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……
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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