I really liked the 21 nights in London shows. They were aimed at the masses, yet the set lists were varied every night, and there was just enough there for more serious fans. This show from the 12th September 2007 is a favorite of mine. Again, it was a show I was lucky enough to attend, but after repeating listening’s on CD,and watching the DVD I find that it’s not just the thrill of being there, this is a very good show and worthy of repeated listening’s. As with the previous recording from the 21 night that I covered, I apologies in advance if I stray from purely the recording onto some more personal observations. For me this is a total package.
12 September 2007, O2 Arena, London
The hall of fame opening gets tiresome if you trawl your way through all the recordings from this run of concerts, but on the DVD I am watching I find it’s a nice inclusion. The familiar talking heads gushing about the genius of Prince is quite touching, and I find I enjoy it more now than I did at the time. I don’t have the urge to skip it, and it’s a fitting introduction to the show.
Opening the show is 1999. It’s played exactly as is on the album, with the robotic voice beginning. It’s a fine choice to open with, and serves as a good ‘on your feet’ type number. Prices vocals sound thin on the recording, where Shelby J sounds big and bold. My ears do adjust to the sound, and it’s not too bad. This is not a sound board recording, but for an audience recording it’s not too bad at all. The keyboards do carry the bulk of the song, I certainly hear them a lot better than any other instrument on stage. I love the sound of Princes funky guitar, but it isn’t heard much here at all, just a little near the end of the song as the band quiet down as Prince sings “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb” The song ends with Prince calling “London, I am here, where are you”
There is plenty of nostalgia early on, the very next song is I Feel For You. It has plenty of pop and sparkle, even after all these years. I hear much more Shelby on it than Prince, but she does a good job, and she doesn’t take over the song, Prince is much more in the mix as the song progresses. The horn section give it a brassy sound, as you might expect from a horn section.
Things move along at a fair clip as we segue into Controversy. I enjoy the electric sound of it on record, but this performance has lots of horns and backing singers which fill it out much more than the song I love from the early eighties. It’s very much played for audience participation, and Prince gets the crowd singing along early. This continues on to the “People call me rude” sections he has then sing the lines back to him before the ‘Clap your hands, stomp your feet” becomes the chant from him and Shelby. The horns get a nice break, and then this is further empathized when just the drum plays while they jam some more. I am not a big fan of it, but next Prince calls for Maceo to solo, and this blows the doors off it. He sounds awesome, and I have a whole new appreciation for horns. I can see why the man is a living legend. Maceo plays for a good minute, and he is really going to town on it. Prince changes tack shortly after by asking the crowd if they know about the Quake, before encouraging them to jump up and down. As always, I aren’t a fan of this. It would be fine if you were at the show, but on the recording it leaves me feeling shortchanged. Luckily he only does it briefly before closing the song out.
A bit of blues next as Prince and Renato Neto start a smoky rendition of Satisfied. It feels like quite a jump after the last few numbers, but its par for the course at a Prince concert. Prince plays up the song as much as he can, and you can hear the audience reacting to him as the song progress. With just him and the organ, it’s the lyrics that matter most, and the crowd is hanging on his every line. Mike Phillips breaks up the proceedings with a sharp sounding sax solo. It’s not my cup of tea, and but I do like it when Prince ends the solo with a few screams of his own. There is plenty of humor in the performance when Prince runs through ‘the rules’ He begins with “Can I talk to just the ladies” which immediately brings forth plenty screams and whoops from the crowd. He then runs through the rules, such as “learn to work the toilet seat, if it’s up, put it down” He half sings half speaks, and as he runs through his lines I can’t help but laugh out loud. It’s all funny, because it’s true. He ends it with one more “satisfieddddddd” and the steady beat of Cream begins.
It doesn’t sound great on this recording, the beat is a too insistent, and I find it’s all I concentrate on. The band plays well, Prince sings well, but the mix has me scratching my head. Prince saves the song somewhat with his brief but worthwhile guitar solo. For a few moments I stop concentrating on that beat, and I enjoy the song. The last couple of minutes of the song are decent, and I am happy as it transitions to U Got The Look.
