Glam Slam 27th June 1994

The years 1994 and 1995 are already well covered in this blog, some might go so far as to say they are over represented. With many of the setlists being similar, one may question why these concerts get so much coverage. It is true that the same music is heard again and again, but Prince and the band are discovering new sounds and textures, and with each song played as an extended version there is plenty of scope for surprising jams to be heard. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the performance on June 26th 1994. While researching the concert I read the Databank’s assessment that the show on the 27th was even better, and one of the best bootlegs of the era circulating. Which brings me to where I am today, headphones on, 4DF’s ‘Acknowledge Me’ in the player and I am all set to take a closer listen to what the Databank calls “one of the best of 1994”

27th June, 1994. Glam Slam Los Angeles

“The Star Spangled Banner” is the first song of the night, with its strong and forceful guitar tone Prince is making a clear signal of intent, the guitar will dominant early on. “The Ride” backs this up as it goes from it steady opening into a blazing solo that captures the listeners imagination even 20 years after the fact. Sometimes I find “The Ride” to be a plod, here it is anything but as the band turn it into a stonking celebration of Prince and his guitar abilities. As an opening number it slaps the faces of the audience, immediately snapping them into life.

Likewise, “The Jam” has a extra sense of energy and thrill to it. The recording is good at this stage, and the audience noise that is heard adds to the sense of the moment rather than detract from it. It all adds up to a version that I find I enjoy immensely, often I find I am waiting for “The Jam” to finish so we can get on to the other music, in this case I enjoy it just as much as anything else on the bootleg.

The first few songs have been good, but it is the following “Shhh” that makes this bootleg what it is. It is a sublime performance of a one of Prince most intense songs, the following minutes transport me to another world altogether. Princes vocals are spellbinding, and the guitar break is both haunting and incessantly angry at the same time. These eight minutes are the best of the recording and enough for me to recommend it to anyone.

I don’t think I have ever heard a bad version of “Days Of Wild”, and the performance here doesn’t break that winning streak. It is in its full head bobbing, heavy funk glory. However, it is the guitar break of Prince that has me grinning from ear to ear – it is sharp and forceful, cutting through the wild jungle of “Days Of Wild” like a flashing machete. The appendage of “Hair” is unnecessary in this performance, Prince has plenty of his own funk without having to dip his pen in someone else’s ink well. This is further highlighted when the bassline of “777-9311” suddenly appears, Princes own funk obliterating any memory of “Hair”

“Now” runs at a lengthy 13 minutes, turning into a long easy groove and jam. The second half is much more enjoyable, the band has a smooth way to them and the song flows easily from the speakers. Its is an easy groove that could go for hours, and even though not a lot seems to be happening it is still worth the listen. Especially catching is the chant of “Clap you hands somebody, somebody clap your hands”, which will be rattling around in my head for the rest of the day.

The next song is a live rarity. “Ripopgodazippa” was only played twice live, this performance is the second and last time. It doesn’t do anything more than is heard on the studio version, but it doesn’t have to as its seductive groove makes it another outstanding moment at this concert. Smoky and sexy, the late night groove fits perfectly in the setlist, and I can only wish that Prince had of played it more often. Again, it heightens the desirability of this bootleg and is another must listen.

Equally of the era is “Acknowledge Me”, from the opening notes it takes us directly back to 1994. The is a lively performance that stands up well to the other songs that have already appeared at the show, it doesn’t outshine anything else, but neither does it fade into the background. It’s a highly enjoyable moment that sets the baseline standard for the concert.

The following two songs are from the “Come” album and work as a nice pairing together. “Papa” is noisier than expected, it loses some of its message, but the music is undeniably good and carries the day. “Race” is a steady performance of a steady song.  It never catches fire at the concert, or on the recording, and although these run of songs are very good, this part of the show plateaus.

“The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” restores the crowd’s enthusiasm and Prince’s performance gets a welcome cheer. The song is faultless and injects pop into a show that is otherwise a succession of funk jams. Its appearance is bright and the recording becomes energized again.

I would love to see the band get wild for “Get Wild”. It does sound like they are going all out,and even listening at home I can visualize what is happening on stage. The long jam keeps me interested, the bass and guitar parts hold me enraptured between the chanting and singing. My favorite moment though belongs to Tommy Barbarella who plays a fast and furious solo that bucks like a wild horse under his command. Every member makes an impression, and this is one of my favorite versions of “Get Wild” in circulation. This bootleg is rapidly approaching a 10/10.

That sentiment carries over to “Santana Medley” that comes next. I thought everything else so far had been great, but Prince finds a way to take the concert through the stratosphere with an epic rendition of the “Santana Medley” This is the moment where the recording almost spontaneously bursts into flames as Prince plays a soulful, yet furious guitar break. It continues to evolve and a couple of times Prince slips back into the shadows before reemerging with another solo that could strip paint from the walls. I listen intently as it spirals and turns, the world rotating around Prince for the minutes that he plays.

“Billy Jack Bitch” is a direct statement and one of the least veiled songs Prince has ever written. Prince takes on the media head on in a none too subtle attack on those that write about him. The live performance is not as venomous as the studio recording and some of Prince’s anger is dissipated by the music, in particular the swirling keyboards that provide a depth and backdrop to Prince’s sharp lyrics. It lives up to some of the other funkier moments in the concert and the final horn stabs drive the point home with a timeless funk sound.

The last song of the show is “Johnny”. Princes rap is much more relaxed, perhaps due to the recording, or perhaps reflecting his mood at this concert. The lyrics may be dated and nowhere as funny as they were at the time, yet the song still stands on its own two feet – especially as Prince’s guitar emerges from the groove with a snake charming solo that has me hanging on every note. The keyboard solo later in the song is every bit its equal and its easy to disappear into the groove and music at this point.  It is entirely fitting that the show ends with the crowd chanting “NPG” – this is very much a band performance and this final song sees them at their very finest.

