3121 Las Vegas 1st night

I have for too long skimmed over the 3121 performances in Las Vegas. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that there is such an array of concerts and styles circulating from this period, it is hard to know where to begin. It doesn’t help that my catalog system for these shows is in disarray, mostly because some releases throw together a bunch of unconnected shows from this run, leaving my carefully laid dating system in ruins. Anyway, that is neither here nor there, what is important is today I will finally come back to these recordings, and what better place to begin than the first concert of the series.

There are several bootlegs of this concert in circulation, I have decided to listen to the 4daFunk release, purely because I find myself drawn to the art work. The Pure Funk release is more complete (it has the entire opening song) but I find I listen to this one much more. As for the concert itself, there is very little surprises to be found, it is a straight forward performance that lives little room for spontaneity or long improvised jams, instead Prince chooses to romp through his setlist in uninspiring rush. There are moments I cherish, but overall this is a standard show, and there is little to distinguish it from other shows at the time.

11th November (am) 2006  3121@Rio Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas

The first minutes of “Spirituality” (Controversy) are missing, and although I have said the setlist is uninspiring, I do find this opening song coming at me in a breathless rush that raises hopes that this may deliver more than I remember. There may not be fire, but there is definitely a spark to this opening number.

The promise made by “Spirituality” comes good with “Johnny B. Goode”, Prince’s guitar bursting into flame at the appropriate moments, engulfing the recording in fierce fire that even a jaded guitar guy like myself can appreciate. It isn’t as freewheeling as we hear in aftershows, but it does get my pulse racing and Prince tears it up. Prince’s final shout of “Thank you, and good night” is entirely appropriate, as it does indeed sound like a final hit out before the close of a show.

I like the pop of “Lolita,” but I have found that as time has gone on it has lost its initial charm. The song is still young at this show, but ten years on it has reached middle age, and it has not aged well. It’s not helped by recording drop outs, and as much as I try to find something positive in the song, it does sound like Prince is on autopilot.

The following “Black Sweat” is also lifeless, something of a surprise for me as this is one song that usually delivers a defibrillator size jolt to concerts. In this case it is dead on arrival, and although the recording is very good at this point, the performance remains flat.

“So many hits, so little time,” sets alarm bells ringing for me and I am rewarded with a standard rendition of “Kiss.” This is Prince by the numbers, there is zero variation or inspiring moments, and the song remains insipid despite my hopes for something, anything, to happen. Still, a great song is a great song, and “Kiss” sounds fine on the recording, I enjoy it much more when I put aside my expectations and just go with the flow.

“Shhh” has the opening I want, but it isn’t anywhere near as powerful as I would like, and its not until the music pulls back that I find I can begin to enjoy it. Like the preceding “Kiss,” it is far more enjoyable when I put asides any preconceptions and just enjoy what I am hearing. In this case it is a cleanly recorded, cleanly played, rendition of a classic from his catalog. I may wish it to be an electrifying and muscular performance, but this is Prince playing it straight and the lean rendition we get is anorexic compared to the original. It is what it is, and in the car or playing in the background it would be great, but listening close with headphones it makes me wish for some of the other performances I have heard over the years.

“Musicology” suffers further in this flat performance, there is no guitar solo to inject passion or to shock the listener into an emotional response, and its light funk is lost in the easy mix and sound. I can’t quite put my finger on what is missing, but it never quite feels like the party that Prince wants it to be. There is an brief section in the middle where I think I may have misjudged it, but the second half droops again and leaves me feeling deflated.

I find that “Cream” is an easy listen, but there is nothing there to raise it above anything else heard in the evening. The band sound much stronger though, and I am beginning to warm to the gig again at this stage.

The guitar again cuts through this smooth funk, and heralds in the arrival of “U Got The Look.” It is by the numbers, the guitar may kick and start in Princes hands, but it never breaks free into the rampant guitar storm that I half hope for. The stomp keeps the concert moving however, and it does lead us tidily into the following moment.

It is pleasing to hear Prince take his time with “Joy In Repetition.” At first I feel I am immune to its charms, yet sure enough I am singing with Prince word for word as the song builds. It is the sort of song and performance that one can easily inhale, and exhale at your leisure. I dwell on the song as long as I can, reveling in its intoxicating and heady sound, and although it isn’t the first performance I would reach for, the song is still strong enough that it works its black magic on me despite its straight performance.

