Pittsburgh, 20 November 1981

A funny thing happened on the way here tonight……

I had every intention of taking in another concert from Austria, as I have done the last couple of weeks, but when I turned on the computer this morning I was surprised to find a soundboard recording from 1981 waiting in my inbox. There is several things you should know about me at this point:
1. I love concerts from the Controversy tour
2. Especially soundboard recordings
3. I am not one to be patient and wait.

So although I know this a premature leak with a complete recording and art work to come, I can’t help myself. All thoughts of the Austria concert are gone, and here I am with this 1981 soundboard recording blasting in my ears already. Oh the joy.

There is much more to it than being a simple soundboard recording. It is the first concert of the Controversy tour, and a mere four weeks after Prince opened for the Rolling Stones (we all know how well that went). So when we look at it in a historical context it becomes far more interesting than it might at first appear. With the typical Controversy setlist, and one of Prince’s more rock orientated bands, this is one show where I know exactly what to expect, and quite frankly I can’t wait!

20th November 1981, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Part of the trade-off of not waiting for the full release is that we don’t get to experience “The Second Coming” in way of an introduction.  Any thoughts of this are tossed aside as the band burst out of the speakers with “Sexuality.” My first thoughts are”My God, is this a 36 year old recording.” It is so clear and fresh, I could swear I was onstage with the band. It doesn’t have the ragged glory of some of the other soundboards of the tour, Prince and the band are calm and measured at this stage, and the guitar especially sounds as if it is in the studio and someone has simply turned it up in the mix. We have several other soundboards from this tour already in circulation, and from the first song I can already say that this is perhaps the best sounding. With Prince right in my ear it is a wild ride and a spectacular start to the recording.

 

The phrase la petite mort bursts into reality with “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” With guitar in hand Prince is a gentle lover, and as he reaches orgasmic heights he remains focused on the others in the room, providing pleasure without over stepping into the realm of over indulgence and self pleasure. It may be a guitar solo, but the moment belongs to all, and even if six minutes is disappointing by his standards (especially compared to some unhinged renditions later in the tour) it is still a satisfying experience that leaves me feeling like a post-coital cigarette.

“Jack U Off” is the complete opposite. Not only is it a song about onanism, but Prince performs it in a manner than complements the material. It is an exercise in oneism, everything is about Prince as he pushes himself forward. His vocals and guitar fill the air, and although I know his tongue is placed firmly in cheek, it is just too much for me. I seek redemption in his final guitar solo, and I find it both in the quality of his playing and the quality of the recording.

On other recordings, “When You Were Mine” leaves me giddy with it’s teenage energy and spunk. In this case it is the recording that shines brightest, the out of control guitar lines reined in and Prince’s pristine vocals sitting at the centre of the recording. It doesn’t lessen the moment at all, and I am just as enraptured by this version as I am by any other on the tour.

The same can be said of the proceeding “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” All instruments are secondary to the vocals of Prince. That’s not by design, merely that the recording is so clean that Prince sounds much more in the moment. With the pristine recording one can clearly hear the precision of his delivery, and indeed of all the performers on stage. It is the last minute where the guitar raises its head from its slumber, and it is with the guitar’s slippery funk that the band segues into the inevitable “Head”

There are longer versions and there are dirtier versions, but the rendition of “Head” on this recording is a perfect fit with all that has come before. With a performance so tight that it is almost suffocating, Prince and the band leave no room for error and sound  faultless and they turn the normally greasy funk of “Head” into something creamy. This can be heard nowhere more so than the final minutes as the guitar again lights up the darkness. It is neither heavy or forceful, but it takes the song apart with a scalpel like precise that cuts but does not tear the song apart.

The recording has brightened every song heard so far, yet “Annie Christian” seems to suffer in this case. It sounds strangely neutered throughout, the anger of the band and lyrics betrayed by the gentleness and crispness of the recording. There is some rage to be heard, especially Prince’s line about John Lennon being shot (only 11 months previous at this time), but it never becomes threatening or dangerous.

Later in the tour “Dirty Mind” will become an epic centre piece. First night of the tour and here we have a standard rendition that gives no hint at what will come later. The payoff of this neat package of a performance is we can hear Lisa in all her glory as she sings with Prince. Its easy to forget all else as she appears on the recording, and even though Prince turns up he energy later in the song, it is the vocals of Lisa that linger longest once the song has finished.

“Do Me, Baby” has a beauty that is infused into the heart. It may be a song of lust, but it retains it’s dignity through the reverential vocal delivery of Prince. Paired with music that is equally seductive, the song reaches out from the speakers, no longer just a song but instead taking on a life of its on and becoming an emotional experience. I have gushed over this song repeatedly in this blog, but here it is in it’s infancy and already one can hear that Prince has written his first great seduction ballad. Others may come in future, but this will always remain the first.

There is snap, crackle, and pop to the bass line of “Let’s Work” the makes my heart skip a beat. Again, I can’t help but compare it to other renditions on tour. It is not as forceful or driven as some later concerts, but it does retain it’s groove and easy flow. Prince hasn’t turned it into a stomping party song just yet, but we can hear all the key components and they have never sounded as clear as they are here.

The following “Controversy” is of similar ilk. The song sounds great, there is no  denying, but it lacks the energy and impulsiveness that is heard later. There is still plenty to enjoy, the dry guitar line by Prince has me salivating as it wraps me up in its funk. Brown Mark carries a lot of the load through the song, and for me it is just as enjoyable to listen to his contribution as anything else.

I am surprised to hear the guitar so low in the mix for “Uptown.” The band play with plenty of passion though, and although Prince remains the epicenter of all that happening on stage, this is the song where it most feels like a complete band performance. Like everything else on this recording, it is faultless. Everything comes together in a holistic performance, and the only wiry moment that stands out to me is the final guitar solo that appears both spontaneous and fueled by a deeper emotion.

“Party Up” takes “Uptown” and turns it up to 11. At this point the band throw caution to the wind, and for the first time it feels as if they are playing with an inner freedom that seeps through the music. With choppy guitar lines, keyboards dropping in unexpectedly, and some wild sounding yelps from Prince, this is a song I can instantly relate to as it seems to capture the inner workings of my mind.  The moment that sums up Prince’s performance most is as he tells the band to quieten as the crowd can’t hear themselves. He draws the room in at this moment and from here on in it is about performers and the crowd together in the spirit of the song.  It’s not a mind crushing finale, but it is perfect for this recording, and as the final notes recede I sit back, still trying to digest this wonderful recording.

There will never be another first time. This was my first time to hear this concert, and as such I will always remember this day. It was a day when I heard one of the best soundboards to appear in recent times, a recording that takes in another significant concert in Princes career as he turns his back on the Rolling Stones debacle and begins his Controversy tour.  You may think I have been over the top with my praise for this recording, but it is another keystone bootleg in the discography, and one that you need to hear. No controversy about this one, go out and get it.

Next week normal service resumes,
until then, take care,
-Hamish

2 thoughts on “Pittsburgh, 20 November 1981

  1. Wow, great read – your words and your excitement really took me to that concert – I could even smell some lavender parfume 😉
    Tops‼️Thanks Hamish💜

  2. Thanks for this great review Hamish! Such a fantastic show for the 1st night of the tour. btw, the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh is where Bob Marley played his last show in September the previous year.

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