First Show Of 2007

Last week I wrote of the New Years Eve show from 2006/2007, played during Prince’s Las Vegas residency. The second part of that story is the concert Prince played in the early morning of January 1st , a jazz inspired show that features very little of Prince singing, instead being a showcase for Mike Phillips and the rest of the band. Prince purists may not find anything too exciting to it, but Prince loved being part of the band, and even though it is often difficult for me to pinpoint Prince”s contribution I still enjoy the wild ride as the band stretches across a range of styles, especially as the band dig deeper into jazz. Mike Phillips leads the way, and the other performer that really catches my ear is Renato Neto. His performance may not be powerhouse, but there is plenty of finesse to be heard, and his hands dancing across the keyboard has me spellbound at times.

The first half of the show is similar in style to the show from the previous morning, a jazz fragranced romp that serves as an easy introduction for those that don’t normally listen to jazz. The stench of funk arrives in the second half of the concert as the band shows off their flexibility and they are just as adept at funk as they are at jazz. It is a show of long jams, a couple of songs in the first portion perhaps running a few minutes longer than is necessary, but there is no complaints at all as the standard of music is high, and the funk songs later on come thick and fast, keeping the listener guessing what might come next in an anything goes medley.

1st January 2007 (am)  3121 Jazz Cuisine @ Rio Hotel & Casino

“A Night In Tunisia” is well-known, and anyone even vaguely familiar with the original will find nothing new in this rendition. It is Renato Neto who throws down the gauntlet with his early solo, and Mike Phillips rises to the occasion with a dizzingly fast solo that excites while paying homage to the original. Prince is only heard late in the song, his guitar arching slowly across the soundscape, but as with all music my first question is “Is it good?” to which my response would be “yes,” so I am more than satisfied with this first song as an indication of what will follow.

The fifteen minutes opener was merely an appetizer, and the main dish comes with a twenty minute rendition of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” featuring the talents of Greg Boyer. It is the recording itself that shines just as bright as the band on stage, and as I listen I find myself thinking about how good it sounds just as much about the music I am actually hearing. An audience recording, the band sound sharp throughout, clear and bright and no distortion at all. I often get a sinking feeling in my stomach when I see the words audience recording, but in this case it is one of the better ones I have heard. Complimenting the music perfectly, the recording elevates the concert to another level. My only caution is that there is excessive cowbell late in the song, but it is tempered by a furious guitar break by Prince that leaves an impression long after the cowbell has faded.

I am very happy to hear Shelby J say”We going to let it it marinade” at the beginning of “Crazy” , and that is exactly what they do, letting it cook in it own juices for the first minute on the back of Prince’s rhythmic guitar work. The previous half hour of jazz is forgotten as the vocoder arrives, along with a timely chorus of “One Nation Under A Groove” The sonic landscape is transformed as Prince’s guitar rises from an earthy tone into a metallic tower of steel and power. He remains within the confines of the band and the song through, and it is Shelby J who leads us through this uplifting and inspiring performance.

This pop music is put back in the box quickly after as we return to the jazz with a long rendition of “Footprints.” I enjoy it immensely, unfortunately some of the audience near the taper don’t share my love of the music, and there is quite a bit of audience chat to be heard in the first minutes of the song. As the band rise in intensity some of this background noise is drowned out, and the recording definitely sounds better the deeper we get into it. This isn’t the first song you would choose to hear on a bootleg, but it a great representation of this band, and Prince’s genre hopping abilities. The funk that will follow is what we have all come to expect, and it’s somewhat of a shame that more jazz standard covers such as this don’t appear more frequently in Prince’s setlists as it gives the band a chance to demonstrate their grasp of another genre.

The pop returns with Shelby and a sweet performance of “Sweet Thing.” Its effortlessly cool, and before I know it I am singing along with Shelby. I am no match for her vocal power though, and she gives us a perfectly pitched performance here, building from the glittering verses to a luminescent chorus that will brighten the rest of my day. The concert hasn’t reached its peak yet, but with Prince’s final guitar break we are lifted several notches closer.

