Roxy aftershow, 1997

Last week I listened to an aftershow from 1997 released by Sabotage records. This was part of a two disc set which presented me with some problems. The first disc has the Denver show, while the second disc covers the Roxy show, and two extra tracks. These two extra tracks caused me to scratch my head, the databank listing them as from an unknown concert, while Prince vault had the listed as part of the Denver aftershow. I chose to run with the good folks at prince vault, and listened to these two tracks as part of the first disc.

The show covered on the second disc also presents some unknowns. This concert is also heavy on cover versions, there are only four Prince songs – two of them unreleased, which leads us into unfamiliar territory and offers a unique listen. With Marva King and Doug E. Fresh taking on the bulk of the vocal duties, Princes main contribution is his playing, meaning I have to at times listen carefully to hear his input – especially given that it is an audience recording.

11th August 1997(am) Roxy, Houston,Texas

Marva King sings the first three songs starting with the Prince penned, and unreleased, “Playtime.” It has a firmness to it, a solid warmth, that despite the audience recording still manages to sound weighty and carries an inner intensity. The band dwell on the song as an opener and, as long as it is, I still feel like I could listen to it longer. It is a good introduction to the quality of the recording, the audience  vocal, but the bass well rounded and without distortion.

The audience are heard more on the following “Sweet Thing.” Marva King does a commendable job of the vocals, although the song is well known and the audience add their own vocal flourishes. A bootleg snob would be disappointed at this point, but as a fan I simply wallow in the live feeling of it all.

“Lovin’ You” is so short that by the time I realized it has started, it is already half over. It’s too quiet, and the recording does it no favours at all, it disappears into the crowd and general background noise. It is disappointing to me, because when I do listen carefully I can hear that Marva is singing beautifully.

Databank wrote disparagingly of Doug E. Fresh, and the first minutes of “Flash Light” I can perhaps understand why as he engages the audience in chanting. I do find myself warming to it however, and Doug E. Fresh comes across as a perfectly likable bloke – before I know it I am chanting along with him here at home. What sounds best on the recording though, and what I really dig, is the bassline. It has a life of its own as it bounces and runs up and down the funky stairs, I find myself moving to it and temporarily forgetting Mr Fresh and his enthusiastic calls to get things moving.

Prince can be heard playing some lead guitar as the song morphs into “Jam Of The Year’ and for the first time in the recording I can safely assert “yes, that is Prince.” The song is a instrumental jam, barely distinguishable for “Flash Light” that preceded it, and as Prince chants “Turn This Mother Out” it becomes apparent that this is just a long medley of funk tunes and chants. The bass stays with its hypnotic loop, but with Prince on the microphone there is much more to pay attention to as Prince shifts and shapes the music into different forms.

The recording suffers somewhat as Prince carves into “Johnny.” The mix is murky and Prince isn’t as prominent as one might expect. However the rest of the band is sounding excellent, in particular Kat Dyson who delivers a weeping solo that stretches across the latter part of the song. Doug E. Fresh and his “Do It On Film” can’t match her, and the contrast between his over worked rap and Kats light guitar break is like night and day.

Morris Hayes opens “Cissy Strut” with plenty of power, but it is the Mike Scott guitar break that grabs all the headlines here. The rest of the band become yesterdays news as Mike weeps and wails, dips and dives, writing an array of emotion with his finger tips. Its only short, but it is a fitting digest of all he does well.

“Hotel Blues” is another unreleased song written by Prince and sung by Marva King. As its only live appearance, it should command attention. However, it doesn’t initially grab me, there is no rush of intensity and it is a laid back jam that offers no deep groove, or fiery statement of intent. It isn’t unpleasant on the ear though, and I do find Prince’s piano playing worthy of a closer listen – if only the mix was slightly better and more balanced.

There is no surprises with “Kiss,” it could have been lifted from any show in the 1990’s. The performance is mostly positive, but there are a couple of negatives. There is rather too much shouting and chanting for my liking, and the moments in between when the song is playing the audience are again very vocal on the recording. They aren’t really negatives, indeed they are a big part of the live experience, so I can’t complain about them being on the bootleg. These shows are after all for those in the room at the time, not us listening on a bootleg years later. The concert ends in this way, with Doug E. Fresh chanting and singing with the crowd, entirely representative of the show in general.

