The Orbit Room 2000

I have painted myself into a corner. Sometime ago I listened to an aftershow from Chicago in 2000, and although it wasn’t really my cup of tea, I found I enjoyed it. This week I picked another afteshow played just a few days after, but when I listened to it this morning I found it wasn’t quite what I expected. Most of the performance is Doug E. Fresh, and Prince can only be heard, along with his songs, a couple of times in the show. However, it’s too late now to find another bootleg to listen to, so I am stuck with my first choice. I find Doug E. Fresh inoffensive and pleasant enough, but he lacks any real bite and most of performance is toothless. At this show Prince’s performance is understated and subdued, leaving us with an entirely forgettable experience. Being a hard core fan I have to hear everything, and sometimes means listening to flat concerts like this as well as the more dynamic performances I usually gravitate towards. So with that it mind, this is very much a concert that will bring balance to my listening experience.

20th November (am) 2000, The Orbit Room, Grand Rapids

I listened to both the Sabotage release and the Thunderball release, and to my ears they sound near enough to the same. The opening two minutes is entirely representative to what will follow, two minutes of Doug E. Fresh rapping and hyping the crowd while the music stays secondary in the background. If you weren’t a fan of Doug E. Fresh before this then you aren’t going to be a fan after as he stays in the safe lane and delivers a rap that fails to elicit any sort of emotional response.The concert improves considerably with “I Can Make You Dance” as the band build a solid foundation for Doug E. Fresh to frame out his song. Musically it’s more interesting than the opening rap, but it’s not the typical Prince aftershow we have come to expect, and even as an electric guitar begins to cry in the background the song still remains far from inciting a riot. There is no sense of adventure, the music and delivery remaining tame for the time being.

Another rap from Doug E. Fresh has me again questioning why I am listening to this. Guest appearances and other players are par for the course, and there is no denying that they do bring interest to these concerts. However, in this case it feels too much, and there is very little Prince influence to be heard in the music. I do play along with the call and response, mostly to keep myself interested, but this is a Prince blog, not a Doug E. Fresh blog, and I do wait impatiently for my hero to make his mark.

Finally I am pacified by the appearance of “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” and Prince on the mic. The performance is easy enough to enjoy, although Prince seems caught in the same quicksand as the previous numbers, there is no punch to the performance, nothing challenging to grab on to, and very little in the way of surprise. It is a smooth, almost glassy performance, that is emotionally hollow and leaves me entirely unmoved.

With “Passin’ Your Name,” all is temporarily forgiven. Kip Blackshire takes vocal duties, and paired with Doug E. Fresh, the song has a drive and impetus that has previously been lacking. I can’t say I have heard a lot of Kip Blackshire’s singing, but from what I hear in this case he gives a nuanced performance that has a lot more character than the overwrought rapping by Doug E. Fresh. As one might expect, the horns rise to prominence through the song, and with some soulful keyboard, the song becomes greater than the sum of it’s parts. On a better recording I wouldn’t think much of this song, but surrounded by half-baked performances, and a concert largely lacking in Prince, it punches above it’s weight. With a crisp and taunt guitar solo breaking up the groove the song changes direction and ferments with a Najee solo in the final minutes into something far more interesting than heard elsewhere on the bootleg.

There is a sudden shift in gears, and an quickfire “Gett Off (Housestyle)” takes the previous laid back jams and accelerates them into a something that finally gets the heart racing. Prince’s performance doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm, but Najee elevates proceedings with his contribution before Prince’s final guitar solo starkly reminds me that I am actually listening to a Prince gig.

It is the sound of Prince’s guitar that heralds in the final song of the night, a detached rendition of “Johnny.” It sounds as if nobody is really invested in the performance, and  the halfhearted audience response matches the sound of the music. Even Prince’s guitar solo waxes and wanes in an uneven and inconsistent performance that is symptomatic of the show in general. On a positive note it is short, and it is the end of he show.

