Detroit 1984 Purple Rain Tour

I am now firmly ensconced in the bosom of the motherland, and surrounded by the books and records that I so dearly love. Now I am back in my comfort zone I thought it would be cool to revisit the Purple Rain tour, something I have been meaning to do for a while now. It might be interesting to listen to one of the earliest concerts of the tour and see how it stacks up against the final concert of the tour. Disregarding all the one-off shows Prince performed in the lead up to the tour, the first concert we have recorded from the tour itself is 5th November in Detroit. This is the second concert of the tour, but with the hit record and movie behind him, the sold out audience is already well primed for the performance. The recording is unfortunately incomplete, I will be listening to only the last ten songs of the concert, but these are the Purple Rain songs so I aren’t too upset. There is also some confusion over the date, the recording says the 5th, but the bonus Sheila E song comes from the following night (she states its their third night in Detroit). I am going to take the Prince songs at face value, they are tagged as the 5th, so the 5th it is.

5th November 1984, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

The recording begins with the piano set coming to a close. It is an angelic “Do Me, Baby” that is the doorway into this show. I like it, some of the vocal audience members near the microphone, not so much. I have to chuckle as one guy can be heard saying “He’s good, but he gotta play more tunes and get the fuck away from this shit.” Purple Rain concerts are well known for dragging in the middle, and obviously it’s all too much for this guy. I have to disagree, and with this only partial recording I can fully appreciate the minute and a half of “Do Me, Baby” for what it is – graceful, delicate, and heartfelt.

The audience don’t settle for “Father’s Song” and although I can hear it just fine, the crowd can be heard talking and cheering most of the way through it. It doesn’t spoil the moment, but they certainly don’t show it any respect.

After these two shorter songs, we get something substantial with Prince’s “God.” On record I like it, in the live context, although it sounds good, it never quite works. The opening stanzas a little too ponderous for an amped up crowd, and in this case even at home I feel like I am just waiting for something, anything, to happen. The audience recording though is pretty good, and Prince’s spoken words in the midsection are well recorded and seems to again connect with the crowd, that is if the screams are anything to go by.

I had hoped for an longer version of “Computer Blue,” instead Prince gives me a fiery intense four minute version that razes everything to the ground. It is a scorched earth rendition and Prince and the band burn with a incandescent rage from start to finish, something I fully approve of.

Prince concerts are often about contrasts, and “Darling Nikki” is certainly that, coming hard on the heels of “Computer Blue.” As always it is a crowd pleaser, and even though the first twenty minutes of this recording has been full of audience screams, they still find it in themselves to scream louder. At times it does sound almost like Beatlemania, but things quieten for Dr Fink’s off the wall solo, he is easily the highlight of these few minutes.

After listening to “The Beautiful Ones” across Princes career, I am always knocked out by how great it sounds in 1984/85. It is a great song, but at this time it is right for the moment, and it’s right for Prince. Afterwards it always had too much associated with it, but here is the perfect moment in time, and it is simply glorious. The audience recording is superb, and even through the audience are with us every step of the way it still sounds divine, as if Prince is channeling it from a higher plain. It is a lengthy performance, but it feels all too short as Prince howls, screams and emotes his way through the entire six minutes.

“When Doves Cry” is one of the main pillars of the show, and it is given a respectful amount of time accordingly. The recording, while good, isn’t quite good enough for my tastes. The bass, and general power of the band, is diluted. Under normal circumstances I would say this recording is great (there is no distortion or muffle), but for these few minutes I wish it was even better. Wendy’s impassioned guitar break snaps through any thoughts about the recording though, and at the end of the day the music wins through with Prince’s sheer will power and conviction in the music he is playing.

The best part of the recording is “I Would Die 4 U,” with Prince’s vocals crystal clear from the very start. The song shines in this context, and after the previous intensity of “When Doves Cry” it is pure sunlight. As always it is short and bright, and it really is a song that I have come to appreciate a lot more over the years. The final couple of minutes become looser as it becomes pure groove, and I can’t help but fall in love with Wendy a little more as her guitar rings out.