A very short concert, I can understand why Sabotage chose to pair it with the Denver gig. Of the two shows, the first disc easily out shines this one. This recording is poorer quality, Prince is largely absent from vocal duties, and while I greatly enjoy Marva King, I can’ say the same about Doug E. Fresh. If it wasn’t part of a two concert set I wouldn’t listen to this at all, but as a completest I am pleased it exists, especially for the performance of the two unreleased songs. A curiosity, but far from a good listen.

until next week, take care
-Hamish

The Church, Denver 1997 am

The Prince of 1997 is not the Prince that I grew up with. At this time a lot of the magic and excitement of being a Prince fan had dissipated for me. There is no doubting that Prince was still playing as well as ever, but for me the songs, the very heart of the matter, were missing. Aftershows still retained some thrill, a measure of excitement provided by guest appearances and cover versions. The gig I am listening to today has both and is all the better for it. The guest is Chaka Khan, both vocally and playing drums(!) and the setlist is chock full of cover versions, only the odd Prince song breaking up the run. It is an audience recording, and a scratchy one at that, but there is no distortion which about all I ask for out of a recording nowadays.

6th October 1997(am), The Church,Denver

Ignore the opening introduction as the announcer tries to flog off some t-shirts to the crowd, the real fun begins immediately as Chaka Khan emerges from the crackle of the recording playing the drums through the opening “Instrumental.” It isn’t a song that kicks sand in your face and laughs, with a kindlier gentler sound it is a gentle stroll into the show rather than an aggressive rampage. I would love to see footage of this moment, and this audio recording is a poor representation of what must have been a cool introduction.

It is Marva King who provides the entertainment for the next number, with a deep rendition of “Playtime.” Marva brings plenty of firepower to the performance, and she is ably matched by some equally insistent horn lines, and a dark organ swirl. The thin recording doesn’t do the song justice and it is up to the listener to fill out the sound in their mind. However, it does sound like a stonking version and we can only listen in envy of those that were there.

I’m not so fussed by “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” It’s not this perfoamce that I have a problem with, its just that I have heard it so many times from Prince and this rendition doesn’t add anything new that I haven’t heard before. Coupled with the quality of the recording,  it becomes a flat spot on the bootleg. Prince can be heard defiantly working his guitar and to his credit it does sound like it’s building to something, but we never get to fully appreciate the fruit of his labors as the recording saps the energy from his performance.

I am far more interested in “777-9311” and “Ain’t No Fun To Me” that come next. It is the bass line of “777-9311” the serves as the introduction, before “Ain’t No Fun To Me” comes snapping hard on its heels. It is only short, but Prince manages to evoke the spirit of the song with his impassioned delivery and the heavy wheeze of the organ that anchors the song. There is one point of the song where an audience member can be heard saying “He’s a genius, man, a genius!” and sitting here at home 20 years later, I am inclined to agree with him.

There is a “Colorado” chant that carries the first minutes of “Days Of Wild” before its crushing groove arrives proper and suffocates the recording with its thick funk. Even the thin recording is no match for “Days Of Wild,” it is just as wild as always, and even if it doesn’t stretch out for days it still sprawls itself across the recording for seven unequaled minutes. This wildness is personified by the hectic Tony Morris saxophone solo that bursts into flame in the final minutes of the song, making for a fitting end to what is a highlight on the recording.

Tony Morris is again present for the following Chaka Khan “Tell Me Something Good,” sung by the legendary Chaka herself. My feelings are mixed, I love the song and the performance, but I find the quality of the recording to be intrusive and several times I am taken out of the moment. However, it is a fantastic song and on a soundboard recording I would be positively raving about it.

The show has a warmth to it as Marva King displays her considerable chops on a cover of the Staples Singers “I’ll Take You There.” Even though Prince is barely noticeable, he doesn’t sing and there is no blinding guitar break, the song still has its place in the setlist, with its nostalgic charm and warm glow. This isn’t the first song I gravitated towards in the setlist, but I find it just as rewarding as anything else played.

“I Got The Feelin” is a cover of a James Brown song, but it lacks the drive and power that we would normally expect from a James Brown cover. The horns can be heard with their vigorous turn around’s, and after hearing them I can say that again it is the recording that is sucking the life from the song. There is no doubt that the band is playing an authoritative rendition, and their hard work is only undone by the shallow recording.

