Small Club is the most famous Prince bootleg of them all, and for good reason. It captures a fantastic aftershow from 1988, when he was at the height of his powers, in pristine sound board quality. I know that whenever I meet any Prince fan, no matter what we disagree on, this is the one thing that runs common to all fans. Everybody knows and loves the small club bootleg. I wouldn’t like to guess how many times I have played it over the years, although to be honest I rarely listen to it now. I think I overplayed it back in the days, and now if I want to hear it, I can pretty much play the gig in my head from memory – Yes, I am that strange. However, for the purposes of this blog I did make the effort and listened to the CD. See how much I sacrifice for you people! I am not sure how much more can be said about this gig, so this may be brief, but then again that is no bad thing as words do tend to run away with me.
19 August, 1988, Paard van Troje, The Hague
The gig itself opens innocuously enough with a simple drum roll, and then some soft percussion. The sound of drum sticks on drum sticks, or the rim of the drum gives a nice jazz percussion feel, as does the piano when it begins to play. It’s nothing too much, and has a jazz club feel about it, until Princes guitar enters and things move up a gear. There are no vocals at all here; it’s a typical warm up jam. The piano gets plenty of shine, interspersed with Prince and his guitar. There is some heavy spacey keyboard half way through, but I think I much preferred the piano from earlier. The last third of the song the guitar work of Prince takes over (apart from a brief drum solo by Shelia). I don’t not what it is about his playing at this stage, but something about it feels Arabian to me, or how I imagine it to sound. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think I can best describe it as Arabian, how I might imagine a snake charmer to sound if he played electric guitar.
There are some little things on these recordings that I always thought I was the only one who noticed or enjoyed. It wasn’t until later when I met other Prince fans that I found that other people also recognized these little moments. Prince spoken intro between songs is one of these moments. “Well this sure beats going to sleep, don’t it? A show of hands of how many are drunk? Alllriighht, you mean you actually gonna hear what we play, aren’t going to make up the notes in your mind?” I always loved that comment, and it always makes me smile. I never thought anyone else got it until I started meeting other hardcore fans later in life.
D.M.S.R opens with a nice funky rhythm on the guitar. Prince asks “what kinda beat can you put to that?” and the band enter with a funky beat that underpins D.M.S.R. It’s one of the songs that first jumped out at me when I bought the 1999 album, so I am always happy to hear any live version. This is a great version, its true to the original, but has just enough differences and variations to keep me interested. In particular when Prince tells them to “Rumble, Minneapolis style,” followed up by some very funky guitar, then Prince takes it to Hawaii with Hawaiian sounding guitar. It doesn’t last long before he kicks back in a solo that evolves into the main riff from America. All along the band keep the D.M.S.R chugging along underneath. Typically, there is a couple of Prince false endings, ‘stop on the one’, ‘stop on the two’, before a quick Miko funk break. The song eventually ends with just a bare guitar playing a run that sounds almost country like.
Just my Imagination draws me in right from the start. The simple strum of the guitar and Prince intoning “two, three”. The soft keyboard swells give Prince plenty of room to sing, and his voice here is beautiful. It’s a beautiful ballad, and a great choice for a cover. I remember the first time I ever heard this gig, I was totally surprised when the guitar solo began at two and a half minutes. It knocked me sideways; I didn’t imagine that it was going to have a guitar solo. And what a solo! Prince doesn’t over play, and he delivers one of his most soulful and beautiful solos. I know it is very much loved among the Prince community, and yes, sign me up, I am a fan of it too. By the time we come down from the stratosphere and land back at the song I had almost forgotten how gentle and beautiful the singing had been. Prince sings us softly through to the finish, and it feels like quiet a trip.
Before People Without begins, Prince tells the crowd that they “Do this one in the dark” The problem with writing about music is sometimes words aren’t adequate to describe something than can be expressed by music. So it is with People Without. I have no words to describe the keyboard that plays for the first three minutes of the song. The only thing I can say is that the first three minutes of this song blow me away every time. The aforementioned keyboard plays against Prince, who lists attributes of people without. Briefly reading his People Without lyrics, its seems that in a couple of instances I am someone without. My favorite line in the song, and something that I can easily apply to my life, is “People without, talk shit when they’re not asked”. Oh yes Prince, I hear ya!
After three minutes some heavy bass and keyboard come in, and it always reminds me of Janet Jacksons ‘Black cat’. Now I have no logical explanation for this, you will just have to accept that I have a loose wire in my head. And just a side note- I can’t find my Janet Jackson CD, if you are an ex-girlfriend reading this and you have it, please contact me.
The song stays in this heavy vain with Prince singing about People without. The song returns to its beginning near the end, with Prince singing “I thought you wanted to do it in the dark, turn out the lights”. Again it is one of my favorite moments. Overall this song is great to me, the sound of his voice, the lyrical content, and that keyboard. I am so very glad someone captured this for us to enjoy.
I have always loved Princes sense of humor, but the Knock knock joke he tells before Housequake falls a little short.
Ok, so it’s not terrible, but it does lack the usual Prince wit. Luckily he more than makes up for it with Housequake. It’s nice to hear Atlanta Bliss playing here. He doesn’t play on every song this night, but he grabs his moments here and it changes the feel of the evening. There is no Eric Leeds at this gig, I believe he elected to stay back at the hotel because he was too tired. Still the trumpet sound of Atlanta Bliss gives this song, and the gig, just enough color. Interestingly enough, Housequake is the shortest song played all evening, clocking in at just five minutes. It feels like a blink of the eye compared with the other extended jams and songs played.
