Rehearsal for First Avenue Benefit Concert ’83

After claiming that I rarely listen to rehearsals, I find myself listening to another one today. Listening to the rehearsal for the 1984 Birthday show piqued my curiosity, so I pulled a rehearsal of another famous show- the 1983 benefit for the Minnesota Dance Theatre, at First Ave I will be listening to that show next week, but I thought I would take a look at the rehearsal first to round out the full picture.

Rehearsal for First Avenue Benefit Concert 1983

The rehearsal begins with Princes spoken word intro of Lets Go Crazy. The most striking thing about it is how deep his voice is as he speaks it, it’s not the voice I am used to from Purple Rain. He sounds very relaxed, and he does have fun with it as he says “there’s something else.. that’s right, something”. The second thing that hits me is when he says “so when you call up that nigger in Beverley Hills”. It seems a little out of character now, but I guess it is of its time. The rest of the song sounds light after the deep voice of the intro, even with the heavy sounding bass and guitar, the keyboards have a very bright sound that seems to permeate through the song. There is plenty of guitar in the song, but there is so much of everything else that it never really comes to the fore as you may expect. The final solo and howl is a little damp, and I have to remind myself that this isn’t a live situation, it is a rehearsal. And as such the song seems to stop dead, only a silence greets the final note.

Prince 1984 (2)

When You Were Mine sounds excellent in this situation. I warm to the song right away as the keys and guitar come in.  The playing is tight, and you can hear Prince give instruction to the sound guy. There is an innate energy in the song, even without the audience it shines. The ladies voices are very strong in my right ear, and I was going to comment more on it, but half way through Prince calls for sound adjustments, and they do disappear back into the mix. Another part of the song I enjoy early on is when Prince talks to the sound guy, and then the band play on for half a minute with no vocals. It’s got a good stripped down sound that I like. The ever reliable Doctor plays an enthusiastic solo, before the song comes to a sudden halt.

Prince’s delicate guitar playing draws me into A Case Of U, and I am in love almost right away. As the keys move easy beneath his guitar he sings beautifully. Even in rehearsal there is the touch of emotion that is needed to carry this song off. The lyrics match up great with his playing, and there is a fantastic little guitar run as the song nears the end. I would have a lot more to say about this song, but the final version played live at the show is so phenomenal, that even as good as this is, I know that there is better to come.

The introduction of Computer Blue is without the girl’s spoken piece, but that isn’t a big deal as the music is extremely cold and strong sounding. The keyboards provide some good runs, but it really is the guitar and bass on this track that makes it what it is. I had to listen to it twice, as I was so enraptured with the guitar sound the first time I missed everything else that was going on. One of the great thing about listening to Prince and his music, there is so much to listen to that I can always find new things every time I listen to a song. Prince’s vocals stray from what we know, especially as he sings “where is my baby” in a variety of styles, before ending with a throaty shriek. The change midsong is, as always, killer, and I never seem to tire of it. Here I can hear the keyboards much better than I remember, and they provide a nice layer of fills in my left ear. All the while Prince continues with his guitar break. It is par for the course, and somewhat quieter than I am used to. However just as I was thinking that he comes on with the second half of his guitar break which is much more improvised and freer, and I am happy to hear more of this from him. The song finishes with a great roll and howl that belies the fact it is a rehearsal.

Wendy Purple Era

Delirious is a complete 180 from what we have just heard and it takes me half a minute to adjust to the sudden pop bounce. The guitar vanishes at the start, and as one might expect there is a lot of light keyboards playing. Later I do hear a rhythm guitar but it is very low in the mix. I am normally dismissive of Delirious, but tonight I enjoy it a lot. It does have a lot of nostalgic value for me, and this arrangement is a lot of fun, with lots of crazy keyboard solos, and a rockabilly guitar all vying for attention later in the song. The song ends in a keyboard crescendo as Prince instructs Lisa to turn the keyboard effects up, and she in turn replies that her keyboard is dead. Then as the music simmers Prince sets his piano sound, playing as the sound comes to his liking.

It took me a long time to come around to Electric Intercourse, but its performances like this one that won me over. The bass in the right speaker is pitched just right, and Princes vocals are on point from the first line to the last. I think part of the attraction of this song is that it has never been overplayed, it still has a freshness to it, and this recording in particular catches that feeling. In fact it’s so fresh that at one point Wendy misses her cue, only to be chastised by Prince with a loud “Wake up Wendy!” The keyboard solo has a sweetness to it, and although it’s short I still give it a lot of appreciation. As the song progresses I find myself listening to Prince more and more carefully, and the way his vocal arrangement works with the girls, he definitely knows how he wants it to sound, and what is required.

We are back into more familiar territory next as Automatic begins. It has a dense sound to it, and feels somewhat like a sledge hammer following the delicate Electric Intercourse. It is a joy to listen to the synthesizers play off against each other, and it’s another one of Princes songs where he very much creates a mood with the sound of his music. The song sticks fairly close to the original, there is one stage where the keyboards get all weird and wonderful, before pulling out and Prince plays a staggered guitar break. Right after this it takes on a dance feel, and despite still having a dark sound I find myself beginning to move.

Prince 2007

Again there is a great contrast in the track list as Prince flips the mood with I Would Die 4 U. The song has a fresh and energetic sound, especially coming off Automatic. I like Princes vocals, but he does sound removed, almost as if his voice is coming from another room. It’s not that his vocals are low in the mix, just the effect on his voice. The song goes past at a fair clip, and it’s a real sweetener.