U Got The Look isn’t too guitar heavy. With only Prince on guitar there is a little more space, and I enjoy the drumming much more. Prince keeps a good rhythm line going on his guitar and it’s not too loud or distortive, but it does have a nice little buzz to it. His solo is reined in, and surprisingly I enjoy it just as much like this. He plays sharp but not too extravagantly.
Musicology is neither here nor there. It’s not good enough for me to enjoy it, yet there’s nothing bad about it. The song moves along, but it never moves me. I do like it as Prince moves around the band for each of them to play. The drums and trombone In particular I enjoy the most. Things take a very interesting turn as Prince injects Prince And The Band into the song. It takes my brain a few seconds to register what I am hearing, but yes, Prince And The Band is a nice fit to it musically. “Ohh Funky London” is the next chant we hear. But after listening to quite a few of these concerts, it’s something I could happily pass on. The crowd sound like they are enjoying it, and it certainly achieves its goal of getting the audience involved. Greg Boyer ends the song with a funky few seconds of trombone. A song of ups and downs, the jury is still out on this one.
Next is the highlight of the show for me, the Prince piano set. Prince prefaces it by telling us what a beautiful thing music is, and how a little music can make everything all right. The first song in this piano set is Little Red Corvette. Little Red Corvette has taken on many guises over the years, but I always enjoy a piano rendition. The crowd obviously enjoy it too, and they sing along. Prince’s vocals don’t sound 100% focused on the music, but his piano playing is delicate and sweet. He toys with the audience a little before the song ends with a cheer.
I am not a great fan of I Would Die 4 U, but the piano arrangement played here is my favorite version of all time. I absolutely love this part of the recording. Prince starts singing and playing quietly and softly singing but after the first verse he starts playing the keys harder and harder, his head starts bobbing and the song becomes much stronger. His vocals take on that impassioned sound (real or faked) and it’s got an emotional feel to it. It’s a shame it’s only a minute, but it’s a great part of the show for me.
How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore has long been a stalwart of the piano set, and here is no different. I still enjoy it, but it’s no different from any other version I have heard. The quiet bits are quiet, and the loud whiny bits are still loud and whiny. Everything is as it should be. I am impressed that he doesn’t shorten it here at all, and he plays it right through to the fade out of “Why don’t you call me sometime…”
Another great song follows with Something In The Water. For me there is plenty of emotion in the song as Prince plays it alone at the piano. The stripped back sound leaves just Princes voice to listen to, as there is very little happening at the piano. His vocals don’t have the cold empty sound of the 1999 recording, they are more rich as he plays with the arrangement. It’s not outstanding, but it is very good.
There is a real 1999 flavor as he follows this with Delirious. I dislike this song, but I find in the piano set that it is very fun and enjoyable. If it was like this more often I could really warm to it. It’s rockabilly sound comes through well on the piano, and you get the sense that it was written in this way.
Another 1999 treat next as Prince plays Free. Not one of the stronger tracks on 1999, it gets much more of my attention on this recording as it’s played surrounded by other piano tunes rather than surrounded by the cold electro funk of the 1999 album. Prince plays it delicately and it lacks some of the cheesiness of the recording. This is a great piano set, and it’s a pleasure to hear so many songs from 1999 get an airing.
Darkness, then the sound of the introduction of If I Was Your Girlfriend – ‘look at the bargains over here ladies.” I become excited at prospect of hearing If I Was Your Girlfriend, but it quickly changes to the chant of we will rock you. This flows nicely into an up-tempo bright brassy sounding Lets Go Crazy. I am not crazy about the song, but it does fill me with hope that we might hear the set similar to the super bowl set. The horns keep it moving brightly along, and with the keyboards it has a very full sound. Prince does play his breaks, but they are somewhat overshadowed by the band, and this is further heightened when he does some call and response with the crowd which seems to take more attention away from his playing.
