The Church, Denver 1997 am

The Prince of 1997 is not the Prince that I grew up with. At this time a lot of the magic and excitement of being a Prince fan had dissipated for me. There is no doubting that Prince was still playing as well as ever, but for me the songs, the very heart of the matter, were missing. Aftershows still retained some thrill, a measure of excitement provided by guest appearances and cover versions. The gig I am listening to today has both and is all the better for it. The guest is Chaka Khan, both vocally and playing drums(!) and the setlist is chock full of cover versions, only the odd Prince song breaking up the run. It is an audience recording, and a scratchy one at that, but there is no distortion which about all I ask for out of a recording nowadays.

6th October 1997(am), The Church,Denver

Ignore the opening introduction as the announcer tries to flog off some t-shirts to the crowd, the real fun begins immediately as Chaka Khan emerges from the crackle of the recording playing the drums through the opening “Instrumental.” It isn’t a song that kicks sand in your face and laughs, with a kindlier gentler sound it is a gentle stroll into the show rather than an aggressive rampage. I would love to see footage of this moment, and this audio recording is a poor representation of what must have been a cool introduction.

It is Marva King who provides the entertainment for the next number, with a deep rendition of “Playtime.” Marva brings plenty of firepower to the performance, and she is ably matched by some equally insistent horn lines, and a dark organ swirl. The thin recording doesn’t do the song justice and it is up to the listener to fill out the sound in their mind. However, it does sound like a stonking version and we can only listen in envy of those that were there.

I’m not so fussed by “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” It’s not this perfoamce that I have a problem with, its just that I have heard it so many times from Prince and this rendition doesn’t add anything new that I haven’t heard before. Coupled with the quality of the recording,  it becomes a flat spot on the bootleg. Prince can be heard defiantly working his guitar and to his credit it does sound like it’s building to something, but we never get to fully appreciate the fruit of his labors as the recording saps the energy from his performance.

I am far more interested in “777-9311” and “Ain’t No Fun To Me” that come next. It is the bass line of “777-9311” the serves as the introduction, before “Ain’t No Fun To Me” comes snapping hard on its heels. It is only short, but Prince manages to evoke the spirit of the song with his impassioned delivery and the heavy wheeze of the organ that anchors the song. There is one point of the song where an audience member can be heard saying “He’s a genius, man, a genius!” and sitting here at home 20 years later, I am inclined to agree with him.

There is a “Colorado” chant that carries the first minutes of “Days Of Wild” before its crushing groove arrives proper and suffocates the recording with its thick funk. Even the thin recording is no match for “Days Of Wild,” it is just as wild as always, and even if it doesn’t stretch out for days it still sprawls itself across the recording for seven unequaled minutes. This wildness is personified by the hectic Tony Morris saxophone solo that bursts into flame in the final minutes of the song, making for a fitting end to what is a highlight on the recording.

Tony Morris is again present for the following Chaka Khan “Tell Me Something Good,” sung by the legendary Chaka herself. My feelings are mixed, I love the song and the performance, but I find the quality of the recording to be intrusive and several times I am taken out of the moment. However, it is a fantastic song and on a soundboard recording I would be positively raving about it.

The show has a warmth to it as Marva King displays her considerable chops on a cover of the Staples Singers “I’ll Take You There.” Even though Prince is barely noticeable, he doesn’t sing and there is no blinding guitar break, the song still has its place in the setlist, with its nostalgic charm and warm glow. This isn’t the first song I gravitated towards in the setlist, but I find it just as rewarding as anything else played.

“I Got The Feelin” is a cover of a James Brown song, but it lacks the drive and power that we would normally expect from a James Brown cover. The horns can be heard with their vigorous turn around’s, and after hearing them I can say that again it is the recording that is sucking the life from the song. There is no doubt that the band is playing an authoritative rendition, and their hard work is only undone by the shallow recording.

Prince goes even further back for a cover of “The Way You Do The Things You Do” This has me re-enthused for the bootleg, mostly because this is one of my favorite songs, and I am immediately transported away as Prince and the band play the song with plenty of sunshine and energy. It’s only a few minutes, but they cram a lot into the song, with the organ, the vocals, and the horns all vying for attention.

Prince goes even further back in time for an even bigger surprise – a short, sharp rendition of “Shout.” Forget the quality of the recording for a minute, if this doesn’t bring a smile to your face, then I don’t know what will. It has the crowd engrossed, and it’s easy to see why with its upbeat call and response and the undercurrent of swirling energy that never quite settles.

Ignore the next minutes as the announcer again reminds the crowd to buy T-shirts. The music returns with a slow building jam built around a lone drum sound provided by Chaka Khan. It doesn’t do much, it stays low and never gains any real intensity or intent, but it does pave the way for the next few songs.

The band is running at full power for an energized performance of “(Eye Like) Funky Music.” One of the few Prince songs to be played at this show, it gains even more respect in my book by being a song that was very rarely played live. Hearing it here, it sounds fresh and bright to my ears, and the chanting of the chorus is fun even if it is me alone a home. This is not a song I would play someone to demonstrate the genius of Prince, but as a fun song to hear on a bootleg it is right on the money.

We have another call and response jam next with “Denver Rock The Party”. As a horn lead instrumental it has the temperature rising on the recording, and this is made even better with Princes guitar break that he bestows upon it. It never blows out to a guitar jam though, and it is the horns and chanting that make up most of the song. I would like to say more about the guitar, but it is a little low in the mix, no doubt at the show itself it was louder, stronger, and altogether better.

There comes a slow down with the steady swagger of “Johnny” filling the air with its roguish grin. The lyrics make me smile, a smile made even bigger as Prince tells the audience that he and Chaka had said a prayer before the show, a prayer that the show would be funky. Well, that prayer has been answered, and the show is funky throughout, even if the recording can’t match the concert. “Johnny” maybe slower, but it is just as funky as anything else played, and is another highlight as the music curls and bends around the listener.

“I’m A Woman (I’m A Backbone) is a song with purpose and direction. It may be Chaka’s name and vocals that give the song early impetus, but later it is the saxophone of Tony Morris that drives the song into the ground. The saxophone stabs the carcass of the song with incisive cuts and wild slashes, leaving the music twitching and foaming with every attack, making for a wild and unhinged performance that tears though the skin of soft funk that has so far covered most of the evening.

I have often thought, and indeed written, that Prince and Hendrix aren’t the great mix that many imagine. The performance of “Little Wing” at this concert has me not just eating my words, but positively choking on them, the lump in my throat palpable from the opening seconds as Prince serves up a delicious treat of chords stacked on top of each other. It’s not just about Prince though, Chaka and the saxophone of Tony Morris bring their own flavours and tastes to the song, making for a balanced and well rounded dish.  Chaka is out in front, while Tony garnishes her performance with soft touches and a drizzle of sax as required. Prince displays another side of his playing, while known for playing the type of solos that would raze a forest, here his playing scatters seedlings that bloom and grow into a varied fruit as the song progresses. It is a thoughtful performance, with a trace of wistfulness that is never quite resolved. The song isn’t perfect though, the recording is too poor for that, and as effusive as I have been so far I must admit it is a song that requires close listening as for the most part it is distant and exists on the fringe of listenable.

Putting aside the sound quality for a second, this performance is a 10/10. I don’t say that lightly. The setlist gives no hint to how great the actual performance is, and having Chaka on board makes for a real treat. The songs swallow the room in there immersive brooding, punctuated by the electric fury of the guitar or the relentlessly vivid saxophone. Unfortunately, the bootleg is not a 10/10, the sound is too poor, and it took a close listen on headphones to really unearth the treasures buried in this release. For die hard fans this is another must listen, casual fans I would say approach with caution.

Thanks for joining me,
see you next week
-Hamish

Buenos Aires 1991

Anyone who regularly follows this blog will know that I like things to have a symmetry, and I am a completest. So with that in mind, this week I will take a listen to this festival performance from 1991. I have previously covered the Rio concert from a few days previous, and Sabotage have paired that concert with this show from the Rock & Pop festival, Buenos Aires, Argentina. This concert is for the most part the same run through of material, the only difference being that this show is fifteen minutes shorter and is missing a couple of songs from the setlist. I feel that this works in its favor as Prince and the band rush headlong through a setlist that I would otherwise find uninspiring.

21 January, 1991. Buenos Aires, Argentina

I would like to hear a lot more of “Something Funky (This House Comes).”  It’s fun, funky and is an energizing opening for the concert. It is also a good chance for the band to be introduced to the audience as each of their individual talents is highlighted. Prince often used long jams to introduce his bands, especially in later aftershows, and here it is most refreshing to see him us one of his own, upbeat and short songs to achieve the same thing. It doesn’t matter that he is hardly on the mic, Tony M and Rosie Gaines sound strong and enthused, even if the recording is less than pristine.

It is entirely predictable to hear “Let’s Go Crazy” next. It is one of his most well known hits, and not only does it bring the crowd on board, it also maintains the momentum created by the previous “Something Funky (This House Comes). That momentum is temporarily lost for the break down, and the show derails for a moment with this misstep. However “Kiss” restores the balance,  Prince and the band back to the fore as the funk of “Kiss” puts the stamp of authority on the concert, this is now beginning to sound a lot more like a Prince show.

One of the problems I have of shows from this period is the pacing and unevenness of the setlists. “Kiss” was everything you could want from a Prince concert, but again the show hits a brick wall with the “Pink Panther” interlude and Tony M sucking all the energy out of the recording. I like Prince in that he challenges me and my expectations, but sometimes he seems to shoot himself in the foot with these oddities thrown in, and in this case the show almost loses me during these couple of minutes

“Purple Rain” moves this further from a festival show and closer to a Prince concert with its appearance. With the audience joining from the beginning, it has the classic slow build, before Prince cuts through the emotion and music hanging in the air with some highly focused and powerful lead guitar. It stops the song from wallowing in self indulgence, and adds purpose and direction to the opening minutes that threaten to meander. It is his guitar wail that closes out the song, this time coming in a unbridled frenzy that contrasts to the highly structured show, the highlight for me being when the notes comes so fast and furious that they bleed into each other, creating a torrent of noise and raw passion.

