Last week I wrote of the New Years Eve show from 2006/2007, played during Prince’s Las Vegas residency. The second part of that story is the concert Prince played in the early morning of January 1st , a jazz inspired show that features very little of Prince singing, instead being a showcase for Mike Phillips and the rest of the band. Prince purists may not find anything too exciting to it, but Prince loved being part of the band, and even though it is often difficult for me to pinpoint Prince”s contribution I still enjoy the wild ride as the band stretches across a range of styles, especially as the band dig deeper into jazz. Mike Phillips leads the way, and the other performer that really catches my ear is Renato Neto. His performance may not be powerhouse, but there is plenty of finesse to be heard, and his hands dancing across the keyboard has me spellbound at times.
The first half of the show is similar in style to the show from the previous morning, a jazz fragranced romp that serves as an easy introduction for those that don’t normally listen to jazz. The stench of funk arrives in the second half of the concert as the band shows off their flexibility and they are just as adept at funk as they are at jazz. It is a show of long jams, a couple of songs in the first portion perhaps running a few minutes longer than is necessary, but there is no complaints at all as the standard of music is high, and the funk songs later on come thick and fast, keeping the listener guessing what might come next in an anything goes medley.
1st January 2007 (am) 3121 Jazz Cuisine @ Rio Hotel & Casino
“A Night In Tunisia” is well-known, and anyone even vaguely familiar with the original will find nothing new in this rendition. It is Renato Neto who throws down the gauntlet with his early solo, and Mike Phillips rises to the occasion with a dizzingly fast solo that excites while paying homage to the original. Prince is only heard late in the song, his guitar arching slowly across the soundscape, but as with all music my first question is “Is it good?” to which my response would be “yes,” so I am more than satisfied with this first song as an indication of what will follow.
The fifteen minutes opener was merely an appetizer, and the main dish comes with a twenty minute rendition of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” featuring the talents of Greg Boyer. It is the recording itself that shines just as bright as the band on stage, and as I listen I find myself thinking about how good it sounds just as much about the music I am actually hearing. An audience recording, the band sound sharp throughout, clear and bright and no distortion at all. I often get a sinking feeling in my stomach when I see the words audience recording, but in this case it is one of the better ones I have heard. Complimenting the music perfectly, the recording elevates the concert to another level. My only caution is that there is excessive cowbell late in the song, but it is tempered by a furious guitar break by Prince that leaves an impression long after the cowbell has faded.
I am very happy to hear Shelby J say”We going to let it it marinade” at the beginning of “Crazy” , and that is exactly what they do, letting it cook in it own juices for the first minute on the back of Prince’s rhythmic guitar work. The previous half hour of jazz is forgotten as the vocoder arrives, along with a timely chorus of “One Nation Under A Groove” The sonic landscape is transformed as Prince’s guitar rises from an earthy tone into a metallic tower of steel and power. He remains within the confines of the band and the song through, and it is Shelby J who leads us through this uplifting and inspiring performance.
This pop music is put back in the box quickly after as we return to the jazz with a long rendition of “Footprints.” I enjoy it immensely, unfortunately some of the audience near the taper don’t share my love of the music, and there is quite a bit of audience chat to be heard in the first minutes of the song. As the band rise in intensity some of this background noise is drowned out, and the recording definitely sounds better the deeper we get into it. This isn’t the first song you would choose to hear on a bootleg, but it a great representation of this band, and Prince’s genre hopping abilities. The funk that will follow is what we have all come to expect, and it’s somewhat of a shame that more jazz standard covers such as this don’t appear more frequently in Prince’s setlists as it gives the band a chance to demonstrate their grasp of another genre.
The pop returns with Shelby and a sweet performance of “Sweet Thing.” Its effortlessly cool, and before I know it I am singing along with Shelby. I am no match for her vocal power though, and she gives us a perfectly pitched performance here, building from the glittering verses to a luminescent chorus that will brighten the rest of my day. The concert hasn’t reached its peak yet, but with Prince’s final guitar break we are lifted several notches closer.
We stay with the cover versions for a short but fierce version of Bill Wither’s “Who Is He (And What Is He To You?).” With it’s pulsating bass there is a tension in the air and the feeling that the band is just about to cut loose, a sense that at any moment the concert will erupt into something a whole lot funkier.
That something a whole lot funkier is “More Bounce To The Ounce” incorporating a range of funk tunes and chants. It doesn’t come all at once though, instead building from the foundation of the previous song and steadily rising into an a storm cloud of a groove. It does cover a lot of ground, Maceo fundamental to all that is going on, and although I have fun picking out the songs that are in the mix I am constantly mindful of Maceo’s contribution and endorsement of this band. I sometimes weary of these funk medleys, but in this case they are so smoothly integrated that it comes as a steady smorgasbord of funk, all of which I greedy eat up. It’s all rounded off by a cocktail of vocoder and Prince guitar licks, all of which leave me lightheaded not quite sure if I want more or just a glass of water.
The final song of the show is another funk jam, this time centered around “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” A regular in Prince’s setlists, in this case it is made all the more interesting by the appearance of the vocal group MO5AIC. They add a different element to the song, and their addition of Janet Jackson “Rythmn Nation” to the chorus adds a sense of fun, as well as neatly tying the song back to some of Prince’s former colleagues. It brings several elements of the night together, the horns switching from jazz to funk and adding firepower to back up Shelby’s vocals that as always stand proud, front and centre. It is very much about the band, and no one performance stands out, in this case it is the band that is the star.
Without being outstanding, this is a nice little bootleg that I can see myself listening to plenty more in future. Its not supercharged Prince, instead its an understated performance of comfortably tunes that would sit easily on any playlist, and it contains something for all seasons. It may be a little too light on Prince for many peoples tastes, but as part of the wider eye records release (6 CDs), it gives us a breather and a chance to sit back and just appreciate the music. My recommendation would be to take a listen on Sunday afternoon, glass of wine in hand.
Until next week,
take care – Hamish