There is a low-key, percussive opening to “17 Days,” which to my ears doesn’t serve it well. There is further disappointment when I hear that it isn’t Prince on vocal duties, rather it is the Twinz that warble their way through the song. To add insult to injury, they butcher some of the lyrics, and to be honest I would rather not hear the song at all than hear it like this. “17 Days” in the setlist should have been the highlight, instead it is the nadir.

Things improve considerably with “7.” Prince pushes it out to twelve minutes, and in this time he gives himself space to speak to the crowd, ad-lib lyrics, and makes the song a much stronger statement than the previous moments. It’s not a bold statement, but it is music with a stronger backbone, and it finally feels like Prince is connecting with the music and the crowd. That is until the final minutes when he crosses the line into preaching. Several members in the audience can be heard complaining about it, and I am temporarily taken out of the moment by it.

A rocked up version “Anotherloverholenyohead,” oh yes, now we’re talking. For the first time I feel like letting out a whoop as I feel my body moving involuntarily to the music. The Twinz may be a touch too high in the mix for me, but there is plenty of grunt and muscle in Princes guitar that keeps me firmly focused. The climax comes with the predictable, but worthy, segue into an impassioned “Rock Lobster.” The guitar is enraged as it fury spews forth, a powerful anger that has me forgiving the previous hour. The guitar rages on after the music stops, briefly touching on “The Cross” before the band reengage for one final assault and drive to the finish.

A change of direction next, but a welcome one, as Prince eases into a groove laden “If I Your Girlfriend” As enjoyable as it is, there is still an undercurrent of funk that is missing. The band play with precision, but little of the soul I have come to expect, and as much as I find my head bobbing to the song, its not quite the knock out punch we have come to expect.

The radio friendly sheen of “Pink Cashmere” works surprisingly well at this moment, I sit enraptured as Prince works the lyrics and the crowd to his will. On the recording sides of things there is a loud snap that is, well, just too loud. It detracts from Mike Phillips solo, something that again raises the disappointment feeling within me as I always look forward to his contributions. I never recover from this feeling and even as the song stretches to ten minutes, I can’t recapture that feeling and warm glow from early on.

I am back on board for a compelling rendition of “Fury.” It comes and goes in a flash, but it does draw a line in the sand. For some reason the guitar driven songs at this concert seem to have a lot more energy to them than the funk jams, surprising given that Prince is normally so good at presenting both in an enthusiastic and impressive package. The final minute has a real bite to it, and I can only wonder how this concert could have played out if all the songs had have been played with such intensity.

It’s not necessary to have five minutes of audience noise between encores on the bootleg, but  4daFunk have put it there anyway, for the completists I guess. “Purple Rain” is entirely predictable at this point of the concert, and as you might expect it sounds just as it always has since 1984. I could almost sing the guitar solo note for note by now, and especially here as Prince adds not one bit of improvisation or unpredictability to his playing. He is going through the motions, and in this case it sounds as if he is just as tired of the song as some of the hard core fan community.

“Let’s Go Crazy” rounds out the concert in an upbeat finish. It’s joyless, and rather sums up the evenings performance. It all sounds very nice, but is shallow and leaves me wishing for something more substantial. It is very short, and whips the crowd up one last time before Prince calls for their love.

Ok, so I didn’t love this concert. On the plus side, it did sound good, and had a couple of my favourites in the setlist. What it was missing  was a sense of urgency. The songs meandered, even when they were short, and there was a lack of depth to the performance. I was hoping something of interest would be thrown up in the melee, but it was just a standard run through of his radio friendly hits. No doubt I will return to this recording in future, like I said earlier, it would be OK in the background, or in the car, but as for an intensive listening experience, I would happily pass on it. Like Prince says, all that glitters ain’t gold.

Thanks for joining me again,
I will have a rummage through the cupboards and see if I can pull out a treat for next week.
-Hamish

3121 Las Vegas – Tutu

I finally got around to watching Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead” film on the weekend and while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea I found I enjoyed it a lot. The show I listen to this week neatly dovetails into this, as it opens with a lengthy ‘Tutu’. Tutu maybe only five minutes on Miles Davis’s album, yet here the band do it more than justice with a seventeen-minute version that has plenty of time to breathe. The 3121 album saw Prince take a six-month residency at Las Vegas rather than touring the world, which is disappointing from my perspective as I personally loved 3121 and would have liked to see it reach a wider concert audience. To my ears it was stronger and fuller than Musicology, and could have gone even further than it did with a full tour riding on the back of the momentum created by Musicology. The Vegas shows do however offer a variety of listening experiences and this show from early morning 31 December is interesting not only for the Tutu that starts things off, but also an outstanding instrumental of Te Amo Corazón. With these two pieces in place the show is looking very appealing indeed, and although I am no great fan of Eye records I do appreciate having this release to listen to.