“Take Me With U” is a nostalgic opening to what will become a medley of Prince’s upbeat, crowd pleasing songs. The sound isn’t great to be honest, but the song can be heard driving along in the background, still doing what it always does. “Alphabet St.” sounds better on the recording, perhaps because it is sparser, with just Michael B and his drum and Prince’s guitar propelling the song forward. With less clutter, the song is better captured by the recording, however that can’t be said for the rest of the medley. Prince’s rap is fun, but it becomes hard to catch his words as the music speeds up. Likewise, Rosie sounds good, but who knows what exactly what words she is singing as she burns through “It Takes 2.” The chanting can be heard fine, but that isn’t why I listen to bootlegs.  What saves the moment for me through is some very sharp guitar work midsong. Its not intense, or loud, but a fast and intricate sound that highlights the guitar itself as much as the music that is playing.

There is a thinness to “Shake” that is the complete opposite of how I expect it to sound. On record it is full and plumb, here it is malnourished and only a shadow of its former self. I presume the performance itself isn’t to blame and its the recording that is to blame.  Prince himself sounds enthusiastic as he encourages the crowd, and one can only assume that the crowd is fully engaged with the performance.

The concert again slows as Rosie sings “Dr Feelgood” and its hard not to fall in love with her a small bit as she sings. Like a flower in bloom, she opens up as the song progresses, becoming more radiant by the minute. Prince adds some spikiness to the performance with his guitar, but the moment belongs to Rosie as she seizes the microphone and the spotlight.This is the song where I temporarily forget the sound quality as I lose myself in Rosie’s voice.

The piano medley is brief, and again the thinness of the recording is to the fore as the piano sounds tinny and distant. This should be one of the best moments on the bootleg as Prince plays “Venus De Milo,” “Condition Of The Heart,” and “The Question Of U,” but instead it falls in step with what has been previously been heard at the concert.

The fullness returns for “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and the next few minutes are glorious as Prince delivers an inspiring performance. He draws me in with his heartfelt lyrics before the punch of the band hits me at the end of every stanza, making for a memorable rendition that delivers lingers for some minutes afterwards.

There is doubt that the end of the concert is near as “Baby I’m A Star,” struts into view, pimped out and arrogant from the start. Beneath the veneer of cockiness, the song has a youthful and naive energy that makes it the perfect song for this portion of the show. The song does spiral away from the original as the Gamboyz take centre stage and the original song slips further to the fringes as Rosie sings “Respect.” As good as it is, it isn’t quite what I signed up for, and I wait for something familiar from the Prince canon to cling onto.

The music slips easily into a laid back version of “We Can Funk” that is so low key it practically disappears into the carpet as it sinks lower and lower in the mix. “Thieves In The Temple” stays with the funk, but rises out of the floor as Prince delivers a hard hitting and incisive version that drives the show for the next few minutes, giving an added impetus that will carry us through to the end of the concert.

The show ends with “Jughead,” and “Rock The House,” but it isn’t the anti-climatic finish that it sounds like. The band are in fine form as it becomes an easy jam that carries the crowd for sometime. I am no great fan of either song, but there is no denying the energy of them, and they do serve the purpose of ending the concert with the crowd on their feet and dancing. It may not be the greatest bootleg moment, but it is a good record of what Prince and the band were doing at the time.

This is not one of the great bootlegs. The only reason I took the time to give it a listen is because of its pairing with the Rio recording, making for a nice “South American Festivals” package. The concert has no great faults, but it never once reaches any great heights. The recording is average but not bad, the setlist is OK, the performance fine, each part of the release dong just enough to keep me listening to the end. As a completest I am extremely happy to have this, but as a music fan I could happily pass on it. This is Prince treading water, and the average bootleg does nothing to help that feeling. Its listenable, but there’s not a lot of fun to be found here.

Thanks again
Hamish

Rock This Joint – Cologne 1998

After dabbling in Eye record releases for the past month, it is time to return to a one of the most influential and well known labels bootlegging Prince concerts and recordings -Sabotage records. Sabotage have a long record of quality bootlegs and is highly regarded in the Prince bootleg community. With a catalog that covers the full scope of Princes career, not every release of a winner, but they are for the most part of a high quality, especially compared to a lot of other labels trading Prince material.

The concert I am listening to today comes from late 1998 and is an after-show from Cologne, Germany. Although it is also released by Dreamline, I have chosen to listen to the Sabotage release, mostly for sentimental reasons. I can’t comment on any similarities or differences between the two, I simply don’t have the time now to listen to the concert twice, but the concert itself is outstanding, and I am sure either would be adequate for those wanting to hear it.

With Larry Graham, Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini, Morris Hayes, Mike Scott, and Candy Dulfer in the band there is plenty of funk fire power, and if this combination of musicians fail to get you moving then I suggest the problem lies with you, rather than the music. The setlist consist of the usual suspects appearing in the late 90s – “Everyday People”, “The Jam”, “One Of Us”, and “Days Of Wild.” One could make a case for familiarity breeds contempt, but the band play with plenty of heart, making the show fresh, even if the music is well-known to all.

28th December 1998 (am), Live Music Hall, Cologne, Germany

I am raving and drooling from the very first moments as the band carve out an insistent groove that “Days Of Wild” rolls across. The song is a powerhouse, here even more so as the band lend their full weight to the groove, pushing the song across a sprawling twenty minutes. The groove is paramount and it takes sometime for “Days Of Wild” to rise out of the tight groove the band is laying down. In fact, the band is so deep down in the groove that the song almost sounds like a jam of “3121” – I half expect any moment for Prince to tell me to take my pick from the Japanese robes and sandals. As “Days Of Wild” emerges from the groove it is both Candy Dulfer and Morris Hayes who add the most to the swirling mix of sounds, they drive the first part of the song before Prince’s guitar briefly cuts through the density of the music later. However, the song ends on a downer as Prince chastises the crowd for smoking and insinuates that they won’t play on until some puts out “them funny cigarettes”. Apart from this it is an outstanding beginning to the bootleg, and one wonders how Prince could possibly top this.

The band pick back up into “Days Of Wild” for a brief coda, before steamrolling the rhythm across an equally forceful “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). It has the same feel and intensity as “Days OF Wild,” only lightened by the horn section playing sharp and incisive, cutting easily through the dark and dense swirl. It is Larry Graham that comes to the fore during this song, and he will stay at the centre of things for the next few songs.

It is a short and sweet “You Can Sing It If You Try” that follows, coming as a deep breath after the crushing intensity of the first numbers. It may be short, but it is perfectly placed in the setlist and allows the crowd to draw a collective breath before the band continue on.

Apparently all is forgiven in regards to the cigarette incident, as the band play a humorous cover of “Ole Smokey.” With Larry Graham on lead vocals it has a depth to it, which is off set by the gleaming horn section giving it some air. It is almost throw away to my ears, but there is just enough going on in the background to keep me listening.

The Larry Graham show continues with “Hair.” Oh boy, this one has me gasping for air as the song opens with some fantastic bass work that is fast, funky, and freaking awesome. The song is full of band contributions, but it is Larry’s bass that holds me enraptured, usually I lose interest without Prince on the microphone, but in this case I am enthralled from the first moment to the last.

I can still barely breath as “Love And Happiness” bounds into view. As Larry Graham leads the crowd through the lyrics, it is the rhythm section that has me squirming and shaking in my chair.  It is incredibly infectious, both uplifting and dance-able at the same moment. I was wondering how they could top the opening “Days Of Wild” – well this could be it. The funk flows effortlessly, it is almost magical the effect the music has on my body as Larry Graham and Prince conjure up a potion that delivers for nigh on nine minutes. It is a swaggering performance that never wavers from the sweaty fervor unleashed by Larry Graham in the opening stanza, an electrifying jolt that moves my body, yet paralyzes my mind in its crushing beauty and immersive electric wonder.

WOW. I still haven’t recovered from “Love And Happiness.”

Give me a minute here.

PHEW!

There is time to recover as Prince and the band build slowly into “Oye Como Va.” There is the sense that Prince is preparing to cut loose, but the first minutes he steadily climbs aboard this musical horse from which he will later ride. The guitar whinnies and neighs beneath his hands, while Morris Hayes offers a carrot in the form of some dark, dense organ. However, the song stays at a steady trot, never breaking into a gallop as Prince keeps the music, and his spirited guitar, on a tight rein.

Prince lets the guitar do all his singing though “A Question Of U.” The opening stanza of guitar giving way to a free flowing minute of molten rock spewing forth from Prince’s guitar. This is one of the shortest songs of the performance, but also one of the most guitar heavy.

The funk returns as Larry Graham resumes his place in the lineup  for a performance of his “Groove On.” It is Mike Scott’s guitar that the funk slips and slides across, his guitar almost liquid in sound as it greases the blocks of heavier music moving around him. Prince’s lead guitar is the centre of attention as burns in the light, but Mike is at the heart of the song, key to everything else happening around him. Candy’s late solo made all the more funkier by the grease under her.

This feeling is maintained through the easy “Joy And Pain” that comes seamlessly straight after. Little more than rhythm and chant, it has all I need at this point.

I am immediately reminded of “Everyday People” as Prince sings “Forever In My Life,” and I understand why as the band segue into “Everyday People.” It is a perfect match with the rhythm connecting the two seamlessly. Prince holds Larry Graham in high esteem, and usually defers to him throughout “Everyday People.” In this case Prince is far more prominent, and contributes heartily to the verses and chorus himself. The song becomes a celebration of the everyman, a mood that is brought into sharp focus by the audience joining Prince for chanting and singing in the final half of the song. The “aw aw” chant is irritating on the bootleg but the “everyday” chant is far more pleasant and representative of the the show in general.

You would expect that with this band “Release Yourself,” would be another showcase for Larry Graham, Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini, or maybe even Prince himself. Yet it is Morris Hayes who provides a shimmering tension to the song with his keyboard bleeding through every level of the song. The song is awash with his signature sound as the song sails across his swells and waves of organ, while other times it is his melodic style that catches the sails of the song and propels it forward. The stage may hold some legendary performers but these ten minutes belong solely to Morris Hayes and his titanic talent.