There is the fanfare of 1999 and Prince keeps the party going with Baby I’m a Star. We are definitely getting the super bowl set, and I’m pretty damn happy about that. Baby I’m a Star is just a transition song, and we are very quickly into the next song.
Proud Mary is up tempo and mostly horns. As with Baby I’m a Star it very short, no more than a verse and chorus before the music turns around and we get something darker and slower.
Prince begins All Along The Watchtower with a nice guitar break. I say nice, but I mean great. He plays much longer than he does at the super bowl show, his guitar playing goes for perhaps a minute before he sings. He makes the guitar moan and whine, and it’s a more expressive solo. There’s nothing fast in it, just song clean drawn out notes. Already it’s on my highlights reel of this show. I am so used to hearing the sound board quality of the super bowl show that I first I find Princes vocals a touch off here. But that’s the recording, rather than Prince himself. He sings the first verse, before the music takes an upswing and the next highlight strikes us.
The Best Of You sounds just as good at this show as it did at the super bowl gig. Sure there isn’t the added intensity of the falling rain, but Prince definitely has his funk face on as he contorts himself with the guitar sound. I would have liked to hear the guitar clearer, it’s mixed in with the rest of the band, but the song does sound good, and it’s worth it just for the showmanship.
Take Me With U follows on, and it feels light and breezy after the heavy guitar tones of all Alone the Watchtower, and The Best Of You. It’s not quit as poppy as it sometimes sound, there is too much in the sound, but the crowd are definitely enjoying it, I can see plenty of hand waving on the DVD.Princes vocals are a little ragged, which is unusual, normally his vocals are crisp and clear.
The opening strum of Guitar keeps the tempo and vibe up. Prince sings, but I’m not really interested at this stage, I want to hear what he can do with his guitar. Like the previous song, his vocals still sound rough so it is a relief when he stops singing and moves into “guitar god ‘mode. His guitar breaks aren’t on the great level, but they are lots of fun, and a good listen. The advantage of the DVD is I can see how much he turning it on for the crowd and it’s about the show as much as the playing itself. And on a personal note, when I was at this show there was a guy in front of my with his young daughter, and as he came to our side of the stage he saw her and gave the biggest nod and wink before pulling out another face driven solo. The song finishes with Prince standing still and delivering up one final guitar break.
The songs from Lets Go Crazy to Guitar had been played without break, so it’s somewhat of a relief when Prince pauses to address the crowd. He breaks things up with his patter about “what can I play next, I got too many hits” The opening strum of Kiss ends this moment and he gives us a very smooth rendition of Kiss. The first part of the song I don’t find very interesting, but I do like it much more when he picks up his guitar for a funky rhythmic break. He changes the “You don’t have to watch’ line to “Big Brother” thus firmly dating this as a mid 2000’s performance.
Purple Rain is one of the weaker songs on this recording. The mix seems to be all out, it opens with the keyboards, but they feel out of balance, and things don’t improve when Prince sings. For most of the song it sounds to me like Princes voice is overtaken by the keyboard. It doesn’t have the clean sound I associate with it, the sound where I can hear every instrument playing together, instead it sounds like they are thrown up against each other and it’s a battle to who will be loudest. I cross my fingers that it will improve when Prince starts his guitar break. It does improve, Princes guitar is much louder and cuts across everything else. And what I really like is that he is playing it on the Horner, which to my mind is the way it should be played, as that is how it was originally recorded. Prince keeps the guitar break modest, and the crowd is soon singing their “oowww owww ooooswws”. All in all the song is kept very short and tidy.
There is now a break before the band return for the first encore. The encore begins with the song Chelsea Rodgers which sounds like a classic pop song here. It begins with some nice bass and threatens to be funky, but when the band join it becomes very pop. I do like the song, and this is a good performance of it. Princes vocals aren’t heard very well, I can hear Shelby J better than him. The horn lines aren’t as intrusive as I expect, they lack a sharpness, but they do have a break which gives them a chance to be heard. Maceo gets another break later in the song as does Greg Boyer on trombone, and both of them sound great to my ears.