This is a great release, in a year that is well covered by bootlegs, this one stands out. The quality of the recording is outstanding for an audience recording, but it is the show itself that garners the most praise. These songs are familiar to all Prince fans, and have been heard plenty of times over the years, yet here they are infused with an extra sparkle and energy. I can’t account for why that might be, all I know is that the show sounds fantastic and this is exactly the sort of bootlegs that ignites my passion. 10/10

 

Glam Slam West 1994

I have already covered a few shows from 1994, yet I still find myself drawn to the year again and again. With Prince playing with a looseness and freshness, the concerts of this era always sound lively when listening, even if the setlists are often very similar. The concert I am listening to today comes from a recommendation from someone who was there. It was apparently quite a night and even though the setlist doesn’t reveal anything too surprising, the performance is outstanding: there is a guest appearance by Stevie Wonder and Mavis Staples that makes the recording compulsory listening. Both add soul and link Prince back to the past, cementing his place on Mt Olympics with the other music gods. With plenty of twists and turns in the music, there is plenty to appreciate with a closer listen, but like everyone, it’s these guest appearances that are the real reason I want to hear this.

26th June 1994, Glam Slam, Los Angeles

I am immediately surprised by the opening “The Jam”. A song that I often find pedestrian and overly long, in this case it is upbeat and captures my attention from the start. This is helped in large part by Morris Haynes who is first to play and gives us a solo in his typical style. The song moves quickly, no one person plays too long, and with a Michael Bland drum solo appearing midsong I find the recording has an early momentum to it. The final Sonny T bass solo isn’t anything I haven’t heard before, but it does bring the song to a stomping finish.

I have heard “I Believe In You” across a variety of concerts and the version played at this concert is one of the more memorable versions I have heard. The opening minutes don’t offer much, it is once Prince turns his guitar up that the song becomes something much more muscular and forceful. He plays with finesse rather than a fury, something that demonstrates his ability far more than a flurry of notes would. Without overworking the guitar, Prince’s break elevates the song and adds a backbone to a song that was previously meandering.

As “Interactive” begins I am transported back to 1994 and the Interactive video game in an instant. Such is the power of music to bring back memories. The version at this show doesn’t begin strongly, it is the second part of the song where all the thrills and excitement await. Prince’s guitar leads the way, with a minute of incisive and sharp playing that leaves me dizzy. It may be only a minute, but it is a thrilling ride showing Prince at his best.

“Days Of Wild” is a 13 minute jam the encapsulates all that was good and great about Prince and the NPG in 1994. The band jam easily across the song, the insistent funk staying to the fore as they throw a variety of sounds over the top of it. The heavy squelch holds the bottom, something that I usually enjoy most, but in this case there is so much else happening I find I hardly notice it. Prince is in fine form, joking with the band as he runs them through their paces. The bass playing late in the song is the definite highlight – firstly a light solo that has me swooning here at home, then switching to “777-9311”, at which point I almost faint in child-like excitement. The song is a 10 in my book, and by the time the guitar comes with waves of bluster and bravado I am considering scoring it an 11.

As an album track “Now” is neither here nor there. Live, however, it is another great moment, and like the preceding “Days Of Wild”, it gets a 13 minute jam. As an all-in performance the song becomes a glorious live celebration, the crowd can be heard chanting a whooping in appreciation throughout. I particularly like the breakdown midsong, as the music slows and the long groove of Morris Hayes carries the song for some minutes. The song continues as a laid back groove for quite sometime, even with Prince on the microphone and guitar it still doesn’t ignite back into a song again until well past the ten minute mark. As Prince sings “Superstitious” the music stays low, his lone guitar signalling the end of the song.

Prince’s guitar stays the main focus with “Mary Don’t You Weep”. He plays a sparkling opening before the lyrics begin, and then as the music changes he returns with a further cascade of guitar. The crowd contribute their part as Prince leads then through a chorus, before the keyboards come on board with a solo from Tommy that is easy on the ear. The response from Prince is great, some mellow and melodic guitar work that displays an intricacy and emotional core. It is his guitar that carries the song to its natural conclusion, flowing easily until it dries up.

“The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” is mature in it’s sound, it lacks some sparkle of the single release, yet this mustang mix is far more rewarding and holds up well on repeated listening. It is a complete performance, Prince is playing well within the band and to my ears it is more complete and well rounded. The song is marinated in a funky adult rhythm that hints to the growth of Prince at this time and new directions he is pursuing. The is no doubt though that the real highlight comes in the final minutes as Prince calls for Stevie Wonder to come to the stage, preparing us for what comes next.

There is some mutual love between the two as Stevie Wonder opens up on the microphone about the influence of Prince and all those that came before, thus providing context where Prince’s music fits into the big picture. The following song is anything that you might expect or wish for. There is plenty of Stevie’s singing as they play “Maybe Your baby”, plenty of funky keyboards, and plenty of Prince’s hot guitar playing. He doesn’t mess around with a smoldering solo here, it is all furnace and fire as he puts an exclamation point on all that Stevie provides. This moment of the bootleg promised the world, and boy did it deliver.

The high standard is maintained for the following “I’ll Take You There” with Mavis Staples leading from the front. As far as I’m concerned, this is the definitive version with Mavis’s vocals, Princes guitar and the bass of Sonny T playing up a storm together. Mavis stands head and shoulders above all else though, and her contribution can’t be underestimated. I thought the appearance of Stevie was mind blowing, Mavis comes a very close second and almost upstages him.

“Dark” comes as a smooth ride after this, it would be a let down if it wasn’t just so easy and enjoyable to listen to.  Prince again becomes the main focus of the show as the music swirls and stabs around him, not quite concrete enough to latch onto yet the stabs providing a sharpness that gives the song some shape. It may not as monumental as some of the other performances on the recording, but I find it just as satisfying.

The song does become an upbeat instrumental which, although four minutes long, serves as an introduction for “Get Wild”. It does flicker and flame for sometime before Prince calls for Mayte and “Get Wild” kicks off in high gear. It’s not terribly interesting musically, as is his way Prince uses most of the song to engage with the audience, encouraging them to sing the chorus and get wild themselves. It sounds like a lot of fun, but on the bootleg it is a flat spot.

