Buenos Aires 1991

Anyone who regularly follows this blog will know that I like things to have a symmetry, and I am a completest. So with that in mind, this week I will take a listen to this festival performance from 1991. I have previously covered the Rio concert from a few days previous, and Sabotage have paired that concert with this show from the Rock & Pop festival, Buenos Aires, Argentina. This concert is for the most part the same run through of material, the only difference being that this show is fifteen minutes shorter and is missing a couple of songs from the setlist. I feel that this works in its favor as Prince and the band rush headlong through a setlist that I would otherwise find uninspiring.

21 January, 1991. Buenos Aires, Argentina

I would like to hear a lot more of “Something Funky (This House Comes).”  It’s fun, funky and is an energizing opening for the concert. It is also a good chance for the band to be introduced to the audience as each of their individual talents is highlighted. Prince often used long jams to introduce his bands, especially in later aftershows, and here it is most refreshing to see him us one of his own, upbeat and short songs to achieve the same thing. It doesn’t matter that he is hardly on the mic, Tony M and Rosie Gaines sound strong and enthused, even if the recording is less than pristine.

It is entirely predictable to hear “Let’s Go Crazy” next. It is one of his most well known hits, and not only does it bring the crowd on board, it also maintains the momentum created by the previous “Something Funky (This House Comes). That momentum is temporarily lost for the break down, and the show derails for a moment with this misstep. However “Kiss” restores the balance,  Prince and the band back to the fore as the funk of “Kiss” puts the stamp of authority on the concert, this is now beginning to sound a lot more like a Prince show.

One of the problems I have of shows from this period is the pacing and unevenness of the setlists. “Kiss” was everything you could want from a Prince concert, but again the show hits a brick wall with the “Pink Panther” interlude and Tony M sucking all the energy out of the recording. I like Prince in that he challenges me and my expectations, but sometimes he seems to shoot himself in the foot with these oddities thrown in, and in this case the show almost loses me during these couple of minutes

“Purple Rain” moves this further from a festival show and closer to a Prince concert with its appearance. With the audience joining from the beginning, it has the classic slow build, before Prince cuts through the emotion and music hanging in the air with some highly focused and powerful lead guitar. It stops the song from wallowing in self indulgence, and adds purpose and direction to the opening minutes that threaten to meander. It is his guitar wail that closes out the song, this time coming in a unbridled frenzy that contrasts to the highly structured show, the highlight for me being when the notes comes so fast and furious that they bleed into each other, creating a torrent of noise and raw passion.

“Take Me With U” is a nostalgic opening to what will become a medley of Prince’s upbeat, crowd pleasing songs. The sound isn’t great to be honest, but the song can be heard driving along in the background, still doing what it always does. “Alphabet St.” sounds better on the recording, perhaps because it is sparser, with just Michael B and his drum and Prince’s guitar propelling the song forward. With less clutter, the song is better captured by the recording, however that can’t be said for the rest of the medley. Prince’s rap is fun, but it becomes hard to catch his words as the music speeds up. Likewise, Rosie sounds good, but who knows what exactly what words she is singing as she burns through “It Takes 2.” The chanting can be heard fine, but that isn’t why I listen to bootlegs.  What saves the moment for me through is some very sharp guitar work midsong. Its not intense, or loud, but a fast and intricate sound that highlights the guitar itself as much as the music that is playing.

There is a thinness to “Shake” that is the complete opposite of how I expect it to sound. On record it is full and plumb, here it is malnourished and only a shadow of its former self. I presume the performance itself isn’t to blame and its the recording that is to blame.  Prince himself sounds enthusiastic as he encourages the crowd, and one can only assume that the crowd is fully engaged with the performance.

The concert again slows as Rosie sings “Dr Feelgood” and its hard not to fall in love with her a small bit as she sings. Like a flower in bloom, she opens up as the song progresses, becoming more radiant by the minute. Prince adds some spikiness to the performance with his guitar, but the moment belongs to Rosie as she seizes the microphone and the spotlight.This is the song where I temporarily forget the sound quality as I lose myself in Rosie’s voice.

The piano medley is brief, and again the thinness of the recording is to the fore as the piano sounds tinny and distant. This should be one of the best moments on the bootleg as Prince plays “Venus De Milo,” “Condition Of The Heart,” and “The Question Of U,” but instead it falls in step with what has been previously been heard at the concert.

The fullness returns for “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and the next few minutes are glorious as Prince delivers an inspiring performance. He draws me in with his heartfelt lyrics before the punch of the band hits me at the end of every stanza, making for a memorable rendition that delivers lingers for some minutes afterwards.

