This week’s gig is interesting to me for a number of reasons. Playing a festival is different from a private show and the setlist reflects this. It is aimed at the masses, and the show begins with Morris Day, Jerome and Sheila E joining the band for a few songs of their own. This gives the concert the feel of a revue, and I do like that aspect of it. Prince also throws in a couple of covers, the most talked about of which is a cover of Radiohead’s Creep. The hits he plays are predictable enough, and the inclusion of Shhh and Anotherloverholenyohead more than satisfies me.
Coachella Festival, 26 April 2008
The Bird is a great choice to open the show with. With the pounding beat the crowd is soon clapping along. Before the song starts proper Prince takes his time to address the audience. Then with a horn blast The Bird begins with the singing of Morris. The recording is an audience recording, it’s not perfect, but it is perfectly listenable. Morris sounds a lot older and he seems to have a deeper more serious timbre to his voice. The song is energetic, but the youthful enthusiasm has gone from Morris’s voice. There isn’t too much singing through the song, the latter part of mostly horns and keys before Prince comes back to the microphone and the music moves into Jungle Love.
Morris sounds much better on Jungle Love, and I enjoy it more than The Bird. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the Bird, but this one is better. The elastic bass has a good deep sound to it which the recording has picked up well. The guitar solo from Prince transports me right back, and I find myself heavy on nostalgia despite myself. There is some chat and interplay between Morris and Jerome, and I can only imagine what is happening on the stage. The “Oh we oh we oh” part isn’t as strong as it could have been, but this is quickly forgotten as Prince enters again on the guitar and I reach to turn up the volume. The crowd does whoop when he finishes but not as loudly as I do here at home.
“la la la la la la” sings Sheila E as the music of Glamorous Life begins. It’s not crisp sounding, but I can hear the percussion thrown into the mix. This one would have sounded great on the day, but for me some sound is lost in the recording. Shelia makes amends by giving a nice vocal performance and I listen carefully to her as the song progresses. The horn runs sound strong against the percussion and it gives the song a fantastic summer sound. Sheila delivers a drum solo, and I love it. It’s very percussive, maybe a percussion solo would have been a more accurate description. I enjoy it much more than her drum solos of the eighties and it’s only an indicator to what’s coming next.
And what is coming next is some crisp rhythm guitar, then an up-tempo percussion sound and Prince play some heavily Santana infused guitar. And I aren’t really too surprised when I read that it is a medley of Santana songs. Prince has said that he is influenced in his guitar playing by Santana and on this track he gets to indulge himself. It’s not all about Prince and his guitar through, there is plenty of drums from both Shelia and Cora, as well as Renato Neto contributing an up-tempo keyboard run that I find myself nodding along to and enjoying. This is what I love to hear, and this for me is easily the best track on the whole recording. The song never stops moving and changing, and everyone is playing so well, there is plenty to pick apart and listen to. But as always its Princes guitar that I come back to, and his playing is electrifying in both delivery and nature. These four songs have been a great way to kick off the show before we pull back into a more traditional greatest hits show.
The slowed down “Don’t worry I won’t hurt you” signals the beginning of 1999 and the more conventional beginning of the show. This time the horns work on the track, and Prince gives the song more room to breathe and enjoy, rather than the rush to the “party” outro we sometimes get. For the first time on the recording we hear Shelby J and Liv Warfield. Neither contribute greatly to the track, but they both have their own voices and I recognize them in an instant. With the larger band and the horns, the song drifts from its 1999 electro funk sound a little, especially near the end, but I can hear Prince’s guitar nice and clear in the mix, and this ties it all back to where it began.
I Feel For You is sung by the girls, I like it but I feel it needs less, not more. The song sounded better in the nice clean 80’s sound. The horns are bright, but a shade too brassy for my tastes, and then the girls sing it together, giving it a much fuller sound. It’s kept short and Prince tells the crowd “we gotta go back” and the pulsing Controversy begins.