The show ends with a raw “Peach”, introduced by the comment “This is a cover version of a song by someone called Prince”.  Its fast, full and frenzied. Prince’s guitar is wonderfully dirty and leaves very little space for anything else in the song, exactly as it should be. Peach can get repetitive, but this performance is one of the better ones and it is a bright ending to what has been an excellent concert.

This recording delivered everything it promised. As to be expected, the guest appearances were phenomenal and the rest of the show was just as spirited. There are plenty of great bootlegs from the 1994 concerts, this one would be very high on my recommendations list. I am thankful that it was recommended to me and I would happily recommend it to anyone else.

 

Thanks again
Hamish

1994, Roseland Ballroom New York

Following on from last week’s blog, this week I will be listening to another show from 1994 -the soundboard recording from the Roseland Ballroom New York. On the surface it seems to be similar to the show from the Palladium earlier in the year, but a preliminary listen the other day reveals that this one has raised the bar higher, and with some additional songs in the set list it offers a different listening experience. I know I spoke highly of the show last week, and I somewhat regret that now that I have heard this one and it’s even better.  There is a lot to be said for this one, so I guess I had better get on and say it.

12th December 1994, Roseland Ballroom New York

The recording opens with an incomplete Endorphinmachine. The first portion of the song is missing and the recording picks up just as Princes guitar solo is in full flight, before he slips into the spoken word breakdown. Its wonderfully clear, and even incomplete it is well worth the listen. Prince isn’t setting the world on fire here, but he is sounding strong and clear, something that bodes well for the rest of the recording.

I have previously often written of my ambivalent feelings toward The Jam, the version played here leaves no doubt in my mind, it sounds fresh and light and is great introduction to the band leaving me completely sold on it. The keyboard solos are lighter, they lift the song, and the guitar line underneath is well served by the recording, every nuance is recorded and easy to hear. Normally I enjoy the first organ solo, then drift off as the rest of the song plays, today is different and I listen enraptured to every moment. I enjoy all the different elements, as each member plays I listen to them with enthusiasm and never once do I lose interest.

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Last week I wrote that Shhh was the highlight of the show. This week’s performance trumps that, it is hands down one of the best versions I have heard. A lot of this has to do with the recording, its silky smooth, and I can feel the song as much as I can hear it. Prince’s performance sounds steamy and the recording is so good I can almost hear the sweat dripping off him as he sings. There are two aspects to the song, firstly the vocal performance which is sensual and full of desire, and then the guitar breaks which start with a smoky stutter before becoming full blooded and soaked in passion. Both parts of the song are beyond compare, and as Prince wraps it up with the guitar crying I decide that this is my new favourite version.

Days Of Wild also benefits from this soundboard recording, it has a lightness and clarity as it squelches across the soundscape. Without the heaviness Prince’s vocals can be heard clearly, and every syllable enunciated has been captured by this fantastic recording. The groove continues it’s roll, and even as Prince sings Hair, the underlying Days Of Wild rumbles along before we return to the chorus. The song has a couple of twists and turns which keeps it interesting, as well as the heavy funk there is a lighter guitar break that drops out of nowhere, before it closes with the crowd chanting.

We have another long funk workout next with Now. It’s the latter part of the song where things get interesting, the band go into a long extended groove before Ninety-9 joins them and begins to rap. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is interesting to hear something different, personally I’m not overly enamoured by it although it does keep me listening. However there is no denying the pulse of the organ groove under it, and this is what keeps the song and me moving forward.

With the quality of the recording and a slight echo Prince sounds ethereal as he sings The Most Beautiful Girl In The World. The music is fine, but it does sound of this earth while Prince’s vocals seem to come from someplace else entirely. This is the hit song of the year and was played constantly, yet here it is as fresh as ever, its pure pop sound undiminished by constant rotation. With the keyboards showering the song in their colourful runs, it ends on a high that has me smiling for several minutes after.

Princes vocals sound somewhat detached from P.Control, although it is held together by the music. The vocals are clear but not as loud as I expect, maybe the recording is too clean for its own good. The band are very tight through the song, and there is not a loose moment in the whole thing, it is play as straight as can be. It’s a good moment in the show, without exploding into anything more.

Letitgo has Prince talking about his contract for the first minute before the band slips into the easy groove. It has a seductive slide to it which gets my head bobbing from the start. The song lacks any real punch; it stays on the gentle side of a groove with the wheeze of the organ carrying the versus before the song opens up for the chorus. It’s an enjoyable few minutes although like the previous song it doesn’t punch things to the next level.

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We get a treat next as the band plays the first live performance of Pink Cashmere. The stabs at the beginning add some sharpness to it, although to be honest it is Prince’s singing that is the main attraction of the song. There is added interest in way of a jazzy interlude which briefly takes the song to a different plane. Overall Prince keeps it relatively straight and this song is the biggest benefactor of the soundboard recording, Prince vocals sound great as do the keyboards and drums through the whole song.

A minute of guitar noodling leads us into a version of The Ride that seems to be slightly faster. Prince doesn’t dwell on it as is his usual way, instead the song moves along at a steady pace allowing him to quickly cut into this work on the guitar. The normal slow burning guitar is replaced by something quicker and sharper, there is still a buzz to it but the notes come in flurries rather than being drawn out. The song is shorter than normal, the final minutes dominated by Prince talking to the crowd as he plays.

Race has things moving, and like other songs on this recording it gains a lot from the soundboard recording – Prince sounds cleaner than I have previously heard in live versions of this, and the song gains an extra level of energy. It rattles and rolls without settling down, and Tommy’s solo keeps it off balance, it never feels like it settles into a groove. That is until Morris plays on his organ, and it is at this point that the song and the band hit their straps and drive it home. There is some excellent keyboard sounds from all involved in the final minutes of the song, and at that point it becomes looser and more of a jam.