We stay with the cover versions for a short but fierce version of Bill Wither’s “Who Is He (And What Is He To You?).” With it’s pulsating bass there is a tension in the air and the feeling that the band is just about to cut loose, a sense that at any moment the concert will erupt into something a whole lot funkier.

That something a whole lot funkier is “More Bounce To The Ounce” incorporating a range of funk tunes and chants. It doesn’t come all at once though, instead building from the foundation of the previous song and steadily rising into an a storm cloud of a groove. It does cover a lot of ground, Maceo fundamental to all that is going on, and although I have fun picking out the songs that are in the mix I am constantly mindful of Maceo’s contribution and endorsement of this band. I sometimes weary of these funk medleys, but in this case they are so smoothly integrated that it comes as a steady smorgasbord of funk, all of which I greedy eat up. It’s all rounded off by a cocktail of vocoder and Prince guitar licks, all of which leave me lightheaded not quite sure if I want more or just a glass of water.

 

The final song of the show is another funk jam, this time centered around “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” A regular in Prince’s setlists, in this case it is made all the more interesting by the appearance of the vocal group   MO5AIC. They add a different element to the song, and their addition of Janet Jackson “Rythmn Nation” to the chorus adds a sense of fun, as well as neatly tying the song back to some of Prince’s former colleagues. It brings several elements of the night together, the horns switching from jazz to funk and adding firepower to back up Shelby’s vocals that as always stand proud, front and centre. It is very much about the band, and no one performance stands out, in this case it is the band that is the star.

Without being outstanding, this is a nice little bootleg that I can see myself listening to plenty more in future. Its not supercharged Prince, instead its an understated performance of comfortably tunes that would sit easily on any playlist, and it contains something for all seasons. It may be a little too light on Prince for many peoples tastes, but as part of the wider eye records release (6 CDs), it gives us a breather and a chance to sit back and just appreciate the music. My recommendation would be to take a listen on Sunday afternoon, glass of wine in hand.

Until next week,
take care – Hamish

 

 

Return to First Ave 2007

In 2007 Prince played three shows in a day at his hometown of Minneapolis. I have already taken a listen to the matinee show at Macys and the main show at the Target Center, so to round out the trifecta today I will have a look at the aftershow at First Ave. It’s notable in that it was the first-time Prince had played there in 20 years, and anticipation was at an all-time high with queues snaking around the block with fans desperate to see their hometown hero. The show doesn’t disappoint. There are some uneven moments, but it is beautifully recorded (the bootleg sounds great) and the opening 3121 is so enormous in its heavy funk that any other weaker moments are immediately forgiven. I have listened to this show a couple of times this week, and I can’t wait to tell you about it.

8th July 2007(am) First Avenue, Minneapolis

3121 has a steamroller of a groove that rolls heavily over everything from the first moments.  It’s hard and heavy and reminds me of Days Of Wild on a good day. With an insistent bass and horns early on, it puts me in mind of the performance of Days Of Wild from Belgium in 2002, dark, heavy and feeling like it might roll on for days. 3121 builds with cheers from the crowd before some chopping guitar heralds the arrival of Prince. His vocals emerge from the fog of the music, ghost-like yet full and with a darkness of their own.  It’s as hard as nails, with Prince’s guitar adding plenty of venom later in the song, it too emerging from the morass of music with a piercing whine. The song rolls on for ten minutes, I could happily put it back on repeat and listen to it all day long, the show is worth listening to just for this song lone. It encapsulates all that is great about the aftershow experience and puts me right in the moment.

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We go from dark to light, with a bright and sharp Girls And Boys following immediately after. With plenty of honks from the horns and keyboards it keeps the show moving at a clip, each stab adding to the momentum. Prince himself is sounding great, and I must again point out that this is great sounding recording. It may be an audience recording but it is full and rich sounding, with the crowd audible but not the least bit intrusive.

I Feel 4 U is sprightly, with Shelby adding her infectious energy to the show. She is reasonable restrained, and nicely focused. The song itself is short, and as Shelby begins to call “Put your hands up” things quickly move onto Controversy.