Again the girls sing with Prince and it’s far from the stripped back electro sound of the 80’s. Princes scratch guitar is there, but it backed by the horn sound and the extra voices. For all that though, I do enjoy it a lot, especially we Prince does his “people call me rude” section midsong. Of course it is with the “clap your, stomp your feet” chant, but today I give it a pass, I find my head is nodding throughout the entire song and the horns sound good before the guitar takes over for another electrifying solo. Prince is definitely hot at this time, and the playing sounds effortless. Naturally enough Prince asks “who knows about the Quake” which leads to more jumping up and down before the song winds down in a series of “oooohhhhss” It’s very good, but not quite great.
Prince pulls at our heartstrings with the keyboard swell intro of Little Red Corvette. The synth swells for a few minutes, while a gentle piano plays. It’s my favourite part of the song, Prince doesn’t let it last too long, he starts singing soon enough, but it’s great while it lasts. The crowd immediately appreciate his singing, there is a large cheer as he begins. He does refrain too much from singing in the song, he lets the crowd sing a lot, and in places just stands back as the hand clapping continues. When he does play guitar it is very strong sounding indeed. It’s almost too much for such a layered song, but I forget this complaint as he begins to play. Let the guitar dominate I say, especially when it sounds as powerful as this. There are moments when it conjures up the sound of a mid-70’s Funkadelic song, the way he plays it here I could easily hear such a sound on the “Standing On The verge Of Getting It On” album. The guitar has the best sound on the song, everything else sounds weak in comparison and this is highlighted when Prince sings again after the solo. He sounds far away and pale next to the strength of the guitar sound.
When Musicology follows it is a complete change from what we have just heard. It’s all horns, and the calls of Shelby. The party feel returns to the show, and there is a lot of interaction between Prince and the audience. Some of it works on the recording, I like it when the band pull back and the song moves along to the clap of the crowd. And I always like it when Prince interjects Prince And The Band. This one isn’t amazing, never the less I am smiling throughout. I prefer it to the rest of Musicology and I am a tad disappointed as it winds down to an end.
Cream benefits from the horns and the muscular guitar. The song has an extra push to it, and it sounds like an older brother of the original album cut. Prince too sounds more powerful here, he is giving more for the crowd and that is coming out in the recording. His guitar break is a little disjointed, and the tone is slightly weird, both compared to the original and in the context of the rest of the show. The horns come back and give it a little more up near the end, and the second guitar break from Prince is much more cleaner sounding and more enjoyable. The song finishes on a high as we segue into U Got The Look.
Prince’s guitar is sounding much better as he plays U Got The look, the strong clear tone has returned and it propels the song along well. And despite the guitar having a stronger sound, the solos aren’t too overwhelming as I feared they may be, all in all everything is very well balanced- something that doesn’t always happen with this song. I have heard this song a lot, but this one doesn’t out stay its welcome.
Shhh sounds awesome right from the start. The guitar and drum rolls that open it are very loud and full sounding, and it’s got a powerful feel about it that takes me right back to that era. Prince’s voice isn’t too focused, he sounds a little casual in his delivery. It does retain a smoky late night feel, and has just a touch of grime on it. After the first verse it does become a showcase for Princes guitar playing. As with every song on this recording it is great, and despite the quality of the recording the guitar playing is shining through on every song. CC Dunham on the drums does a fine job, she is no Michael B, but she is strong. Prince’s long howling notes on the guitar has me really feeling the song, and I feel the passion that first made me a fan all those years ago. The song ends, and I have the urge to immediately go back and play it again. And again. And again.
The rock sound is once again at the fore when Anotherloverholenyohead plays. There is plenty of guitar, and it’s loud and works well in tandem with the heavy bass and drum. This is a cracking version of the classic. I normally love the original sound of it, but in this setlist the heavy rock sound works very well. There is the Rock Lobster interlude, which is just an excuse for Prince to let loose on the guitar for a while. Whereas in Shhh he was playing within the song, and fleshing out the emotion, here he is playing for the hell of it, and sounding great along the way. I preferred the style of the previous song, but I still enjoyed this immensely.