I don’t expect to love every Prince concert I listen to. I am a hardcore fan, but I am also a realist, and I trust my ears. This show isn’t dire, it certainly doesn’t sound like a disaster, but it is lacking in the soul, the emotion, that I so regularly hear on these bootlegs. We could attribute this to the lack of Prince’s input we hear on the recording, but it does sum up where he was at the time, musically adrift and leaning heavily on those around him. Normally I find something positive to say, and usually finish with a recommendation to listen to a recording at least once. You needn’t bother in this case. There is very little here for a fan to enjoy, and it is a soulless experience.

Thanks for joining me again,
Next week I will do some homework and find us something exciting to listen to
-Hamish

 

Cabaret Metro

This week I am digging back to a recording that I used to listen to a lot, but haven’t heard for a few years now, the show from the Cabaret Metro Chicago in 2000. It is worth the listen as Prince and the NPG play a show with the aid of a couple of guests’ appearances, namely Macy Gray and Common. The show starts with very little Prince, initially it is Macy Gray and her band playing before Prince slowly eases his way into things. By the end of the show however, he is fully engaged and playing just as hot as ever. It should be good to revisit this old friend, hopefully it lives up to my memories.

17th November (am) Cabaret Metro, Chicago

The show starts with Macy Gray and her band playing without Prince. Common is on the mic free-styling as the band run through a jam that includes Voodoo Chile (slight return), Sexy M.F. and D.M.S.R. Considering Prince isn’t anywhere to be heard, its surprisingly enjoyable and something I could easily listen to again. Of course without Prince and the NPG playing it does lack intensity, it meanders easy in it’s on way without ever being taxing to listen to.

Things finally start on the Prince front as Macy sings a sweet sounding Forever In My Life. I find her voice to be a good match to the song, and for the first few minutes she makes the song her own. She’s unrushed, and sings in a style that is unmistakably hers while the band quietly bubble along behind her.  A happy cheer greets Prince as he arrives mid-song to sing his lines, and he promptly reclaims the show. As good as Macy Gray sounded, there is nothing quite like hearing Prince sing it, and when he sings his lines there is no mistaking whose song it is.

The show moves up a notch with The Bird. It’s not immediately recognizable, but there is an increase in tempo and beat that signals something more funky is coming our way. With Common and Macy hyping the crowd the wave builds with the bass and organ adding momentum. That wave never crashes, and the band keeps on grooving, with the bass being the tracks that everything runs on, it sounds great on the recording and has me reaching to turn it up. I am underselling it a little, it is a fantastic jam.

With a funky guitar and a steady beat another jam starts, this time more downbeat and easy. There are also the contrasting sounds of some bright sounding horns, some squealing guitar and the shine of the organ. It all comes together in a mix of sounds and colours that keeps things moving, and I am very surprised as it ends in a sudden stop after only a few minutes.

prince-2000

Prince next tells us that Macy will sing a country song, so while the band plays a country sounding beat she sings for a minute “baby, baby, baby”. There’s nothing to it, it is barely a minute long, but it does show the easy nature of the show, and as Prince and Macy talk it’s obvious they are just hanging out and having fun.

The show settles as Macy sings her own I Try and it’s on her own song that she really shines. The band provide a strong skeleton for her to sing over, and as she sings it easy to feel the warmth in her voice. I am so lost in the moment that it ends before I realize it, and a moment of horns carry us through to some heavenly guitar from Prince, playing in his clean sound as he solos around No Woman, No Cry. I thought Macy Gray was good, but this is even better, and takes the show to another level altogether. He doesn’t play fast, or make it scream, his carefully chosen notes carrying all the expression and emotion he needs. As the music rocks back and forth Macy sings lines from a few Prince songs (Take Me With U, Anotherloverholenyohead, Adore) but its Prince’s guitar that holds my attention, injecting beauty and heart as it plays. As Macy sings Take Me With U the music increases in intensity and with the guitar still playing we reach new heights in the song, and if not for some distortion on the recording it would be an unforgettable moment.

