The World almost sounds out of place after the last few songs. That Prince can go straight from something so funky to such pure pop has never failed to amaze me, and listening now it’s hard to believe that a minute ago this guy was channelling the spirit of James Brown. The vocals are outstanding, and the only thing better is the tightness of the band, this song really demonstrates how good they are, as they stop several times and then pick up right where they left off. Prince isn’t to be outdone though, and later in the song he delivers some lovely falsetto that only he can.

In the privacy of my own home I love Pussy Control (that is a sentence I never thought I’d write), in public I am a little more reluctant to enthuse about it. This live performance isn’t great. Prince’s rap isn’t clear, and he doesn’t really shine until singing the chorus. There is some nice work for us to listen to on the keyboard, but overall the song is lacking and leaves me wishing it could have been more. I thought this would be better live, and I am not sure why it doesn’t work for me, but I suspect Princes rap has a lot to do with it.

I like Letitgo, it sounds different from other songs at this show, and it always leaves me with a strange feeling that I can’t quite put my finger on, a sort of unease when I hear it. The performance here is good, and I especially appreciate Tommy Barbarellas solo. The song has a nice pop chorus to it, but I sense something darker underneath it, and I think that is what I latch onto and gives me the uncomfortable feeling. Prince takes time to involve the crowd with some singing, before it abruptly stops and the gentle piano intro of Starfish and Coffee begins.

It’s great to hear this played in full, with the full band treatment. Often we get short lines of it in the piano medley, and it’s only on this Japanese tour of ’96 and the ONA tour do we get the full version. It’s a curious choice to get the full band treatment, and this is the first ‘Prince’ song of the night played, so I wonder what the thinking behind it is. I prefer the first part of the song more, the second half is free and loose, and I don’t enjoy the keyboard solo so much, but I am sure that it must be to some peoples taste.

With the opening chords of The Cross sounding we are immediately throw right back to the 1980’s. Princes’ playing is crisp, it sounds sharp and contrasts the keyboard sound that is also prominent. I was expecting his guitar to ramp up as the song progresses, so I am thrown when it’s the keyboard that firstly drives towards the climax. Order is restored when Prince does begin to work his fret board, and it’s a joy to listen to, as well as see as he strikes a series of rock star poses. It’s not as deep and spiritual sounding, I find that it’s just as enjoyable however, especially when I lean back and soak it all up.

Osaka 1996e

The Jam, I feel I am writing about this song almost every week, it is such a part of his repertoire. I don’t tire of it tonight, as not only to we get a great solo from Morris Hayes, we also get a very tidy solo from Tommy Barbarella, a man I often overlook. It’s great to hear the keyboard guys playing, and the song loses something as Prince calls Mayte to dance and the music takes second place. This arrangement of The Jam offers nothing that we haven’t hear before,  however it serves as a good bookmark in the show, and a chance for us to catch our breath and admire the skills of the individual band members.

A plodding beat, and I immediately recognize One Of Us. I find the beat pedestrian, and the song is saved by the uplifting sound of Princes guitar, without which there would be very little joy to be found. I prefer this cover to the original, and if I had never had of heard Joan Osborne I would swear it’s a Prince original. I do like Prince’s guitar sound in the song, but his vocals aren’t picked up by the recording very well, so I find it hard to give it too much praise. Prince does play guitar hero as the song nears the end, and this is where it picks up for me, I can hear his guitar much better than his vocals.

I didn’t know that this band and this incarnation of Prince did Do Me Baby, so as the song starts I am very curious to see how it will sound. The keyboards initially sound as they did all those years ago, perhaps the sound of a swirling organ the only difference. Obviously Prince sounds much more mature, and a lot of the vulnerability is gone. However this is replaced by a strength and sense of showmanship that more than makes up for it. He dances and sings boldly, and although not as dangerously sexy as when he was younger, he still commands your attention.

Osaka 1996f

Sexy M.F. is another surprise, and as the keyboards play their intro a funky beat begins. It’s a shame too that Princes vocals aren’t sounding 100% on this song, and I have to again wonder if it’s his rapping. The keyboards however are wonderful, both Tommy and Morris sound great, and I like when Prince stops singing and we can just listen to the two of them play. There are a few calls from Prince to the audience to sing with him, but the song quickly winds up and we get another song from the back catalogue.

Considering that If I Was Your Girlfriend is such a fan favourite, its surprising that there isn’t too many great live versions out there. I would love to be writing now that at this show it sounded perfect and left a deep impression on me, unfortunately I cannot. It passable, again it’s as much the recording as anything else. The vocals are murky and in my opinion that is the key element in the song, and if that is lacking then the song doesn’t stand up on its own.

