I am very intimidated about writing about this recording. Some shows are so legendry, so much part of the Prince mythos, that they are almost untouchable. This is very much one of those shows. Recorded between the albums 1999 and Purple Rain, it captures the genesis of what will follow in the coming years. It is legendary on so many different levels, and offers something for everyone. First of all, its Wendy Melvoins debut with the band- that in itself is a key marker for the storm that will follow in the next few years. Next, there is six new songs introduced, and three of them recorded for the basic tacks on Purple Rain (I would Die 4 U, Baby, I’m a Star, and Purple Rain itself). Again, a mouth-watering proposition for any fan. And one of the songs played here is the unreleased fan favourite Electric Intercourse. The most famous song that Prince never released? Perhaps, but I aren’t going to pass judgment on that. I can barely bring myself to write about this show, least I do it an injustice. I am not one for hype or hyperbole, but this show more than lives up to every expectation heaped upon it.
Minnesota Dance Theatre benefit show, August 3rd 1983
The opening keyboard of Lets Go Crazy is the first thing heard on this recording. The crowd cheers, but there isn’t the frenzied anticipation we see in later years. As a new song I am sure most of the crowd are unsure of what to expect next. Prince quickly shows them as he finishes his after world speech and goes into the now familiar riff of Lets Go Crazy. The vocals on the recording are a little fuzzy, but the song is already being played very tight, like all Prince bands there is many hours of rehearsal to back them up. Despite hearing this song hundreds of times, it sounds fresh to me here- perhaps as its fresh to the band themselves, and they certainly look like they are having a lot of fun playing it. Prince still has his 1999 look about him in terms of clothing and hairstyle, and he plays with a big grin on his face. I find myself smiling with him and I love it when he plays alongside Wendy and there is some nice interaction between them. Wendy makes an immediate impression, and she more than holds her own on this song. At times she does look a little stiff, but overall she kills it on the guitar and already has good onstage chemistry with Prince. It’s a great opening song, in fact it was so good I went back and played it twice.
The audience is much more familiar with the next song, When You Were Mine. I was going to write that this is another favourite of mine from this recording, but then I realized that I love all the songs on this one. It’s a good rocking version here, but Princes guitar is a little more buried in the mix, it sounds much noisier, and it’s not as clean as other versions. It’s a short song, but here it’s even shorter, as when the music stops and I expect Prince to do his unaccompanied singing before a reprise, the mood changes and he instead starts playing a slower song on his guitar. I have to give a shout out here to Dr Fink, his robotic handclaps are very entertaining.
That song is of course a cover of Joni Mitchells A Case Of You, and what we have here is outstanding. Prince delivers a knock out in this one. His singing is beautiful and his guitar playing compliments his vocals fantastically well. The only other instrument is a keyboard filling the background, but I am totally entranced by Prince and his delivery. It’s only a minute and a half, but it’s one of my favourite minutes of his whole career. This one is otherworldly in its beauty. Although the lyrics aren’t Princes, he delivers them with total conviction, he more than does justice to Joni’s words. In particular the opening lines he sings are obviously heartfelt
Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those ones that isn’t afraid
Things change completely as Prince introduces the next song “This song is called Computer Blue” As much as I love this song, I find it jarring coming in right after A Case Of You. But soon all is forgiven as Prince and the band play a rollicking version. A lot of the audience looks pretty stunned at this stage of the gig, and who could blame them. For all his history of guitar work and rock sensibilities he hadn’t played a song quite like this before. It’s not just the guitar I am referencing here, the overall tone of the music is darker and heavy, from the drum beat to the keyboards. All of it has a foreboding sound. The band is pushed right back on the stage, and Prince stands the edge of the stage pulling all the guitar licks and tricks he knows. Like the last song, it’s all about Prince, and he holds the centre of attention all song. The keyboards are strong, and aren’t drowned by the guitar as you might expect. Wendy goes to her knees when Prince wails on his guitar for a bit, before the fantastic segue into the second half of the song, and another chance for Prince to get busy on the guitar. The lead is played as we have all heard before, but here once again its sounding fresh, and Prince is very much playing the hell out of it with great relish. The last guitar break in particular has some real venom in it, and has a nice heavy, almost industrial sound to it. The song ends with a big smile from Prince as he throws his guitar pick to the crowd.