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I was looking forward to hearing Superhero, it is a great NPG song that deserves more coverage. The up-tempo beat and quick groove gets the energy levels up, especially midsong when the drums begin to pound with the Superhero refrain. Things get wild from this point on as the keyboards go off piste with some very cool solos that lead naturally into Outa-space. We are fully into the jam at this point, with plenty of different sounds coming at us thick and fast. The groove however remains constant, and I find that I have to resist the urge to get up and dance to it. The final few minutes bring the greatest surprise, with Morris indulging in some playing that has come straight out the church while the rest of the band fall silent. It’s an interesting moment, and although I am use to the God and religion in Prince’s music it is still a surprise to hear such a church moment at this stage.

The organ sound returns as the final song of the evening begins, and the first couple of minutes are all Morris Hayes before Get Wild kicks off proper. Its bright and shiny, with the keyboard playing horn parts and giving it some extra sparkle. Things become much more serious as Prince unleashes some heavy guitar. It’s brief as it ushers in the next part of the song, plenty of loose solos provided by all. Princes vocals are again sounding detached in the mix, luckily it’s all about the band and the music for this final hoorah. The highlight is certainly the bass, as the song plays this is the moment I look forward to and it doesn’t disappoint at all with some thick yet sharp bass playing.  The disappointment comes from the fact that this is the final song, and as it wraps up I am still hungry for more.

It’s refreshing to hear a show such as this in soundboard, and in years to come I am confident it will be highly regarded. Prince and the band are lively and play a tight and enjoyable show. I have only listened to this a couple of times, and I will be listening to it plenty more times in the years to come. A great show, a quality recording and a beautiful cover, you really couldn’t ask for anything more, this recording deserves all the coverage it gets.

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Palladium 1994

Here I was thinking I was running out of quality shows to write about when not one, but five new soundboards from 1994 drop upon us. With these new found jewels I am spoilt for choice, and for this week’s blog I am having a listen to the one that immediately appeals to me, the Palladium show. Featuring guest appearances from two of my other heroes – Vernon Reid and Lenny Kravitz, I am sure you can already see the attraction of such a line-up. Vernon and Lenny only play on two songs in the show, but those two songs are guitar heavy and my mouth is already watering in anticipation. So, enough of the words, give me the music.

14th July 1994, The Palladium New York

Firstly, this is a beautiful soundboard recording, it’s all I can do to refrain from writing “soundboard, soundboard, soundboard!”  The whole thing sounds great right from the first moments, and the fact that the first song is Gold only heightens the experience. The song shines and shimmers like its name, and although Princes vocals do sound quiet, the rest of the song is bold and full. The guitar that plays later in the piece is easily the strongest moment, and it adds some muscle to the performance which is lacking early on – I am in no way saying that earlier in the song didn’t sound good, but the extra push that the guitar adds gives it that little bit extra that is required to take it to the next level.

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Prince sounds more forward as he introduces The Jam, but after the initial shout out to New York he takes a back seat as the music takes centre stage. There is a guitar that slips in and around the keyboard, and this gives it a sharper sound, and as previously mentioned the recording catches every nuance of it. Asides from that, the rest of the song follows as we have heard plenty of times before with each band member adding their piece. As always Michael B’s drum solo gets the crowd briefly excited and involved with the show. I do find that as the song progresses I get a lot more out of it as it’s a soundboard, and it’s very easy to hear the quality of the band members.

I Believe In You is a stable of these 1994 performance, so I register zero surprise when I hear it next. It does have more life to it than other performances I have heard, the keyboards are again strong although Princes vocals are still quieter than everything else on stage. He does make up for it with some wailing the guitar which is noteworthy and the final minute of the song has some interplay between the bass and keyboards which is also a pleasure to listen to.

There is no scream at the beginning of Endorphinmachine, but there is the shriek of the guitar which amply compensates. Things don’t stray too far from this, it’s the guitar that is all over this that I listen to, while Princes vocals remain low. The guitar has plenty of momentum and drive to it, and it carries the song along. The song remains fun throughout, and everytime Prince touches the guitar everything lights up.  It’s never heavy, but it is energetic and lively.

Space is spacey sounding and lowers the energy levels with it’s easy shuffle. Prince’s vocals float across the music and it propels itself along nicely. It’s hard not to like it, and Prince performs it effortlessly with a summertime groove to it. The song makes such an impression that I want to go back and listen to the original which is always a good thing. There is yet more to get excited about with some guitar work coming through for the last minute which is subtle yet fast. The song ends much too soon, and it’s the surprise of the recording so far.

There is a sense of urgency to Days Of Wild, it is lacking the heavy swell of other performances, but Prince performs it as if it was the most important song in the world, you simply cannot fault his passion. He has me completely sold on the performance, and although the guitar solo is thin, Princes vocals are the strongest they have been so far in the recording, and just in time too. The song bounces, rather than steamrollering over everything, and it has plenty of energy to it.  Hair is thrown in for good measure, which doesn’t excite me, before the appearance of the 777-9311 bassline has me getting my hopes up, only for Prince to dash them again with “We don’t play that shit, Prince is dead” The bassline only played for half a minute, and it is easily one of the best parts of the first half of the show. Days Of Wild continues it’s unstoppable groove, and it hammers home the heavy funk of Prince at this time.

I am not normally a big fan of Now, this version has me flip-flopping and reconsidering my opinion. It must be the quality of the recording, I am enjoying every single moment of the show. Now starts off on the straight and narrow, before taking off into outer space with a bare beat and then a long interesting jam. Some space age sounding keyboards lead the way and things become even funkier as Prince address the crowd and the keyboards become even more extreme in their sound. It’s one of the longer jams on the recording, and not a minute of it is wasted.

The Most Beautiful Girl In The World is the complete opposite, it is short and full of pop and sparkle as it plays. It shines brightly in contrast to the previous two songs, and even with Princes vocals still remaining low, it highlights his lyrics and singing. The audience become much more audible near the end of the song as the recording changes to an audience recording for the next four songs. It’s not a bad audience recording, but it is noticeable after listening to the clean soundboard for the first part of the show.