In recently times Controversy has been played with and thrown into crowd pleasing medleys, and I am happy to say that the rendition here is faithful to the original. It may not be the bare funk of the album, the band is bigger and fuller, but the song is the same arrangement, at least until the final minutes as Prince calls for the audience to jump up and down. It’s not my favourite part of the song, but there are plenty more positives I enjoy listening to, especially the frenetic horn solo that adds a sense of urgency to the song. The closing guitar break from Prince is equally fine, it takes a while to get to it but it is well worth the wait.

Things slow for Beggin Woman Blues.  The groove is the steady sound of Satisfied, as Prince sings Beggin Woman Blues. The lyrics are hilarious, and the crowd are quiet as they listen carefully to catch the jokes. The real surprise is Princes vocals, they sound fantastic, especially the first few minutes. There is plenty to enjoy on the keyboard front too, with both Morris Hayes and Renato Neto taking solos before things really cut loose with a wild sax solo from Mike Phillips. Prince brings us back as he returns the song back to its roots with his vocal delivery of Satisfied. Morris Hayes does a great job of filling the sound out behind him, and it highlights Princes vocals further, his high squeals contrasting with Morris Hayes deep organ swirls.

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I can’t say I am overly impressed by Down By The Riverside. It’s a breather, and a chance for me to grab another drink (this is thirsty work).

Gotta Broken Heart Again is a standout moment. It has a stillness to it, with Princes vocals being the back bone of the song. I can’t speak highly enough of his vocals, they are outstanding and listening is a reminder to how much of a pure singer Prince was. He even matches the horns for shrill and intensity as the song reaches its climax, an impressive feat.

Shelby takes on Love Is A Losing Game, a tough job as it is a song that in my mind is indelibly associated with Amy Winehouse. I’m not sold on the performance, although Prince provides several guitar breaks that do elevate it, but not quite enough. The guitar does sound sweet and has a zesty sound to it, on another song it would be a whole lot more.

I enjoy Shelby’s performance of Love Changes a whole lot more. She is soft when she needs to be soft, strong when she needs to be strong, and I think it is a great match for her vocals and personality. Prince adds his input with some more guitar work, and this hits all my sweet spots, they complement each other well and this is further highlighted as Prince sings alongside Shelby. It may not be a lot of peoples’ cup of tea, but for me this is as good as anything else heard on this recording. Princes guitar in the final minutes underlines the performance and seals the deal.

We have all heard Thank You (Falettinme  Be Mice Elf Again) plenty of times, and this rendition contains no surprises. Larry Graham adds his deeper tones to the song, and it does have an energy that is sometimes missing in these performances. Things heat up near the end as Prince stops the band and we get some real rumble out of Larry and his bass.

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This rumble settles into Hair, and with the keyboard playing a retro sound we are cast back to the Seventies. Larry starts out on vocal duties, but he gives way to Shelby who doesn’t do a bad effort of the song herself. It does become a medley with some funky guitar running things into Sing A Simple Song before things quickly change again, this time with Everyday People. Everyday People ends the medley on a high, it is feel good through and through and one can almost hear Larry Graham smiling as he plays and sings.

Alphabet St may start off as expected, but soon enough it is spinning off into all sorts of weird and wonderful places. Greg Boyer is present for a trombone solo, before Larry Grahams bass settle things back into a groove. Shelia E playing percussion is easily the highlight, she is the right person at the right time and her input is timely and welcome.  It’s unfortunate that things come to a sudden end (due to curfew restrictions), but it is a fine way to end the recording, as Prince thanks the crowd as he explains why they are stopping, demonstrating that he is a law-abiding citizen through and through.

I had heard good things about this bootleg, but to be honest I wasn’t expecting much from it. On the surface it seemed to be the same old songs brought out again for the aftershow. I was caught off guard by the funk of 3121, and the appearance of Larry Graham wasn’t what I had come to expect, the show had a lot of energy when Larry arrived on the scene and provided his input. Of the the three shows from this day I would easily rate this as the best of the three. A short, sharp show played with intensity and energy, and I can’t really ask for better than that.