Another about face next, as Princes puts down the guitar and we hear the quirky pop of Delirious. Plenty of dancing and handclapping from Prince soon has the crowd-back on board. Although I have no great love for the song, it does seem like a very fun song to play. Freed from guitar duty, Prince does interact a little more with crowd, moving back and forth across the stage and holding the microphone for the crowd to sing. The response is inaudible most of the time, mostly because the band are very loud, and at times it seems that Prince himself is almost yelling over the top of the band. That’s one thing I like about the gig, it does have that great live sound, where everything is a little louder, and little nosier, and overall a little more ‘rock n roll’. Prince does pick up the guitar near the end of the song, he is playing the main lead line, but it’s more raw, and just on the right side of loose.
What follows is one of the most famous unreleased songs in the Prince canon – Electric Intercourse. Lead by Prince at the piano, this song was desperately unlucky to not be on the Purple Rain sound track. For many years I thought this song was over rated, but now I am firmly in the camp that considers it a great lost gem. The keyboard and piano in this one sound great, and Prince uses plenty of shrieks and screams throughout to emphasis his emotion. Between verses there is some very nice piano lines, while the band holds it all together in the background. Even Princes corny spoken word (Don’t you want to make love?) fails to take the shine off this. It’s very much a highlight, and worth listening to if you have a chance.
Nasty Prince is back in full effect when Automatic begins next. As with the other songs on this night, it’s not as clean and smooth as it sounds on the album. Some of the robotic coldness is gone, but it’s more than made up for with the intensity of the bands playing. Prince puts a lot into this one, and the crowd responds in kind. He gets them all waving their hands mid song, and there is plenty of shouts and screams as he strokes his microphone stand. Prince doesn’t play guitar on this, but there is some great playing from Brown Mark and Wendy. As far as the band go, I think this is the song where they are at their best. Admittedly every song played tonight is top drawer- with some recorded as a basis for use on Purple Rain, but in this one I feel we get to see a little more of each band member, and as far as I can see they are all giving maximum effort and enjoying playing. Prince does lie on the floor for a minute to talk some smut. It’s pretty cool, but I just wish I could hear him a little better. The next part of the song is a long groove, and Prince engages in a few dance moves with the rest of the band. There is no let-up in the intensity though, and overall it’s a riveting performance.
There is quite a long pause next, with the stage in darkness, before Prince introduces “This is I would Die 4 U” The distinctively drum machine immediately begins, and already I can tell that I am going to like this one a lot. Prince spits out the lyrics rapid fire, slowing down during the chorus and releasing a single note on his guitar. I realize that this song is actually pretty minimal but it’s the drum machine that’s filling all the space and giving it that immediate energy. The guitar break by Prince is a highlight for me, not what he plays, but the tone of his guitar. It’s nice and strong, and I think that’s the best way to describe it- strong. The song goes by in flash, so I had to listen to it a few times, twice because I enjoyed it so much, and once because I hadn’t written anything about it the first two times.
Baby I’m a Star has a nice long intro before Prince throws some tambourines’ and it begins proper. This is another recording that was used for Purple Rain, so as you might imagine a lot of this sounds as it does on record. Part of the fun in listening to this one is trying to work out what he has used on the final record, and what has he changed or overdubbed. I’m impressed by the passion demonstrated by Prince on every song on this recording. Here we find him covered in sweat, putting all his energy into the singing, especially when he goes to the floor and unleashes a series of excellent screams. Back on his feet he calls “Doctor” and Fink plays the quirky sound we know and love so much. I was half expecting the song to go on way past this point, but it wraps up very quickly after this.