I always enjoy Billy Jack Bitch, and here is no different as Prince delivers up an impassioned rendition, backed all the way by the audience. Prince’s vocals are stronger sounding on the audience recording, it may not be as clean, but he is certainly a lot louder. Prince gives a great performance and his blazing guitar adds to the venom of the song. Morris Hayes gives the song some depth, and along with the audience singing the show takes on a different feel.

Papa is faster than on record, and sounds more disturbing than the album version. Prince sounds deeper and darker, and injects something extra into the performance, and nowhere it’s an intense and interesting performance. The guitar adds fuel to the fire as the song ends on a high. One of the shorter songs at the show, it nevertheless delivers a punch.

We slide back to the soundboard recording with Love Sign, and its notable for it’s smooth sound and the appearance of Nona Gaye. It also signals the return to Prince vocals being quiet in the mix. The song itself is smooth as velvet, and is faithful to the recorded version. If not for the moment when Prince calls “New York” I wouldn’t have noticed a difference.

Shhh comes from another world, it is so glorious sounding. Prince is in complete control as he works the song and the audience. With lyrics that positively drip in sweat and lust he works his way up towards the searing guitar break that closes the song. It is without doubt the high point of the show, and of the recording.  A masterful song, it takes on new life in the live setting, and hearing it in this pristine soundboard is truly a joy. Clocking in at ten minutes it is unmatched by anything else on the recording.

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I finally get to the moment I have been waiting for as Prince is joined on stage by Lenny Kravitz and Vernon Reid. For such a line-up of guitar heroes, it’s surprising that the first moments are all about the heaving keyboard. That wrong is soon righted as the band groove on Mary Don’t You Weep and Prince encourages Vernon to solo, before turning it over to Lenny. Both are recognizable in their unique styles, and Prince is correct as he sings “I don’t have to introduce my friends”. As good as the guitars are, there is plenty of space for everyone, and Prince takes the time to let the keyboards play extended solos as well. They all add layers to the music, giving it a timeless sound that will stand up to repeated listens. I am surprised by how little guitar there is for most of the song, but Vernon more than makes up for it in the final minutes as he adds his crunching guitar sound.

No Of Your Business sounds sharp and crisp, with plenty more organ and keys at the beginning. Of course the guitars to enter the fray, they know their place and stay low key early on before adding more sparkle later in the song. Vernon Reid and his guitar is front and centre, and the song is just a stepping off point for plenty of funk and roll. The guitars don’t solo, but they do drive the song in their own ways, and I get a kick out of hearing Vernon Reid adding his sound to Prince. It is the party jam that you would expect at this point of the show, and it’s got a celebratory feel through the entire song. It not a song full of guitar solos as I expected, but Vernon Reid’s sound is present in the whole song, and a real highlight.

Get Wild is a fitting song to end the show with, and once again we have an upbeat funky jam. Morris Hayes adds his weight to the song, and with Tommy contributing there is plenty of keyboards underpinning the song. Tommy plays almost as a horn player, and his playing gives a brightness to the song. With drums coming like gun shots, and the keyboard of Tommy Barbarella adding a sharpness, the song is a funky weapon, and then a weapon of mass destruction as Prince layers some furious guitar over it. With a screech and howl amidst feedback of the guitar the song ends in the only way possible, and with the ringing in my ears the recording too ends.

I am pleased to look back and see that I haven’t just written “soundboard” over and over for this blogpost. Trust me, it was very tempting to do so. This is a most welcome addition to the collection, and I most pleased to see it appear. Although the set list was routine, the performance and guests were not. Every song was played with plenty of heart, and with the soundboard recording there was plenty of new things to pick up on. Lenny and Vernon appearing was a definite bonus, Lenny was disappointing and quiet in the mix, while Vernon was unmistakable and his sound was all over the songs he played on. With some top notch performances of the songs of the era, and the great sound, this is a great addition to the collection. Hopefully we will get plenty more of the same in the coming months.

Thanks for reading,
Take care
-Hamish

 

Glam Slam MPLS 1994

There have been a rash of great recordings popping up in the last couple of months, and I am spoilt for choice when I want to hear something new. I was unsure which one I should listen to this week, and in the end I chose this recording from 1994. I mostly chose it before I have been listening to quite a lot from the 1990’s recently, and this seemed to fit nicely. Last week was the glamour and show of a Diamonds and Pearls show, this recording is a couple of years later, and completely different in many ways. In the two years in between a great deal has changed in Prince’s world. It’s a small early morning show from the Glam Slam club in Minneapolis, and show cases the strength of Prince and the band musically. All the key elements of a great show are there, and as a nice bonus it’s a soundboard recording.

29th May 1994 (am) Glam Slam, Minneapolis

Things start very well indeed with a heavy insistent riff from Prince and his guitar. The scene is well and truly set as the bass and keyboard coming it, and it has a full blooded raw sound which I always like. This cover version of Sly Stones Sex Machine is well chosen, and for those fans of Princes guitar work there is plenty to enjoy and admire. He warms to his work, slow and steady with plenty of groove. It certainly has that aftershow vibe about it, the guitar moves in and out as the music swirls around it.

Prince 1994b

We don’t move too far from the Sly Stone sound, as next the band plays It’s Alright by Graham Central Station. I know this song very well now, having heard Prince play it many times over the years, what makes this version good is that it is the first time that Prince and the band played it live. There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the performance, and Prince sounds quite young in places. I can feel this rubbing off on me, and as I listen I feel uplifted. It is truncated, but thankfully it’s not part of a medley, the band just fades it out after a couple of minutes.

Listening to New Power Soul next, I am thinking here’s a song I don’t recall hearing live before. It seems I was right, this is the only live performance of it. At first it fails to excite me, that is until a crisp bouncy guitar appears midsong, and there is plenty of interesting things to listen to from here on in. Prince mentions Poor Goo, the song doesn’t eventuate, he’s just talking. Morris Hayes on the keys sounds good, I would like to have him further forward in the mix though. Asides from that it’s a nice performance, and a cool oddity to have thrown in mid-set.