Wait a minute, did he just say “this song is from Batman, Vicky Waiting”? Yes indeed, and now I am very glad I chose to give this show a listen. This tour was the only tour where Vicky Waiting was regularly played, and it’s refreshing to hear it live. I don’t know the last time I listened to the Batman album, it would had to have been a good few years ago. Prince doesn’t play with the arrangement too much, there is a nice minute of organ solo as Prince and Mayte engage in some onstage antics, asides from that its played straight down the line. It’s so good to hear something like this that we don’t often get live, and I find that I listen very carefully to it as it is such a rarity. Not a great song, but the show is richer for having it in there.

Prince then deals with the weight of his past with a simple solution – a purple medley. As the sound of the Batdance song begins he tells the crowd “Is it alright if I play some Prince songs?” The start is just as on record, and with all the sounds and lights it’s initially hard to tell if they are just playing the song on the PA, or actually performing live. Live performance is the order of the day, and it’s kind of cool to see Prince quickly run through the songs. It’s similar to the modern day sampler set, with the difference being it’s a full live band playing quickly to keep up.  For those of you not familiar with the Purple Medley, It covers Batdance, When Doves Cry, Kiss, Erotic City, Darling Nikki, 1999, Baby I’m A Star, Diamonds and Pearls and Purple Rain. The single contains more songs, but for this show Princes closes it after a few lines of Purple Rain.

7 has its Arabic prelude, and being a bit different, I quite like it. Its starts sounding like Around The World In A Day before morphing into a more Middle Eastern sound. This is a chance for Mayte to demonstrate her skills dancing with a sword. I have always enjoyed the music, and Mayte and her dance is no bad thing either. 7 is light sounding, especially when I look back at the first half hour of the show, nothing wrong with being light, it does give the show some balance. It does at times sound out of place, and I think it’s in the show as much as for Mayte as anything else. The drum has a great pounding sound as the song breaks for the crowd to sing, and apart from the guitar sound later in the song this is as good as it gets for me.

Osaka 1996g

The encore begins with Billy Jack Bitch. The lyrics aren’t my thing, but I love the music of it. After a long organ intro Prince glides to the front of the stage and after thanking the audience he tells them that he is no longer Prince “that name belongs to record companies” and he believes in music. His speech goes for a minute or so, and it’s the standard lines about music and record companies. Billy Jack Bitch finally starts proper and there’s a good energy release. The keyboards have a good sound, as does the drums and bass. The vocals are lacking in strength and clarity, again it’s not Prince, and it’s the quality of the recording. That doesn’t prevent me from enjoying it though, and it gets better as it goes along.

As the crowd cheers the music segues to I Hate U before suddenly changing to 319. It’s all very short lived, a verse and a chorus before we hear the NPG operator speaking and the song stops all together. I would have liked to have heard either one of these songs in full, and it’s another Prince tease near the end of the show.

Osaka 1996h

As Gold begins I know that this will be the end of the show. It has that climatic feel, and is a great way to finish the show. Prince’s vocals sound better here than they did earlier in the show, and I am pleased that we are finishing on a high. Prince’s guitar sounds a little twangy later on as he sings, and I don’t know if that is the sound he is aiming for or not. If fact the guitar seems out for most of the song, and I decide it’s definitely not the sound he was aiming for. However the solo sounds well enough, and it’s enough for me to overlook the earlier issues. The song ends with him playing shoulder to shoulder with Tommy Barbarella. It’s a strange sight, most of the show Prince has barely interacted with the band, and instead Mayte has been his main foil on stage. He looked very much a solo performer, and at one point as I watched him I had a feeling that he looked incredibly lonely standing alone at the front of stage. He must have been carrying a huge weight at the time, and although he and the band spent countless hours together, there is still a sense that he is alone. Of course this was the same time that he was about to marry Mayte, so perhaps I am reading too much into it, of course it’s only natural that he should be giving her so much attention instead of the rest of the band. The show ends on a high here, with the refrain echoing around for a few final times.

Osaka 1996i

Hard to know exactly what I thought of this show. Sure, I really liked it, but then again I like most shows I listen to.  The show itself is an interesting snap shot of what was happening at the time. Prince was only a month from marrying Mayte, and with the return of Prince songs to the set list the end of the war with Warners is signposted. I liked that this show was a bridge between two eras of Prince. We had all the classic Gold era songs in there, the dense funk of Days Of Wild for example, as well as some interesting selections from his Prince days. I particularly enjoyed hearing Vicky Waiting, as well as Starfish And Coffee. A curious show, but one I would recommend, it you don’t mind an audience recording.