It is only the second show of the tour, but “Baby I’m A Star” is already a behemoth, The Revolution riding Prince’s energy with their own vitality and animated style. It doesn’t reach the same level as some of the unhinged jams later in the tour, but the essential elements are all in place as it twists and turns through a maze of solos, brief musical thoughts, and throw away riffs. For all the ups and downs, it stays surprisingly focused, and there is a crispness to the performance that makes it all the more captivating. The solo bestowed upon it by Prince is noteworthy, butmy the player of the day award goes to Brown Mark and Wendy, who heighten the level of funkiness present with their inspired playing.

It is still the epic high point of the show, but “Purple Rain” doesn’t scale the same heady heights heard later in the tour. The animalistic snort of guitar in the introduction bodes well, but the rest of the song is still by the numbers. I don’t say that as a negative, this is “Purple Rain” played on the Purple Rain tour, and as such it has a majestic and regal aura of purple about it as Prince guides us through his most beloved song. Thirteen minutes is short by “Purple Rain” standards, but Prince has all the key milestones in place throughout the song (you can practically check them off as the song progresses) and anyone here for the Purple Rain album experience would leave happy. Even though this concert recording is short, it feels like we have come a long way since “Do Me, Baby,” and with “Purple Rain” it does feel like the end of a journey.

This audience recording was much better than I expected, and even though there was some audience talking early on, the music was still the key feature and remained at the forefront of the sound.  The Purple Rain tour is well covered in the world of bootlegs, being the breakthrough tour that it was, but not many of them are as good as the recording we have here. It is short, but that works to it’s favor and the concert plunges through the Purple Rain album. Don’t be put-off by the audience recording, this is still worth hearing.

Next week, I will take a listen to the final show of the Purple Rain tour, I am curious to see how it evolved from this early concert to that final showcase.

Thanks again
Hamish

Noon rendezvous rehearsal

I am rare to listen to rehearsals. I admit that they are great, and show off another side of Prince and his talent. But they don’t have the same intensity as a live show, and that’s what I enjoy most. However, without that intensity we do get some very cool arrangements of the songs, often being drawn out and just letting the band do what they do best -play! Today’s rehearsal is from May/June before the birthday show of 1984. There are a few rehearsals from this period, and I think this one exists in several variations, but this is my favourite and the one I play most.

noon-rendezvous

Noon Rendezvous Rehearsal May/June 1984

As I mentioned above, there is a couple of variations of this rehearsal circulating, the major difference being the sequence of tracks. I am listening to the FBG release, which opens with I’ve Gotta Shake This Feeling Baby (Purple Rain), and I have to say that right from the start it grabs me and any reservations I have about listening to a rehearsal are immediately laid to rest.  Over the familiar beat of Purple Rain, Prince lays down some very raw, yet beautiful guitar work. There is very little in the way of lyrics, just Prince singing “I’ve gotta shake this feeling baby” over the top of the Purple Rain music we know so well. He does ask for a longer echo at the start, but I can’t hear where it is applied. The rest of the band are a solid base on which Prince lays his guitar work. Some of the phrases and melodies he plays are familiar, and some are new to me. The best parts are for me when he reins in the guitar and plays it tightly in the song. The quality of the recording is very good, and all the other instruments can be heard clearly, especially the piano, which I enjoy. I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy this, and what a complete surprise it is to me. I was planning to sit down one evening to write this blog post, but truth be told I played this several days in a row, dumb struck, jaw on the floor, before I finally was able to find the words. It’s a great listen, imagine the second half of the Purple Rain song doubled in length, and that pretty much what we have here.

The treats keep coming as without pause the band play an electrifying version of Noon Rendezvous. Although the music does have a gentle sound to it, what is attention grabbing is once again the raw guitar sound of Prince in the mix. The lead guitar isn’t over powering, but it does give it a rock edge. The guitar does pull out and Princes singing is light and ethereal, and blends in well with the overall feeling of the song. It is an intoxicating song, and before I know it Princes guitar sound is back in the mix as we get a brilliant lead break. For the longest time I couldn’t understand the fuss over this song, but in recent years it has really grown on me. I always loved the version on the 1984 birthday show, but I can’t quite decide if that one or this is my favourite. On any given day it may well be the one I am listening to here. As the song continues on and Prince is “sitting in this cafe, waiting for my baby” I am in heaven. And even better, this goes on and on, there is no audience, no time constraints and it feels the band is playing on and just enjoying the gentle groove. It’s just brilliant, and oh, did I mention it goes for almost 20 minutes?!