Larry Graham picks up where Morris Hayes left off, with his vocals and bass taking us naturally enough into a deep and all encompassing “The Jam.”  There is a connection to the previous “Release Yourself” with Mr Hayes again prominent early on before the song spins out in all directions as the each band member pulls it in their own direction. There are occasions where “The Jam”  is overly long and unfocused, and while this version is long it never once falters for energy or interest. Prince and the band sound sprightly, and the song skips along at an lively pace.

Prince brings his spirituality into the show late with a reverential cover of “One Of Us.” The religious message of the song seeps out of every pore, and nowhere more so than at the point where Prince’s guitar enters with a guttural choke before its fingers curl around the song, squeezing every drop of holy blood from the music. This is reinforced as Prince is at his evangelistic best late in the song with a homily and spiritual message for all in attendance. It is an inspiring moment, and even on the bootleg one can feel the power of the moment and his words. As a climax to the show it is perfect, and the holy spirit lingers with me for some minutes after the song and concert finishes.

 

It is easy to overlook this bootleg. 1998 is not held in high regard when it comes to Prince concerts, and on the surface this release doesn’t seem to offer much. I must admit, I did have my doubts when I saw the cover art. But as the saying goes – “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” There is actually a great concert hiding behind this facade. The look and sound may not be classic Prince, but the performance is full of enjoyable moments and some wondrous  musicianship. Sabotage usually deliver when it comes to bootlegs, and this is no exception with a fine concert and tidy release complementing each other. After listening to this show I am beginning to see 1998 in a new light, and may have to dig deeper into some other performances of the era.

Thanks for joining me again,
I look forward to doing it all again next week
-Hamish

21 Nights book launch – the aftershow

Several weeks ago I started writing about the 21 nights book launch and subsequent bootleg covering the event. It’s taken me longer than I though to return to this bootleg, but the second half of the recording covers the almost three hour aftershow and is well worth the wait. This is another Eye records release, it’s only by chance that they have had so much coverage on this blog recently, and although it is an audience recording it still holds my attention as Prince plays with a lighthearted touch across the sprawling set.

11th October 2008 (am) Hotel Gansevoort, New York

The pairing of “Crimson And Clover” and “Wild Thing” has grown on me over the last ten years. The fact that Prince dirties up the sound at this performance and gives the song some grit is all the more appealing, as is the hurdy gurdy guitar break that serves as an improvised opening. Prince leads us through delicate verses and well crafted choruses, but the real action occurs between these moments as he spits fire with several flights of fancy on the guitar that inflames the audience and the casual listener at home alike. The audience are loud in their appreciation, the only negative of this audience recording.

Prince’s cover of “Let’s Go” was in vogue at this stage of his career, and the performance of it here is true to form. It is punctuated by shouts and burst of guitar heroics, but for the most part it stays neatly boxed, and all Prince’s guitar work is nothing more than pretty packaging with no real gift to be revealed.

The a capella introduction of “7” suffers on this recording, the fully engaged crowd drowns out anything happening onstage with their singing. The song itself comes and goes quickly, there is no catch or hook to lure the listener in. Prince doesn’t give it time to work its magic, and it eventually decays into “Come Together”

The “7,” “Come Together” combination doesn’t initially excite me, although I must admit I do find myself singing the chorus with Shelby J before I know it. The recording perks up, and so do I, with Prince’s stabbing guitar solo, but interest wanes for the singalong. As always, great at the concert, not so great here at home.

The wheeze of keyboard heralds the arrival of “1999.” This band may not be The Revolution, but they do hold their own with a version that could have been lifted from anytime in the 1980s. The distinctive voice of Shelby keeps us in the present,even as the crowd indulge in the chant of “Party” over Prince’s scratch guitar. It is these final minutes that stand out for me, and with Princes high pitched singing and funk guitar 2008 disappears from view in a fog of electro funk.

Prince continues with his musical time machine, “Controversy” just as firmly rooted in the past as “1999.” I am surprised to hear Prince himself comment on this with his quote “they say where you from? I tell ’em the 80s” He lives up to this comment with a synth heavy, funk driven rendition of this classic slice of Prince 80s output. Shelby can be heard (imploring folks to clap their hands and stomp their feet), but the song firmly remains in Princes hands with his vocals and guitar the key sonic signature of the song. Even the bass break doesn’t derail this feeling, and it is almost with sadness that the song comes to an end after five minutes, bringing the curtain down on this diversion into nostalgia.

The comment “You ain’t ready for this” sums up my ambivalence towards “Sexy Dancer/Le Freak,” – I’m definitely not ready for it.  “Sexy Dancer” gets a thumbs up from me, “Le Freak,” however, leaves me less than cold. It lacks a distinctness, the music sounding watered down from the preceding songs.

It was P-funk who belittled The Doobie Brothers with their “It was cool, but can you imagine Doobie-in’ your funk?” line. As is his way, Prince goes against the grain, instead celebrating the Doobies with an infectious, and surprisingly likable, cover of “Long Train Runnin’.” There is an added energy to the performance, Frédéric Yonnet providing some harmonica that is a celebration it itself and lifts the song beyond the diesel locomotive sound of the original. Princes train isn’t as driven as the Doobies, but it does carry more sounds and textures lying deep in the grooves, making for a well rounded listen that delivers on several levels.

All these other songs are merely children in the presence of “Shhh,” a song that is steeped in maturity and strength. The lyrics are light and can’t compare to the power of the music that is the bedrock of this song. The guitar blows at storm force across the recording, while the drums crash like waves on a breakwater as the song reaches its hurricane peak. Even on this audience recording it has a radiating power that can’t be ignored, and it blows the doors off any doubts I might have about this bootleg.

There is audience noise marring the beginning of “Musicology,” as well a touch of feedback. It is airy against the concrete of “Shhh,” and this is further emphasized by the appearance of “Prince And The Band.” As much as I like “Prince And The Band,” it is a guilty pleasure and not comparable to “Shhh,” or even “1999” that came earlier. With such a spread of material, some of Prince’s later songs suffer in comparison, and “Prince And The Band” is certainly one of those.

Things become harder and heavier as “3121” marches into view. Like most of the other songs, the audience detract from the moment, but one can’t blame them for enjoying one of Prince’s strongest songs in the latter part of his career. The guitar break he laces it with adds just enough venom to make it a dangerous moment. I temporary forget the audience noise and focus on the dark clouds that swirl around Prince’s guitar solo.

There is a slightly deranged sound to “Girls And Boys.” To my ears it is unbalanced, and the fact that Prince lets the crowd do all the singing definitely counts against it. He does pick up the baton for the second verse, but the sound remains out of kilter, the song not quite meshing into the killer performance that Prince’s guitar break hints at.

“Honky Tonk Woman” comes in waves, the initial crunch of the guitar riff, Shelby’s soulful voice, and then the incisive guitar solo by Prince. As a Stones man I fully approve, even if this slice of retro rock doesn’t reach the heights of some of the other performances of the evening.

There is a lack of bite to “Stratus” and although I usually love the meandering way that Prince takes us down various rabbit holes, this time it just doesn’t spin my wheels. It continues to grow and evolve, but there is not enough change for my liking and for the most part I feel we are stuck in the same place. There is other bootlegs where this song is outstanding, unfortunately this concert doesn’t live up to those high standards.

The moment is saved as Prince rasps his way through a light-headed-sing-along-at-home rendition of The Rolling Stones “Miss You.” The recording isn’t quite good enough to catch the nuances as Prince invokes the spirit of Mick Jagger, but it does capture the busy harmonica work by Frédéric Yonnet. Prince shines a different light on the song with his guitar work, it is a delight on the ear, but hidden behind the not-so-soft veil of the audience recording.

Prince stays on this classic rock trip as he sashays into “Red House.” Without ever becoming challenging, it manages to tread the fine line between a smooth listen and something that slips into the background.It is one of the least demanding parts of the show, yet at the same time the one part that rewards a closer listen.

“Purple Rain” is a smoldering, slow burn that never ignites into life. The delicate introduction sets the standard for the song, and it stays with this low slung sound for the duration, even Prince’s final guitar break fails to fly as is it’s wont. Thin and sickly, this “Purple Rain” can’t match the performance captured on the first disc of the earlier concert.

The bootleg derails with a brief set by Dave Chapelle. Although it makes the show complete, it does break the flow of the music, and to be honest I would have been forgiving of Eye records if they had have left it off. Normally a completest, in this case it is unnecessary and adds nothing.

The music resumes with Shelby J and “Brown Skin.” It has a sense of purpose and brings a fullness back to the concert after the anorexic “Purple Rain.” Forceful and proud, Shelby gives the song the respect it deserves in one of the stronger songs in the set.

An audience members comment of “Do you think he’ll play Raspberry Beret?” suggests that this audience isn’t as cool as Prince and the band. No doubt this commentator was disappointed as the next twenty minutes Prince takes on a series of well-considered and mature cover versions. “Summer Madness,” “In The Morning,” “Can’t Hide Love,” and “Free” all have an easy way to them and a vibe that hints at Sunday mornings relaxing in the Sun. The music flows easily, transporting me far down stream from the Prince hits we heard earlier on. On a raft of gentle keyboards and soulful vocals, Prince drifts a long way from the “Raspberry Beret” wanted by the audience, and offers something far more refreshing and cool.

Equally relaxed is “Cream,” in this case the music is well behind Prince and his vocals. This isn’t served well by the recording, for the most part it sounds distant and is a lot harder to listen to than the previous few songs.

It is “U Got The Look” that gets the crowd screaming, again messing with the recording. Prince’s guitar is forceful, yet weakened by the quality of the recording. It is an enjoyable enough performance, but with the recording as it is, it is another moment that could have been more.

I am pleased when the funk arrives back in the form of “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” although I could do with a lot more bottom in the recording. The bass is hot, but it deserves a better recording, and one can only imagine how it would sound with a heavy sound. The segue into “Partyman” is unnecessary as far as I’m concerned, but I understand that this is the way Prince chooses to present it. As much as I love Prince’s original material, it was “What Have You Done For Me” that really caught my attention.

