Las Vegas 31st December 2006

All apologies about missing last week. I had intended to post about a Christmas show but unfortunately I was swept away by Christmas and my summer holiday. Christmas was chaos, but thankfully I have had a few days in the countryside since then with no internet, cell phone, or laptop, and I feel fully restored as I sit here today. I am a week late, so the Christmas concert I was going to write about has become a New Years Eve concert. Prince played several New Years Eve concerts, the most famous being his Paisley Park show of 1987 with an appearance by Miles Davies. Sadly, none of his other New Years Eve concerts live up to the high standard set by that one, and I did struggle to find one that I felt motivated to write about. I have gone with the New Years Eve show in Las Vegas in 2006, from the Eye records 6CD set. It is no by no means an outstanding show, but it does cover some quality material and is a decent enough show. Prince also plays an aftershow in the early morning of January the 1st 2007, a recording I shall cover that in next weeks blog.

The New Years Eve show is unsurprising and contains a fairly typical setlist of the time. Although Prince was mixing up his setlists constantly, we do see the same songs appearing in different combinations, and there is nothing desperately unusual to be heard here. The recording itself is clean, and that is always a big bonus, making even the most mundane of shows a pleasant listen.

31st December, 2006. 3121 @ Rio Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas

Any reservations I may have had about the setlist or recording are swept away by the opening onslaught of “3121.” The bass is well rounded, and Prince gives a forceful performance that is matched by the quality of the recording. I may be too invested in the moment, and for a second I think that this would be one to play to those who remain unconverted to Prince. The flurry of horns that appear out of the mix add to my sense of thrill and excitement, and even though the song runs its full length I still feel disappointed that it ends. Even Prince’s typically dubious opening comment of “There’s no such thing as time – we count down nothing, except the funk” fails to dampen my enthusiasm.

The recording doesn’t let up on this opening funk assault, and “3121” is matched by an equally thrilling “Girls And Boys.” It is the horns that bring the drama to the song, every time they are heard it is with something new and unexpected, while maintaining the funk and momentum.

And then comes the dip. There is no denying that “Satisfied” is a fine song, but I do question it’s position in the setlist here. The initial blast of funk and energy dissipates in an instant as “Satisfied” begins, and the show feels like someone has suddenly jammed the brakes on, sending the concert into a slow-motion slide into a ditch. Maceo does charm me with his contribution, but I am still left wondering if one more uptempo jam would have been better before this languid stroll through a ballad.

“Down By The Riverside” is busy but it’s not Prince, and as such it leaves me just as unsatisfied as “Satisfied.” I wanted an uptempo song, and this certainly is, but it feels out of place and is bereft of the funk that I so desperately crave.

There is very little funk in “Purple Rain,” but at least it is Prince, and the crowd sound happy to have their man back on the mic. The recording is very good indeed at this stage, and “Purple Rain”  has the full majestic sound that we have come to expect. There are no twists, turns, or surprises to be heard, but once again Prince gives an impassioned rendition of his signature song. I usually find a hidden gem in the tail of the guitar solo, but in this case it comes straight as heard on record, there is nothing to complain about there as Prince plays it powerfully and with purpose.

I have mixed feelings about “Lolita.” Sometimes it’s just on the wrong side of pop for me, the sweetness of the song leaving me cold. However, the balance of this recording is much better, and the stabs of the keyboard give the song much more impetus and drive. Prince’s final coda is far more aggressive and strong than on record, and overall I find this a rewarding moment on the recording.

The final minutes of “Lolita” lay the heavier foundation for “Black Sweat.” With it’s heavier groove and darker keyboards lines it would have been a good match for the opening “3121,” and coming after “Lolita” it brings some shade and contrast to the concert. Prince draws it out nicely, letting the music build naturally into yet another very good performance on this recording.

It is “Kiss” that follows, and it feels light against the darker “Black Sweat.” It does get a bonus point for it’s familiarity, but its not the best song on the recording, and even as I sing along I find I am not as fully engaged as I was with some of the earlier songs.

“Shhh” has me fully engaged. Its not a perfect recording or performance, but that matters little as the music envelops me and for the next five minutes I am transported into Prince’s world. It’s a strange,beautiful, violent sea that Prince paints with his guitar, every note carrying a mood and tone that builds the song into a storm of a finish. It’s sickeningly good, and as it finishes I feel I should turn off the recording and sit in contemplation the next few minutes and reflect on what I have just experienced.