Prince calls for the lights to be turned off, and we here the synthesizer sound of Sexy Dancer. The music is Sexy Dancer, but its Le Freak that Shelby and the band sing over it. Prince himself doesn’t sing, but he does provide the rhythm guitar underneath. There’s not enough Prince in the song for my liking, it’s all Shelby and the horns, with Prince calling the shots. Renato does play a solo on the keyboards, its note perfect but fails to move me. Things improve immensely when Prince plays, we have a minute of funky rhythm guitar before the band move back in. The song finishes up with Princes rhythm guitar and the band.
Play That Funky Music finishes before it begins. The rhythm guitar kicks off nicely, but after the band join in Prince ends it after only a few lines. It’s not a must listen to me, so I aren’t too upset by it at all.
Shelby J comes to the spotlight again as she leads the band through Crazy. I like her vocals a lot, and she does a fine job singing this. As much as I enjoy it, once again there is very little Prince in it, so I find my attention waning. I love the vocoder sound playing the background, and this is one part of the song I listen to the most. Shelby then proceeds to sing I Can’t Get You Out of My head, but here I feel she overdoes it, and it’s not as good as the original. With a final shout out to Shelby from Prince the song ends.
Prince then comes back on to the microphone for Nothing Compares 2 U. It’s very much Princes song, but he only sings every second line here, preferring to let the crowd do the rest. It’s great for the crowd, but a frustrating listen here at home. Mike Phillips improves things no end with a fantastically enthusiastic sax solo. He gives it all he’s got, and it’s the best part of the song in my eyes. Prince then sings one more chorus with the crowd before the song ends. This song could have been so much more, but it feels like they skimmed over it a bit, the only thing that really stood out was that great sax solo.
The main show proper ends at this stage, but Prince does return for another encore with a sampler set. As you well know it’s going to be a lot of teases and short snippets, but we will give it a listen anyway.
The first song to get an airing is Sign O The Times. Prince doesn’t mess around too long at the start and surprisingly sings the whole first verse before we jump right into Pop Life.
Pop Life is another surprise, he doesn’t tease it at all, and sings the entire verse and a chorus. Being the sampler, the music sounds exactly as on record. Prince sings from his stool, and freed from any instrument engages the audience with lots of eye contact and waving.
Mountains is another pleasant surprise to my ears. Unfortunately this time it really is a tease, before just a few moments of Irresistible Bitch is played.
Doves Cry fairs a little better, Prince does sing the first verse and a chorus. As always I am hungry for more, but Prince moves on.
The opening of Erotic City has me disappointed, as I know there was no way he was going to play it. Sure enough after a few bars he moves into something more suitable to his current convictions.
Alphabet St has the crowd dancing. Once again there isn’t too much I can say about it, as it too only has the opening verse. Its good while its there, but its barely there at all.
Prince takes the cheers of the crowd, before telling them “I gotta do this for me” and the funky shuffle of DMSR begins. Another 1999 song, it has me overjoyed. As is the way of the sampler set, I get my hopes up and then it fades away. I am just thankful we get the first verse as we do.
Raspberry Beret probably gets the best of the sampler set. Prince has the beat playing on the sampler, but then plays piano live over the top of it, which gives it a nice simple feel. He trades lines with the crowd, for the first verse and then finishes the chorus, and the song with the audience singing “I love her” and him replying “I love you too” Theres nothing great musically here, but it is a nice way to finish the show with the audience. The recording and the concert end at this point, no bombastic finish, just this easy sentiment.
Asides from the sampler set, I thought this show was great. It can be broken down section by section, he started with a block of hits, then a nice piano set, the superbowl set, a block of guitar heavy songs, a dancey/party encore and then the sampler set. Purple Rain was a disappointment as was the sampler, but everything else was about as much as I could ask for, especially hearing so much off the 1999 album. If I was choosing a good mainshow to listen to, I would choose this one. The fact that I was there is just the icing on the cake.