Melbourne 2003

Prince didn’t jump straight from the ONA era into Musicology. There was a year gap, featuring a world tour that took in only Australia and Hawaii. I find these shows interesting as they are the stepping stone between the two, and we can see the crowd pleasing hits played with a trace of the ONA concerts heard in the smooth and easy style in which this band play. The concerts in Australia should have been a great chance for me to see Prince play live, Australia is only a four hour flight away, unfortunately I was out exploring the wider world and was living in London at that time. My opportunity to see Prince play would come later.

There are several releases of the concert I am listening to today, I am listening to the Overfunk’d release as to my ears it sounds slight better than the other versions. An audience recording, it is pretty good – with no distortion, the mix is about right and I can clearly hear and enjoy the music throughout. The only thing that counts against it is that it is an incomplete recording, we are missing the opening bracket of ten songs, but it is a long show, and what we to have is plenty enough to cover two discs.

22nd October 2003, Melbourne Australia

The recording begins with “The Beautiful Ones,” and it immediately puts me in mind of the ONA tour from the previous year. With Maceo Parker on saxophone, the introduction lingers and Maceo does what he does best and fills the room with a steamy atmosphere. With the band draping their sultry veil across the soundscape it could have easily been lifted from any 2002 show, and I am more than happy with that as I am infused with the ghost of concert’s past. It’s not all about the past however, this is not Purple Rain Prince, and as he sings he very much Prince of the time. His voice doesn’t ache and bend as it had previously, and as much as I love his performance here, I must admit it is workman like in the most professional way, no bells or whistles here, just a straight delivery that serves his maturing sound well.

I have similar feelings about “Nothing Compares 2 U.”  Prince is good, without ever flooring me, and it is Maceo Parker who’s brief moment stirs up the passion with me, and within the song. The recording shines though, and even though I haven’t shown any real enthusiasm for the first couple of songs, I am greatly enjoying the bootleg.

It is “Insatiable” that first has me swallowing hard and listening close. Now this is what I came for, a delicious delivery that has the crowd swooning at the show, and me having all sorts of feelings here at home. The more Prince croons, the louder the crowd swoons, and I am giddy with fanboy love as Prince walks us through a vocal maze, following the trail of bread crumbs that Renato Neto lays. Its a lethal combination, the song sneaking up on me and drawing all the oxygen from the room.

Although “Sign O The Times” moves in the opposite direction, it demands listening to just as much as the previous “Insatiable” and drives out a funk groove that is irresistible. I am disappointed that the crowd get to sing along, while here at home I have to stay quiet as my wife sleeps in the other room. It matters little, I lip sync along with them in a a happy delirium, and I am happy to report that “Sign O The Times” gets a whole nine minutes to funk and roll across the the recording. The real action begins after Prince finishes his lyrics, rad. (Rose Ann Dimalanta)  gives a brief and electric keyboard solo that leaves me wanting more, and it gets better as John Blackwell plays us through a turnaround that leads the music into a swirl and even more keyboard work that excites me in ways that I never knew a keyboard could.

The combination of “The Question Of U” and “The One” reached its peak during the tour of 2002, for my money those performances will be never be bettered, and although this version is sonically very similar, it lacks that magical quality that was heard the previous year. It is slightly more labored, and deadened in sound, there is a lightness of touch that is missing, and although the song is guitar heavy, it is this finesse and delicacy that makes it what it is. The chunky guitar by Prince midsong does briefly have me breaking into a sweat, but that sweat turns cold as the band go though the motions later in the song.

“Let’s Work” has things jumping again, and it sounds nice and sharp on the recording. The horns in particular leap out at me in their energy and brightness. Prince doesn’t work the song too long, it is only a couple of minutes, but it does signal the next upbeat part of the performance.

In the same vein, “U Got The Look” is a short, sharp shock of energy and pace that accelerates the concert further. The guitar sounds strangely quiet as Prince solos , and for me this is one of the key reasons to listen to the song and its muted sound leaves me silently frustrated.

The show is gathering pace rapidly at this point of the bootleg, as Prince tears through a series of covers and upbeat numbers. We firstly get an embryonic version of “Life Of The Party,” which is too busy for its own good until it settles for the chorus. It is the following “Hot Pants” where the groove gets hot and heavy, one can almost feel its hot breath on their neck as the groove becomes dark and dangerous, hinting at an unseen sexuality. Prince breaks the mood with  “Life Of The Party” rap, and before I can fully immerse myself in the bass end of the song it transitions to Chance Howard and his lively rendition of “Soulman.”   It’s hard not to like it, and I find a smile spreading across my face as it plays though. Its sounds so summery and easy, for a minute I consider tackling it next time I go to karaoke.