The show continues to accelerate in this way as the band quickly swarm over “It’s Alright” It is similar to the previous songs in both sound and intent, a seamless part of the setlist where all the jigsaw pieces come together. After a weak start to the concert, this half hour is where the treasures lie, and it is worth the wait.

An equally brisk “Alphabet St.” has the crowd on board with hand claps, to the detriment of the bootleg. Prince is crisp and sharp with his guitar, and it keeps the tempo of the show up as we approach the end of the concert.

Prince rounds out the show with a string of songs he gave away to others. “The Bird” opens this feeding frenzy, before giving way to “Jungle Love.” I prefer “Jungle Love” for its fierceness and the blowtorch guitar solo that Prince ends the song with. It is worthwhile for that moment alone, the guitar shining out in the audience noise.

There is a long introduction to “The Glamorous Life,” but the song is little more than this. The song vanishes soon after the introduction, it is fleetingly pleasurable but ultimately unsatisfying.

However, there is satisfaction to be found in the last song of the concert – “A Love Bizarre.” Prince loads it at the front end with a guitar line that has a fierceness and fire unheard elsewhere on the recording. For the first time the music rises above the quality of the recording, giving the show a punch and direction that is lacking elsewhere. It is a shame that the rest of the show doesn’t sound as purposeful, but I am more than happy to have this to cling onto. It is an ending that is unrepresentative of the concert, giving the show perhaps more gloss than it deserves.

After listening to the earlier show in this set I was looking forward to hear this later aftershow. It did not live up to expectations. The biggest problem was the quality of the recording. While nowhere near as bad as some I have heard, the audience was still far too prominent and detracted from several key moments throughout. As always I found some positives to enjoy, but the show did leave a bad aftertaste in my mouth. I would happily listen to the first concert in the set again; this one I’d take a pass on.

Thanks again
Hamish

NOTE: The Eye package has Prince’s guest appearance with Q-tip as an extra bonus track. It doesn’t sound like much on the CD and is a waste. But the guest appearance is one of my favorite videos. The reaction of the crowd when Prince appears on stage is priceless, and Prince himself has never looked so cool. You can check out the video below, it’s well worth a look.

 

Rainmaker – Disc 3 Santa Monica Benefit

Eye records are slowly winning me over. I wasn’t an immediate fan of their output, but recently I have found their releases far more enjoyable and rewarding. Despite occasional sound issues and packaging errors (the proofreading is at at the same level as this blog -nil), I still find they have unearthed some great shows that we would not have otherwise heard. The realization came to me the other day that of late I have listened to far more of their releases than anyone else’s. The last twelve months they have had some outstanding releases and become a label worth taking notice of.

The Boston Metro concert I wrote of last week was a tidy release, and the Rainmaker release from the same week is of equal standing. The Rainmaker package brings together three complete performances (two concerts, and a full rehearsal) as well as a couple of rehearsals and jams that are incomplete, but of interest to the serious collector. Two of these performances are well-known in the bootleg community – the Minnesota Dance Theater benefit, and the rehearsal that precedes it. Both have appeared on numerous labels, and I have covered them previously in this blog. The most interesting part of Rainmaker is the third show –  a benefit concert for special needs students at the height of the Purple Rain tour. This concert has plenty to recommend it from the outset. It is a Purple Rain concert – Prince’s most popular album played at the height of his fame with his most beloved band. It is also another example of Prince’s altruism, worthy of praise and credit. What I think is best about this concert is that it is a Purple Rain concert trimmed of all the fat and excess. It clocks in at barely and hour, and is a highlights package of the nightly show. There is no meandering middle section, and no time for the concert to sag and lose momentum. It is a punchy show from the first moments to the last, with the songs shorter and coming in rapid succession. The piano section is still intact, although considerable shorter, but the concert has been shorn of the shower scene and the conversation with God. If I am brutally honest; it is all the better for it as Prince delivers a high octane performance of his very best material to date.

25 February 1985, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica

Prince sets out his stall early with a dynamic rendition of “Let’s Go Crazy.” It is crisp, both the performance and the recording, and many aspects are clearly heard on the disc. The drum machine is very prominent on one side, counter balanced by Wendy and Prince’s equally dramatic guitar work. With little audience noise the recording is almost sterile sounding, the instruments standing out on their own with very little other sonic decoration. With the bones of the song laid bare like this, it becomes an interesting listen for those that like to see what lies at the heart of the performance.

Similar ground is covered by “Delirious.” The drum machine remains strong, the guitar stands alone (highlighting Wendy’s playing) while the rest of the song seems to occur elsewhere. The most notable feature is Eric Leeds and his undefinable saxophone sound. Although not consistently through the song, it nevertheless is instantly recognizable when heard and fleshes out the song into a more organic, three dimensional sound.

“Delirious” is matched by the equally frenetic “1999” that rolls in immediately after. Eric Leeds is again busying up the sound, and the keyboard refrain is  oddly muted in this context. However, it is an upbeat and lively performance that captures the joie de vivre present throughout the show, and without being demanding is a nice sign post of where Prince was at the time.

It is the following “Little Red Corvette” that not only brings a seriousness to the show, but also pushes Eric Leeds and his saxophone further to the front. The opening minute is particularly enticing as Eric casts a shadow across the introduction with his mournful intonations. He is very quiet on the track, but he is the one part of the song that has to be heard. The spirit of the song is perfectly encapsulated in the way he plays, and his contribution is every bit as emotive as Prince and his lyrical delivery.

“Take Me With U” comes as a complete package. Every member of the band has their place, and for the first time on the recording no one instrument stands out. It is the standard short run through of the song, giving you all pop you ever need in the first minute before the band jam briefly on the coda. It is a finely balanced performance, delivering much more than is suggested by its three and a half minute run time.

The performance of “4 The Tears In Your Eyes” is yet another reason this concert comes highly recommended. The soundboard recording serves the moment well, Prince is crystal clear while retaining a live feel. I am sold on the performance long before Wendy and Lisa’s vocals join in unison, closing out the song on a high as their vocals build and support the foundation that Prince has built.

The piano section is shorter than other shows on the Purple Rain tour, I thought this might detract from the moment, yet it it makes it all the more forceful and comes as another solid punch in a show full of hits. “Free” lays out the ground work, its simplicity underlined in this solo performance that brings out another layer of emotion. This emotion remains present for “Do Me, Baby,” and as the band join him Prince gives another pleading performance full of both lust and raw sex.

A single piano plays the opening hook for “When Doves Cry” before the band join for a full unadulterated performance.  There is plenty of time to appreciate the music, Prince lets the opening riff mature in the first minutes before he eventually begins to sing. Again, the recording matches the music, and Prince’s voice is stark in its emptiness on the recording, giving the song a sonic backdrop that matches the lyrical content. Wendy’s guitar break is drawn from the same well, and the song has a satisfying completeness to it that is unmatched anywhere else on the recording. The final flourishes of Brown Mark and Dr Fink put an emphatic full stop on yet another great moment.

The show has been concise so far, and that continues with “Baby I’m A Star.” It is ten minutes, but nowhere near as long as some of the other epic versions heard on tour. True to form (for this show at least), it is Eric Leeds who leads the band into the fray, his bright sax the flag that they rally around early on. It is a storming performance, the band condensing all the usual licks and tricks into a tight package that delivers just as much as other drawn out jams. For my money, it is Bobby Z and Brown Mark that are the heroes of the moment, their rhythm carrying the rest of the band through “Body Heat” before neatly returning us back on track for the finale of “Baby I’m A Star.” This has Prince and the band playing with a quiet fury that never once loses focus and sets us up for the epic climax of “Purple Rain.”

Keeping in context with the rest of the show, “Purple Rain” is nowhere near the drawn out guitar-fest that we hear elsewhere. First, it is adorned with some fine playing by Eric, the opening minutes being a celebration of his saxophone as he brings sparkle to an otherwise melancholy opening. The rest of the song follows the script of the album version, Prince singing his lines before the inevitable guitar onslaught. However, he doesn’t go through the stratosphere with his playing, instead playing within the scope of what is heard on record. “Purple Rain” can run for up to half an hour on the tour, here it is eleven minutes – again completely in keeping with the momentum and energy of the rest of the show.

I rate this show highly. It is to the point, and not a minute of the hour it runs is wasted. Although it is a sterile sounding soundboard, I would still take that over a scratchy audience recording any day. This is the Prince we love to hear, fire in his belly performing at the peak of his powers. When taking as a complete package with the other shows Eye records have bundled with it, it becomes even better. I am sure everyone has heard the other performances on this set, but if I was starting out in the bootleg leg world this would be a great start point. Eye records may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there is no denying this is a nice set that holds its own in any collection.

Thanks for joining me again,
next week I will return to the book launch of 21 Nights that I started a couple of weeks ago.
-Hamish

The Metro, Boston 1986

I was intending on writing about the second half of the 2008 bootleg that I took a listen to last week, but I have been overtaken by events in the fast moving world of Prince bootlegs. The last couple of weeks has seen the Eye records release of two great packages, the 1986 show at Boston, and “Rainmaker” that covers a some well known concerts of the Purple Rain era. Of the two I am more interesting in the 1986 concert as the other concerts have been circulating for some time in a variety of guises. I have audience recordings of the Boston concert, but I was excited to hear it in soundboard quality. As Prince himself once said “All that glitters, ain’t gold,” and this is true with this soundboard recording. Yes, it is a soundboard recording, but that doesn’t mean that it is perfect. There is quality issues (especially on the first disc) and to my ears the tape speed isn’t quite right. The first disc in particular sounds slow, it’s most noticeable with the opening notes that immediately sound off. Again, the second disc is better, but still not quite perfect. I may sound pedantic on this point, but when you listen to as many bootlegs as I do, then you tend to notice little things like this, and it is worth noting. As always, there are positives – it is a soundboard recording we haven’t heard before, and even as it is, it is still a fine document of one of my favorite tours, the hit n run tour of 1986. That is something worth celebrating and I am quite prepared to put aside my bootleg snobbery for a couple of hours and wallow in this glorious show.