Thanks again




Chicago aftershow 1996

Today’s show is a plan B for me. I was intending to write about another show that someone spoke highly of online, but when I started to listen to it, I found that it was very similar to another show that I had written about a couple of months ago. This aftershow from 1996 has been on my radar for some time, but I have never quite got around to listening to it. It sounds interesting from what I have previously read, the big downside being that it is a low quality audience recording. Not to be deterred, I decided that it was just too intriguing and I had to give it a listen.

21 November 1996, Chicago

Rather aptly the show opens with Jam Of The Year. I am going to lay my cards on the table right from the start – I rather like the Emancipation album. Despite its plastic production values, the songs are still there, and there are plenty of them. This rendition of Jam Of The Year is quite interesting, the first couple of minutes it’s only instrumental, and has a good groove to it that bounces along nicely. I am not going to carp on about the audience noise through the recording, but be aware, this recording has plenty of crowd noise, and there are plenty of times when Prince and the band sound secondary. The guitar plays a nice figure, and there is a loud cheer when Prince rather obviously appears at the two minute mark. However, his appearance doesn’t move the song along at first, and the groove continues for another minute with plenty of cheers before he begins to sing. The bass line is well worth the effort to listen to, it’s tight and has a good bounce to it. The song ends after five minutes, it could have easily been stretched out much longer.

Prince 1996

Is that the opening chords of Purple Rain I hear? It is indeed, and the crowd noise increases several decibels. There is long piano intro while Prince speaks directly to the crowd, several times referencing emancipation (the word, not the album). Some might find the crowd noise off putting, but it does give it an intimate feel, and there is a sense of togetherness that the recording seems to capture. Prince pulls into his guitar break, and there is that sense of release that I often feel as he throws his head back and begins to play. It’s a shame therefore that the recording is thin at this point and the guitar sounds weaker than I would like. I know it’s the recording rather than Prince, and things get better as he slows it down and plays a more relaxed solo, the likes of which I hadn’t heard before. Any doubts I had about the recording fade at this stage, the quality of the show easily surpasses the quality of the recording. There is a further surprise, as the crowd begins to sing “ooww, owww, oowww” Prince starts to sing the first verse again. His guitar plays along, and I find it to be a touching moment. He is still finding emotion in a song that I thought had been emotionally wrung out. Again he plays into the beloved solo, and this time he pushes on with it and keeps his guitar wailing. There is the final reprise of “ooowww owwww oowwww” and my girlfriend is now looking at me oddly as I wave my arms from side to side.

We are swept up into the here and now as a rather plastic sounding Get Yo Groove On starts. This song is too smooth for it’s own good, and it’s easy to dismiss it as something that Prince could do in his sleep. But listening to it carefully now I can see that it’s well crafted, and Prince is making it look all too easy. There is nothing wrong with a smooth, well crafted pop song, and that is what this is. The first half of the song is a bit of fun, and it’s only as it goes on do I find it’s a little devoid on fresh ideas in the second half. However there is a brief guitar break by Prince that shakes things along. I do like it when the band throws Six into the mix, I really hadn’t expected to hear that at a Nineties show. The song finishes and part of me regrets praising it earlier on, there wasn’t as much there as I had initially thought.

The Most Beautiful Girl In The World has a joyful opening, and it’s not hard to get caught in its charming web. Prince begins to talk to the crowd, and then sudden stops it’s without singing. It’s disappointing, and I briefly frown, that is until I hear the next song begin.

Prince 1996a

The Ride is classic mid-nineties Prince. Prince seems to relish it, and he wallows in the down and dirty groove with some dark guitar licks, and his laid back vocal delivery. The guitar comes to the fore a couple of minutes in, and it’s worth the wait. It’s a slow burning solo, and it certainly does have some intensity to it. Its stronger sounding than some of the other solos I have heard on The Ride, and I wonder if he is using a different guitar setup. As the solo progresses it takes on a voodoo sound, and I find myself listening very carefully to it. Prince name checks some of the people at the show “Mavis Staples is in the house, R Kelly is in the house, Oprah Winfrey is in the house” Each name elicits a louder cheer from the crowd, and things become louder as Prince encourages the crowd to wave the wild sign, before playing with the crowd some more. The band then plays real low and Prince plays some dark licks on his guitar. There is not much more to say about this part, except that it is my favourite part of the song. This does go for some minutes before Prince closes it to a loud cheer from the crowd.