With Prince on guitar and playing so well, it’s only fitting that the next song should be The Ride. It not as dark as sometimes heard, the groove is lighter, as is Prince playing. After an initial bluesy run he swirls for a time, before returning to the bluesy tone. From here on Najee plays his sax for a time, bringing in a different sound to a song so familiar. Najee doesn’t get a lot of love from Prince fans, but he does a fair job and it is fun to hear him bringing something different to a song I have heard so often. Prince finally sings some lines, before he cuts loose with the guitar in the final minutes, really making it sing. Just as expressive as his singing voice, it more than lives up to the previous song, and Prince is bringing all his guitar skills out for the final part of this show.

With a quick drum rattle Prince turns everything up to ten for his final Santana medley that will close the show. As always he is on top of his game, but still provides plenty of space for the keyboards to fill out the song. There is some distortion, mostly from one of the keyboards, but for the most part it’s a clean recording, and Princes guitar sounds clean and strong all the way. The band chase each other round in a circle of riffs, as the intensity rises and falls. Again Najee gets a chance to contribute, his sound unusual for the Santana medley, yet I enjoy every moment of it. Despite being a band performance, it is Princes final guitar solo that leaves the lasting impression, as he duels Najee blow for blow before laying the matter to rest with a scorching run that can’t be matched. I am surprised (although I shouldn’t be) by how good they sound playing off each other, and although this is far from my favourite band, they turn on a great performance that ends the show in style.

The recording is very short, and the songs only a few, yet it was the jams and the guest appearances that made this recording an interesting listening. Hearing Prince interact with Macy Gray and Common was a different perspective, and with them putting their twist on his songs it added something interesting and new to the show. Najee too contributed late in the show, and his sound with Prince worked well, something I hadn’t considered for an aftershow. All in all, a short but sweet aftershow and there was something for everyone in it. Far from a classic, yet worth a listen.

Thanks for reading
Hamish

 

San Jose

Today’s recording is a dark horse to me. San Jose in December 2000 is a recording that I vaguely remembered was very good and enjoyable, but I couldn’t remember too much more about it. I gave it a fresh listen, and I was correct- it was a good fun concert. Sure, it’s very much a greatest hits show, but it’s all played with a lot of energy and pop that gave it a freshness that I found very enjoyable. Not too many surprises to be found here, but I had a fun couple of hours listening to it.

8th December, 2000, San Jose

The slowed down voice intro of 1999 is the first thing we hear on this recording, then the Prince squeal of ‘No’ from Lovesexy. It’s only an intro tape, but there is plenty of crowd noise, and it’s very clear that they are all in right from the start. The tape has snippets of My Name Is Prince and Erotic city, before a voice begins a countdown from 10, 9, 8, 7……

Prince San Jose 2000 4

There is a real sense of anticipation from the crowd, and even listening to the recording I feel the excitement growing in me too. The countdown reaches one and there is a long fast drum roll that takes me right back. It’s loud and fast and it reminds me of something I can’t quite put my finger on. Prince can be heard saying ‘San Jose’ and the band rock into Uptown. Now I know why that drum roll sounded so familiar! I would have never guessed that the show would open with this song, but it’s just fabulous, and like I say, I am immediately transported back to the early days. The band doesn’t over play it, and it’s still got a nice down to earth feel to it. Sometimes songs like this get played with a modern sheen on them, but this one here sounds just like it did back in the day. We are off to a great start.

There is no pause between songs, and we are still rooted in the early era as the band play Controversy. Like the previous song, it’s played in a more original configuration, and there is some nice guitar funking me up. The band at this stage is small, and there is no large horn section or extra players. All in all, it’s a great sound.

The song ends with the break down straight out of the Parade era. In my head I can almost picture Prince doing the cigarette lighting routine as the song winds down. I hold my breath for a second and cross my fingers as I hope what I think is about to happen happens.