Atlanta Bliss introduces the next song with some very fine trumpet playing. Now its Boni’s turn to shine, and she starts singing Down Home Blues, which sounds exactly what you might expect based on the title. There is some nice crisp blues guitar played by Prince, very similar to his guitar sound heard at main shows during the blues segment. Atlanta Bliss follows with an equally bluesy Trumpet solo, and we stay in the same groove as Boni sings Kansas City. Prince’s next solo moves things up a notch, and the groove gets deeper. It finishes at the ten minute mark, but another few minutes I wouldn’t mind at all.
Cold Sweat leaves me a little cold. Prince is on the drums, which is fine if you are there, but doesn’t add much if you are listening to a recording. The song does have nice keyboard groove, the keyboards’ are excellent in the whole gig. I think if I had have been there this would be a good song, but listening at home I just don’t get into it. The trumpet plays a couple of nice pieces, but I have never been a fan of the Shelia E Transmississippi Rap. My finger is dangerously close to the skip button, but it can’t be as bad as all that, because although its 10 minutes I listen right to the end.
The next song is the high point of the gig for me. After the briefest of guitar intros the heavy organ and drum beat of I Wish U Heaven (part 3) begins. That in itself had me excited, but when Prince starts singing Forever in My Life over the top of it I am in ecstasy. Again, words cannot describe how good this sounds to me. This is shaping up to be the worst blog ever if I can’t find the words! The organ groove and the rattle of the guitar don’t let up, and my head never stops bobbing the whole time this is playing. There is some fantastic call and response guitar between Prince and Miko, and then some great guitar interplay between the two of them. Just when it is really heating up Prince cools it down by calling for the lights to be turned down, and getting the crowd to sing along. Girls singing one line, boys singing another, it works very well. But the best is yet to come. Prince calls “Put a snare on it” and Boni completely takes over. Her vocals are as you would expect. The more she puts into it, the more the rhythm guitars of Prince and Miko respond. The whole things get bigger and bigger, every scream by Boni meet with a pause, and then more groove from the guitars’ and organ. The song ends, and Princes tells the crowd: “Boni Boyer, ain’t nobody can mess with that girl” and I have to agree. It’s a great moment at an outstanding gig.
Did I say Forever In My Life was the highlight of the gig for me? I must have been premature, because hands down the version of Still Would Stand All Time played here is my favorite performance of any song, at anytime. Not only is it my highlight of this gig, it is my highlight of any gig I have heard. The song begins with some lovely little guitar from Prince before the band and keys enter. The music itself is just wonderful, and it feels like waves lapping against the shore to me. No one instrument overwhelms another, and Princes vocals are passionate and clear. This was recorded long before we heard the finished version on Graffiti Bridge, and I think here it is caught at just the right moment. Being live it doesn’t have a syrupy overproduced sound, and it comes across as passionate rather than overly sappy. The keyboard refrain, the bass, the guitar, all of them sound in sync and so beautiful. The best part of the song comes when Prince breaks it down, and sings a few throaty lines. It really hits me that he means it. A lot of passion in just a few lines- you can hear it especially when he sings “I don’t care, bout the color of your hair.” And of course its here that he corrects the band with the well known line “Who’s the fool singing will, its would” Obviously the song is pretty new to everybody. The following few lines have the potential to come across as smutty, but instead the way he sings it sounds like a beautiful moment.
“All night, all day
Never on Sunday, always on Monday
Real slow on Tuesday, kinda fast on Wednesday
Circular motion on Thursday, rocky ocean on Friday
Pull a black box of paraphernalia out on you child, you know that’s Saturday night”
It could have been cringe worthy, but somehow he gets away with singing it, before he delivers up another guitar solo. The solo is shorter than some of his other pyrotechnics on guitar, and it’s a good thing too. The song itself is already well balanced without being swamped by guitar.
The song fades out with a few more of “Still would stand all time” and it’s just heavenly.
After such a Prince highlight, I’ll Take You There starts with Boni, keyboard and organ. One feels that Prince is giving himself a moment to catch his breath after the previous song. After a couple of minutes though he is back into the fray, leading the band from I’ll take you there to the guitar driven Rave. It’s quite a change from the keyboard led I’ll Take You There. Rave itself is a guitar driven groove, with the band chanting Rave. Prince sings several lines but then hands it over to Atlanta Bliss for a quick trumpet break. The whole thing is pretty upbeat, and a good jam song. Miko is next to get a solo, and he delivers a very tasty break, but then Prince ups him a couple of minutes later when he plays his solo. The song later has plenty of trumpet as well as guitar, and Prince sings a couple of refrains of “Beautiful night”
The song ends, but then with a call of “kick some ass’ Prince and the band take off again, sounding more frantic than before, then there is a minute of Prince drilling the band with “give me one, give me five, gimme two” etc. I’ve heard him do these 100 of times, but it’s always great to see how tight and well rehearsed his bands are. There is one more furious burst and it ends with a simple “Thank you, God is Love”
An excellent gig, and as I said earlier, generally recognized as the greatest Prince bootleg. Part of the reason this get so much love is when it came out aftershows by Prince weren’t as common as they are now, it was still relatively new for him to be playing these shows. For a lot of us, this was the first time we realized that there was a whole other different side to Princes music away from the arena shows and pop charts. And that is the reason I am such a fan, not because of all his hits, his albums or is movies, but because of gig’s like this where it really is just about the music. I don’t need to tell any of you that you must hear this show; I know that if you are any sort of fan at all you already have.