I saw Dolphin on the setlist and I had my hopes up. Unfortunately we don’t get a full performance, instead Prince sings the first verse before bringing it to a halt and telling us “sorry, we can’t do that, it’s private” Again, it’s the first public airing of a song, and although it was little more than an intro, it is another tease and clue to what’s going on in Prince’s world at the time.

Prince 1994

I always associate The Most Beautiful Girl In The World (Mustang Mix) with this band configuration. Played this way it’s a perfect fit with their style and it works extremely well in this club setting. It has a slow burning sound to it, and I think this is heightened by Morris Hayes playing. Some of the glitter and sparkle is taken from the song, and we have here a darker, warmer groove. Twenty years ago I didn’t get it, now I do and it’s a firm favourite.

Things get funky when the band start on a 15-minute version of Get Wild. It’s slow to start, then builds into a big groove. The best part is when we get to the breakdown in the middle of the song, first there is there is a solo from Brian Gallagher that leaps out at me, it’s got plenty of life to it, then Prince breaks it down before the chorus and groove return with a vengeance. The horn section adds a lot to the show at this stage, there’s plenty of stabs and swells as the band and crowd chant. The horns add some brightness to the groove and emphasis the main riff, giving it a real lift.

Prince 1994a

I am very pleased to hear Billy Jack Bitch next. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I am a fan. It does sound flat in places here, energy wise, luckily the horns and the chorus bring it right back up.  There is a pause midsong, when it comes back it is heavy with the horns and organ, and it’s this part of the song that I dig most. Prince yells “release date never” which gives some insight to where he was in his battle to release material at that stage.

The show goes out on a high with a performance of Days Of Wild. The start is particularly good, with Prince sing a capella for the first minute before the power of the band come in behind him. The lyrics are crystal clear, this sound board recording is great for highlighting his vocals, and the lyrics are fun. There is nothing new as they groove into Hair, although the song does seem to lose it momentum, only to gear up again into the heavy grind of Days Of Wild a minute later. It is Michael B and his drumming that carries us through to the end of the song, with the crowd heard chanting “Go Michael”, a fitting end to the show.

Prince Slave

Although short, this show was well worth a listen. The fact that it was a beautiful sounding soundboard added a lot to a show that looked somewhat short on paper. It was in fact a very nice document of a show from the string of shows such as this that he played in 1994. I will be playing it for the next few weeks in my car, and really I can’t give it a higher recommendation than that.

Thanks again, have a great week
-Hamish

Le Bataclan 1994

 
Paris, nous vous aimons.

 

6 May 1994, Le Bataclan, Paris

This recording has a beautiful sounding beginning. Admittedly it’s an audience recording, and yet it’s got a real warmth to it. The audience is audible, and in this case they add to the recording rather than detract from it. There is some cheering, and some fine sounding lead guitar from Prince as he obviously prepares for the first song. After a minute of great guitar playing, the keyboard intro of Gold begins and as the crowd begins to clap I am transported back to another time and place- such is the power of music. Gold sounds distant on the recording, but it’s joyful to hear it in this setting, and with the noise of the crowd there is a celebratory feel to it that more than makes up for the recording. Although Prince sounds distant, the crowd rejoices in singing the chorus, and I sing and cheer with them all the way. Late in the song Prince and the band disappear in the crowd’s singing, but when he returns with the coda I can hear him just fine. It is apparent however that this song belongs just as much to the audience as to Prince.

Le Bataclan Prince

The intro of The Jam features some more lead guitar from Prince, and that’s always very listenable for me. I find myself writing about The Jam week after week, and it’s obviously a favourite of Prince. This one is par for the course, although the crowd noise and chanting do add an extra dimension. Again, I can’t speak highly enough of Morris Hayes, I always love his contribution and usually find myself tuning out when he isn’t to the fore. Tommy Barbarella also plays well, it’s a shame that I can’t get past the goodness that is Mr Hayes. There is a treat later in the song with some sharp rhythm guitar from Prince himself, before he switches to more lead. I find his rhythm playing to be what I like most, and I would love to have him play much more like this.

I Believe In You changes gears somewhat and has Prince singing in a tone that sounds more natural, and he has a lot of character in his voice. There is no doubt that Prince is a great singer, but what I think is best about his singing is the way he can put character and emotion into his vocal performance. Without vocal gymnastics here he sings with plenty of character and feeling. There are a couple of fun guitar moments, they don’t however overshadow the singing in the first part of the song that I enjoyed so much.

I did a double take when I heard Interactive, I didn’t read the track list before I started so it is a pleasant surprise to hear it on here. It does sound a little wishy-washy, I’m going to give Prince the benefit of the doubt here and put it down to the recording rather than him and the band. The guitar break is nice to hear, without ever scaling the guitar hero heights.

Days Of Wild also sounds muted, again I put it down to the recording. The bass comes through well, as does Prince’s vocals. It’s the rest of the band that I don’t get booming through my speakers, and the song is weaker for it. However that doesn’t stop me from singing boisterously throughout and bobbing my head like a grinning idiot. This song sums up my feeling of Prince at the time, both in sound and style, and it’s this new wild sounding Prince that I couldn’t get enough of. He does play tribute to Larry Graham, with a verse of Hair and not a bad impersonation of the man himself.

After the heaviness of Days Of Wild, Now adds a lot of fun and energy to the show. Prince’s vocals sound fun as he spits his lines, and although they may not sound great on record, in the live setting it certainly has a party vibe.  I find that I am once again smiling through the whole song, and I really can’t ask for anything better than that. Now slows to a smooth groove and over the organ stabs Prince begins to sing Babies Makin’ Babies. I have heard it like this before plenty of times, and I still get enjoyment out of it to this day, especially when the quirky sounding solo begins. Oh yes, this is right up my alley. The song weaves in and out for the last couple of minutes, it may not be to everyone’s tastes, but I listened enraptured.

