Writing each week about these recordings, I find myself using the same words again and again “favorite” “best version” “love this”. I try to avoid it, but the point of being a fan is that I am passionate about it, and there are many ‘favorites’ and ‘best versions’ Today I will be using these words a lot. I apologize in advance, but when I started listening to this one I just found that song after song I was thinking, “Man, this is the best ever”. I myself very rarely namedrop this as a favorite recording, but I think in future I should. The parade warm up show from First Avenue is widely circulating in both DVD and CD. I have seen people talk passionately of it, but it doesn’t seem to get the same coverage as say Small Club, or For Those Of You On Valium. It deserves to rank up there with the best, and I only hope that my words today can do the show justice.
3 March 1986, First Avenue, Minneapolis
“We only been rehearsing about a week, so we a little rusty” Prince informs the crowd as the show starts “But here goes”. Immediately the sound of Around the World In a Day can be heard, and Prince starts the gig with an “Aawwwhhh” as he does so many times. Around the World In a Day is one of those songs that have seemed to fallen through the cracks. It’s an interesting song, but never seems to quite fit with anything else he has done before or since. The first half of the song is delicate, but the second half the lights come up and Prince and the band run through some fairly solid dance moves. Its bit of a novelty song for me, so I enjoy the performance here.
A shout, and the band switch to Christopher Tracey’s Parade. A fun song, the audience and I start to relax more. The mood is pretty light throughout, and Prince ad-libs a nice little line in the middle with “Jimmy Jam, I don’t to hear this on your record”! The extended Revolution shows off the new members, especially the horns are much more prominent. The song ends with Prince moving to the keyboards and jamming for half a minute. Oh, if only it was longer.
There is no rest as they immediately segue into New Position. My thoughts are already how well these three songs all work together. It’s a nice energy to all three of them, and they all demonstrate his nice clean sound at this stage. For a band that has supposedly only been rehearsing for a week, they all sound tight to me. One can only guess that the week involved some very long days.
I Wonder U slows us all down, and takes us somewhere different again. What a great mix of styles he had at the time. They play slight faster than I normally hear on record, and it takes a couple of lines perform Wendy’s voice warms up and gets stronger.
Another nice moment is between songs when Prince says “oh, I like you guys already”. Again he explains they have only been rehearsing a week, and may be rusty. No fear of that, I assure you, it’s all sounding great so far.
Next up is the first of many highlights for me, when Prince pulls out his guitar and delivers up a rarely heard live version of Paisley Park. A favorite of mine on record, live its something better again. I can’t explain what it is about this version that I enjoy, maybe the rawness of his voice, and the guitar. There is a lyric ad-lib as well, which only adds to the loose live feel of it. Prince is playing with a big smile, I am sure this comes across in the audio recording. Price plays a nice guitar break near the end, buts it’s the sound of all the instruments working together that I really enjoy. And in a very nice moment Prince plays the finger cymbals as the song has its long fade out. The fade out goes for quite a while, and Prince gets up close and personal with some of the audience. I really do love gigs like this when he is totally relaxed.
Alex de Paris is next, but sadly it’s just a mistake, with only Wendy playing. Obviously she has misread the set list. Prince covers with an “oh man, you let someone new in the band and they wanna solo”, which seems like a strange comment considering Wendy had been in the band for almost 3 years by this stage.
A little bit of pop music next as they play Raspberry beret. Usually a crowd sing-along song this version is refreshing in that Prince himself sings most of it rather than leaving the crowd to sing it. Energy levels are high, with some choreographed dancing by Prince, as well as just some joyful jumping around. There is some excellent face pulling by Prince at the crowd, then some humorous banter between Prince and Jerome- mostly about wiener size. (Seriously!) There is a final flourish by the band, the finally Wendy gets her moment with Alex De Paris.
It’s worth the wait, she takes centre stage and plays a great version. Although her body language doesn’t show it, she speaks through her music and it sounds quite impassioned. Again, another gem that should be heard more often. She stalks back and forth across the stage, and I must admit I watch pretty enrapt as she plays. The Revolution certainly was a great band.
The pounding beginning of Controversy never fails to excite me, especially when that killer guitar enters, this time backed by the horn section. The balance is just right here, with the funk of the original still intact and the horns not overwhelming it. Prince himself doesn’t play guitar on it here, content with dancing and singing, and the energy seems to pore out of him during this performance.
“Get up!”, oh yes, this is my moment as Mutiny begins. I have said it before and I will say it again, this is my favorite part of any Parade show. Prince dances across the stage back by the dancers, and then hits us for a few lines. There are many elements to this that I love- his dancing, Eric Leeds playing, the funky guitar line, the driving beat, and the lyrics. There is a breakdown mid song, I think it sounds good, but somebody has missed a cue- Prince calls “breakdown, then I told you we were rusty.” Eric Leeds sax solo is a absolute joy, especially while Prince and the back up singers have fun with chanting “Paul, punk of the month” Prince teases me even further by singing ‘ this is what its like in the dream factory”. This performance is stellar, so much happening in it, and its all played with passion and fire. Prince clearly enjoys this song a lot at this stage, and it gets played to maximum impact.