It is a keyboard push that drives “Kiss,” its pulse beating just under Prince’s lyrics throughout. I like the sound of the keyboard, but I could take or leave the rest of the song. I appreciate the new arrangement, but “Kiss” is one song that I have heard far too often.

Prince’s cackle introduces “Take Me With U” and one can appreciate why as the band and the crowd respond with energy and love. Like the previous “Kiss,” this is one song I have heard too many times, yet I fully understand why it has been a constant in the setlist over the years. An uplifting song from Prince’s most successful album, it never fails to elicit a response from the crowd and re-energises the concert.

The main set is rounded out by a full rendition of “The Everlasting Now.” It encapsulates the full talents and scope of the band as it moves quickly across musical territory, throwing up all sorts of sounds and styles. The funk grows and evolves through the song, the ground never quite solid beneath my feet as the band move swiftly through this soundscape. It is a fitting end to the main show, and a great reminder of how good this band is.

The piano set encore opens with an understated “Adore.” As much as I love bootlegs, I have never enjoyed hearing “Adore” on bootlegs, mostly because the screams and shouts of the audience ruin the moment for me as Prince plays the one song that truly connects to my heart. Here is no different, each line greeted with rapturous shouts and squeals of excitement, and as much as I share their enthusiasm it does take me out of the moment. The song does get its full five minutes, which for me is an exercise in frustration as the crowd stay prominent.

Prince keeps with humor as he segues into “Sleep On The Couch.” He takes his time over the delivery, each line hanging in the air so it can be fully digested by those listening. I laugh a little early on, but soon enough I am cocooned in Prince’s vocal delivery and lose myself in a soft delirium. A song that didn’t promise much, I am surprised by emotions it brings to the surface.

Emotion is the name of the game as Prince has the crowd clap as he plays an soulful version of “Forever In My Life.” Head bobbing, hand clapping, it has its own unique rhythm that is offset by Princes lyrics and vocal delivery that speaks of love and honesty. Its only brief, but it is the perfect fit with the two previous songs.

“One Kiss At A Time” gets a different arrangement, and is a fine match for “Forever In My Life” I am surprised that Prince sticks with some of the risque lyrics, but he is doesn’t engage with any curse words, so I guess in his head that makes it all alright. It is a surprising end to the piano set, a set that I have found most enjoyable, my feelings about “Adore” not withstanding.

As much as I enjoyed the piano set, I am more than happy when the funk returns with “All the Critics Love U In Melbourne.” I like the insistent funk drive of it, and the color that the keyboards and saxophone add. Maceo is at his very best at this point, the music and concert orbiting around him as he plays. The keyboard rhythm later in the song is a match for him, and it is a devastating few minutes of funk that has me applauding at home in appreciation.  “Phew, can’t nobody mess with this band” is my only thought as the song ends.

The keyboards are equally to the fore as a frenetic “Alphabet St.” follows. It is derailed by Princes interruption to talk himself up to the crowd, but as a performer at the top of his game, he has every right to brag and enjoy the spotlight. The song never regains momentum though, and I feel the constant stoppages would be better left out.

There is an easy jam that leads into “Days Of Wild”, a jam that tidily takes a low key funk groove and allows Prince to chant with the crowd. The serious business comes with “Days Of Wild” as it stomps across the landscape, bringing a tension to the previously lighthearted concert. Its not as quite as dangerous as other performances I have heard, Prince is enjoying himself too much, but the music has a touch of malice the keeps it just on the right side of the ledger.

The final song of the night is of course “Purple Rain.”  as befitting a greatest hits show, the moment is milked for all its worth, with the usual introduction sweeping across the arena before Prince begins to punctuate it with some lead guitar. Its a worthy rendition of a much loved classic, but there is nothing new here for anyone who has followed prince’s career. The final guitar break has me interested only for nostalgic sake, Prince isn’t breaking new ground, but he is playing his signature song to an appreciative audience at the climax of the concert.

This is a bootleg that you don’t hear much about, yet I would happily recommend it to anyone wanting to hear a quality audience recording of what is a standard hits show. The band are coming off some fantastic 2002 shows, and although different in style, they are just as good here in 2003 as they were the previous year. it may not be a complete show, but it never drags either, making for a bright and easy listen. For those that were there this is an excellent document of that experience.

I see there is an aftershow from the same night that has caught my eye, I shall give that a listen next week.

Thanks for reading
Hamish

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