There is plenty of guitar noodling to keep the guitar geeks happy before Prince finally settles on the steady beat of The Ride. This too is another great track, and sounds lighter than I have heard elsewhere. Prince’s vocals are playful, and the beat doesn’t dominate the song as much as it sometimes does. The audience add their touch with an upbeat clap through the song, and I think that this, as much as anything else, adds lightness to it. So too does their chanting which is surprisingly good, I know if it was me I would be drunkenly shouting. The chanting goes for a good few minutes, and I don’t mind it at all. I do at one stage wonder if Prince is going to play guitar at all, but he does oblige with some classic sounding solos, all of which I could rave about. The song ends with plenty more crowd interaction, and it sounds very celebratory.

There is more guitar sound from Prince as things take a break at the beginning of Acknowledge Me. Prince does his spoken intro, and it has a delicious sound to it that sounds both inviting and scary at the same time. I turn it up to hear him better and I am caught off guard as the band jump in and the song begins. With my speakers cranked right up this song sounds great and I could easily see myself driving around town with this pumping out in my car. Even Prince’s spoken rap sounds good in these circumstances, and I give him full credit for managing to get it sounding so good in a live venue. Michael B drives the song along and this is especially apparent when the band drop out and we can hear his drums in full effect.  The last few minutes are great with the bass, drums and audience claps pulling us through to the conclusion of the song.  As with some of the other songs there is plenty of audience interaction that for me captures the beauty of going to a live show.

There is again silence as Prince solemnly delivers up a spoken intro before the song opens up to Dark. The title maybe Dark, but the song is anything but, and it’s a ray of pop sunshine to an already joyful sounding show. Prince is in fine voice and he gets better as the song goes along, injecting more passion and fire as he goes, before pulling back into a deep laid back voice. The song is pitched just right, and is perfect for this lazy Sunday afternoon.

The Instrumental that follows is an up-tempo jam that flies along at a clip. Of course Morris Hayes and his organ excel at this type of thing and his playing holds it all together. The crowd clap enthusiastically, so I have to listen carefully to hear the band, and I’m not complaining one bit- that’s what I love to do. The band is playing quick, but the crowd still ably keeps up with them with their clapping and cheering. Sonny gets his time in the sun, I can’t hear him very well (Is it the recording, or is it my hearing that I have abused all these years?) but what I do hear, I like. In fact I like it a lot, and it gets better for me for as it progresses it gets louder and easier for me to hear.

Prince returns to front and centre next for a performance of Solo. There is some talking in the crowd early on, but Prince’s vocal performance silences them. I believe that this was Prince’s first live performance of the song, and he does it justice with a knockout rendition. There isn’t too much more to say about it, but I assure you, that despite the recording, it’s Prince doing what he does best.

Race has the crowd singing loudly as Prince leads the band in a tight performance. Everyone is sounding good, but again I must mention Morris Hayes as a standout. He really is the lynch pin of this band and the sound at the time. When I listen to these shows, it’s his sound under it all that binds it all together. Without him this configuration of the band would have a different sound, and it’s richer for having him there. The latter part of the song is a keyboard jam that captures the spirit of the whole song.

After a couple of minutes of the “oh way oh” chant the band return with a noisy sounding Peach, as always dedicated to Mayte. There is some fiery sounding guitar before the song kicks off proper and the party really starts – guitar, band and crowd all adding their sound to the mix. There is singing from Prince, some chanting from the crowd, and then the guitar really takes over for the last couple of minutes, as you might well expect. It’s not rocket science, but it is exhilarating and thrilling. Prince ends by encouraging the audience to show some appreciating for Michael B, who dutifully finishes the show with a cameo of a drum solo.

This show is for me what live music is all about. Sure, the recording isn’t great, but that’s irrelevant. There is an x-factor to it and it captures the magic of a live show. I have used the words joyful and celebratory a couple of times already, these words are important to me and my feeling for live music. Nothing can beat that joyful feeling as the band soar and everything drops away leaving you swimming in the music. The audience were just as much a part of the show as the band, and that sense of celebration and togetherness seeps out of the recording all over the place. Listen to this and revel in that feeling that only the magic of a live show can give you.  

Be good to each other
Hamish

Beautiful Experience

I have been badgered into writing today’s entry by long time Prince fan Jony. He has long maintained that this is one of Princes greatest recordings, and I should check it out. For the longest time I was adamant that I didn’t actually have this one, and I hadn’t heard it. Then last week I was cleaning the spare room, and voila, there was the CD. The recording itself is from early 1994, and believe it is Princes first performance as Symbol. Some of these songs are now firm favorites in my house, but at the time they were all new to me and quite a departure from what had come previously. A quality recording of one his most creative eras? Yeah, I’ll give that a listen!

13 February, 1994, Paisley Park

I love the start of this one. The first thing we hear is Prince saying “alright, lets get it started” before the sound of a computer keyboard and a voice-over telling us there is over 500 experiences to choose from, the same as we hear on the Gold Experience album. A nice scream from the back of Princes throat brings the band and the music into focus with a fine sounding performance of Interactive. This is a soundboard, but my copy sounds a little muted, its does seem to be missing some of the top end, and a little bass. Perhaps because I only have it as MP3’s. A bit of tweaking and it would sound much fuller. The band pause after a minute, while the voice over returns, then we kick back in. The drums sound good here, some excellent sounding tom-toms, before Princes guitar solo brings things nicely into focus, and energizes the song again. About now I can hear the keyboards underneath, and I realize that this one will give me something more with every listen. It’s a short sharp song, and nicely sets the scene for what is coming next.

Prince Feb 1994

And what is coming next is something extraordinary- the first ever live performance of Days of Wild. Hold onto your wigs indeed! It sounds great here, I really dig the nice deep groove to it, and it’s got a slightly dark sound to it. There is a lot happening with first listening, the juicy bass line, the moaning and groaning keyboard, the sharp keys dancing overtop, and to top it all off we have Princes vocal delivery. Not just the lyrics he is singing, but also the passionate way he spits it out, it commands my attention throughout the song. The ‘hold on to your wigs’ refrain balances it nicely, and gives me a chance to wave my wild sign high as I write this. Oh by the way, he plays guitar- its a thin sounding guitar solo we get here, it doesn’t stand up again the dark deep grooves, but its not bad. The song is already very strong and a stronger guitar break would have been overwhelming. I could quite happily turn of my computer now and just groove to this, but it does end and I find myself writing about the next song.

