The Orbit Room 2000

I have painted myself into a corner. Sometime ago I listened to an aftershow from Chicago in 2000, and although it wasn’t really my cup of tea, I found I enjoyed it. This week I picked another afteshow played just a few days after, but when I listened to it this morning I found it wasn’t quite what I expected. Most of the performance is Doug E. Fresh, and Prince can only be heard, along with his songs, a couple of times in the show. However, it’s too late now to find another bootleg to listen to, so I am stuck with my first choice. I find Doug E. Fresh inoffensive and pleasant enough, but he lacks any real bite and most of performance is toothless. At this show Prince’s performance is understated and subdued, leaving us with an entirely forgettable experience. Being a hard core fan I have to hear everything, and sometimes means listening to flat concerts like this as well as the more dynamic performances I usually gravitate towards. So with that it mind, this is very much a concert that will bring balance to my listening experience.

20th November (am) 2000, The Orbit Room, Grand Rapids

I listened to both the Sabotage release and the Thunderball release, and to my ears they sound near enough to the same. The opening two minutes is entirely representative to what will follow, two minutes of Doug E. Fresh rapping and hyping the crowd while the music stays secondary in the background. If you weren’t a fan of Doug E. Fresh before this then you aren’t going to be a fan after as he stays in the safe lane and delivers a rap that fails to elicit any sort of emotional response.The concert improves considerably with “I Can Make You Dance” as the band build a solid foundation for Doug E. Fresh to frame out his song. Musically it’s more interesting than the opening rap, but it’s not the typical Prince aftershow we have come to expect, and even as an electric guitar begins to cry in the background the song still remains far from inciting a riot. There is no sense of adventure, the music and delivery remaining tame for the time being.

Another rap from Doug E. Fresh has me again questioning why I am listening to this. Guest appearances and other players are par for the course, and there is no denying that they do bring interest to these concerts. However, in this case it feels too much, and there is very little Prince influence to be heard in the music. I do play along with the call and response, mostly to keep myself interested, but this is a Prince blog, not a Doug E. Fresh blog, and I do wait impatiently for my hero to make his mark.

Finally I am pacified by the appearance of “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” and Prince on the mic. The performance is easy enough to enjoy, although Prince seems caught in the same quicksand as the previous numbers, there is no punch to the performance, nothing challenging to grab on to, and very little in the way of surprise. It is a smooth, almost glassy performance, that is emotionally hollow and leaves me entirely unmoved.

With “Passin’ Your Name,” all is temporarily forgiven. Kip Blackshire takes vocal duties, and paired with Doug E. Fresh, the song has a drive and impetus that has previously been lacking. I can’t say I have heard a lot of Kip Blackshire’s singing, but from what I hear in this case he gives a nuanced performance that has a lot more character than the overwrought rapping by Doug E. Fresh. As one might expect, the horns rise to prominence through the song, and with some soulful keyboard, the song becomes greater than the sum of it’s parts. On a better recording I wouldn’t think much of this song, but surrounded by half-baked performances, and a concert largely lacking in Prince, it punches above it’s weight. With a crisp and taunt guitar solo breaking up the groove the song changes direction and ferments with a Najee solo in the final minutes into something far more interesting than heard elsewhere on the bootleg.

There is a sudden shift in gears, and an quickfire “Gett Off (Housestyle)” takes the previous laid back jams and accelerates them into a something that finally gets the heart racing. Prince’s performance doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm, but Najee elevates proceedings with his contribution before Prince’s final guitar solo starkly reminds me that I am actually listening to a Prince gig.

It is the sound of Prince’s guitar that heralds in the final song of the night, a detached rendition of “Johnny.” It sounds as if nobody is really invested in the performance, and  the halfhearted audience response matches the sound of the music. Even Prince’s guitar solo waxes and wanes in an uneven and inconsistent performance that is symptomatic of the show in general. On a positive note it is short, and it is the end of he show.

I don’t expect to love every Prince concert I listen to. I am a hardcore fan, but I am also a realist, and I trust my ears. This show isn’t dire, it certainly doesn’t sound like a disaster, but it is lacking in the soul, the emotion, that I so regularly hear on these bootlegs. We could attribute this to the lack of Prince’s input we hear on the recording, but it does sum up where he was at the time, musically adrift and leaning heavily on those around him. Normally I find something positive to say, and usually finish with a recommendation to listen to a recording at least once. You needn’t bother in this case. There is very little here for a fan to enjoy, and it is a soulless experience.

Thanks for joining me again,
Next week I will do some homework and find us something exciting to listen to
-Hamish

 

Cabaret Metro

This week I am digging back to a recording that I used to listen to a lot, but haven’t heard for a few years now, the show from the Cabaret Metro Chicago in 2000. It is worth the listen as Prince and the NPG play a show with the aid of a couple of guests’ appearances, namely Macy Gray and Common. The show starts with very little Prince, initially it is Macy Gray and her band playing before Prince slowly eases his way into things. By the end of the show however, he is fully engaged and playing just as hot as ever. It should be good to revisit this old friend, hopefully it lives up to my memories.