Prince 1984 (2)

There is then what I more associate with rehearsals, checking to get the sound right, some tinkling and crashing of instruments and the like, before a steady beat is taken up, the piano plays and then we settle into Free. Free consists of just a drum beat, a piano, and Prince and the girls singing. I find the drum a little plodding, but I do like Princes vocal performance on this one. He sings around the melody, and plays with it. And the girls sound excellent, and once again it only highlights how great Prince, Wendy and Lisa sounded together. The song doesn’t get played on as much as the previous two songs, and it remains reasonably faithful to what is on record, sans the big finish.

Things take a serious turn next as we hear the strong drum pattern of Erotic City, and some equally erotic sounding guitar from Prince. I wonder what kind of heavy arrangement he is going to play, the vocals begin and it reverts to it familiar sound. I rate this song just as highly as the first two songs on the recording, it’s fantastic. After sticking with the song for the first couple of verses, Prince then unleashes his guitar, as well as a line from All The Critic Love U. The guitar has a howling whining tone at this point, and it gives the song a harder, darker edge. The guitar becomes more intense as the song progresses, and Prince is really working it in the latter part of the song. As brilliant as it is, it’s almost relief when it finishes, it was so intense. Yet another highlight in a recording full of highlights.

Prince 1984

I am used to hearing guitar heavy arrangements of Something In The Water of late, but this one offers another dimension. Sure, it’s full of guitar as he has recently played it, but here he is backed by the Revolution, and they give it a cold remote feeling behind Princes guitar playing. Prince’s voice is in fine form, and although he doesn’t scream, he does at one point give a nice long howl. As the song gets to the refrain of ‘must be something in the water you drink’ the guitar again comes to the fore. I know Prince is a good guitarist, but even after being a fan for 30 years I still find myself shaking my head as I listen to some of these recordings. He plays some much, it’s everywhere, and he plays on and on. Even today I still think of him as a song and dance man and listening to his guitar playing is always a headbuster. I didn’t think this rehearsal could get any better but as the song moves past the 12 minute mark I realize that I underestimated this recording by a long way.

When Doves Cry begins very faithfully to what we know so well. After the main hook is played a couple of times, Prince is straight into singing the verses and chorus. Even though it is played as per record, it does have a harder sound to it. Obviously it’s not as polished, but I do love the sound of it here, it is a much stronger band sound. Later in the song we do hear Wendy’s rhythm guitar, which I always enjoy immensely. And my smile becomes even broader as Wendy launches into her guitar solo, it’s impossible not to enjoy her and her playing. After Dr Fink plays his equally cool solo, and Prince gives a fairly impassioned scream, he’s not holding anything back for this rehearsal. The rest of the song is pure groove, and for a few minutes I forget to write as I sit enraptured by the music.

Prince 1984c

A couple of James Brownesque grunts and ‘huh’ and the band play the equally James inspired Irresistible Bitch. For the first time on the recording I find it lacking the intensity of earlier. This is a great song live, but here it’s missing that sharpness and quickness. There is a Dr Fink solo, which has all the qualities you would expect from such a thing, and it’s at this point that I find my interest in the song reinvigorated somewhat. I am very impressed at how well drilled the band are, and how well they respond to Princes call. But I’m not really surprised as I know how much Prince rehearses his bands, and the Revolution are one of the greatest bands he has put together. I thought that this song would have been ripe for the long jam, but it’s played very straight, and Prince ends it sharply after a few stops and starts with the band.

As far as rehearsals go, this one has forced me to reassess my feelings about listening to them. This is far from a rock rehearsal, yet there is plenty of Princes guitar on all the tracks. If anything, it only served to highlight what a well-balanced and versatile band The Revolution were. They have plenty of funk, but rock when they have to. As I said in the beginning, I am rare to listen to rehearsals, but if I was going to take a listen this would be one of my first choices.

So that’s a rehearsal for the birthday show, I guess next week I better listen to the birthday show to see how it all plays out.

Take care
Hamish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Lonely Christmas Rehearsal

The best thing about Prince and his work ethic is the huge amount of rehearsal and practice he puts into his music. And one of the spinoffs of that, is there is plenty of rehearsal recordings for us to enjoy, and peak behind the curtain if you will. Rehearsals are always worth a listen, all sorts of ‘off camera’ moments happen and often they really are just long jam sessions. The recording I am listening to is the Christmas rehearsal from 1984. It’s worth listening to, for the playing of Another Lonely Christmas in several variations, and some very nice casual moments between Prince and the band. I will be listening to the main show from the 26 December next, so we can get some continuity. Merry Christmas, lets begin.