Prince goes even further back for a cover of “The Way You Do The Things You Do” This has me re-enthused for the bootleg, mostly because this is one of my favorite songs, and I am immediately transported away as Prince and the band play the song with plenty of sunshine and energy. It’s only a few minutes, but they cram a lot into the song, with the organ, the vocals, and the horns all vying for attention.

Prince goes even further back in time for an even bigger surprise – a short, sharp rendition of “Shout.” Forget the quality of the recording for a minute, if this doesn’t bring a smile to your face, then I don’t know what will. It has the crowd engrossed, and it’s easy to see why with its upbeat call and response and the undercurrent of swirling energy that never quite settles.

Ignore the next minutes as the announcer again reminds the crowd to buy T-shirts. The music returns with a slow building jam built around a lone drum sound provided by Chaka Khan. It doesn’t do much, it stays low and never gains any real intensity or intent, but it does pave the way for the next few songs.

The band is running at full power for an energized performance of “(Eye Like) Funky Music.” One of the few Prince songs to be played at this show, it gains even more respect in my book by being a song that was very rarely played live. Hearing it here, it sounds fresh and bright to my ears, and the chanting of the chorus is fun even if it is me alone a home. This is not a song I would play someone to demonstrate the genius of Prince, but as a fun song to hear on a bootleg it is right on the money.

We have another call and response jam next with “Denver Rock The Party”. As a horn lead instrumental it has the temperature rising on the recording, and this is made even better with Princes guitar break that he bestows upon it. It never blows out to a guitar jam though, and it is the horns and chanting that make up most of the song. I would like to say more about the guitar, but it is a little low in the mix, no doubt at the show itself it was louder, stronger, and altogether better.

There comes a slow down with the steady swagger of “Johnny” filling the air with its roguish grin. The lyrics make me smile, a smile made even bigger as Prince tells the audience that he and Chaka had said a prayer before the show, a prayer that the show would be funky. Well, that prayer has been answered, and the show is funky throughout, even if the recording can’t match the concert. “Johnny” maybe slower, but it is just as funky as anything else played, and is another highlight as the music curls and bends around the listener.

“I’m A Woman (I’m A Backbone) is a song with purpose and direction. It may be Chaka’s name and vocals that give the song early impetus, but later it is the saxophone of Tony Morris that drives the song into the ground. The saxophone stabs the carcass of the song with incisive cuts and wild slashes, leaving the music twitching and foaming with every attack, making for a wild and unhinged performance that tears though the skin of soft funk that has so far covered most of the evening.

I have often thought, and indeed written, that Prince and Hendrix aren’t the great mix that many imagine. The performance of “Little Wing” at this concert has me not just eating my words, but positively choking on them, the lump in my throat palpable from the opening seconds as Prince serves up a delicious treat of chords stacked on top of each other. It’s not just about Prince though, Chaka and the saxophone of Tony Morris bring their own flavours and tastes to the song, making for a balanced and well rounded dish.  Chaka is out in front, while Tony garnishes her performance with soft touches and a drizzle of sax as required. Prince displays another side of his playing, while known for playing the type of solos that would raze a forest, here his playing scatters seedlings that bloom and grow into a varied fruit as the song progresses. It is a thoughtful performance, with a trace of wistfulness that is never quite resolved. The song isn’t perfect though, the recording is too poor for that, and as effusive as I have been so far I must admit it is a song that requires close listening as for the most part it is distant and exists on the fringe of listenable.

Putting aside the sound quality for a second, this performance is a 10/10. I don’t say that lightly. The setlist gives no hint to how great the actual performance is, and having Chaka on board makes for a real treat. The songs swallow the room in there immersive brooding, punctuated by the electric fury of the guitar or the relentlessly vivid saxophone. Unfortunately, the bootleg is not a 10/10, the sound is too poor, and it took a close listen on headphones to really unearth the treasures buried in this release. For die hard fans this is another must listen, casual fans I would say approach with caution.