3rd April, 1986. The Metro, Boston

There is no surprises with the setlist early on. Prince doesn’t deviate from any of the other shows of the era, and anyone who has been listening to these bootlegs over the years will know exactly what to expect. The flighty and twitching “Around The World In A Day”  moves under the feet with ever changing soundscapes as an ethereal flute opening gives way to some Byrds-esque guitar before the sound unfolds with Prince’s chorus bringing the song to a firmer ground. Its a kinetic opener, even with the slight sound issues I previously mentioned.

The sound becomes bolder with “Christopher Tracy’s Parade.” There is more of the band to be heard, and even with muddled sound the recording captures the energy of the performance. What captures my ear the most is the horn section, here fully integrated into the band and providing early impetus. The song never fully develops though (due to the recording) and the remaining impression of it is the organ solo that is provided, one presumes, by Prince.

The sound strips back for “New Position,” the rhythm section outstanding with their funk and bump. Bobby Z and Brown Mark are often overlooked visually, but they more than make up for it their musical contributions, and this song is an early indication of how much their input makes a Prince concert what it is. Prince himself makes his mark, the one lyric that sounds very clear is when he asks Jerome to sing “P.U.S.S.Y.” It can be heard on album, but here is is very bold and obvious, it is the loudest moment on the song.

There is time for “I Wonder U,” although it doesn’t match anything heard in the first handful of songs. The crowd are bought back into the concert with “Raspberry Beret.” It’s not quite the riotous celebration heard on other bootlegs though. The crowd are present, but not to the same extent as other concerts. The payoff is that Prince sings most of the lines himself, something I greatly appreciate and enjoy.

I wish I could say the “Alexa De Paris” stands alone as a ornate monument surrounded by these slighter pop songs. However, the recording is again muddled with its mix, and although the individual parts sound great, when they all come together they don’t gel. There is some fierce-some guitar to be heard, but it is very low in the mix. If it was alone out front it would be scorching, but as it is it is no more than a smolder in the background, threatening to burst into flame but never reaching the point of combustion.

The is an outstanding start to “Controversy,” with scratch guitar to die for and the keyboards playing with a robo-funk coldness. The rest of the song sounds thin, and it has a weak ending with Princes overplayed “Where’s my cigarettes” shtick. All is forgiven with “Mutiny.” From the opening seconds it is has my nerves jangling, the music connecting my ears to my feet as my brain screams “dance!” The song itself would be enough, but when the sizzling saxophone of Eric Leeds is thrown into the mix, well then, it’s at that point that it becomes the epitome of Prince and the funk he was peddling at the time. Eric Leeds practically bursts into flames as he plays, and Prince does nothing to extinguish this fire as he has the band chant “St Paul, punk of the month” as Wendy and Lisa give clues to the hardcore with their “Dream Factory” chorus. The song is a tour de force for the extended Revolution; the rest of the concert and bootleg are irrelevant, this song alone is all you need as it covers all that was good and great about Prince and this band.

The following four songs maintain this thrill of excitement. “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window,” “Lady Cab Driver,” “Automatic,” and “D.M.S.R” come in quick fire succession, increasing the tempo of the show and laying the ground work for what will unfold next.

It is “The Dance Electric” that comes next, and from the title alone you know this is going to be something special. Needless to say, it matches Mutiny for funkiness, and upstages it in raw, unfiltered intensity. It has a deep funk in its groove, and Prince injects impassioned guitar into the vein, giving the song an uncontrollable rush and head-spinning high. This is one of the great performances of this song on bootleg, an instant addiction the first time you hear it.

There is the inevitable come down in the form of “Under The Cherry Moon.” Its other worldliness is heightened as it is coming directly after “The Dance Electric,” and as a contrast it is isn’t just a come down, it’s a crash. I rate it highly, but I would have preferred to have it somewhere else rather than directly after “The Dance Electric.”

I don’t know whats going on with “Anotherloverholenyohead,” but Prince’s vocals are almost inaudible for the first verse. However, Wendy and Lisa are enthusiastically loud and the keyboard can be heard dominating the sound. This is another song where the sound quality is less than stellar, unfortunately a recurring issue. There are positives though, Lisa is enthralling with her piano break, everything else disappears as she plays, the world turning on her breathtaking feel for the keys.

“Soft And Wet” comes from another world, sonically and historically. It still proudly wears the disco coat of the era it was born in, and is shameless in the way it sparkles and glitters in this show. Dr. Fink’s solo is particularly nostalgic, and for a few minutes I forget this is 1986 as Prince and the band recreate the brown and orange world of the late 70s.

Prince stays in the era with “I Wanna Be Your Lover” which performs the same trick on steroids. Everything “Soft And Wet” was, “I Wanna Be Your Lover” is, times five. It is stronger, funkier, and forceful throughout, not just suggesting you get up and dance but roughly shaking you to your feet and dragging you to the dance floor. The real action happens in the second half of the song, as the groove moves from the dance floor to a dark corner of the room for some nastiness. Even with the gleam of the horns, there is a dirtiness that can’t be shaken – definitely a recommendation.

“Head” leads us further down this path, the music becoming darker and murkier as Prince spreads a layer of sleaze across the performance. The song lives up to its name, but there is no climax, just more nastiness and Dr Fink adds his own smutty solo before the the scratch guitar hints at all sorts of unmentionable things. It would be the most sexual part of the show, if not for Prince talking about Morris Day and chopping down the Oak tree. This takes me out of the moment, and I do up my pants and move on to the next song.

There is an extended opening to “Pop Life” which gives us all a chance to regather our composure, before Prince delivers a sunny version of one of his greatest pop songs.It floats easy as a cloud, a feeling further enhanced with Eric Leeds’s flute solo that flutters and flits across the sky. It is far removed from the previous song, but it moves the concert forward and brings us back into the sun.

With Eric Leeds’s saxophone, and some slippery guitar to grease the wheels, “Girls And Boys” ticks two of the key boxes for what makes a great song. This is song is entirely representative of the era, it perfectly encapsulates the era and the music Prince was creating. Prince’s voice has a touch of arrogance, born of the confidence in the scope of work he has created,  while Eric Leeds’s saxophone ties the groove to the ground before taking flight late in the song. Elsewhere Dr.Fink, and the twin guitars of Wendy and Miko, give it all the funk you will ever need. It never reaches the same funky heights as some of the earlier songs, but it does neatly package up what the era was all about.

These two songs are the opening numbers of disc two, and they sound much better than the songs off the first disc. This standard is maintained for “Life Can Be So Nice.” It is a clean performance of the song, without being outstanding, but it does gain a few extra marks in my book with the improved sound quality. It doesn’t leap off the page as some of the other songs do, yet with all the instruments and vocals clearly heard it is a pleasant listen.

There is a buzz in the left speaker for the beginning of “Purple Rain,” that does initially detract from the moment. The rest of the opening is faultless however, especially the guitar of Prince that tiptoes briefly through the field of piano, creating a path for the listener to find their way into the song. It is this entrance and then the final exit that are the highlight of the song. The final guitar break sees Prince light up the darkness with its intensity, not just leading the listener through the final minutes but pushing them with an electrifying and emotive shriek.

I have never been completely sold on Prince’s performance of “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On,” and this concert isn’t going to change my mind. Its snappy and sharp, but undemanding and as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t add to the show and is unnecessary.

“A Love Bizarre” throws up the most interesting moment in the show. A minute into the song there is a glitch, one assumes with the drum machine or pads, and Bobby Z catches the moment with an effortless switch to a heavier, and more organic, live drum. The change comes in a split second, but one can clearly hear the change in the drum sound. The rest of the song lives up to other live performances from the year.  It may start with a veneer of pop over a funk groove, but it is the second half of the song where this veneer is stripped back to reveal what the song truly is, a hard-hitting beast of a song that gives Prince and the band plenty of time to ride the groove where ever they please. There is very little surprises to be heard, but as always the song delivers with its strident and bold riffs, highlighting the rhythm section of Brown Mark and Bobby, and newly acquired horn section.

It is a firestorm of guitar that opens “America.” The guitar has been prominent throughout the concert, and here Prince takes it to new levels with an electrifying performance. The guitar establishes a beachhead for the rest of the band to storm through, Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss immediately providing a twin horn attack that tears the song in half. The breakdown halts this attack, the momentum temporarily lost as Prince indulgently leads the crowd with some chants.The rhythm guitars bring some forward movement to the song, but it fails to live up to the opening salvo heard in the first five minutes.

Screams and shrieks greet “Kiss.” It does sound strangely flat on the recording, all the fizz and pop is missing. An appearance of the wooden leg doesn’t help, but the guitar break brings a welcome surge of energy, and the song sounds more lively after its appearance. The final coda restores my enthusiasm for the song, an element of fun is introduced and this brings a lightness to the song that serves it well.

The concert ends with a intricate rendition of “Love or $.” It is a monochrome and highly manicured performance, highlighted by the soundboard recording. The horns are again high in the mix, giving a hint of sparkle to the intertwining sounds that can be heard. The song never bursts out of the tight cocoon that the band weaves around it, often threatening to break out in a flutter of color it instead stays tight in the pocket until the very end.

Ignore any negative comments I may have made about the sound quality and take this show for what it is – a soundboard recording of Prince and The Revolution at their very best. This is only the first show after the Parade warm-up at First Ave, but the band is already firing on all cylinders as memories of Purple Rain rapidly vanish in the rear view mirror. I wouldn’t go so far as to give this a five star rating, but it is a concert and bootleg that you need to hear. Indulge yourself and hunt it out.

Thanks again, next week I will tackle the other recent Eye release before I finally return to the 2008 show I previous started.

-Hamish

 

21 Nights book launch 2008

2007 was a big year for live concerts for Prince, 2008 not so much. Whereas 2007 saw him play a long residency at Vegas followed later in the year with a 21 night stand in London (coupled with a string of great aftershows), in 2008 Prince played only a handful of shows and a few guest appearances. Coachella is the most well-known of these concerts, but as far as bootlegs go, it is his 21 Night book release and charity concert that generates the better bootleg. The show sees Prince triumphantly celebrating his 21 nights in London with a show that is brings a satisfying mix of new songs, covers and some old friends. It’s a balanced mix and Prince plays with a freshness that infuses the music with an inner energy – all which can be clearly heard on a great, yet underrated, bootleg.

