1999 is to me Princes best album. Many would disagree and say Sign O The Times, but for me 1982 and the 1999 album is where Prince finally delivered on his potential and recorded the first master piece of his career. 1999 is the album that cemented my fandom, and it’s still much loved by me today. So it’s somewhat of a surprise that I don’t hold the 1999 tour in such high esteem, and although I listen to the 1999 album a lot, the tour itself is often over looked by me. This is for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the 1999 concerts don’t concentrate on the 1999 album as much as I would like. Only about half the album is played, and it’s not until well into the shows do we first get a song off 1999. The 1999 songs miss that cold electric feel in the live setting, and there is more warmth to them. Secondly Prince firmly has his eye on reaching a larger audience. There is nothing wrong with that, but I feel the band has a little less fire and freedom then they do on earlier tours. There is no wild guitar breaks, and Prince has toned down his look, as well as doing away with some of his racier songs such as Head. The shows are now streamlined, and a lot more predictable. On the plus side, the 1999 shows clearly sign post what is coming next with Purple Rain, and there is a newer professionalism evident that is required to reach the next level. Also the piano set makes its first appearance at these shows, and although short, set the standard for the future. An exciting transitional period, it’s worth hearing these shows as they capture Prince just as he is reaching a wider audience.
19 March, 1983 Kansas City, Missouri
The first thing heard on this recording is the “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you” voice from the beginning of 1999. However it’s not 1999 that opens the but instead the electrifying guitar riff of Controversy. It may seem strange, but one of the things I notice is the reaction of the crowd is different from previous tours. The response is loud, but not wild, and there is more of a sound of expectation rather than wild abandonment. The recording is an audience recording, and it has aged well. The music sounds strong and bold, and Princes vocals are clear and easily understood. He calls to the crowd “welcome to 1999” as the band plays a polished version of Controversy. All Princes bands are well rehearsed, but here there seems to be an extra sharpness. They are very lean and polished sounding. The song is very tight, and even Dezs backing vocals are right on the money. It’s not a 1999 song, but it is a good opening song for the show. I really like the guitar sound through the song, and it gains extra emphasis in this tight arrangement. The song isn’t over played and doesn’t get played out quite as much as I would like.
Sticking with songs from the Controversy album the band play an equally tight version of Lets Work. This elicits a more wild reaction from the crowd and there are many squeals to be heard. This song also seems to have a very strong sound to it, and it pumps through my speakers nicely. Prince’s vocals are out front and strong and he is well matched by the synth. I normally hear the bass much more when listening to recordings of this song, however here it seems to be lower in the mix. As per Controversy the song is kept short, and Prince doesn’t jam on it in anyway at all. It’s got a good party sound to it, and Prince can be heard winning over the audience and working them well.
Third song in and we get the trademark slow song. Do Me Baby has a long intro and it quickly quietens the audience. Prince has changed since the Controversy tour and he doesn’t over work the song as he did on that tour. He is far more restrained in his vocals, yet they are still great and very strong, just he doesn’t pour as much emotion into them. Perhaps being a longer tour, or playing in larger arenas, he holds it in and just sings it straight down the line. The song itself is great, and I do enjoy it immensely. I love the long opening sequence before he sings, and as always his vocals performance and screams hold my attention. Performances like this are timeless.
Finally we get a 1999 song as the synths play the synth horn-line of D.M.S.R. The bass and the drums lock into step and it’s hard not to smile listening to it. It’s a little quicker than the album, I’m not sure if it’s due to the live performance or the tape recording. I can hear the audience clapping along, and that’s normally a good sign. The whole middle section is present complete with sirens and female shrieks, before some very funky rhythm guitar plays. Prince encourages the “White folks clap on the two and four”, acknowledging the changing colour of his audience. I could have happily listened to this song much longer (I was clapping on the two and four) but it ends in a wave of shimmering synths before things quieten again and there is another change of pace.
Next Lisa plays a lovely interlude. There is more shimmering synths that come in waves adding layer upon layer of sound. It’s a good couple of minutes and I am happy to hear Lisa showing some of her talent.
