Last week I took a closer listen to one of the earliest shows of the Purple Rain tour, one of the opening concerts in Detroit. To close the circle, this week I will be taking a listen to the final performance of the Purple Rain tour, the finale from the Orange Bowl, Miami. This particular day is well covered, we have a stupendous soundboard of the rehearsal, which clearly demonstrates that The Revolution have lost none of their fire as the tour progressed. If anything, they are playing harder, faster and playing with just as much to prove on the opening nights. We also have the opening act of Sheila E. in soundboard quality which gives the main show added depth and context when these supplementary recordings are taken as a whole. The main show itself is widely circulating, and I know very few people who don’t have this in their collection. As such, you might think there is no need to cover this ground, but I do want to listen to it again with the hangover of that Detroit concert in my mind.
7th April, 1985. Orange Bowl, Miami
When it comes to classic pop-rock songs, there is no song more pop, rock, or classic than “Let’s Go Crazy.” The phosphorescent guitar breaks by Prince paired with the contagious keyboard riffs fill every crack of the song. The rendition presented on this recording leans toward the pop end of the scale, a lot of the furious guitar work sits low in the mix, leaving Prince and the Linn drum to carry the song forward with their sparse rhythm. It is an energized start to the recording, and even 30 years on I can yet again feel myself being caught up in the fervor of the moment.
The 1999 songs that follow are only two or three years old at this time, yet sound light years away from the music Prince was currently producing. “Delirious” is bright and youthful, yet sounds less well considered than the Purple Rain songs that will fill the setlist. The second half of the song features piano work from Prince and some horns that speaks far more of Prince at this time, and nicely updates the song for the Purple Rain audience.
The song “1999” falls into the same category for me, even by this stage it is already sounding dated, and although it keeps the energy levels up and provokes an enthusiastic response from the crowd, it does sound very much like the era that it is from. That aside, I like it. The verses, with their relay of lines from the Revolution, are very clean sounding, as is the greasy guitar line by Prince and I whole-heartily approve of both. To my ears the ending is over worked, but that is just my own personal taste rather than anything that is happening at the concert.
I am warmed by the introduction of “Little Red Corvette,” and although it offers no surprises I welcome it like an old friend. Princes vocals emerge from the soft fog of synthesizes, standing alone and stark in contrast. It doesn’t get any better than this opening moment, the rest of the song can’t carry the emotional weight that Prince sets out at the beginning. It is crowd pleasing though, and I enjoy it for what it is here at home.
There is a wonderful jangle that first catches my ear in “Take Me With U,” the guitars creating a youthful and energetic fill that Prince and the rest of the song rides across. The bulk of the song is filled by a long rise that neatly joins the first part of the song to what promises to be a longer jam. This jam gets off to a fine start, in particular Brown Mark and his bass pull the pop of “Take Me With U” back, and instead root it firmly to the dance floor. This is sharpened with Wendy’s contribution on the funk guitar and although only two minutes it is one of the early highlights to be heard on this recording.
We can all catch a breath with the “Yankee Doodle” section, and even though I could easily skip it, I stick with it to complete the concert experience for myself. Prince’s spoken word section is interesting at first, but after numerous listens there is nothing more to be had from that section. The payoff for enduring this section is “Do Me, Baby” that follows, and for the first time we have a direct comparison to what we heard on the Detroit concert earlier in the tour. “Do Me, Baby” isn’t quite as lush as the Detroit show, but on the same hand its isn’t as indulgent either, which leaves us with a crisp,clean rendition of one of Prince’s most enduring ballads.I prefer it when Prince wrings every drop of yearning and lust from it, but having this in soundboard quality more than makes up for any thoughts.
The Detroit concert segued from “Do Me, Baby” to “Fathers Song.” Prince has altered the setlist by the end of the tour, and we have an injection of James Brown styled funk with “Irresistible Bitch” and “Possessed.” Both provide drive and focus, and drive the concert forward after the brief lull of “Yankee Doodle.” The Revolution are sounding great, but it is the supplemental players that elevate these songs for me, the saxophone in particular used to great effect in the last minutes of the performance.
The contrast as Prince moves to the solo piano couldn’t be greater, and although he plays with plenty of swing and swagger, the previous funk quickly dissipates. “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” sees Prince playing the audience as much as he plays the piano. In fact there is very little music after the first stanza, and most of the song consists of Prince teasing the audience with his smutty talk.
He also teases as he introduces the next song as “Temptation” from the new album. It is only that though, a tease, and all we get is a couple of lines as he plays the piano riff of “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” With the saxophones present it is infectious, and is definitely one to get the crowd moving. Wendy too gets things moving with guitar contribution which nicely matches Prince on the piano, and all in all it is a hit out for all the band before Prince pulls things back in the next few minutes.