Christmas Rehearsal 1984

The recording begins the best way possible with a sublime version of Another Lonely Christmas. It’s played as an instrumental, and to me it sounds much better than the original. It’s not so crowded, or over the top, and with out the vocals the music gets your full attention. There is some great piano playing, and that is my main focus. Prince is heard talking at times, it sounds like he is joking with the band (I can invest your money, trust me, I’m a doctor). Just after this there is some very low sweet guitar playing, and I realize that this song actually has a lot of layers. The song comes to an abrupt halt, but I could happily listen to it over and over.
There is then some keyboard, picking out the main line of the song for a minute. Its sounds like Prince is explaining it to Brownmark, because I you hear him say “You have to play that, deep notes” Then the bass plays the same line.

Prince Another Lonely Christmas

Prince then says “Alright lets have vocal rehearsal first, When The Saints Go Marching In”. There is a brief moment of Prince humor here when he says “Did you warm your voice up before you came here, of course you did, trust me I’m a musician”. He then begins singing, then asks if Wendy knows it, and then if she knows the Rolling Stones. He begins to play and sing, and his bare talent is on display. He sings much lower than he normally does, and it sounds great. So different from his normal sound, and yet it sounds very natural for him. This song is the highlight of the recording for me, I have never heard Prince sing like this before, and it’s a real eye opener. Its just Prince and Lisa singing together, with a keyboard, but the sound is very authentic and has a nice homely feel to it. Again there is a funny moment later when Prince is trying to encourage Wendy to sing “Come on, sing something, anything” There is another funny moment after another few runs, when Prince turns to preacher, asking for donations “For a new wing we gotta build, on the back of my crib”

Following this there is another run through of Another Lonely Christmas, this time just bass, keyboards, and guitar. They run through the changes and progressions several times. Its interesting, Prince playing and the others playing along with him. It takes several minutes, and is an interesting insight to Prince showing the band a song.

They follow by playing a full version with the entire band, and with some vocals. Prince only sings part of it, he is often giving instructions to the band. It sounds good, but the buzzing bass does tend to dominate a lot. I do enjoy the keyboard swells, and there is some nice guitar playing by Prince. If fact, the guitar playing here is more upfront, and it does sound great. After some guitar work and singing by Prince we are left with a minute of bare bass and keyboard, and it’s a nice break from the previous guitar work, then Prince comes back for some more work on the fret board. He then calls come chords to the band, and the song breaks down and ends. Not much seems to happen, but then after a minute Prince calls “verse two, E” and the band pick it up again very nicely. This time it seems a little more delicate and when Prince sings there is plenty of room to hear him. There song changes several times, and the verse is repeated, all the time the band stay with it. It’s an excellent snap shot of the band at work. The song plays on for quite a long time, and near the end there is a lot of Prince playing guitar, no bad thing at all, he is sounding on top of his game here. The whole thing is more than twenty minutes, and worth every second if it.

Prince Flower

The familiar beat of Lets Go Crazy begins the next section. There is some keyboard work while Prince calls various song titles. But it all stops after a minute. After some brief chat the band start to jam over a beat which Prince describes as sleazy. It’s a very accurate description and sounds familiar as part of the long jam played during I’m A Star. Its starts and stops several times, and has a nice rubbery bass sound to it.

Then we are back to Lets Go Crazy, this time in a more familiar guise. The guitar and keyboard sound is prominent, and again it stops after a minute, then resumes again after a short break. There are no vocals, only the first section played a several times.

The recording then ends with several minutes of testing the Linn drum. Although interesting, there isn’t much to be said about it, and it’s certainly nowhere near approaching a song. However I do enjoy this sort of thing, I guess I am a real Prince geek.

Rehearsals are very interesting to listen to, but almost impossible to write about! I have a few rehearsal recordings and all of them are worth listening to. This one is notable for the Another Lonely Christmas being worked on, and then played later on December 26th. Fairly short, compared to other rehearsals, it’s still well worth listening to.

Next, we will take a listen to the gig played on December 26, featuring Another Lonely Christmas.
Take care- Hamish