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

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