17th November (am) Cabaret Metro, Chicago

The show starts with Macy Gray and her band playing without Prince. Common is on the mic free-styling as the band run through a jam that includes Voodoo Chile (slight return), Sexy M.F. and D.M.S.R. Considering Prince isn’t anywhere to be heard, its surprisingly enjoyable and something I could easily listen to again. Of course without Prince and the NPG playing it does lack intensity, it meanders easy in it’s on way without ever being taxing to listen to.

Things finally start on the Prince front as Macy sings a sweet sounding Forever In My Life. I find her voice to be a good match to the song, and for the first few minutes she makes the song her own. She’s unrushed, and sings in a style that is unmistakably hers while the band quietly bubble along behind her.  A happy cheer greets Prince as he arrives mid-song to sing his lines, and he promptly reclaims the show. As good as Macy Gray sounded, there is nothing quite like hearing Prince sing it, and when he sings his lines there is no mistaking whose song it is.

The show moves up a notch with The Bird. It’s not immediately recognizable, but there is an increase in tempo and beat that signals something more funky is coming our way. With Common and Macy hyping the crowd the wave builds with the bass and organ adding momentum. That wave never crashes, and the band keeps on grooving, with the bass being the tracks that everything runs on, it sounds great on the recording and has me reaching to turn it up. I am underselling it a little, it is a fantastic jam.

With a funky guitar and a steady beat another jam starts, this time more downbeat and easy. There are also the contrasting sounds of some bright sounding horns, some squealing guitar and the shine of the organ. It all comes together in a mix of sounds and colours that keeps things moving, and I am very surprised as it ends in a sudden stop after only a few minutes.

prince-2000

Prince next tells us that Macy will sing a country song, so while the band plays a country sounding beat she sings for a minute “baby, baby, baby”. There’s nothing to it, it is barely a minute long, but it does show the easy nature of the show, and as Prince and Macy talk it’s obvious they are just hanging out and having fun.

The show settles as Macy sings her own I Try and it’s on her own song that she really shines. The band provide a strong skeleton for her to sing over, and as she sings it easy to feel the warmth in her voice. I am so lost in the moment that it ends before I realize it, and a moment of horns carry us through to some heavenly guitar from Prince, playing in his clean sound as he solos around No Woman, No Cry. I thought Macy Gray was good, but this is even better, and takes the show to another level altogether. He doesn’t play fast, or make it scream, his carefully chosen notes carrying all the expression and emotion he needs. As the music rocks back and forth Macy sings lines from a few Prince songs (Take Me With U, Anotherloverholenyohead, Adore) but its Prince’s guitar that holds my attention, injecting beauty and heart as it plays. As Macy sings Take Me With U the music increases in intensity and with the guitar still playing we reach new heights in the song, and if not for some distortion on the recording it would be an unforgettable moment.

With Prince on guitar and playing so well, it’s only fitting that the next song should be The Ride. It not as dark as sometimes heard, the groove is lighter, as is Prince playing. After an initial bluesy run he swirls for a time, before returning to the bluesy tone. From here on Najee plays his sax for a time, bringing in a different sound to a song so familiar. Najee doesn’t get a lot of love from Prince fans, but he does a fair job and it is fun to hear him bringing something different to a song I have heard so often. Prince finally sings some lines, before he cuts loose with the guitar in the final minutes, really making it sing. Just as expressive as his singing voice, it more than lives up to the previous song, and Prince is bringing all his guitar skills out for the final part of this show.

With a quick drum rattle Prince turns everything up to ten for his final Santana medley that will close the show. As always he is on top of his game, but still provides plenty of space for the keyboards to fill out the song. There is some distortion, mostly from one of the keyboards, but for the most part it’s a clean recording, and Princes guitar sounds clean and strong all the way. The band chase each other round in a circle of riffs, as the intensity rises and falls. Again Najee gets a chance to contribute, his sound unusual for the Santana medley, yet I enjoy every moment of it. Despite being a band performance, it is Princes final guitar solo that leaves the lasting impression, as he duels Najee blow for blow before laying the matter to rest with a scorching run that can’t be matched. I am surprised (although I shouldn’t be) by how good they sound playing off each other, and although this is far from my favourite band, they turn on a great performance that ends the show in style.

The recording is very short, and the songs only a few, yet it was the jams and the guest appearances that made this recording an interesting listening. Hearing Prince interact with Macy Gray and Common was a different perspective, and with them putting their twist on his songs it added something interesting and new to the show. Najee too contributed late in the show, and his sound with Prince worked well, something I hadn’t considered for an aftershow. All in all, a short but sweet aftershow and there was something for everyone in it. Far from a classic, yet worth a listen.

Thanks for reading
Hamish