Große Freiheit ’36 1988

I haven’t covered an after-show for a few weeks now, so today I look forward to listening to one of my favourites. Recorded on the Lovesexy tour, this after-show from Hamburg ticks all the boxes. A couple of covers, a guest appearance, and a few personal favourites make this one a joy to listen to. I can’t wait, so let’s take a listen.

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31 August, 1988, Große Freiheit ’36 Hamburg

The show gets off to an excellent start with Just My Imagination (running away with me). There is very little in the way of build up, Prince is right into the song from the jump. The recording is raw, and the audience is right in the microphone, it’s very much an audience recording of its time. It doesn’t detract too much from the song, Princes vocals are strong and steady and after a few minutes his guitar break begins. It’s not as soaring or as sheering as I have heard, but I still listen to it captivated. It segues beautifully into some horns and that rolls things up nicely. The recording doesn’t capture the guitar great, but when Prince comes back on the mic I can hear his vocals nice and loud, and I love his vocal ad-libs near the end as he sings “was that you, in your red dress?” The crowd sing with him “Just my imagination” and it has a fine intimate sound to it all. With the snare coming in, Prince plays another break, but again the recording doesn’t quite do it justice. Maybe I am just too used to hearing the quality of the Small Club gig. His solo here is quite different, and it would be interesting to compare the two if this was a quality recording. There is another guitar break, and I’m guessing its Miko. It’s more relaxed sounding and clean, and in a lot of ways I enjoy it more than Princes. Miko definitely brings his own style and sound to the band, and he adds a lot. Its gives it a more rounded sound, and I find that listening after all these years it is something that keeps me interested.

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Prince briefly introduces a couple of the band, as well as his “new friend, the blue angel”. I wonder where we are going next as he says “we going make up something now, they don’t know what I’m going to do” and then calls for the beat. The recording gets a little rough, but I stick with it as the music is definitely more interesting. There is two funky rhythms running in and out of each other, and it’s very cool to hear. Prince starts to sing “Rave” and Rave Into The Joy Fantastic really begins to get cooking. It’s more laid back than the Small Club gig and the crowd seem to be much more with it too. Eric adds his sound to it, and we get something very different from what is heard on the Small Club gig. It’s fascinating to listen to, and you can hear the music unfolding right before you. I would soon tire of listening to these shows, if not for all the improvisations and jams we get. This one is outstanding, especially as Eric Leeds plays more and more as the song continues. As the crowd chants “Junior, play the bass” he more than obliges. Again, it’s unfortunate that the recording doesn’t capture his moment as well as I would have liked, but it’s still very listenable. The break for the drummer sounds good, the recording picks up the drums well, and for the rest of the song the drums are all I find myself listening to. There is a nice guitar sound, and I am sure on subsequent listens I would get much more out of it.

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Without pause Prince begins to sing “I only knew her for a little while” before he proceeds to first few lines a capella. The rest of the band joins, and the funk levels go up several notches with Girls And Boys. There are several instruments and sounds worth listening to, but as always its Eric Leeds that I really dig. He comes in early with a break, before Prince calls him later for a much longer sax solo. Just as I think he’s finishing up, Prince begins to chant “Eric blow your horn” and I am pretty happy as we get another minute of his work. There is a break down and some funky guitar, before Prince plugs in and plays a scorching solo. Please excuse the cliché, but it’s an apt description as his guitar playing is so hot at this point. I wouldn’t have expected it to suit this song, but once again Prince proves me wrong.

Things take a gentle twist as the piano of Venus De Milo begins. It’s as brief as it is beautiful, however I can’t complain as it’s the perfect intro into a short piano set.

Starfish and Coffee sounds as equally good in this setting. The crowd are clapping along and I can feel them, as Prince plays and sings it feels so intimate I can almost feel the heat coming off the stage. Prince keeps it short, opting for a single verse and chorus before he segues into Raspberry Beret.

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Raspberry Beret to my ears always sounds better solo on the piano. I love hearing that melody on the piano, and although I have heard it maybe too much in my life, I still smile as it begins. Its only Prince and the piano, and he gives it the same treatment as the previous song, that is just a verse and a chorus. The crowd is appreciative, and Prince acknowledges this with a “Oh, you guys are too nice, I’m gonna stay here a while”

With the crowd steadily clapping I get my first surprise of the recording, as Prince solo at the piano begins to play People Without. I am so used to hearing it on the Small Club recording, that any other arrangement sounds new and fresh to my ears. It lacks some of the weight of the Small Club gig, and yet in some ways I enjoy it much more as Prince plays the piano and sings. It’s not a fully formed song, and Prince sings a couple of lines, then the main refrain for a couple of minutes, and asides from that there’s nothing more to it. Still a good moment, and another reason I should listen to this more.

Next Prince plays Condition Of The Heart. It’s an excellent choice, and wins me over right from the start. Prince sings the first verse before the crowd comes on board for a loud “Condition of the heeaarrrtttt”. Prince dryly comments that “oh my goodness, how many singers we got?” before telling them “Now I’ll play one you don’t know”

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Still Would Stand All Time on record has never come close to the live versions I have heard. On record the soul of the song seems to be missing, it’s been so polished and worked that the emotion of the live performances is missing entirely. The arrangement on this recording is fantastic. Prince sings gentle, but his voice aches with emotion as he sings the first chorus. I am so caught in it that I am practically holding my breath as he sings. He works the audience into it, coaching them through the first chorus, before delivering the lines himself dripping in an emotional quiver. The song does meander for a time, but it’s always pleasant even when its lacks direction. Things pick up as Prince works the crowd through the chorus before introducing Taylor Dayne for a vocal solo. I had forgotten just how good she was, in the 1980’s I used to listen to her a lot, without giving any thought to just how good she really was. She doesn’t get much time here, but having her vocals does add some colour and interest. Things do slow down after this and Prince does his spoken/singing part. It’s not as crisp and clear as I have heard, and he is a little devoid of ideas on this one. There is a coda as the song suddenly takes on an upbeat swinging sound. It’s definitely fun, and the singers can be heard having fun keeping up and adding their parts to the song. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I certainly enjoyed it. Still a great song, and another great performance.