Prince Feb 1994d

Now has a happy sing a long beginning. Again it is another first performance of a new song. On a good day I really enjoy Now, and on an average day I find it a bit ho-hum. It is at a great disadvantage coming straight after Days of Wild. Another groove song, it doesn’t have the dark strength of Days of Wild, nor does it compare in Princes vocal delivery. For all that though, it does draw me in, and by midsong I am hanging on Princes words, even if I do find the chorus too much. Putting down the laptop and dancing around the room it would be a much better experience, but sat as I am writing about it, it’s not that great. I cannot fault Princes passion, nor the performance of the band, it’s a solid B+.


The bluesy The Ride follows next, and Prince pitches it to the over 35’s in the crowd, great – something for my demographic. It’s a good clean version we get here, I have heard it much slower and bluesier. The recording is great in that I can hear Princes singing so well, something I usually miss on live recordings of this where I mostly concentrate on the guitar work. Prince’s voice is full and he’s in complete control after the fury and fun of the first couple of songs. No sooner had I commented on Princes vocals then the guitar work begins. It’s not long, but it is one of the better ones I have heard on this song. Very joyful to my ears, and something I will be coming back to again. It pulls back to softer guitar before Prince ends it with “If you got the time baby, I got the ride” and a call for “Vegas in E’. Now I have listened to this song plenty of times over the years, but this was the first time I realized the lewdness of the ‘the ride’. Let’s just say I was a little naive.

The Jam next, and its very much like the all the other jams we have heard from this era, lots of Prince calling “oh he’s a funky man” as he moves around the band and gives them all a moment in the sun. Nobody gets too long to really do too much, but most parts are enjoyable enough. I do like the guitar parts, it’s different from what you might expect and has a light rhythmic touch. Sonny gives us something in complete contrast with a short heavy moment, and the the band really begins to swing. This is reined in much too soon, but is none the less is very enjoyable.

Prince Feb 1994a

I Believe In U is a cool little cover, and plays to the strengths of this band. The keyboards in particular are very strong throughout. Asides from that there is not too much that can be said about it, it does come across as smooth and light in comparison to Princes own original material. I find myself nodding along, but at the same time looking at the set list and looking forward to what is still to come.

This show is also the first time that Prince played Shhh live and reclaimed one of his most beloved songs (in my house at least) Week after week I heap praise upon this song, and this week is no different. For a first live performance of a song, it’s outstanding. This version here is one of my favorite live versions- the fact it’s a nice soundboard, Princes band is as sharp as ever, and Prince clearly makes a statement in the way he sings this, it is most definitely his song. He does go too over the top, and as the guitar break starts it’s very nicely restrained and sounds very tight. It’s excellent in every way. The backing singers are right into the mix, and close behind Princes voice, adding a lot of depth and strength. There is the second drum rolls and crashes midsong, and then Prince really let’s fly with his guitar. The sound here is beyond words, it’s really something to hear. At this point I want to say thanks to Jony for pointing me towards this show, the show is great and this song is outstanding. Most excellent, although I find it is lacking a little ambiance from the crowd.

Prince Feb 1994c

What’d I Say had been covered by Prince for some years before this performance, so I don’t find it overly excellent in this performance. Prince does have Tattoo on stage to play some guitar, but it’s somewhat shambolic, and doesn’t add anything of value to the show. Its does pick up later in the song, and there is a decent solo, playing on a guitar with a very interesting tone. It doesn’t sound like his usual setup at all. I can’t decide quite how I feel about this song, I didn’t have the urge to skip it, but I could have quite happily gone without it.

The next song in the set if very interesting. Peak The Technique is improvised and has all sorts of things thrown in the mix. There are plenty of samples and some very cool bass and guitar work. Prince can be heard laughing early on, and it’s obvious the band is having fun. There is not too much vocally to the song, mostly samples of Eric B and Rakims “Don’t Sweat The Technique”. The second portion of the song things really speed up and there is some excellent bass work that is funky and gets things swinging. It’s about here that I become very interested and my ears really prick up. The song ends after five minutes, but there was plenty going on there, and I could have easily listened to much more of this.

Prince Feb 1994b

I sneaked a peek at the set list and this was the song I was looking forward to hearing most. Martial Law is a George Clinton song that I never get tired of. The version here isn’t what I expected at all, it’s more a jam and groove, but it’s great. This band I have always thought sounded most like a Parliment/funkadelic band and there sound is very well suited to this song. That thought is further emphasized as Prince puts on a series of distorted and strange voices. The song pulls back to just a bare kick drum sound and more strange vocals from Prince has me slightly disorientated. The only parts left from the original song is where at one point we hear the backing singers singing “ow ow ow”. It’s the drum and piano sound that play all over this one, and some kinetic bass lines. The whole thing has certain strangeness to it, and I would have loved to see Prince do something like this more often. Weird but wonderful.

A Salt and Pepper song to finish? Why not, it’s that sort of show where nothing surprises me any more. Prince sounds very relaxed, and the piano playing also has a nice easy sound to it. It’s an instrumental for the main part, mostly piano playing over a groove, but there are a couple of DJ scratches thrown in for good measure. The organ too is well in the mix and the song sounds fat and full. There’s not much more to it than that, and it ends before I know it. A very smooth and listenable way to end the recording.

Thanks again to Jony for recommending this recording, it really was excellent. Old Prince very much was dead by this stage, and the new songs he is unveiling here sound much funkier and are coming from a different place all together. The start of the recording was sounding uptight, but by the end it was nice and loose, and somewhat strange. This is a keystone recording from a very important part of his career. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is still essential listening.

-Hamish