Thanks again
Take care
Hamish

 

7-7-7 Target Centre

Several weeks ago I wrote of the Macy’s matinee show from 2007, and it’s only right that I now return to have a listen to the other shows from that day. The main show from the Target Center in retrospect can be seen as a precursor and warm up show to the 21 nights in London that will come in the following month. The set list  here being typical of these future shows, with Prince airing most of his hits in the show. The real drawcard of this show is the appearance of Wendy on several songs. I would like to say I recognized her sound immediately, although to be honest I’m not sure I would have picked up on it without being told. However, I will be listening carefully to see if I can pick her style on the songs she appears on.

7th July 2007, Target Center Minneapolis

We don’t have to wait long to hear Wendy, she appears on Purple Rain that starts the show, and this is entirely appropriate as this is the period most fans know her from. Prince is up to the occasion -a hometown show, Wendy on guitar, and he gives a stirring performance from the first minutes. His vocals are punchy and carry some weight as he sings, he does sound invested in the moment and the song soars due to this. Normally it’s the guitar break that I find myself waiting for, on this occasion I get just as much pleasure from the singing as anything else that might be going on. The guitar break however shouldn’t be overlooked, as Prince infuses this with spirit and feeling that gets the show off to a positive and highly enjoyable start.

Take Me With U maintains this momentum and good will, the recording is clean sounding with enough of the crowd noise there to get the impression that they are all aboard from the very beginning, much as you’d expect from a show in Minneapolis. It’s upbeat, it’s fun, and it comes and goes in a flash, leaving me with a smile on my face.

Prince keeps the foot on the accelerator as the segue into Guitar keeps the show moving quickly on. I did enjoy it when it first came out, since then my interest has waned somewhat so I didn’t expect too much here. I was pleasantly surprised by how good it sounds, especially the last few minutes. The verses and chorus I could take or leave, but the final few minutes is where Prince warms to his work and some great guitar work can be heard.

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My first “wow” moment comes with Shhh, a song I will never tire of hearing. Prince wraps me up in his warm vocal delivery, before an avalanche of guitar pushes this song into greatness. The contrast between the vocals and the guitar give it some dramatic tension and for me that’s what makes this song what it is. I can’t tell you how this compares to the hundreds of other performances of it I have heard, what I can tell you that at this moment it is the highlight of my week and it washes the worries of world away for the next few minutes.

Musicology snaps me back into the real world and, as enjoyable as it is, it can’t compare to Shhh. I do appreciate the sentiment behind “real music by real musicians”, but after listening to a great many shows I have found I have become tired of the phase. Musicology does provide some interest as Prince begins to sing Prince And The Band. It lacks some of the bite it had earlier on, but it’s cool to hear Prince trotting it out again. There are further highlights as Prince can be heard having fun with an audience member dancing, before Mike Phillips brings his magic touch to the song.

I have never enjoyed Play That Funk Music in Prince shows, and here is no different. The band sound good, the crowd are lapping it up, and yet listen here at home it leaves me cold. There is some fire in the guitar solo that has me regretting my words, and by the end of the song I too am won over – never underestimate the power of Prince and his guitar ability.

The cover version of Let’s Go by the Cars adds a huge dash of fun to the show and, although it is short, it is eminently enjoyably. From its catchy sing along beginnings to the scorching Prince guitar break it ticks all my boxes, and even at two and a half minutes it is a performance that leaves me breathless.

Mike Phillips certainly leaves his mark on Satisfied. I’m not feeling it early on, but then Mike Phillips arrives with his saxophone and plays up a storm. The intensity levels go through the roof, and I wonder why I don’t listen to this more often. The rest of Satisfied is as I have heard plenty of times before, but those few minutes of Mike Phillips elevates it in my estimation.

Mike stays front and centre as he and Renato Neto play an instrumental What A Wonderful World. This time I find I do mentally check out, I am here for Prince and these moments he is not on stage the energy seems to drain out of the building, and the recording. What A Wonderful World is good in its own right, but it’s not Prince.

I knew Wendy played on several songs, what I didn’t expect was her and Prince playing a solo guitar set together. This takes things to a whole other level and is easily the highlight of the show. If I had of known what was coming I would have come to this recording much sooner than I have.  The opening Little Red Corvette is other worldly, the guitars and vocals angelic as they interlace and weave their magic. Prince keeps it short, but it’s only the beginning of something special.