10th October 2008, Hotel Gansevoort, New York.

The bootleg starts in the best way possible with the inspiring debut of “Colonized Mind”. It may be its live debut, but it sounds faultless on the bootleg. Prince has the balance just right, with the song sounding both thoughtful and a powerful statement at the same time. This is emphasized with with Princes solos that are all brute strength. He may pause and linger over the lyrics, letting their meaning hanging in the air, but it is when he unleashes his guitar that he is at his euphoric mind bending best.  Its hard not to be caught up in the fervor of the moment, and as I stated earlier, this is the perfect beginning to the bootleg.

It may be only an audience recording, but it is a very good one and this is highlighted with “1999” that has a freshness I don’t usually associate with performances later in Prince’s career. It’s a sweaty, frenetic rendition, the band breaking loose of their restraints to set up the party early on. The recording is fantastic, not only do Prince and the band sound great, the crowd are equally involved. But for me the best feature of the recording is Prince’s rhythm guitar which adds a vibrancy and sense of urgency.

The storm quietens for a more relaxed “I Feel For You.” It is still upbeat and fun, but not quite as frantic as the previous “1999”. With scratchy guitar and quirky keyboard, it is of its era, and the following “Controversy” reinforces this as it comes quickly after as an euphoric celebration of Princes early 80s’ sound. It is a sizzling rendition, the band tearing through the song as if it was brand new. The attack doesn’t let up with Prince engaging in some guitar foreplay that doesn’t ever reach a climax put keeps me hanging on and crying for more.

Prince is content to stay with his back catalogue, “Sexy Dancer” feeling like a natural selection to follow. The “Sexy Dancer” – “Le Freak” combination was heard many times over 21 nights in London, and the later 20TEN tour, making it feel rather overplayed to my ears. This rendition differs in that it retains its freshness and is livened up by a Frédéric Yonnet harmonica solo that adds novelty without silliness. It may not look much when reading about it on the set list, but it is another important piece of the show.

The cover of the Rolling Stones “Miss You” is always going to be a standout for me. I don’t care if Prince plays it on a a ukulele  recorded underwater and reaches me on an 8th generation tape -I wanna hear it.  In this case things couldn’t get much better for me, it is another storming version, with Prince doing a his best to channel Mink Jagger -something he does supremely well. Equally of note is the color that Frédéric Yonnet brings to the song, his harmonica grounding the song with a classic sound. However, this moment is all about Prince, with his vocals that whine and rasp through the lyrics, then his guitar playing which goes to battle with Frédéric Yonnet before the inevitable victory that sees him ending the song amidst cheers from the crowd. The song is six minutes long, but that is no where long enough for me, I could quite happy listen to it three or four times in a row. (Blame my Dad, he was a Stones man)

The mood of the concert changes immensely as Prince drapes the stage in the blues -“Satisfied” easing the crowd into a hush. With the keyboard swells coming like deep breaths, it is Frédéric Yonnet that provides the rush and impetus that moves the song forward. In fact, most of the song belongs to Frédéric, and I must admit he certainly gets the best out of instrument as he wraps me up in the sound of his harmonica.

“Beggin Woman Blues” comes straight out of the same box, the groove so slow and steady that it is barely alive. I love the humorous aspects of the song, although the music itself hardly holds my attention. In the stillness of the music Prince’s lyrics stand as an oasis, and his words wash over me as it croons some of his funniest lines. The drama comes in the final minutes as the swirls and washes of organ emerge from the groove and crash like waves until we are washed ashore at the end of the song.

It is a sleek rendition of “Purple Rain” that follows easily on, smooth and shiny, there is no jagged edge in the music at all. Even Princes emotive cry fails to bring emotion to the song, the ingredients are in place yet it fails to draw me into the music. Prince’s guitar bristles to begin with, but then fails to build to anything more than a whitewashed version of something we have heard many times before. It’s a bit much to expect “Purple Rain” to deliver every time, and this is one of the rare occasions when the song doesn’t meet expectations.

The most exciting part of the bootleg comes next as Prince plays freewheelin’  version of “A Love Bizarre”. The funk on it is immense, and nowhere more so than in the opening stanza as Prince opens the song with some raw scratch guitar. It is synth-pop masterpiece with Prince’s guitar serving as the exclamation point on each jolt of funk/pop. His takes to a finely woven solo that spreads a spider web of sound across the recording, the funky roots still visible beneath it all.

In complete contrast is “What Is Hip?”, which is stuffed full of sounds and instruments. As good as they sound they don’ have the cohesive power of the previous number. On any other recording this would be good, yet on the this recording next to “A Love Bizarre” it is a let down. Less is more, and with no sharp edge the song overwhelms me with noise, the only standout being the chant of “what is hip!”

I’m not always the biggest fan of “Stratus,” however this is one version I can get behind with its unflinching sonic weight that fills all corners of the room, leaving no space for anything else bar the dense music. Sure, there is Princes guitar work in there, but for me the keyboards sit at the heart of the matter, with a heavy handed sense of drama that drags the music into murky waters.

It is “Cream” that has to follow this sonic tornado, and it is a light breeze in comparison. It is “U Got The Look” that brings a heavy crunch back into the show, as Prince excels at turning his guitar into a battering ramp, striking the audience again and again with heavy blows from his instrument. It is a short yet intense performance, and one that rings in my head for several minutes afterwards.

I want to like “Angel,” I really do. But in this case I can’t find it in me to like it. The vocals are good, the recording is fine, and the band play well. I guess I just have to face facts and say this type of music just isn’t me. Don’t let that discourage you, its a nice moment on the bootleg and there is plenty to enjoy if this is the type of thing you like.

The concert ends on a high with Prince giving a worthy rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” He is not the star of the moment though, the highlight comes with a typical Morris Hayes solo that carries a powerful undercurrent to the feeling Prince is singing about. It may not put an exclamation point on the concert, but it is a strong finish.

This is a great bootleg. The show is short yet punchy, and there are many songs here that shine brighter than they normally would in a longer show. I don’t always give credit to concerts from this point of Prince’s career, but this is one I can definitely recommend. There is a the aftershow from the same night on the bootleg, and I will cover that next week. If it’s even half as good as this, I am in for a real treat.

Thanks again
Hamish

Baltimore

Prince followed up his Dance Rally 4 Peace concert at Paisley Park with a much larger concert at Baltimore a week later. The first hour of this concert was live streamed, making for a nice bootleg, and the Confusion/Akashic release rounds out the concert with an audience recording. The concert is much longer than the Paisley park show and features Prince’s new song at the time, “Baltimore”, which was recorded only 10 days previously. This concert is a great example of Princes altruism and the concert itself looks like a great bootleg. Anyone familiar with the design work of The Rev would recognize the cover as his style, and that is usually a good indication of the quality of the show within.

10th may 2015, Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore

It is not Prince that is first heard, rather Hannah introduces the concert with a brief speech welcoming the crowd. As someone who only listens exclusively to bootlegs, I had to smile as she asked the audience to not use recording devices and to turn their phones off. The band don’t start immediately, there is first the small matter of the DAT intro. The intro of “1999” in there is no surprise, but what captures my attention, and I hope others that listen, is the “Million Dollar Show” chorus. It is far from classic Prince but it does provide a hyped up intro to the concert and the lyrics do lay out what Prince is trying to achieve.

“Lets Go Crazy” comes with a crushing weight that almost sinks it. It’s true that you can have too much of a good thing and in this case the ponderous guitar lines fail to elevate the song to anything. The band shadowbox with it, and while it looks threatening enough the truth is it is just a pale imitation of it’s former self. Maybe it would help if the band turned it up to eleven.

Sonically “Take Me With U” is miles above “Let’s Go Crazy” and some levity is added to the gig after the sober opening. There is some backbone added to the song as Prince’s guitar snorts and snarls underneath the lighter keyboard riff. “Raspberry Beret” offers no surprises as it comes hard on its heels, it has the same pop tone and now I have heard this pairing enough that I have overcome my snobbishness with this predictable pair. Crowd pleasing and fun, it is what it is, there will be other occasions later in this show for bootleg purists to celebrate.

The first of those moments come with Prince’s song of the moment “Baltimore”. It presents and interesting dichotomy, Prince presenting a protest song in the Trojan horse of a pop song. It creates a tension within me that I never resolve, I love the pop song and I equally love the lyrics. But when I put the two together it leaves me uneasy, both are diluted by being paired with the other and the song loses its power. It this performance Prince leans on the message, taking time to address the crowd with his plea for peace. It swings back to the message of the lyrics and this marks it out from the album version. A rarely played song, this is the main attraction of the bootleg for collectors.

There is whoops of delight from the crowd for “U Got The Look”, but that energy and excitement doesn’t carry across the recording. Prince and the band tick all the boxes, the song is tight but lacks the element of danger that makes live performances so electrifying. I hate to say it, but I am almost glad as it quickly passes for I know whats coming next.

What comes next is a suite of songs that harks back to Prince’s setlists of the early 2000’s. The plaintive guitar cries out the introduction of “The Question Of U” before Prince settles on “The One”. It is a masterful performance that could have been lifted straight from the ONA tour, Prince’s vocals and guitar painting a mournful wash of sound to carry the heart-rending lyrics. Prince builds the intensity with his guitar, drawing more and more emotion from his instrument in an titanic solo that screams and weeps in equal measure. Muddy Water’s “Electric Man” lyrics make an appearance, drawing calls from the crowd of “plug me in!” that bring the recording alive. Princes guitar meanders at this point, before Prince points it in a new direction and plays out the song with waves of heartbreak coming from his axe. Along with “Baltimore”, this stands as the best moment on the bootleg.

Prince has the audacity to follow this with a sprightly “Controversy” that replaces emotion with fun. The horns add plenty of sass, and the song skips easily along until it becomes bogged down in Prince’s chants. I forgive this though as Marcus amply compensates with a horn solo that flies far above all else that is heard in the song.

Equally horny is “1999”. It is almost Vegas like, the original synth stabs buried under the incessant horns. It’s too polished for my tastes, the charm of the album version lost with the larger band and added pieces.