The band seamlessly bangs into Mutiny and I feel like I have just stepped out of a time machine into 1986. It’s just as good as I had hoped. There is a sharpness and freshness to it, and it does sound just like the Parade era version that I have listened to 100’s of times. I can barely write now as I listen to it, everything is as it should be. Not all modern versions of Mutiny sound this good, and this is one to cherish. It’s played to the hilt, and the crowd is going bananas as the sax solo is played- I only wish I could see it. There is then a longish keyboard break, which I want to believe is Prince, but that’s wishful thinking and speculation on my part. I am not normally one to dwell on the past, but these first three songs have me feeling like I am 16 again.

Things take a smoother turn as Prince asks “We got any big soul sisters in the house?”, and then the smooth flow of Cream begins. Not being a fan of this song, it’s something I might usually skip over. But I listen to it here, and find myself enjoying it. The song is definitely a great pop song, and the guitar solo played on this recording has just enough rawness to it that it holds my attention on the song. I won’t be under estimating this song again for a while.

Prince San Jose 2000 5

Little Red Corvette is another exercise in nostalgia as it has a very nice long keyboard intro over the steady beat, while there is some very nice vocals overtop. I don’t know who is singing, but the sound of them over top gives a nice emotional feel to it, and the crowd get in on it with some hand clapping. Prince comes in, and it sounds like nothing has changed in 20 years. As a nostalgia moment it is pushing all my buttons. The guitar break is played on the keyboard, and even though it’s only a small change, it keeps me interested. Disappointingly what we get here is the abridged version and it ends right after this.

The crowd is in strong voice as the band play I Wanna Be Your Lover. Obviously there is many people there reliving their youth as I am now. The crowd is behind every line and there is an exciting feel to the whole thing. Prince only sings the first verse and one chorus, but it’s all a lot of fun.

Sexy Dancer begins without break. There is some very nice clean keyboard at the beginning of it, and that has me listening closely. The song is only played for a minute, which is a shame as it was sounding like it could have really been something. But I can’t complain too much as Housequake is the next song up.

This arrangement of Housequake is great. It retains the beat that I enjoy so much, and when Prince says “And the saxophone is fault, Najee!” it sounds fantastic. Najee plays a very nice break, its different but it sounds good. Prince also calls for Mr Hayes to get funky, and he gives us an organ solo that grooves along nicely. It’s funky and again adds a little more to the song. Prince also calls out the drummer, and there is a drum break that isn’t too over the top, and doesn’t derail the song as drum solos sometimes do. The song is played right out and there is plenty more of drum and organ throughout.

The tone is lowered and things take a darker turn as Dorothy Parker gets an airing. It begins with Prince talking to the crowd about change, but the song is what gets my attention here. It’s suitable subdued, and the downbeat sound of it all is as it should be. I could listen to this song all day, and the version here is just as I like. There is an especially nice piano break midway. Prince calls something sounding like “my piano” so I guess it’s his playing that I am enjoying listening to. It takes the song in a different direction, but that’s Ok by me. There is then a nice flute solo (At least I think it’s a flute) by Najee, and it’s the type of difference I enjoy on live performances. I give this one another thumbs up.

Prince San Jose 2000 6

There is finally a small pause in the action, and a proper break between songs. This is broken when the chugging guitar of Prince takes us back into rock mode. It’s very much a classic rock sound, just Prince and his guitar chewing it up for a couple of minutes. He mixes some nice high lead guitar with some more heavy rhythm, before the pounding beat of I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man begins. Initially it is just the beat, while Prince bangs out more guitar histrionics. Nothing is rushed and Prince gives it plenty before counting in the band with “one, two, three, four!” The band enters with a crash and the song begins as we have always known it. The backing vocals aren’t as strong as I would like, but who am I to criticize when Princes guitar playing is what this song is all about. He dispenses with most of the verses and heads straight to the guitar break. He barely begins before the band pulls back and we get the long extended mid section of the song. Prince plays an interesting break, plenty of long mournful playing, although to my ears it’s a little disjointed. The second half of the break is much more interesting to me, but unfortunately I won’t be adding this one to my list of favorite guitar breaks. Najee takes over with his saxophone, and my interest is piqued once again. I have never heard this take on the song before, and I want to listen to it more. After this I will be adding this to my playlist of songs I need to hear more of. Najee definitely gets a handclap from me for adding a lot of color to this song.