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A “One, two, three” brings on another firm favourite. Strange Relationship is irrepressible, and my head moves immediately as I hear it. Like the other songs, the recording doesn’t do it any favours, and I can’t hear the horns and keys as well as I would like. Prince’s vocals though sound great and the drum has a great sharp sound. The bass plays a solo, and I don’t remember hearing that in this song before. It’s a good sound and it segues beautifully into a keyboard solo, absolutely seamless. Dr Fink plays the keyboard solo, and it’s got his distinctive sound all over it. It’s great to hear his style and sound is still present with Prince at these gigs, and it draws a line right back to his early sound. The song continues on to Prince and his “Is he good to ya?” and lots of sounds are thrown into the mix. Prince calls for horns to swell, and the keyboard too comes back into the mix. It’s a lot more loose the second time round, and has a great live sound. The trumpet comes to my ears for the first time in the show, and its shrill sound easily sounds over the top of everything else. There is plenty to smile about as Prince and the crowd start barking before Prince says “Look at Boni’s face, she scared to death that groove gonna come back in”. There is plenty of chunky piano as the funk carries through right to the end of the song.

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An elastic sounding bass kicks off the next song, and it’s not immediately apparent to me what the song is. There is a classic Miko guitar line before Prince begins to sing Love Bizarre. This song is true to an after show gig, it’s drawn out, and has a different sound with this band. Eric’s playing is freer sounding, and the bass line is very strong under pinning the whole thing. It’s much less a pop song, and much more a jam. Levi is very prominent in the song as is Miko. Both of them sound very strongly, before Eric gets a nice long solo. He plays for quite some time, and the song really becomes his. There is the sound of Prince later in the song with his guitar, but its lost in the mix somewhat, and Eric dominates.

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For me things become less interesting as Boni sings I’ll Take You There. I can’t deny, she’s a fine singer, but the song itself doesn’t ignite, and as I listen I really am waiting to see what’s coming next. The music does pick up as it goes, and Boni unleashes some great screams before things quickly change to the Down Home Blues.

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The song starts relatively slowly, Boni speaks to the ladies in the crowd as she explains what the song is about. She sounds very confident on this song, and it’s obvious that this is a great fit for her voice, and a style she is very familiar with. The keyboards and horns play some nice swells in the background, and I am transported to another time and another place. Prince brings me back into the here and now as he plays a guitar break in his unique style. The song gets much better to my ears as Boni gets into the swing of things with some hearty screams before there is another guitar break that takes things off into a different space completely.

Cold Sweat is much more my thing, and even though it takes minute to really start properly I get into it straight away. There is some cool drum patterns played initially before things settle into a groove after a minute or two. There is very little Prince early on, and the first section of the song is Eric Leeds playing a much more laid back solo than we have heard previously. There is another drum break, and I do wonder if it is Prince himself playing as I can’t hear him anywhere else on the song. There are several stops and starts, and then a funny moment as Prince briefly sings the bass line of Michael Jackson’s Bad. It’s very short, and amusing.

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Things go up a gear as the guitar chugs and grooves along with the keyboards into God Is Alive. This is another highlight, the groove is very heavy and strong. Prince is singing with a lot of passion and that is infectious to me. The keyboard plays a strong loop over the bass, as Prince and his guitar play. His vocals have a growl to them and he sounds like he is singing from the heart. It’s the vocals that really get me, but then he stops and lets his guitar do the talking. The guitar sound doesn’t match the intensity of his singing, its strong without being the main focus. The chant of “Cat, where is at?” is fun, my only problem with it is that it detracts from the earlier intensity of the song. However that intensity returns as Prince sings “God is alive” and the guitar is turned up in the mix. The reason for the Cat chant becomes apparent as she raps her lines from Alphabet St. It’s not bad, although I am normally no great fan of it. The song becomes very interesting as Prince talks about Camille, and the influence. It’s absolutely fascinating, and brilliant to listen to, and Prince even draws on Eric to play some smooth grooves as he talks. Prince talks about Camille making the album, then not naming it. The recording drops a little at this point, but once I make the adjustment I can still hear everything OK. Prince ends the song talking about Lovesexy. It’s not what I expected to hear, but as a whole it’s a must listen. To hear Prince talk frankly about his beliefs is an insight to his inner world, and in this case it’s not preachy at all.

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I never would have guessed to hear Purple Rain at an after show, but that is the song that closes the show. I am so surprised to hear it, its halfway over before I even start listening properly. Prince plays the shorter arrangement here- skipping straight to the guitar break after a single verse and chorus. The audience sense that there may not be much in it, and I can hear them begin the “aww,awww” singing almost as soon as the guitar break begins. Prince ends his first guitar break to sing with them, and it’s at this point the recording ends, leaving me to wonder what happened next.

This show looked good on paper, and despite the flaws in the recording it lived up to those expectations. There are plenty of highlights for me on this, and the two that immediately come to mind are God Is Alive, and Still Would Stand All Time. These 1988 after shows are really something, each one is similar and yet different in many ways. There is some tough competition for a favourite, but you would definitely have to count this one up there.

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