The sound of the piano marks the return of Prince and he takes a solo turn at the piano. He warms himself and us up with an instrumental arrangement of For You. It serves as a nice introduction to his piano playing and is a sweet couple of minutes. It’s a good chance for Prince to showcase another one of his talents to the crowd, and they do show their appreciation with applause.
Still Waiting has him singing, but its slight and his vocals are soft sounding. I get a lot of enjoyment from the song, but I am mostly listening to the piano and Princes vocals don’t make much of an impression on me.
How Come You Don’t Me Anymore is much stronger, both in his piano playing and his singing. He can be heard playing the keys much harder, and his vocals are sung with more gusto. This song is still a regular in the piano set to this day, and listening here I can see why it’s made such an impression all these years. The vocals are playful, and tell a story most can relate to, while the piano has a lilt and swing to it that is irresistible. It also contains some great screams near the end, as well as a hint of Princes smutty humour as he asks “Don’t you want to play with my tootsie roll?”
What follows next is my personal highlight of the show as they play Lady Cab Driver. They manage to capture the dry sound it has on the album, and the bass and synths are excellent. Prince has a detached sound to his voice, and for the first time I really feel like it’s a 1999 show. Prince also has a brief but fine moment with his guitar near the end of the song. The only let down is it’s nowhere near as long as it is on the album, and as an abridged version it sounds far more like a pop song. I do like it though, so I play it twice in a row.
The ‘pop hit’ follows next as Prince and the band play and upbeat and sharp version of Little Red Corvette. It’s almost perfunctory in it’s delivery and it’s not the highlight you may expect. I would have thought Prince could do more with it, but he shuts it down right after the guitar solo, we are denied even hearing the album version. I feel cheated as even the introduction keyboards are very short before Prince begins singing. The song does sound OK, but as it ends it seems like a wasted opportunity.
The sound of a woman moaning heralds the return of the Prince I know and love as the band swings into a raucous version of Dirty Mind. For the first and only time in the evening we hear Prince and the band play in a style I am used to from previous tours. There is a lot more energy in the song, Prince is singing his dirty lyrics, and the whole song has an exuberant feel to it. It also gets the jam treatment, which I like. There is a long bridge with plenty of keyboards, before a rough sounding guitar is heard underneath. The song comes to an end in a cascade of keyboard and guitar and I couldn’t be happier.
“Fasten your seatbelts” and the seductive sounds of International Lover begins. Another professional performance follows as it played almost note perfect to what’s heard on album. The stand out moments for me is as the music fades and quietens Prince delivers up some great vocal work and especially some excellent shrieks. There is plenty of crowd noise as Prince goes through his stage show and it’s obviously going over very well with the audience. The recording is very clean here, and I love that I can hear every instrument and sound so clearly. Amazing sound for a 30 year old audience recording.
The song fades and instantly the synth riff of 1999 sounds. It’s got a good driving sound to it, and I like it that it’s the synth that is driving it, rather than the pounding drum beat we hear on later tours. Prince’s vocals aren’t as clear as the other singers, but the music is the hero here, and that is perfect. The synth trumps everything, and at times it’s almost too much for me. Things become more balanced later in the song as the guitar sound becomes more prominent, as well as Princes vocals becoming clearer. It’s no surprise at all that this is the party song of the evening and it closes on a high note with Prince and the crowd singing together. There is one final refrain before a glorious keyboard riff and the howl of a guitar wraps it up. The final crescendo is magnificent as Prince shreds the guitar over a wall of keyboards.
My earlier assessment of the 1999 shows was perhaps overly harsh. I can’t deny, I greatly enjoyed listening to this show. There was some flashes of greatness from Prince, and I can’t deny the band was so tight and well-rehearsed that they were flawless. My only problem was it was too professional, too dry. I liked the looseness or Dirty Mind, and again the final couple of minutes of 1999, but for the most part it was following a pretty tight script. Still, an interesting listen to the evolution of Prince, and a big step towards Purple Rain and world domination.