Thanks for joining me,
see you next week
-Hamish

Shoreline 1997

I can’t even remember the last time I listened to a Jam Of The Year concert, let alone wrote about one. I can’t offer a good excuse, looking at this show now I can’t see any reason not to listen to it, or even dislike it. Yes, it does have some weak moments, but these are offset by a run of classic hits, party grooves, and a Carlos Santana guest appearance that brought me here in the first place. This show was recommended by someone whose opinion I value highly, so I do expect it to exceed any expectations I might have.

10th October 1997, Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, California

The opening intro leaves me cold, I don’t really need to hear snippets of his hits to hype me up. I have always had a soft spot of “Jam of the Year”, and this performance is everything I could ask for. It is stronger than on album, giving the concert a great push from the start. The performance and concert tour hinge on this song and, although Prince does hype the crowd in the midsection,  it sets the tone for all the will follow.

The jams keep on flowing, with the band grooving on “Talkin Loud and Sayin Nothin” It is as one might expect, a solid groove that has the crowd on their feet as Prince encourages them to dance and clap. The highlight for me though comes when Mike Scott makes an appearance with a sizzling guitar solo that catches me off guard yet has me enraptured as he plays. I’m not so fussed on Prince and the crowd chanting which comes next, but the song does it’s job of enthusing the audience. A Prince piano solo ends the song on a high for me, and I find that all in all it is enjoyable few minutes.

“Let’s Work” initially has me on a nostalgic trip, but interest wanes later in the song as it begins to take on a plastic sound. The outro of “Rock ‘n’ Roll is Alive” is where the real fun is, especially as Prince provides a ferocious guitar upon it that cuts through all the groove and jams that have been heard thus far on the recording.

This loud and heavy guitar tone is maintained through the following “Purple Rain” which begins with a snort and a grunt and ends on the most epic of howls. With Carlos Santana in the building, Prince is putting on a show worthy of his influence and although its not overlong it does give one a taste of Princes guitar abilities.

Things stay in the early ’80’s as the warm swells of “Little Red Corvette” introduces the next section of the concert. Personally, I think it’s a let down. After a great introduction that had me raising my expectations through the roof, the next couple of minutes sees Prince racing through the song leaving me feeling that it was a lost opportunity.

 

I am caught off guard by how good, and downright fun, “Get Yo Groove On”. It has a lively pop to it, and would sit complete at ease on any radio station in the late ’90’s. As much as I love it from the outset, it does loose its way after a couple of minutes, but the guitar solo from Kat Dyson snaps me out of this thought, and the rest of the song is an easy groove that I would happily dance to when I’m home alone.

As much as I enjoy “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” (especially singing along) I always find that in the live performance I am drawn to the sudden stop in the song when Prince sings “How can I get through days when I can’t get through hours” The ticking clock and the way the band jump in and out of the song always has me sitting in admiration of their professionalism and abilities. As for the rest of the song, I sing boisterously along to what is proving to be a very good audience recording.

“Face Down” is one of the pillars that the concert is built around, and it monsters the recording for the next ten minutes. With its big beat and infectious vocal hook, I am am completely drawn in, the following few minutes I am in another world. Prince knows what he is about to unleash upon the crowd, the first few minutes particularly interesting as he warns those with children that they should cover their ears or take them out before he hits us with the full force of his agenda and power of the groove.  The bass comes like a tank, rolling across the land, for the final few moments, and this emphatically seals the deal for me – this is just what I want to hear.

Contrast, contrast. The following two songs not only come from a different time, but also a completely different place musically. “A Case Of U” gently grounds the performance and brings an intimacy to the arena not previously heard. The bump and grind of the opening half hour replaced by an emotional pull and thoughtful lyrics. “When You Were Mine” is equally compelling, this time the emotion replace with a simple energy that is completely natural and can’t be replicated. With Prince playing alone for these two songs, his natural abilities are spotlighted and he draws attention to this with his final comment of “I would like to apply for the position of King” – a sly reference and dig at Michael Jackson.

The arena is again filled with sound as the band rejoin Prince for “The Cross” It lacks some seriousness of earlier tours, here is it is a joyful stomp through a song that has become a celebration. This is underlined by the guitar solo that Prince brings to it, all shrieks of joy and howls of passion.