The familiar strains of Little Red Corvette elicit a few squeals of delight from the crowd. Lisa is beautifully lit from behind, and every time I see this and hear her play fall in love with her a little bit more. In near darkness Prince sings the opening verse before the lights come up for the chorus. I thought the crowd would be more animated, but they are fairly subdued throughout the performance of this. Prince delivers a very raw performance of this, no choreography or tricks, he just delivers it straight down the line with fantastic backing from the band. It’s a more raw performance I would to see more, a sweaty band playing hard and delivering the song straight out. Wendy steps up to the mark and plays the solo, and I am struck by how young she was at this time, and how good she was and not the least bit intimidated. The solo again has a heavy tone to it, not her playing but the sound of her guitar. The song ends simply enough with a “Thank you, good night” from Prince.
There is a break in proceeding next as Prince is publicly thanked and presented with a flower. Tucking one into his breast pocket he takes the mic as Wendy begins to play the public debut of what will become his signature song – Purple Rain. The fact that this recording was used as the basic track for the finished song tells you how well it’s played here. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this song is the same as the album however, there is a suitably drawn out and beautiful start to the song, as Wendy plays the opening chords over and over while Prince indulges in some nice lead guitar. Foreshadowing future live performances on this tour, it’s a good few minutes before Prince begins to sing. And sing he does, the vocals here are magnificent, it’s hard to believe that this was the public debut of the song, he sings so strongly and confidently. It’s interesting to note the expressions of the audience at the time, some of them look noticeably bored as Prince plays his new, distinctly unfunky, song. There is an extra verse sung that doesn’t make it into the final song, and when you hear it you can understand why it didn’t make the final cut. It doesn’t quite scan as well as the other verses and the song is much more cohesive without it. There is a moment in the next verse when someone from the band or audience lets out a “whooo!” which can be heard on the final album version. I’m not sure if it’s an audience member, but I kind of hope it is, that would be cool. Prince plays the impassioned solo, with plenty of suitable face pulling thrown in for good measure. The audience look muted throughout, and there is no arm waving for this new song. Only a couple of girls with hands in the air near the front seem to be feeling it at all. It’s a stunning performance of what is now a classic, and I would think this recording is worth having just for the historic value of this moment alone.
There is again another long break before the next song, but the reason why is apparent when Prince begins DMSR in his old school leg warmers, bikini briefs, long coat, hat and mirrored glasses. Wendy shows another side to her playing on this one, and her funky rhythm holds it down throughout. The song has an effortless groove to it, and Prince is nice and funky on the microphone. This is the party song of the evening (and perhaps of every evening), and Prince and the audience seem to be having a great time. Prince is constantly moving throughout the song, with lots of dancing and audience participation. As you might expect, this is the song that they stretch out, and Prince shows of how well drilled the band really is. The song ends with Prince saying goodnight, introducing the band one by one, before they kick back into the song-this time it’s all groove and Dr Fink gives a cool little piano solo. Prince clowns around a little on the mic, calling for horns as the keyboards play what would normally be a horn line. There is another false ending, and then, as per his modus operandi, he calls them back in on the beat. This happens a couple of times, and Prince engages in some very energetic footwork. Another nice touch is when he calls for just Wendy and Brown Mark, and they have just half a minute just grooving on it. The song ends rather abruptly, it stops and then without a word Prince and the band walk off stage.
Nothing I write here can do this show justice. Everything here is a 10/10. The songs played at this stage touch on his past, his future and gives us pointers to his influences, as well as what gems still lie in the vault. The band is as tight as they have ever been, and young Wendy is a star right from the first notes she plays. The blueprint for the next few years is laid out, and it’s fascinating to see it all unfold here right before our eyes. I watched this one with my mouth open for the whole 70 minutes, and I still shake my head when I think that such a historic show has been captured for us to enjoy. Amazing.
Everything I write about in future will pale in comparison to this, but I will be back next week with another one.