Baby I’m A Star suffers a little at the start as the tape has that ominous chewing sound that I grew up with. However it does recover by the times Princes vocals start, and it’s not a big deal. As with the previous song Prince does have the sound of being in an empty room. I like the sound of it, but it does feel as if he is coming from a distance. The rest of the band are fairly anonymous through the song, its Prince I am listening to, and the keyboard coming from the left speaker. Although unreleased at this stage, the band sound like they have the song well and truly down, and they play note perfect throughout. The Doctors solo is very enjoyable, and even though it’s as I have heard plenty of times, it’s still infused with a joyous sound.

Things once again slow down with Little Red Corvette. By this stage the band had played it many times, and it seems that they could play it in their sleep. It’s so spot on note perfect, I love it for its perfectionism. The introduction is kept short, and Prince sings the song in an upbeat voice, foregoing emotion for efficiency. Hitting the first verse he does ask for more echo, but the song never lets up, in fact the whole song seems to fly by, the guitar solo is upon us before I know it, and then the whole song wraps up a line later, with Prince dead panning “Thank you, good night”

The guitar opening of Purple Rain is what we hear next, and it differs from we know so well in that  it doesn’t have a flat drum beat. The beat has an echo on it, which gives it a double kick all the way through. I find it distracting, but I do enjoy the rest of the song. Prince sounds cold at the beginning, but he asks for more echo on the voice, and this gives him a much warmer sound as the song moves forward. I do also enjoy the extra verse that didn’t make the final cut, I can understand why it was cut though, as thematically it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the song. The song meanders after that verse, but things get back on track as Prince gets to “Purple Rain, Purple Rain” and then the epic sounding guitar solo. The solo is as expected, although for the first minute Princes guitar sounds thin, but this is rectified, and he takes on a bolder sound as the solo progresses. It’s an interesting solo, Prince is still playing with it, so apart from the opening, and the rest of it is new and interesting to hear.

DMSR has another ad-lib start as Prince kicks it off with “Holland, London, Paris, France” before some funky bass ups the ante. The bass playing hasn’t garnered much comment from me up until this point, but now I find I am paying close attention as Brown Mark rumbles along. Again when we reach the chorus Prince reverts to calling sitting names, this time throwing New York into the mix as well. There is a rhythm break for the guitar, but its low in the mix and I don’t hear it as well as I would like to. The song catches me off guard with a false ending, before it comes back in and there is a cool little piano solo. Prince calls “Give me some horns” and the keyboards provide a nice sounding line. With another call of “Telephone” we get a quirky keyboard run and Prince taking a mock call. The song is a showcase for the band, and Prince gives them several calls and leads to follow, and they respond well. There is another piano solo, with Prince chanting “Planet Rock, we don’t stop” as well as singing lines from George Clintons Loopzilla. Just as Prince calls break time I think its all over, but there is a couple more reprises. This is one of my favorite songs on the recording, the groove is excellent and it sounds like a lot of fun is being had.

Prince 1984

I cringe when I see the next track listed as ‘Band Tuning’. These are just the sort of things a dislike about rehearsals- minutes of the band tuning up and getting there sound right while very little happens musically. There is not much for me at this stage of the recording, so I am quietly happy when the tune up is over and we move to the next musical portion of the recording.

Things get back to the music next as the band play a laid back Africa Talks To You. Its a nice groove, and there are some enjoyable keyboard played over the top of the groove. Prince ad-libs a bit too, which is fun. I especially like it when he calls out “You gotta purify yourself in lake Minnetonka. You can also hear him asking for Wendy’s guitar to be ready “that’s why we bought it for her”. The song does meander towards the end, before it peters out into some tom foolery.

Next is ten minutes of the band fooling around and generally having fun. Its primarily led by Dr Fink, who does a variety of voices as he sings a medley of tunes and plays a light organ.  I Could Have Danced All Night has me smiling, as he sings briefly with great gusto, before moving to Catch A Falling Star. There is all sorts of snippets played including Our House, and the James Bond theme. There is also a Popeye impersonation that is actually pretty good. Its really great to hear the band feeding off each other and being completely at ease. I don’t feel I ever have to listen to this track again, but it was fun to listen to once. The track ends appropriately enough with a Dolphin singing Stevie Nicks ‘Stand Back’. If you have heard it you will know exactly what I mean.

Things become business like again as Prince says “All right, lets go” and the organ of Lets Go Crazy begins again. This time it starts closer to what I am used to, but then Prince quickly takes it in a different tack with the final couple of lines of the intro, before the band begin right on cue. After the looseness of the previous few tracks its some what surprising how quickly they tighten up, they are right on the money for the rest of this track. Princes guitar is very faint as he solos, I can only just hear him. Even the latter solo is faint, and the rest of the band easily drown him out in the final crescendo.

After listening to this rehearsal and the one the other week, I think I should more time to rehearsals. I prefer this rehearsal to the last one, and I thought the last one was excellent. This one had the band playing the songs in a very fresh sounding way, and yet they were very tight as a unit. And also you could hear how much they were enjoying being a band and being together. If you only hear one rehearsal in your life, this would be the one I would choose. But then again I do have another couple of excellent propositions…

Next week I will be listening to one of the greats, the benefit for the Minnesota Dance Theatre.

Have a great week
Hamish

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