Raspberry Beret is a song that I feel I never have to hear again – except this version. Stripped back to the vocals and guitars it regains it youthfulness and spark. The years roll back as it plays and the sound of Wendy’s guitar is unmistakable. I am not normally one for nostalgia, but this has me back wallowing in my teenage years.

We get some Prince humour as Prince and Wendy next tackle The One U Wanna C. It starts off quickly, before Prince stops – telling the crowd that they can’t play it as its new and they might bootleg it. They then change tack and play a different version of it, slowed down and rolled with, which in my opinion makes it a lot more bootleg-able, its these different arrangements and live performances that I collect bootlegs for.  There is a downside, as the recording unfortunately captures some people discussing what seat numbers they are, but the rest of the song passes without incidence, and it sounds fantastic. This guitar set is something else, and I’m loving every minute of it.

The guitar set is rounded out by a tear-jerking performance of Sometimes It Snows In April. Its sharper and cleaner, and not as over wrought as I expect, and the performance is all the better for it. There is a purity to it that lifts the show, and the guitar flourishes are pitched just right to give it a touch of colour. It brings the guitar set to a close in the best way possible, and gives us a pause before the show pushes forward again.

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The band re-join for 7, and the show immediately becomes an up-tempo party again. 7 is an introduction for the following Come Together, and after two minutes it easily segues into Shelby singing the opening verses. Come Together doesn’t add anything special to the show, and it’s hard to fathom why it appeared in so many of Princes shows. Prince and the band never quite put their only mark on it, and for the most part it is a perfunctory run through the song. The saving grace comes in the form of Princes closing guitar break which lifts the song far above its plodding beat. If only the rest of the song sounded as good as the guitar break, it would be a different beast altogether.

The piano set portion of the show begins with a lovely sounding Do Me, Baby. Prince and piano start off easily enough, before the band do join to give the song a full, yet touching, sound. This is another moment that I find I gravitate to, and it sets the bar high for the next few piano songs.

I Wanna Be Your Lover follows in similar fashion, Prince and the piano opening the song before the rest of the band joins in.  It sounds fresh, and even here at home I am singing along with it as if it is a new song to me. The outro is played, which is a plus as far as I am concerned, and there is some funk under the pop veneer.

How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore is more in line with what we traditionally expect from the piano set. With just Prince and the piano, the next couple of minutes could have been recorded anytime over the previous thirty years. The band do join, but this signals the end of the song, rather than a fuller version.

There is only a couple of lines played from Diamonds and Pearls, before Prince plays with the crowd as he calls for his guitar. He stays with the Diamonds and Pearls album, playing a lively version of Cream. This sometimes sounds dreary to me, not tonight as Prince plays with an extra sharpness and energy. Playing to the hometown audience is bringing out the best of him, and the recording is sounding great.

There is cascade of noise and guitar work with the introduction of U Got The Look. Prince and the band romp through it, playing a boisterous, rough and tumble rendition. The guitar isn’t over worked, but it is strong, and the song is much more than the two dimension versions heard elsewhere through 2007.  It comes as an unexpected surprised, and I am pleased to hear it in this form.

The band is stronger than I expected, and they put their stamp well and truly on If I Was Your Girlfriend. There is sound and power coming from every corner as the song plays, normally it’s Prince vocals that command attention in the song, in this case all the band are vying for attention as the song plays. It gives it a fullness that is far from what is heard on Sign O The Times.

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The same could be said of Black Sweat, the band swamp it in sound as the stripped back sound of the original becomes just a memory. It may not be my favourite version, but I commend the band for taking ownership and making it distinctly theirs. Renato Neto in particular has my attention with some keyboard sounds that sound alien in nature.

The band is slightly more restrained for Kiss, although there is a low bass rumble that has me excited. The song starts off well, but it’s the guitar break that has me sitting up and paying a lot more attention. It brings some sharpness to a song that has too much happening and at times sounding unfocused.