I don’t, and the next song that follows quickly on is “Musicology.” It brings the concert back into the here and now, the music a statement of what Prince wanted to achieve at that time.  The waves of horns is contemporary, but the Prince comment of “not bad for a girl” is a throw back to an earlier time. The song is relativity short and gives way to a fun rendition of “Prince And The Band” It is Maceo who elevates the song above a mere run through, and his final solo is a genuine music moment that makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

With Maceo to the forefront there is very little surprise to “Pass The Peas.” As much as I like it, again I find it detracts from the Prince concert, and coupled with the previous two songs, there is the general sense that the show is meandering without delivering us Prince at the eye of the storm. It is Renato Neto who provides the most electrifying moment, his keyboard solo a lightening rod for all the preceding funk and energy.

Renato Neto is also my unlikely hero for “Joy In Repetition.” His opening gives new colour to the familiar opening strains, and the song has an extra depth from the start. Prince and the rest of the band live up to expectation, but it is this opening minute that sets the scene for all that will follow, and Renato Neto deserves all the credit he gets for his contribution. Even the Twins vocals can’t break the spell that is cast, and the magic is woven to the last, with Prince’s final guitar solo both beguiling and blustery.

There is another enchanting moment with a tender rendition of “Gotta Broken Heart Again.” The keyboards are fragile, and Prince almost broken as he sings. It’s an unique performance, but it doesn’t live up to it’s potential, if not for it’s rarity value I wouldn’t rate it at all. The audience chatter certainly doesn’t improve on my opinion, and overall I am left feeling deflated by it’s appearance.

I am much more onboard for “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” It is loud and proud, the nuance of the Sign O The Times version sacrificed in the name of funk and a live performance that is strident and bold. The recording is unbalanced, but that doesn’t alter my enjoyment of the song, and as uneven as it is I would still recommend it to most fans.

“Cream” keeps with this bold outlook, and it too is much stronger than what is heard on record. It comes at a quick pace, some of it’s sheen of coolness gone in a windswept performance. Prince’s guitar solo emphasizes this point with its brief fury, a flash that is quickly reined in by Prince before it blow torches the rest of the song into the past. “Cream” is often too creamy for me, but I warm to this bold new vision and as it finishes I make a note to return to it at a later date.

There is a natural fit with “U Got The Look.” This time Prince does let his guitar off the leash, and we are rewarded as the sparks begin to fly later in the song. It doesn’t offer up any surprises, but it is a cocky performance that carries the energy of the show.

It is Shelby J who tackles Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You).” She is no Aretha Franklin, or even Rosie Gaines, but she is undoubtedly a powerful singer, and she has never sounded better than she does here. Her performance is breathtaking, Prince’s powerful guitar break still managing to sound limp next to the awesome power of Shelby’s vocals. Normally my interest wanes when Prince isn’t on the microphone, in this case I am enthralled by Sheby J and I am more than happy as we stay with her for the next song.

“Love Changes” features more Prince on guitar duties, but it is again Shelby J that I enjoy the most. She dominates the soundscape with her scorching vocals sweeping back and forth across the song with heat and intensity that is unparalleled elsewhere on the recording. It is rare for me to say this, but these two songs with Shelby’s vocals, and Princes guitar work, are easily the highlight of the concert for me, there is nothing else on the recording that comes close to this raw untamed power that creates a firestorm of passion and emotion.

The last five minutes of the concert see’s Prince playing a quickfire medley of funk tunes. He elects not to sing “Play That Funky Music” instead providing the funky guitar lines that morph easily enough into a truncated “Love Rollercoaster” Nothing is giving long enough to marinate, “What Have You Done For Me lately” is equally brief before the concert ends with “Partyman” There isn’t much to these final songs, it is only Prince’s funky guitar that is worth hearing, and the real climax of the show was the previous Shelby J songs. However, it’s not a disappointing end, Prince is going out with a funky blast and the crowd is no doubt dancing their feet off. “It’s Alright” ends this medley, it’s lyrics neatly summing up exactly what these last five minutes have been about.

I was enthusiast in my praise for several of the songs on this recording, however I can’t deny it is just a standard performance of a fairly mundane setlist. It can’t be considered a classic, but there are enough moments there to make it a worth a listen. There are better recordings of better Las Vegas shows circulating, and this is a younger sibling to those stronger recordings. However, it should not be forgotten, and I thoroughly recommend listening to Shelby J’s performance at this concert, she certainly delivered the most memorable moment. Next week I will take a listen to hopefully one of those better Las Vegas concerts, the early morning show from January 1st, recorded just hours after this concert. I don’t remember much about the recording, so it will be with fresh ears that I take a listen.

Until then, happy New Year,
look after each other
-Hamish

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