Spirits are uplifted as Prince plays a loud, guitar heavy sounding The Cross. The drums are down in the mix, and the crowd claps along. The most striking thing in the opening minutes is the heavy chug of Princes guitar. However this eases back in the next verse and the drums and keyboards come to the fore as the song progresses. Prince begins his solo, and the balance is restored. I have no complaints about the solo at all, apart from the fact that I would love to see it as well as hear it. The song is surprisingly short, and a horn sound suddenly appears in the mix near the end, I guess from Morris Hayes keyboard. One final crescendo and we finally get a rest as the band stops between songs.

Do Me Baby is one of those songs that I find myself writing about week after week. That and Purple Rain seem to be in every show, and I can’t deny it’s well worth the inclusion, I would be terribly disappointed if I went to a show and didn’t hear Do Me Baby. Prince takes his time before singing this one, but it’s not a gentle build up as we have heard previously, at this shows there is plenty of intensity and screams from the crowd. I love it as Prince begins to sing as some women yell encouragement to him from the crowd. This one is squarely aimed at the women in the audience, and Prince’s scream gets an equally loud scream back at him. This continues as he begins to sing lines from Adore, and then Insatiable. Each song gets a couple of lines, and he also throws Scandalous and How Come U Don’t Call Me anymore into the mix just for good measure.  The squeals of delight settle down and Prince resumes singing Do Me Baby. The song ends on a high with some more shrieks from Prince and a simple “Do me baby, do me baby”

Prince 1996b

We go from his slow jams straight into some funk as the band strikes up Sexy MF. Prince’s rap on this doesn’t always do it for me, but I do enjoy that groove. The band swing on it as the song goes along, and Morris Hayes adds his touch which changes the direction of the song. Apart from the first minute, most of the song is instrumental, with several changes. I find it to be disjointed and off putting, and there is a part of me that is secretly pleased as it ends.

The bounce of If I Was Your Girlfriend begins and I am all in.  There does seem to be something missing in the song, I can’t pin point exactly what it is, so I’m just going to blame the recording. The bass isn’t as prominent as I like, and some of the other instruments I can’t hear very well. The crowd certainly like it, and it’s one of those occasions where I think that perhaps I should invest in a time machine. Prince again tells the crowd that “Freedom is a beautiful thing” as the song comes to a rather unsatisfying ending.

One Of Us surprised me when I first heard Prince cover it, but in retrospect it makes perfect sense as a song Prince would cover. The lyrics are a good fit to his spiritual side, and the steady beat gives him room to put his stamp and guitar sound over it. This isn’t the best example of the song, Princes vocals aren’t recorded well, in fact nothing really is except his guitar. There is the feeling that I am just tolerating the song between guitar breaks, which really isn’t fair. His second break is when things become interesting, it’s not too long though and he is soon singing again. There is another guitar break that carries us to the end, I find it hard to get too excited about it, it’s good without being great.

I am no great fan of Sleep Around. The song sounds busy, and yet it fails to grab me. Even listening carefully here I don’t find anything to latch onto. I have heard it plenty, its fine to listen to when I am doing other things, it’s just when I give it all my attention I find it lacking. The performance here is good, and in the wider context it’s a good fit. The song eases off later and Prince thanks the crowd. This part I like much more, it’s a more basic sound, and I can feel the groove better. There is a nice rhythm guitar sound, I have to listen carefully but it is there. And as soon as I write those words it comes to the fore and gets a minute to shine – Prince is laughing at my expense. There is a segue into Take The A-train and Prince uses this to finish up the song and move us into a Chicago Jam.

Some cool bass play gets this Chicago Jam hopping, and there are a few occasions in the song when it is right out front. This is the last song of the show and Prince takes the opportunity to play with the crowd and get them chanting along. It’s a characteristic Prince type jam, and Morris Hayes in particular gets plenty of time to play. The song has an easy groove to it, it never becomes intense and I bob along easily to it at home as Prince has the crowd chanting “C..H..I love you” The song ends with a horn flurry courtesy of Morris Hayes and his keyboard and the show ends appropriately with the sound of the crowd.

There is plenty to dislike about this show, and yet I find myself really liking it. Sure, the recording was less than ideal, and I didn’t warm to every song played. But the parts that I liked, I really liked. The rendition of Purple Rain was an oddity and something worth hearing, as was The Ride. It’s a nice document of this time period, and something I should probably give more listens to.

Thanks for reading