Prince San Jose 2000 1

I wonder what we will get next as we have the sound of rain fall, then some soft piano and vocals from the backing singers. I don’t have to wait long as Do Me baby begins. Every week I write this blog, and every week I find myself heaping praise on this song. Today is no different; the introduction music has me salivating like Pavlov’s dog long before Prince even begins singing. He gives a couple of ‘ooowwsss” before hand, and it only serves to ramp up the excitement in the crowd, and me! When he does finally sing there is a huge release, and I can’t help but sing along. The song doesn’t get played in full, after the first verse it quickly segues into the next seduction classic.

Scandalous is a must for any slow jams mix tape, but for me it loses a little of its power with all the audience screams and shouts. Who can blame them, Prince is working them and the song the best he can. After the first minute Najee gets another break, and I can see the ground work being laid for the ONA tour of the coming years. Prince comes back and sings as Najee plays, as I said before Najee is all over this recording and sounding great.

Staying in character the next song played is Diamonds and Pearls. I want to like it, I know that this is one of his most popular songs, but it’s just not for me. It’s played straight, but it’s very truncated, and it finishes on just over a minute. As a none fan of this one I am slightly relieved, but I do feel the frustration of those who like it, these medleys can be teeth clinching sometimes.

The Beautiful Ones should be a highlight. I am pleased just to hear it. Princes voice isn’t as strong as I would have liked, but I over look that as I am happy just to hear it. Like the previous songs it’s played short, this time Prince cuts the whole middle section from it and heads straight to the end as he howls into the microphone. Always my favorite section of the song, it looses a lot of its power in this shorten form. It should have built up to this point; instead by jumping right to it, it loses all its impact.

Keeping in this vein Nothing Compares 2 U is next on the set list. I like the song, I like Princes version, but this one is a little bland. But it definitely gets a whole lot better when Najee appears and plays his sax all over it at the midpoint. Lots of these songs are being saved by his playing, and I am rapidly becoming a big fan. Prince comes back to sing some more, but the sax has stolen the show for me, and it’s all I’m listening to by now. The song ends with just a piano tinkling away.

There is a break while a steady beat continues with a touch of organ, and something that sounds like a death laser. Its doesn’t add anything to the show, but it does give us a pause to catch our breath.

Finally the opening strains of Lets Go Crazy begin and the crowd’s reaction is predictably noisy. Nothing is rushed and the opening chords are held for a long time while the tension is built up. Some epic sounding lead guitar is played by Prince, but still the song doesn’t snap into life. Then finally “dearly beloved” gets the song and its unmistakable groove started. I thought the guitar might have been louder, but thankfully it’s tucked nicely into the mix and Princes voice and other instruments easily hold their own against it. The song is cut short and degenerates into chants of “lets go” with the crowd, before the well known Prince flurry to finish. Not my favorite arrangement of the song, but its inoffensive enough. Its not a totally write off, after his finishing flourish, Prince engages with another minute of guitar work which is worth listening to.

Prince San Jose 2000

We may well be back in 1984 as the band play a rousing rendition of Take Me With U next. It’s a facsimile of the song that we all know so well, and nothing has changed at all. Of course it ends very quickly and moves into Raspberry Beret. Prince does his spoken intro at this point about “Who hasn’t seen me before? and who has seen me before?” It’s quaint, and even though I have heard it plenty of time it still has a certain charm about it. The audience does most of the singing on it before the chorus and Princes vocals return. Its wound up here, and I’m about to get another surprise.

Darling Nikki is the next song, I don’t know when he stopped playing this one, but I would guess that this would have been one of the last times it was played in full live. It’s an interesting version; there is a nice sharp drum roll all through it that almost sounds militaristic. Prince starts to sing as dainty keyboard plays along. It’s back to familiar territory after this as the heavier keyboard rolls come after the verse. I am further surprised to hear it played right out in full, including the backwards singing at the end. Prince, you are so full of surprises sometimes!