With Prince at the piano, we get several minutes of audience interplay before he finally settles on “God.” In the Detroit concert this was paired with “Father’s Song,” and even though we don’t get “Father’s Song” at this show, we do get a quieter and more respectful audience as Prince plays “God” It is a much better sounding performance than the Detroit concert, and I find I listen intently throughout. I’m not so thrilled about the final minutes of weirdness, but I am perfectly accepting that this is part of being a Prince fan.
The is a vicious snarl to “Computer Blue” that brings an animalistic fury back to the show. The first minutes there is a sense of shock and awe as Prince unleashes the Revolution, and before I can regain my senses the song is already morphing into the second half. I am always hoping for more with “Computer Blue,” but Prince always pitches it just right. Anymore would just be tiring, and he brings it to a close as it climaxes, leaving me to indulge myself in post coital rendition of “Darling Nikki”
“Darling Nikki” is to be expected, and there are no surprises or extras tacked on here. It is a pleasing few minutes, it is never too challenging a listen and the minutes slips quickly by.
There is a sheen and polish to “The Beautiful Ones” that leaves me feeling a less satisfied than a lot of recordings I have heard. Is the soundboard too clean? I just don’t know, but there does seem to be an element of intensity and emotion missing from the performance. It sounds beautiful though, and I can only think that this is one song where one would tire from investing too much into it. Maybe, just maybe, as the last show on the tour Prince is skating through this song.
The opening guitar riff of “When Doves Cry” rips through this soundscape, and tears up the previous gloss of “The Beautiful Ones.” The guitar gives way to that irresistible keyboard hook, and I know that it will stay with me for the rest of the day. Prince’s vocals sound shallow on this recording, but it does give us more space to hear Wendy and Lisa, and that’s no bad thing. It is mid song that the song begins to fly, Brown Mark’s bass ushering in a harder, denser sound that brushes up hard against Wendy’s fearsome solo. She is absolutely formidable for the minutes she plays, and her piece is the strongest moment in the song.
Normally it is the drum machine that I hear most in “I Would Die 4 U,” in this case it is the bass of Brown Mark that I gravitate towards. The song isn’t as bright as one might expect, and certainly not as sparkling as the show I listened to from the first days of the tour. However, it is a pop song, and can carry itself despite a rather lackluster performance. The song explodes in the final minute as it becomes a jam that will eventually be “Baby I’m A Star.” One gets the feeling that this is the moment The Revolution have been waiting for, and they explode out of the gate with wings of funk.
“Baby I’m A Star” is flexible and on the Purple Rain tour could be dragged out for as long as needed. The performance at this concert is relatively short, and clocks in at a sprightly thirteen minutes. With Sheila E. and her band joining the fray there is plenty to take in. Her percussion adds an exotic quality to the song, and coupled with the bass of Brown Mark, the song is becomes a mixture of styles that removes it far from the album version. My only reservation is there is some tremendously busy saxophone to be heard, but it is low in the mix and one must strain hard to catch it all. It does come further forward later, but nearly as much as I would like. If it was louder and to the fore I would rate this rendition highly, and even as it is I thrilled to hear these new additions to Prince’s music at the time.
One would assume that the final “Purple Rain” of the tour would be an emotional one, and from the first moments the guitar is infused with a sense of melancholy and finality. Like any great art, what you bring to it is what is reflected back at you, and in this case I can feel the end of the era and the swirl of emotion that I associate with that time as Prince puts Purple Rain behind him and strides confidently into the future. It sounds big, as it should, and even though the introduction is long there is never the feeling that the band is dwelling on it, they are simply letting the song move in its own way. Prince’s opening move on the guitar is stunning, and I would be more than happy if the song ended simply at this point. However, there is so much more to come as Princes blazes a trail across the recording, his guitar a comet that lights up the arena sky. 55,000 move and sing with him, and that becomes 55,001 as I lose myself in the magic of the moment. Even after 97 concerts, and 97 renditions of Purple Rain, Prince and the band nail it one last time with a rendition that is just as good as any other heard on the tour. I expect the guitar solo to be overwrought, instead Prince keeps it clinical and generates a inner intensity as he plays. A final goodbye from Prince closes the concert and there is a simplicity and power in his words.
A well known show, one can see why this recording has retained it’s popularity over the years. Not only is it a noteworthy mark in history, it is an equally powerful and affecting concert. Comparing it to the show from the first week of the tour, we can see that Prince has streamlined the show,in particular the sagging middle section is brightened with the addition of “Possessed” and “Irresistible Bitch.” Likewise, the piano set has been tightened up, and although still a little ponderous, it does engage the audience far more. There is no need for me to make a recommendation on this recording, most people already have it and are no doubt overly familiar with it. It has stood the test of time, and thirty years later I still label this as a must listen.
Thanks again for reading,
next week I’m going to start digging through some European concerts.