“Little Red Corvette” is from the same era and also gets a modern update. In this case it works much better as Prince takes it from its mournful opening to a breezy chorus before again lowering the tone with his guitar cry. It’s not as thrilling as the first time I heard this arrangement, but it still stands up to repeated listens.

Prince heads for the heart again with “Nothing Compares 2 U”. It gets a thumbs up from me, the keyboards sounding “Strawberry Fields” like as they sway in the wind behind Prince’s vocals. The song stands on firmer ground as the full band joins, yet is still Prince’s vocals that stand out front. The music is delicate, until Donna unleashes a forceful solo that emphasizes the lyrics. It’s an interesting development and keeps me interested in a song that I have become overly familiar with over the years.

The sampler sets begins with a version of “When Doves Cry” that runs a couple of minutes. It’s longer enough for the crowd to be drawn into singing it, and although not as captivating as it was in the 80s’, it is still a important part of the setlist.

The set accelerates as “Nasty Girl” teases before “Sign O’ The Times” takes centre stage. This seems like a song tailor made for a show such as this, yet Prince doesn’t take too long to dwell on the message of the song, instead letting the crowd chant before he runs through a couple of verses.

A lot of songs come in pairs through this concert. “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” came as one two punch from the 1999 album, and now Prince repeats the trick with “Sign O’Times” and “Hot Thing” coming together from the Sign O’ The Times album. “Hot Thing” is particularly rewarding, Prince adds plenty to the mix and a scratchy, itchy, keyboard break gives it just enough grit to gain traction with even the most jaded listener.

The bootleg changes at this point as we switch from the soundboard recording to an audience recording. Its not too much of a jump, the audience recording has Prince’s vocals sounding slightly far, but the music is well recorded with obviously more bass present. “I Would Die 4 U” is the first song heard like this, and it is a bright start with the keyboard riff and drum shimmer sounding close to the recorded version.

“I wanna play some more but I run out hits” has Prince playing with the crowd before Doug E. Fresh joins him for a run through of “Kiss”. I don’t have an opinion on Doug E. Fresh, although I would rather have heard a version of “Kiss” without him. He raps his way over the guitar and keyboard hook, without the Princes normal vocals it becomes something different, and less enjoyable. That changes as Prince comes to the mic mid-song, unfortunately by this time I have already run out of patience and am thinking of the next song.

Prince plays instrumental snippets of a few of his songs (“Darling Nikki”, “Pop Life”, “If I Was Your Girlfriend”) before he settles on the enduring “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore”. This song has a remarkable shelf life and is one of the few songs that have traveled with Prince for the bulk of his career.  From its first appearances in the early 80s’ through to his final Piano and Microphone shows of 2016, “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” has appeared on a number of tours and shows. This version here doesn’t add anything new to that catalogue of great recordings but it is comforting to see a familiar friend in the setlist.

Comfort is the name of the game for the next couple of songs as Prince cuts to his work in the piano set with firstly “Diamonds And Pearls” and then “The Beautiful Ones”. “Diamonds and Pearls” is little more than a ramp up to “The Beautiful Ones” which still stands as one of his greatest ballads. It is evidently much loved by the audience, they are audibly singing with Prince, adding to the intimate feel of the song rather than detracting from it.

The following “Do Me, Baby” out does it as far as raw emotion and participation. It catches me just right, and I feel heart strings being pulled as Prince plays and sings. On the foundation of the audiences vocals Prince pulls the song higher and higher, eventually climaxing in a couple of screams before the piano trickles away the final emotions.

There is plenty of time to digest “Forever In My Life”. It has a deliciously long instrumental opening that ushers in the singing of “When Will We B Paid?”. It should be a ‘moment’, but it doesn’t live up to expectation. The audience do chant, but the main vocals aren’t as forceful as I would have liked, the emotion of the song replaced with a cheap call and response. The song doesn’t have enough time to appear through the mist and Prince rushes to an unsatisfying sing-a-long.

There is a cameo appearance of “Alphabet St.” before Judith Hill provides a rendition of her song “As Trains Go By”. It sounds timeless, yet undemanding, with the horns and band providing the main impetus. It swings easy enough, but my feeling is it isn’t really going for, instead revolving in circles around the horn lines.

It is Estelle that sings the first verse of “Purple Rain’ and although she sings beautifully, the songs sounds mechanical and distant. That changes as Prince comes onboard, the song lifting immensely on the back of his vocals. I’m a little jaded when it comes to “Purple rain”, yet I do appreciate what it brings to the concert and a student of classic rock I always appreciate the guitar break that punctuates the song. In this case it is cut short to make way for a Prince speech, but the sentiment he expresses is spot on and the song serves his message well. The final “ooohhh ooohh ooohhh” are worth the wait and the release of emotion and tension is palpable.

 

The bass line of “Cool” is excellent, although sadly a little lacking on the recording. There is plenty going on through the song, especially as they begin to sing “Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough”, but the bootleg doesn’t do it justice, it is very two dimensional sounding and it is down to my imagination to round out the sound and bring the bass further forward. This is a good performance in search of a good recording to match it.

Hopes are high as the bass jam begins, although I am soon disappointed by the thin recording that leaves Prince’s bass sounding like a rubber band. It is short lived, “Mountains” coming quickly after with the recording still sounding two dimensional. “Mountains” is another song that has plenty of layers to unpick, although there is very little to be be unpicked here as this is a beige version of a song that should be technicolor.

All my thoughts in regards to the quality of the recording are put to one side as Prince and the band tear through and incendiary “The Dance Electric”. The band are cold killers throughout as they play without mercy, the fire of Prince’s guitar empathizing the point as he plays a murderous solo. There is no escape as they nail the groove to the floor, giving Prince the freedom to play with furious anger. This is a great way to finish the show, there is no place to go from here and it is only fitting that it is the final song of the night.

Although it couldn’t be considered a classic bootleg, I still found this concert enjoyable enough. The highlight for me was the performance of “Baltimore”, a light pop song that carries a heavier message. Understandably, the first half of the show was much more enjoyable, purely down to be a soundboard recording, but the second half of the recording was serviceable and didn’t detract too much from the enjoyment. It is a fairly typical 3rdeyegirl set, but they do what they do well and the bootleg is lively. Combined with the message that Prince is getting across, this bootleg nicely captures Prince’s position in 2015 both musically and politically.

Dance Rally 4 Peace

Since Prince has passed away many people have come forward with examples of his secret philanthropy. He was active for a long time behind the scenes giving to various causes and helping those in need. Not all his philanthropy was secret though, and there are examples where he quite publicly put his name and efforts behind a cause.His Baltimore concert for Freddie Gray is a fine example of Prince giving to the community. He was always socially conscious and in the case of Freddie Gray Prince put all his efforts into creating a dialogue and understanding. We have the Baltimore charity show, the song “Baltimore” and closer to home Prince had his ‘dance rally 4 peace’ – where attendees were asked to wear something gray. I plan on writing about the Baltimore concert soon, but first I want to start with this ‘dance rally 4 peace’. Although it was available as a stream on the Prince3EG soundcloud, I still consider it a bootleg. A few bootleg labels have put it out, and if they consider it fair game then so do I. The set that Prince plays is only short, even more so on the edited version that was put online. It is still a great listen, and the shorter concert makes Princes message more to the point. This is no sprawling concert, it is short and sweet with the main emphasis on the message.

3rd May 2015 (a.m.) Paisley Park

The title “Chaos And Disorder” gives some sense to the feeling in the streets, but the performance itself is anything but, it is orderly and highly polished. With the swish of the guitars sweeping back and forth behind him, Prince is stillness at the centre that draws all the attention. The guitars bay to be let loose, but the band keep it all on a tight leash, making for a performance that has its own tension within the song. That tension is released as Prince finally gives in to his rock impulses and plays an ascending solo that hints at anger without ever becoming pure rage.

It is a Hendrixesque “Dreamer” that brings further poignancy to the rally. The lyrics lay out Princes message early on before the whine of his guitar brings anguish and pain to the music. Prince starts with a few deft touches, then adds flesh to the music as he builds upon his foundation. The music folds back under him later, and the second part of the song becomes a mood piece with keyboards replacing the angry howl of the guitar with their soft weeping. It not as cohesive as one might expect and the song does lose its impact as it becomes inconstant. As much as I like the music, it was a better moment and suited the concert theme when it came as an angry punch in the opening minutes.

The sharpness returns to the show with a blazing version of “Guitar”. It is light, yet the guitar attack brings a sense of urgency to the concert. Donna matches Prince for guitar heroics, her guitar coming as a stronger voice as the song progresses. It becomes a twin guitar attack in the final minute, the best moment of the song as they cross swords and trade riffs.

Donna is equally to the fore with “Plectrumelectrum”. It has the all the ingredients for a song I might like, but I have never been able to warm to it. This version is an exception as it has a sternness about it that I haven’t heard before. While the main riff spins and revolves without going anywhere, it is the guitar breaks that see the song move across the rock landscape with enough heaviness to keep most guitar aficionados satisfied.

For me, the highlight of this short set comes with “The Whole Of The Moon”. It may not be the version you remember from The Waterboys, but it is just as exhilarating as Prince bends the song to his style and strengths. Song writer Mike Scott has explicitly said that the song was not written about Prince, but the rumor persists with the lyrics sketching out a figure who could well be Prince. Lyrics such as “I pictured a rainbow, you held it in your hands, I had flashes, but you saw the plan, I wandered out in the world for years, while you just stayed in your room,I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the moon”, speak of a Prince type figure, someone who operates in another time in place, dedicated to his own private world. Prince takes these lyrics and adds to the myth by neatly reversing the subject, the I of the song becoming the you and vice versa. Thus the opening couplet becomes “You pictured a rainbow, I held it in your hands, you had flashes, but I saw the plan”. It makes him the subject of the song in an instant, and although it may be viewed as egotistical, it certainly personalizes the song. What brings the song into Princes stable though isn’t the lyrics, it’s the wonderful popping and snapping bass that he furnishes the song with. Prince can be heard playing bass on plenty of bootlegs, but trust me, this is one of the best. It is the driving force of the song as it shakes beneath the music, an earthquake shake that forces you out of your comfort zone as it pops and cracks, the bass rising out of the bottom of the song as cracks across the soundscape. The song title may belong to The Waterboys, but the bass and shake is pure Prince, reminiscent of “Days Of Wild” at it’s funkiest.