There is doubt that the end of the concert is near as “Baby I’m A Star,” struts into view, pimped out and arrogant from the start. Beneath the veneer of cockiness, the song has a youthful and naive energy that makes it the perfect song for this portion of the show. The song does spiral away from the original as the Gamboyz take centre stage and the original song slips further to the fringes as Rosie sings “Respect.” As good as it is, it isn’t quite what I signed up for, and I wait for something familiar from the Prince canon to cling onto.

The music slips easily into a laid back version of “We Can Funk” that is so low key it practically disappears into the carpet as it sinks lower and lower in the mix. “Thieves In The Temple” stays with the funk, but rises out of the floor as Prince delivers a hard hitting and incisive version that drives the show for the next few minutes, giving an added impetus that will carry us through to the end of the concert.

The show ends with “Jughead,” and “Rock The House,” but it isn’t the anti-climatic finish that it sounds like. The band are in fine form as it becomes an easy jam that carries the crowd for sometime. I am no great fan of either song, but there is no denying the energy of them, and they do serve the purpose of ending the concert with the crowd on their feet and dancing. It may not be the greatest bootleg moment, but it is a good record of what Prince and the band were doing at the time.

This is not one of the great bootlegs. The only reason I took the time to give it a listen is because of its pairing with the Rio recording, making for a nice “South American Festivals” package. The concert has no great faults, but it never once reaches any great heights. The recording is average but not bad, the setlist is OK, the performance fine, each part of the release dong just enough to keep me listening to the end. As a completest I am extremely happy to have this, but as a music fan I could happily pass on it. This is Prince treading water, and the average bootleg does nothing to help that feeling. Its listenable, but there’s not a lot of fun to be found here.

Thanks again
Hamish

Rock In Rio II 1991

I started this blog with the expectation that I would be listening to a lot of bootlegs that I had never given attention to. That has been great so far, but now I have swung too far in that direction and there are some universally loved bootlegs that I never have time to listen to anymore. Last week I listened to one of the classic early bootlegs, Detroit 1982, and this week I will be taking a listen to one of Princes most famous video bootlegs in circulation – his performance at Rock In Rio 1991. 1991 is a very quiet year when it comes to live bootlegs. The Nude tour ended August of 1990 and until the beginning of the Diamonds and Pearls tour in April of 1992 there are only a dozen concerts played, leaving us with only a handful of bootlegs. This performance neatly bridges the two eras and although it is close to a Nude tour show, it does indicate the sound and style of The Diamonds And Pearl concerts that will come in the next year.

19th Januarary 1991 (a.m.), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The quality of the video is indisputable, it goes without saying that it looks glorious from the start. The most interest aspect of the video at the beginning is the performance of “Something Funky(In This House Comes)”. It was slated for release on Diamonds and Pearls, although it missed the final cut. One can hear how it might have fitted on there, the sound is close to several of the songs on the album, and it is led by Tony M who has the lead vocals throughout as he introduces the band. Prince cleverly uses it as an introduction to the crowd, both of the band and of the funk, before he makes an appearance in the final moments of the song.

The funk continues with a scratch guitar highlight for the first minute of “Let’s Go Crazy”. It initially sounds as if it could go either way between “Let’s Go Crazy” of “Controversy”, before the music settles on shiny “Let’s Go Crazy” that is anchored by a keyboard swirl and horn stabs. Even with Princes guitar asserting it’s authority, it is still the full sound of the band that keeps the song in this lighter pop realm. It is Michael B. who holds centre court here, his drum kit providing a solid pound that we will hear plenty more of through the 1990’s.

We have already heard “Something Funky(In This House Comes)”, and Prince introduces another song very much of the era with “Horny Pony”. It was recorded the same month as “Something Funky(In This House Comes)” so it comes as no surprise that it has the same sound and sheen to it. It is a good indicator of where Prince was at the time, but asides from that it doesn’t add much to the concert.

“Kiss” is a lot of fun, with Prince prancing and preening across the stage. This is rendition that has been heard plenty on the nude tour from six months previous, and anyone who has seen the Tokyo Dome performance would know what to expect. The music sounds good, but is the dancing that Prince really excels at in this show, and with his interaction with the Gameboyz there is a lot to hold the eye. I haven’t always championed the Gameboyz, here I find I get a lot out of there performance, perhaps it is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. They play with good humour, dancing to “The Peter Gunn Theme” and “The Pink Panther” which is a lot more enjoyable than it looks on paper.