Next is the surprise (at the time) in the recording- a cover of Radiohead’s Creep. Prince doesn’t do vulnerable, he is either ‘Cocky’ or ‘Victim of love’ and here he comes off a little disingenuous playing the part of the loser. His vocals don’t capture the emotion of the original, and although I admire him for doing a cover of this, I can’t quite buy into it. But all is forgiven when he reaches a more frantic tone in his voice, and we get some guitar noise from him. It’s hard to take him seriously as he sings “I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo” but he knows how to let the music speak for him, and the guitar says more than his vocals. The most enjoyable and emotional parts of the song are when there is just the music and his guitar playing. Normally I like a good balance of guitar tracks and funk tracks through a show, but this one is very guitar focussed, and I am surprised at just how much I am enjoying it. The latter part of the song is all guitar, and it’s far removed from the Radiohead original. It’s a cover version I could never have guessed at, and worth hearing just for novelty value if nothing else.
Angel is a cover of a Sarah McLachlan song, and Prince is conspicuous in his absence from the song. He may well be on stage, but on the recording all I can hear is Shelby J on the lead vocals, ably supported by the NPG. There is no doubting that Shelby can sing, and sing well, but this song is well within her range and it doesn’t do too much that excites me. Renato Neto provides a piano break, but it’s hardly pulse raising. The latter portion of the song is where the girls really showcase their singing, they are all of fine voice, but it’s Prince that I want to hear.
I am relieved when Prince comes to the microphone to introduce the next song, 7. I don’t listen to 7 very often, but I always enjoy live performances of it. This one is par for the course, but the standout for me is when he talks to the audience about togetherness and ushering in a new golden age and then gets them chanting “war, no more’. Sure it’s simplistic, but it works.
The song moves very naturally into a cover of the Beatles Come Together. I shouldn’t be too surprised, I have heard it a few times like this before. The girls are the dominant force in the song, and Prince is a passenger, only talking to the crowd between verses, before once again giving us a very solid guitar solo. He draws it out for a bit, before indulging in a bit of ‘stage craft’. He gets the audience to clap their hands “there ain’t no wrong way” then has them singing along “come together, yeah”. It sounds simple, but it works for the crowd, and they are behind him all the way. The band pull out, leaving the crowd clapping and chanting “come together, yeah”. Easy as that, that is how you work a crowd. The song gets the full treatment, the band comes back in, and there is another guitar break and a finale to bring the show to a close.
It’s no surprise at all to hear Purple Rain as the encore. There is very little in the way of intro, after the first few chords have sounded Prince begins to sing immediately. This is a fairly standard rendition of the beloved song, Prince doesn’t inject too much emotional emphasis in it, and the only feature about it that I find interesting is the guitar break later in the song. The audience do jump on board early with a steady hand clap but it’s the guitar break where I finally sit up and engage with the song. The first half of the break is as I have heard often enough before, but after the “One, two, three” reprise it becomes more loose and enjoyable to my ears. He doesn’t over play it, and it is pulled in soon enough to bring the song to an end.
Prince addresses the audience again “They tell me I gotta go, but we can’t leave” I wonder what could follow, but it’s soon revealed as I hear the keyboard swell of Let’s Go Crazy begin. It is of as you might expect from this band, there is a lot of horns in it, and plenty of swing. Prince’s guitar playing hits the groove early on, and he stays there. There is more singing and chanting from the crowd, interspersed with rowdy guitar breaks from Prince. I was expecting this to go on for some time, so I am very surprised when Prince brings it to a close with his trademark guitar howl, and I sit back, equally surprised at how much I enjoyed it all.
I must admit, although this one piqued my interest, I didn’t really have high hopes for what I perceived to be a greatest hits package. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this recording, I actually listened to it four or five times over a couple of days. The recording isn’t fantastic, and the show didn’t always hold my interest, but what I did like, I liked immensely. This isn’t a classic vocal performance, but that’s not important when the guitar playing is as good as it is here. The Santana medley was worth listening to alone. All in all, a lot of fun to listen to here on a cold winter night.
see you next week