The bootleg ends at this point as Prince thanks the crowd and the DJ takes over. Although short, this bootleg is just as good as any two or three hour show that Prince has played. It is a rock show, but the final bass playing by Prince provides more than enough funk for those that like it like that. This is one bootleg that I can see myself coming back to again and again, often shows are too long for me to enjoy in a single sitting, whereas this bootleg could neatly cover a car ride. The show is perfectly paced, its professionally recorded, the music is sensational, whats not to like about it? The only negative would be when we consider that it is edited down, missing about 10 minutes worth. “Crimson and Clover” is missing and “The Whole Of The Moon” is edited, but what we are left with is extremely satisfying. This might just be the perfect show to convert your non Prince fans with.

See you next time
Hamish

Brisbane 2012

The Welcome 2 Australia concerts are normally a run though of the hits, yet these there is several special moments in the tour that make the circulating bootlegs interesting. The guest appearance of Public Enemy is one such moment, as are a couple of excellent aftersows currently circulating.  I have already written about the aftershow played on the same night as this concert, and I have it on good authority that the main show was just as good as the aftershow. A quick run through of the setlist confirms this, I see Empty Room and Extralovable there, two songs that I need to hear. The recording is an audience recording, but Eye records have put together a complete package with the soundcheck, main show, and aftershow all presented together, something that I greatly appreciate. The completest in me is more than happy with the quality of recording when it comes all together like this.

18th January 2012, Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane

The concert has a somewhat unusual beginning with Andy McKee playing an acoustic rendition of “Purple Rain”. It doesn’t feel like the beginning of the Prince concert, the crowd is quite chatty through his performance – although I do find their singing along with guitar endearing. It is an odd way to open and when Prince takes the stage there is further surprises with his first number being “Jam Of The Year”. Its one thing to read it on the liner notes, quiet another to hear it, and I must admit I get a lot of pleasure from this version. The band plays it with a lighter touch than what was heard on The Jam Of The Year concerts, and there is a buoyant sound provided by the keyboard and horns. The dreariness of the late ’90s is all but forgotten with this luminescent performance.

It is disappointing that the next few minutes can’t match these opening songs for interest. “$” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” are lighthearted, but instantly forgettable. Even listening to the bootleg, there is the feeling that we are being short changed and Prince has so much more that he could had offered up instead.

“Let’s Go Crazy” is one of the over played hits that the more hardcore fan rail against, but in this case it serves its purpose in igniting the crowd and the concert. Prince’s guitar has an ominous tone through the introduction that hints at darkness, but once the song starts the curtain opens on a music that is filled with warmth and pop fizz. Even if the song is played straight, the crowd can still be heard rising to the occasion, and shorn of its final guitar break it becomes an altogether more danceable number.

Dance is the theme of the moment and “Delirious” is in the same vein. It is a lot of fun, the music skips by in a hurry, barely pausing, and it is only the solo by Mr Hayes that makes it something substantial. This keyboard runs from a flowery opening to a percussive finish, leaving little doubt to the abilities of Mr Hayes.

The reprise of “Let’s Go Crazy” see’s Prince return to the guitar, and this time the sheering guitar finish is present and firmly sets the tone for the next few songs.

With the energy levels remaining high, the band storm through “1999”. They show no regard for the history of the song, everyone is the moment and the performance brings it firmly into the present. It is far more organic sounding, and the band inject it with their own life, giving it a contemporary feel that carries the song well across to the crowd.

What can I say about “Shhh” that hasn’t been said before. Prince and the band play every song at the concert well, but “Shhh” is the song that they truly inhibit and the performance that follows is the most soulful part of the show. The first versus crackle and fizz with unresolved tension before the song boils over with a a volcanic solo from Prince. It begins with the dense haze of an ash cloud, before Prince turns it up to a eruption of boiling lava, every note coming as part of an unending fiery river.

The guitar doesn’t let up as Prince plays a hard and heavy “Anotherloverholenyohead”. It certainly is a heavy hitter, and Prince comes out punching from the start with several strong jabs from his guitar. The rest of the song lives up to these opening moments, and although not as soulful as “Shhh”, it is every bit as intense. Of special note is Prince’s solo midsong, although not the best recording we can still hear the intensity of the moment. The “Rock Lobster” coda he ends with is right up my alley, this is exactly the type of music I gravitated to before I discovered Prince and the several minutes he spends shredding through the song has me feeling like a teenager.

As if the last three songs haven’t been guitar heaven enough, Prince chooses to finish with one of his show stoppers – “Empty Room”. This is the moment I have been waiting for and the reason that my friend Marti recommended this concert to me. It lives up to the occasion, and even with some audible crowd noise I am still transported away on the wings of Prince’s soaring guitar. The verses lose some power due to the audience chat, no doubt this song isn’t familiar to the casual fans, but every other part of the song is divine and I am immediately grateful for the recommendation.

The sampler set that follows is a buzz kill, although it begins well with an ever youthful “When Doves Cry”. Even as part of the sampler set it’s hard not to like it, the beat and main hook as irresistible as ever.

The funk gets stronger with a brief “Nasty Girl” serving as a doorstep into “Sign O The Times”. The latter has an insistent bass that nails it firmly to the dance floor and propels the concert forward.  Prince follows this with two more songs from the same album, “Hot Thing” and “Forever In My Life” may come from different ends of the spectrum, but they are both forever tied together by the ground breaking album they first appeared on. Hearing them side by side heightens the contrast between them, leaving the fact that they are from the same album all the more amazing.

“A Love Bizarre” and “Darlin Nikki” are merely tasters before we have something more nourishing in the form of “Pop Life”. It does indeed have that pop, but it isn’t as filling as it promises and Prince ends it at the first chorus.

There comes another flurry of songs with “Housequake”, “Extralovable” and “Pheromone”. The titles promise so much, but it is false hope as Prince skips through them. I am particularly disappointed with “Extralovable”, when I saw it listed I was really hoping for something substantial, but I can’t say I’m too surprised to see it treated like this in the sampler set.

This set ends with “Dance For Me” as Prince calls the band back on stage. Its little more than a pounding beat and a chance for the band to rejoin the fray.

The “I like funky music” chant has the band introduced by Prince, and in this case it is Ida who is the highlight, she may not be loud and forceful, but she is undeniably funky. The rest of the band follow her lead, and although Prince doesn’t sing the song is one of the funkiest of the evening.

“Take Me With U” is light, even by its own standards, and it is merely a piece of fluff on this recording. Raspberry Beret is equally pop, but more rewarding as it runs substantially longer and features Prince singing “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC (now there’s something I never thought I’d write). It is only the chant that features at the beginning, but it does make for an arresting moment.

An unsophisticated  “Cream” follows and although the crowd love it, it is hardly essential. The keyboard wheeze of Morris Hayes is great, but it is submerged beneath the bright and breezy band, dissipating any backbone he may bring to the song.

Morris Hayes underpins all that is great about “Cool” and “Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough”, it is his keyboard swells that lifts the song and carries it forward. It is equally a chance for the singers to have their moment, and Shelby, Liv and Elise are just as essential to the song as Prince. After the sampler set this comes as a reward, a six minute rendition that reignites the party.

Prince returns to the keyboard, this time for a piano set,and this part of the gig shines as for the next few minutes he plays delicate renditions of some of his finest ballads. The opening minute of “Purple Rain” is every fanboy’s dream, but “Diamonds And Pearls” is even better as Prince begins to sing. Both these songs are heavily abridged, and it is only as he tackles “The Beautiful Ones” that the crowd are treated to something special. The piano is more colourful, the singing slower and less intense, yet the song is just as riveting as it is on record.

“How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” struts across the stage, all swagger and spit as Prince brings a bold attitude to the performance. A song that we have heard countless times, this rendition holds my attention through the entire song and is a healthy update of a classic. It is one of the key songs of the concert, which is surprising for a 30 year old B-side.

The piano continues with a flourish and sparkle as the opening of “Purple Rain” is heard. It is played as the epic power ballad it is, the crowd singing their piece from the opening moments while the keyboards drape ever morphing chords over it, letting the song build slowly into its true form. This is my “Purple Rain”, nothing is rushed and Prince pulls every strand of emotion from the song as he talks to the crowd, plays an emotive guitar break, and generally turns it into an unforgettable event. All this emotional energy is finally released with his guitar solo which is heart breaking and life affirming at the same time. I don’t know about the crowd at the arena, but I feel drained by the end of it.

There is a chance to recover with an easy listening “Everyday People” ushering in the encore. There’s nothing too demanding to be heard and it slides by easily, which is just as well as the following “The Dance Electric” lives up to it’s name and is electrifying. It takes a minute to warm up, but once the band starts cooking it becomes one of the hottest songs of the concert. I would have liked to hear more of Prince’s vocals, but the groove and the guitar that flickers and flames beneath it is more than enough to satisfy, making this the standout performance of the night, and of this bootleg.

“Kiss” is a song without a centre. All the components are in place, but it remains unfocused and passes by in a hazy blur. It is the final song of the evening but it doesn’t put an exclamation mark on the performance and is a wholly unsatisfying end to what has been a very good show.

I am very quick to dismiss concerts from 2004-2012 as nothing more than greatest hits shows, yet time and time again I find that they offer something for even the most hardened fan. They aren’t as good as the aftershows of this period, but they do offer something for everyone. This concert didn’t immediately grab me when I first saw it, but I was drawn in by the quality of the performance, and there was just enough in the setlist to appeal to my jaded ears. Not a show I would immediately gravitate to, but I appreciate the recommendation and found it worth the time to take a close listen to.

-Hamish

Postscript:
I believe this was screened at Paisley Park in December 2016. If the estate ever consider releasing it officially I would certainly be ready to part with my money for a nice proshot of this show. No doubt there are plenty more in the vault of similar quality in the vault, my mouth waters at the prospect that one day some of these will be seen by the general public.