I am very surprised to hear Soft and Wet next, although given the variety and quantity of music Prince has recorded anything could be heard at any time. This one isn’t so choreographed as some of the other songs, and at stages Prince looks like his younger self, just playing his music and moving how he feels to it. Fink plays a nice solo, and it feels straight out of 78 again. It’s a real contrast to the previous 40 minutes of music.
There is further nostalgia when he follows up by playing I Wanna Be Your Lover. It feels so simple after some of the more complex music he had been working on at the time, but doesn’t lessen the enjoyment level in the slightest. It’s always going to be one of his catchiest songs, and an essential part to his legend. The song segues in to its funky second half and Prince tell the crowd “We gonna play everything we know tonight” There is a party atmosphere, and I find myself typing faster and faster as I listen to it. The crowd is clapping and singing and I find it hard to not get caught up in it all myself. Wendy gets a couple of guitar breaks, and the tone of her guitar sounds nice and sharp.
Of course it moves easily into Head, very seamless. I would say that this sound of Prince is the sound that made me a fan, and probably introduced me into the world of funk. I should mention Brown Mark at this stage, his playing here is what I am listening to most throughout this song. The horns here really strengthen and fill out the sound. The keyboards are very much still the basis of the song, and this is highlighted by the solo that Dr Fink plays. Never boring, he delivers every time I hear this song. Prince says “don’t play no keyboard unless you do that” and I know exactly what he means. Dr Fink puts everything into it, and it’s a lot of fun to watch him bobbing and jerking behind the keyboard. Things take a dark turn after this as it slides into a long dark groove. There is plenty of Prince interplay with the dancers, as he moves through some of his more corny dance moves (Oak tree or wooden leg anyone?) It’s hard to dislike any of it, as the music is so strong and carries it.
There is some very funny interplay from Prince and the band between songs, difficult to transcribe here, but actually very insightful to the band dynamics.
A keyboard is placed centre stage and Prince plays a nice rendition of Under The Cherry Moon. I am shaking my head at this stage, difficult to believe that just a minute ago we were getting funked up to Head. Prince plays the song, but there seems to be a lot of audience talk throughout on the recording, so I am wondering how well it’s going across with the crowd. However, 30 years later I think it’s great.
Pop Life, not only one of my favorites on record, but also a live favorite, here it gets a full treatment. A very well titled song, its just oozes pop, with just a touch funk underneath it all to satisfy most fans. Not many songs have a flute solo, but this one does, and some how Eric Leeds still manages to look cool as ever as he plays it. The bass playing on this is excellent, I just wish there was more of it. The song has a long breakdown, with the male dancers singing Pop Life over and over while Prince breaks into some dancing. Doesn’t sound wonderful, but it is enjoyable. Especially when Prince tells the audience “we got plenty of time”
Eric Leeds gets further praise from me, as the next song is Girls and Boys. The band is well and truly in the groove now, and the audience is right behind them. This version is tight, my only quibble is the guitar isn’t in the mix as much as other recordings I have heard. On the plus side, Princes singing is very strong here, and he does encourage the crowd to party throughout. The latter part of the song finds me with a big smile on my face. The band is definitely heating up, and the song starts to take off as it goes along. Again Prince prowls back and forth across the stage, plenty of audience interaction, and ad-libs, everyone has their hands in the air by now, and you know he owns them. Normally I dislike it when Prince tells me how funky he is, but here he is definitely preaching to the converted, this song is funky as hell. Just when I think it can’t get any better Prince whips off his top, engages in some dancing, then moves to the organ and begins to jam. By now my greatest wish is that one day he will go back, pull a clean copy of this video from his vault and release it. The song lasts for a good nine minutes, never repeats itself, showcases all his styles and talents, and I am breathless by the time it finishes.
There is no let up as we get Life Can Be So Nice right on top of it. I don’t know where Prince gets his energy from, I feel tired just listening to it. Not just the energy of the song itself, but also all the stage antics and performance. If anyone ever doubts he’s the greatest ever, just show them this. The show to this point has been truly sublime. The song ends with the band leaving stage one by one, leaving just Bobby Z and Eric Leeds playing. It lasts like this for a minute, until even those two leave.
The show to this point has been outstanding, but it’s about to get even better. The next song is undoubtedly the most over played of Princes career. When I look at my Prince recordings I have 100’s of versions of Purple Rain. No matter how good the song is, the fact is I have heard it too many times, and I will quite happily skip it on most recordings. The version here is the exception to that. The arrangement played at this gig is unlike any other I have heard, and it is my favorite recording of Princes most famous song.
Purple Rain begins with the simple guitar signature that we are all so familiar with, and the steady beat. But where it really takes off for me is when Eric Leeds starts playing saxophone all over the intro. Some people may feel that it shouldn’t be messed with, but for me it adds a whole new element, and in no way at all detracts from the song. It’s another layer to it, and it’s a very welcome for me. His playing gets more passionate and feeling as it goes, and it adds another emotional layer to the song. I don’t know how many times it was played like this, but I would love to hear more recordings of this arrangement.