“The Cross” is more than matched  in the spiritual stakes by “One Of Us”, a song that takes the celebration of God to yet another joyful stomp. These two songs are the backbone of the evenings performance and Prince gives plenty of time to the introduction, the vocals, and the guitar solo. Each part of the arrangement is worthy of the time invested, but it is the final minute of the guitar break where the rewards are greatest, with Prince playing with finesse and power.

The band all have a chance to play as “Do Me Baby” begins, the opening minutes given over to the band introducing themselves and each playing a solo. I found this most enjoyable, but once Prince comes to the microphone the band are forgotten as he sings a timeless rendition of this seduction classic. The previous two songs may be the spiritual highlight, but “Do Me, Baby” is definitely the sexy highlight and a song I could happily listen to again and again.

The concert speeds up considerably at this point, and the next 15 minutes sees a quick romp through Prince’s back catalog.  “Sexy M.F.” starts this off in fine style. It is uptempo and fun early on, before a surprising upswing occurs midsong that carries in away from it’s initial funk. “If I Was Your Girlfriend” likewise has an element of fun to it and although it lacks the intensity of the album version, it is still a rewarding listen here.

It’s with the piano set that Prince brings an air of intimacy to recording. Although he plays a run of truncated songs, it still brings a smile to the face. “Diamonds and Pearls” begins this set, but its “The Beautiful Ones” that follows where the real heart of the performance lies. However, the largest cheer comes for “Darlin Nikki”, and one can hear why. Prince teases the opening minute on his piano, picking out the hook as the crowd cheer him on at every pause. When he does sing, he only gives the first few lines, letting the audience loudly sing the risque lines.

As much as I love “Condition Of The Heart”, the rendition here is too short for me to get much enjoyment out of. “Girls and Boys” has my head nodding in approve, and even with only the piano for accompaniment Prince gives it the required funk and swing. Again its short, but a nice moment.

“How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” begins with Prince, but sees the reintroduction of the band. It is much longer than the previous few songs and sees the concert pull back to a more traditional format. Personally, I think the song sounds great, but there is nothing for me to latch onto emotionally and I find it drifts by me rather quickly.

I am far more engaged with “Take Me With You” that comes quickly after. Only a minute, but it is joyful rendition that warms the cockles of my heart.

My cockles are less warmed by “Raspberry Beret” that comes paired with it. I don’t have a problem with the song, but the performance at this show is luck warm and it fails to build into the explosion of pop that it promises. It is the end of the main show however, before a lengthy break before the first encore.

The song that opens the encore is the reason this bootleg was recommended to be, a 10 minute jam on “Soul Sacrifice” with Carlos Santana. After a slow build the song really kicks off at the two minute mark as the guitars rise to the occasion and blaze across the recording. Insert any superlative you want at this point, the following minutes are beyond description and make this recording indispensable. Prince introduces Carlos as his hero, and he delivers a performance to match expectations. Forget everything else I have said about the performance up to this stage, this song is all you ever need to hear and it lays waste to all that has come before it.

“Soul Sacrifice” is the pinnacle of the show and the following “Sleep Around” feels quite a let down. It does play as a party jam, albeit a very ’90’s inspired party. I like to party just as much as the next man, but following after “Soul Sacrifice” it comes across as weak and almost throw away.

There is plenty of audience interaction for “I Like Funky Music”, but very little for us to enjoy here at home. The groove works, but with out seeing the dancers on stage or being involved, it does seem like a flat spot in the concert. No doubt a great concert experience, it does play as a poor bootleg experience.

There is no surprise at all as the final songs of the recording is “Baby I’m A Star” and “1999”. “Baby I’m A Star” serves as an introduction, its energy giving the show one final boost. “1999” plays as an almost full version, with plenty “Party!” chanting and funky groove playing us out for the final minutes. It doesn’t reach the heights previous hit by other songs in the the evening, but it does close out the show on the right note.

Ignore the flat ending, and the couple of weak spots mid setlist, there is no doubt that this show is worth listening to. “Soul Sacrifice” with Santana was what brought me to this bootleg, and it delivered far more than I could have imagined. Along with “Do Me, Baby” and “One Of Us”, it formed the backbone of the show. Despite some cliched ’90’s sound in places, the show was far better than I expected for a Jam Of The Year concert. It might be sometime before I get back round to listening to this one again, but I would have no hesitation in listening to it again in future.

Thanks again
Hamish