Prince San Jose 2000 2

We stay in the Purple Rain era with When Doves Cry following immediately after. Normally I am not a greatest hits concert sort of guy, but I am loving this one. Again Najee is all over this song, and by now I am full on board. He is awesome, and I love this version. It doesn’t surpass the original, but it is highly recommended. It gets even better as Najee plays straight into Fathers song, and Computer Blue. You have to hear this, it’s a perfect fit, and the newness of it all is so refreshing.

There is then some nice keys while Najee plays some slow soft music over top. Like I said before, the template for the ONA tour is all over this, moments like this definitely has that sort of sound and vibe. If you ignore the greatest hits and just concentrate on moments like this you can see where he is heading.

Prince then sings a fantastic version of I would Die 4 U/ I’m a Star. Just over the same soft music he sings the lyrics slowly and deeply. He only sings a couple lines of each, but for that minute and a half I am transfixed. I am disappointed he doesn’t take it all the way, but this is still a great moment for me.

Najee takes the lead for God, and to be honest I am running out of words to describe how much I am loving him at this gig. Prince takes the time to introduce the band. He introduces each member as you would expect, but takes an extra moment to introduce Najee, and get him plenty of praise. I whole heartedly agree with Prince, and I am happy to find he is in agreement with me about Najees contribution. Obviously at this point Njaee gets another minute to play all over God, and its only fitting. It’s not outstanding, but it is entirely appropriate. As with the rest of the show I find it very enjoyable.

Purple Rain goes off in a direction I don’t expect, and I enjoy it even more for that. After the opening chords Prince takes us on a soft ride with some great lead guitar. Nothing over the top, just a couple of minutes of fine lead guitar. It’s easily the best part of the recording for me, and if I hadn’t have heard Purple Rain a 1000 times before I would probably come back to this one more. The rest of the song passes on much as you might expect, the guitar solo at the end, although enjoyable, doesn’t offer any surprises. I am pleased to hear Prince singing all the verses rather than skipping straight to the guitar break as he sometimes does, but having heard this at almost every concert there isn’t too much more that can be said about it. Prince does take a few minutes at the end of the song to preach the bible to the crowd, but that doesn’t detract from the recording at all, although it does probably go a minute more than it should do.

Prince San Jose 2000 3

The encore begins with the beat of Come On. It sounds a little flat and lifeless, despite the band doing their best to encourage the crowd to party. It does get better as it goes along, but it feels a little forced by the crowd. I do enjoy the song, and I would like to hear it live more often. Unfortunately this isn’t the best version I have heard. Najee sounds good on it, but the rest of the song it sounds like Prince is trying too hard to get the crowd partying.

The party continues into the next song as Prince encourages Geneva to bring up some people for dancing. As a listening at home experience it’s not great, but I can fully appreciate that at the gig it would have been pretty cool. There is a bit of sampling, and samples from several Prince songs can be heard before he breaks into Kiss. Although not great, it does have a nice groove running underneath it. As I have written many times, this is one song that never seems to sound great in the live setting to me. This one is likable, but still doesn’t quite get there for me. The crowd sound like they are having a lot of fun though, and several of them can be heard singing on the microphone during the song. Some are better than others, but no one is terrible which is surprising!

Gett Off ends the show with a slowed down nice deep groove. It’s another highlight for me, just the groove itself is enough for me. There is some rhythm guitar on top with Najee and his flute and the overall sound is funky with a capital F. Prince does deliver a heavy deep guitar break which shows off something completely different from the start of Purple Rain, yet I rate it just as highly. It’s a great way to close out the show, and as Princes ends his guitar break and says goodbye Najee plays us out. A fitting end to the show.

The setlist for this show didn’t have me feeling overly enthusiastic. But the playing on it and the sound that Najee brings to the table more than compensated for the set list. The hits had a fresh sound, and were played with an energy that must have been hard to muster for songs that have been played so much. I remembered that this one was good, but I had forgotten how good it was and why it was so enjoyable. A solid fun show that left me feeling very satisfied.

Thanks for reading
Hamish