It is a surprise to see “Purple Rain” early in the setlist, although to be honest I have written that plenty of times in this blog over the years, so perhaps it’s not that much of a surprise at all. It may be the guitar the opens the song, but the real treat is Rosie who seeds the opening minutes with sprinkles of piano that brighten the denser sound of the song. Prince too brings a brightness with his lead guitar along with his costume which one could only describe as ‘busy’. (In my head I can hear my father’s voice – “He’s wearing curtains”). The song lacks the gravitas of other performances, but Prince speaks of the Iraq war in the final moments and this changes the tone of the song immensely. With a chant of “Love 4 Love” opening the door on the final solo, Prince is dropping clues about what the future holds for him musically.

The performance of “Bambi” introduces some grittiness into the show, and for the first time on the recording one can feel some bite and aggression in the music. Even tempered by the keyboards and full band, Prince is still out front cutting a swath through the music with his razor sharp guitar riffs. It’s short, but definitely a highlight.

Prince continues dipping into his bag of past glories with a rousing rendition of “Take Me With U” that has both the stadium and the recording bouncing. The video seems rather limited on available shots at this point, and for the first part of the song we alternate between only 3 camera angles. The second half is much better and the editing matches the pace of the song, giving it an impetus that was missing earlier.

“Shake” keeps with the energetic upbeat theme of the concert so far, and although I have never been a great fan of it on record, in this case I find myself happily singing along. Rosie in particular stands out with her impressively solid voice making even Michael B’s drums sound weak in comparison. “Shake” becomes an extended jam as Prince works the crowd through clapping and singing for a few minutes. As is my way, I lose interest at this point, but I can’t deny it is an integral part of the concert experience.

Rosie is the centre of attention for the next song “Dr Feelgood” as Prince leaves the stage for one of his inevitable costume changes. I was an enthusiastic supporter of hers in “Shake”, but I don’t have the same feeling for “Dr Feelgood” which to my ears is overworked and laborious. Yes, Rosie’s vocals are as powerful as ever, but the song stays firmly grounded and leaden despite her best efforts. A shame because I do love Rosie.

Everything changes when Prince returns to the stage and presents an angelic “Venus De Milo”. It doesn’t last too long, but it is a nice segue into “The Question Of U”, also played solo by Prince at the piano. As an instrumental, it spotlights Prince’s prowess with the piano, it hardly matters that the guitar doesn’t make an appearance, this version is just as good as the arrangement on other tours.

“Ain’t No Way” sung by Rosie Gaines would be a sensational song in a small venue, however the concert again sags as she sings it in this situation. Her voice is magnificent, it certainly fills the stadium, but the song has no drive to it and the energy of her voice performance seems to be swallowed up by the stadium. If I close my eyes and picture a club, its great, when I see it at this concert it becomes a weak moment.

There is several highlights in “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Princes vocals are pitch perfect, and his performance is one to watch as he screeches and croons atop his piano. It is a real surprise that Rosie doesn’t sing with him, but asides from that it is a great performance that I could happily watch again and again.

Prince and the band rush headlong into the final furlong with the effervescent “Baby I’m A Star”.  The visuals match the frantic pace, although at times the quick editing of the video is dizzying and headache inducing. As the song disappears beneath the chants and dancing the band show their chops as the keep pace with Prince and his commands. I can’t fault the music, but I do find that Prince is over the top with his performance and for me this devalues the music. Balance is restored as he takes to the piano and the Rosie belts at a passionate “Respect”. That soon becomes Sonny playing a solo on the bass, and for me this is the best part of these final 30 minutes. Tony M too has time to shine with a rendition of “Brother With A Purpose”. I normally wouldn’t mention it, but Prince tags “We Can Funk” onto the end of it and this is every bit as good as you could imagine. Its only a minute, but it banishes the previous minute of Tony M rapping from memory.

“Thieves In The Temple” promises so much with Prince playing solo on the piano for the first minute, but the rest of the song becomes a rush through the music as the band sacrifice the depth of the song for an uptempo beat and 90’s sheen. The final ten minutes of the concert are given over to the “Baby I’m A Star” beat as Prince works the crowd, firstly with call and response, then with dancers on stage. It is even worse than it sounds as “Jughead” gets an airing at this point. I am not the least bit negative about the band or the music, both are of the highest order, but as far as listening to a bootleg at home this part of the show leaves me cold. Even the final flurry of “Baby I’m A Star” can’t restore my enthusiasm and rather than finishing on a high I am left with the feeling of relief that it’s over.

This show hasn’t aged as well as others in my collection. It used to be on high rotation at my place when I was younger, but seeing it again now I realize the at the show itself is incredibly patchy. There are certainly some great moments that match anything else in Prince’s catalog, but they are more than offset by some clunky moments, less than stellar songs, and a show that is high on camp and low on emotional depth. The fact that it was one of the few proshot shows circulating at the time has given it more credibility than perhaps it deserves. An interesting show, with some high points, but not essential. Next time I watch it there will be plenty I will be skipping through.

See you next week
Hamish