Princes asks “Can I play just a little bit” and he himself adds a beautiful little run on the guitar. Although only 30 seconds, I find myself moved by it, there is a lot of feeling hanging on those few notes.
By the time he begins singing at the five minute mark I have already had my moneys worth, and already this is my favorite performance at this gig. Prince sings the verses the same as we have heard so many times, that’s not to say they are bad, but after the first five minutes I am already floored, nothing else can elevate this song more. The Prince solo is just as good as any other I have heard, and it deviates just enough to keep me interested. Actually, it gets better and better and by the end of it I find myself just sitting there nodding, much like Billy in the Purple Rain movie. This is MY Purple Rain.
It’s bit of a let down when they follow up with Whole Lotta Shakin. But to it’s credit, it is short, and energetic. Both the piano and horns get moments to shine, and it does lift the audience after Purple Rain. Hard to imagine anything to follow that, so this seems like not a bad choice!
Another personal favorite next when the long deep sounds of Eric Leeds sax introduces Anotherloverholenyohead. Prince immediately starts to gee up he crowd, but if they are anything like me, there is really no need. Again it’s hard to believe that this is a new song for the band. They seem to have it down pretty good, and it’s another high point in a gig full of high points. Wendy and Suzanne share a mic for the backing vocals, and Eric and Atlanta deliver up a couple of nice little runs. The song quickly turns to a jam with the band playing on while the singers sing “You need another lover, like you need a hole in yo head” Its songs like this that I enjoy most, the horns playing over the top of a long groove. Prince seems in a playful mood, bouncing around the stage and just moving to the music.
The songs keep on coming, next we have Mountains. Again it’s lively, with Prince doing plenty of dancing. Early in his career he wasn’t much of a dancer, but by this stage he has got it done, and he is excellent in this song, and indeed in every song. The horns sound nice and sharp in this one, and there is a brief moment for Wendy and Miko to play. Wendy is upfront and prominent for most of the gig, while Miko is fairly anonymous at the back in the shadows. It’s a shame, because his funk playing is excellent. There is a nice long fade out, and I can hear his playing a little better. Prince ends the song with finger cymbals, I can’t help but smile when I see him play them.
Another favorite of mine from this era follows, with a shout of “A, B, A, B, C, D!!” A Love Bizarre almost has me leaping from my seat. It’s astonishing how much great music he was writing at this stage, not only for himself but for everyone. Love Bizarre is a classic, and the performance here is brilliant, not just the audio, but also the onstage show. Prince again is all over the stage, dancing and singing. The band doesn’t miss a single note, and the club is partying. Eric solo begins with Prince exclaiming “Eric Leeds, look at his suit!” The whole band is bouncing as Eric plays, and it sends my pulse racing. But the best is yet to come, as Prince plays some mean guitar next. He plays a nice minute on Love Bizarre, but then continues playing as they move to the main riff of America.
It’s a shame there isn’t more performances of this song out there. I love the video performance of America recorded in Paris, and the America played at this gig is also outstanding. The Revolution play the hell out of it, and Prince demonstrates that he hasn’t forgotten how to play guitar. This song is so sharp and tight, the band very cohesive and play furiously. Listening to it, I wish he still played it today, but to be honest, I really think its The Revolution that elevates this song. Every member gets a moment, and the pace of it is just relentless. Prince puts down the guitar and dances hard as the band march on. It’s about now that it turns into the jam as you knew it would. With Prince leading the dancing he also demonstrates his band leader skills, and leads the band through several changes. Prince sings bits and pieces of several songs, but never for a moment does the groove let up. Prince further demonstrates his many talents by taking a turn at the drums later in the song. I am doing it an injustice here, this is one of those ones you have to hear, or see. It’s really something.
There is a brief interlude, where Prince promises that he will come back and build a club house and they can do this everyday. It’s a nice thought, and I am reminded of his song uptown. With a call of “who’s house -Prince house” the band begin the final song of the night, Kiss. It feels light, after some of the songs we have heard previously, but it’s very enjoyable. I especially enjoy the last portion, after the verses have finished and it just moves to funky guitar and a beat. There is some more of Prince dancing with his ‘Wooden Leg’ (That didn’t really catch on, did it?) while the band and audience stick with him. There is a final chorus and the show ends.
I have many thoughts about this one. It contains many of my favorite songs, and favorite performances, yet it’s not often played by me. After listening to it the last few days, this would be number one on my wish list for a better soundboard recording to suddenly appear from the vault, or a crystal clear video. In my list of top twenty shows, this deserves to be somewhere near the top. A lot of new music here, and excellent performance, and some stellar reworkings of familiar songs, I can’t praise this show enough. The show is 10/10, even if the recording is not.
Thanks for reading, plenty more good shows to listen to in the next few weeks. I have been avoiding the Purple Rain era so far, but that is going to change soon.