31 December (am) 2006. 3121 Jazz Cuisine at Rio Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas

As I mentioned above the show does begin with the lengthy Tutu, and although there is some audience chat early on it does settle down to an excellent sounding audience recording. Beginning with the Mike Phillips Jazz Trio, the opening minutes feature some easy piano playing and a bass. There is there slightest of crackles as the bass plays, but it’s nothing worth worrying about as later other players are added to the mix and the bass sound slides to the background. As the horns play any thoughts of the quality of recording slip from my mind as they begin to weave their magic. From a slow start the horns build up in intensity as does the song with the steady pace of the bass and drums locked in while the horns swirl and eddy in an excited flight. The second half of the song is given over to some clean guitar playing, and its every bit as good as the horns that come before it. Then to top it all off the piano comes back with a final flourish before a final down swing ends the song.  All in all, an excellent start to the show and the recording.

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Shelby comes to the microphone to belt out Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You). With the band swelling and rolling beneath her, Shelby rides the wave and brings it home with a soulful rendition that does the song justice. I am listening to these shows first and foremost for Prince, so cover versions sung by his backing singers isn’t normally something I gravitate towards. However, I do find I enjoy this immensely, as I do the next song, and for the next few minutes I don’t mind at all that I can’t hear Prince.

I Never Loved A Man was good, the following cover of Mother Finest – Love Changes is even better with Shelby playing her part well with the added bonus of a couple of very Prince sounding solos in the song. The band has covered a lot of ground since the opening Tutu, and here they are rocking out with Shelby’s voice leading from the front. Prince’s solos are noteworthy and a highlight of the song, he is sounding strong and in complete control as he plays his solos, they aren’t fast but they are very bold.

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Maceo is to the front for his excellent Shake Everything You’ve Got that does indeed have me shaking everything I got. I ignore the audience chatter that is audible mid-song, and instead wallow in the sound of Maceo’s horn and the fat sound of Greg Boyer’s trombone. There is a richness to the sound, and again I can’t stress enough how good this all sounds for an audience recording, despite what I have just said about the audience chat. Some clean guitar and drums play off each other in a mesmerizing few minutes that lures me into a false sense of security before the band all come in with a renewed enthusiasm that carries the guitar solo and the song through the next few minutes before we quieten to keyboards and the eventual conclusion.

Only two Prince songs are played at the show, the first being this an instrumental Te Amo Corazón. It starts of seductive and low with Prince playing a very melodic guitar. The opening minutes of Princes guitar set the stage for what will follow, with the horns picking up where he left off with some playing in a similar vein. The band take their turns to shine in the song, and Renato Neto is well and truly in his element with a piano solo that carries the mood and feel of the song. The song is a delight to listen to, and before I know it has passed by as light as a breeze on a summers day.

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Shelby returns, as does the cover versions, as the steady rumble of Crazy begins. Its enjoyable enough, it’s hard to dislike this song, and the band do a fine rendition of it. Shelby does her thing, but it’s the guitar solo of Prince that has my ears pricking up, its guttural and primeval which adds some bite to the song. The rest of the song is as you might expect, although you can still hear Prince’s guitar chugging underneath threatening to bust out at any moment, which makes it all the more disappointing when he sticks with only one brief moment before the song ends.

Some proper Prince funk makes a welcome return with Get On The Boat, and Maceo sets things off in fine style with a burst on his horn. Along with Greg Boyer, it’s the sound of the horn section that nails down the song early on, while the band do their funky best in the background. This is a fantastic way to end the show, and the band is at their best throughout, mostly lead by the horn assault, although Prince adds some guitar flavour late in the song. Like everything at this show it’s over before I know it, and I am left with a smile on my face as the recording ends.

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This recording is short – barely 70 minutes (although it is part of a massive Eye Records six CD set), yet it is one of the most enjoyable shows I have heard for a while. There is plenty of funk and jazz in the mix, and the band play to their strengths with a short sharp show. Some may quibble about the lack of Prince songs played, but that is irrelevant with a performance as polished as this, and things are even better when we take into consideration the quality of the audience recording. 3121 is a great album, and while this recording only has a couple of songs from that album, it is a nice document of the era.

Thanks for reading,
Same time next week
-Hamish