Let’s Go Crazy on paper fails to excite me, but listening to it reveals a different arrangement, designed to engage the crowd to the full. The original opening is intact, then no verses, just a headlong rush into guitar work before Prince engages the audience in some chanting, all the while delivering guitar histrionics. The music snob in me would normally dismiss this, but like a mouth to the flame I can’t help but be attracted by the rush and thrill of it.

That rush and thrill is maintained as Prince and the band cut into one of the funkiest versions of A Love Bizarre I have heard for a long time. With Shelia E on board the song has an authentic sound, although it’s the funk of the guitar that really gets my heart going. The band are giving their all, and the song is pushed out the speakers at me with great energy and force. The trombone of Greg Boyer adds a taste of something different, and the song never once loses energy or the pure joy of simply being alive. The last searing guitar solo by Prince is the icing on the cake, and leaves me feeling like I felt the first time I saw him live.

Crazy is more like what I expected this show to be like, a gentle run through of a familiar set list, with plenty of Shelby J sprinkled through the show. It’s much more in keeping with what would be heard later in the year during the 21 nights in London, and as such it doesn’t overly excite me hearing it here. I do enjoy the guitar riff of One Nation Under A Groove that is briefly alluded to, but for the most part the song can’t compare to the highlights that came earlier.

Nothing Compares 2 U is similar, it is an uninspired run through of a song that deserves better. There isn’t the interaction between Prince and Shelby as we hear in other performances, he takes the song on himself, and the solo from Mike Phillips sounds bold but lacks any emotional pull. It is disappointing, but I can’t complain after all that has come before.

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Shelia E makes herself heard for the final song of the night, A Glamorous Life. Shelia and Prince can be heard having fun together, as they play with the song and the audience during a mid-song break down that features plenty of percussion from Shelia. I do start to lose interest, but I can’t deny it would have been great if I had been there. It is great to hear a performance of A Glamorous life, and although the song doesn’t end with a bang, the show does with this performance of a live rarity.

The show is a curious mix of the familiar and the not so familiar. Although the bulk of the show is similar to the London shows that will follow, there is enough in there for me to take a closer listen. The section with Wendy was outstanding, as was the closing with Shelia E.  Some of the other songs suffer in comparison to this, although there were moments where Prince draws from the home crowd and elevates some numbers to a higher level. This could have been a mundane show, but is saved by the guest appearances and a lively performance from Prince. Too long I have ignored this one, dismissing it as another 2007 show by the numbers. Worth a second listen, and I may have to revisit it several more times in the coming weeks.

It’s been a shaky week here, and its been a great diversion to lose myself in Prince’s world for a couple of hours
See you next week,
Hamish

Macy’s Matinee, 2007

July 7th 2007 was a busy day for Prince, and a great day for Minneapolis. Prince treated his hometown to three shows – A matinee show at Macys (3121 perfume launch) , a mainshow at the Target Centre before following with an aftershow at First Avenue. The last two shows get plenty of coverage while the first show often overlooked in the wider scheme of things. It is a short show, 40 minutes, but at the same time if is a very well recorded show that provides a short sharp shock of entertainment. It’s not too demanding, and worth a second listen.

7th July 2007, Macy’s 8th Floor Auditorium, Nicollet Mall – Minneapolis

Its hard to guess that the opening When The Saints Go In is by Prince and the band, but a closer listen and you can recognize the sound of Greg Boyer on trombone as well as the rest of the horn section. They are obviously enjoying their time to shine and the show is off to a lively start with there upbeat instrumental rendition of an old classic.

Prince can be heard for the first time as his count-off introduces the steady groove of 3121. It’s not as intense, or insistent, as I have heard elsewhere, and the horns add some lightness to it early on. The chorus has me sold on it however, as Prince sings strongly and with an obvious enjoyment. Shelby J can be heard on backing vocals, although she is oddly quiet. Princes guitar break and the crowd both add a sense of urgency to the song and make it both enjoyable and serious.

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Girls And Boys has a smoothness to it that belies its age, as Prince and the band slide across the glass-like groove. The sharpness comes at the chorus, although the twins seem to be making up their own French words for the backing vocals. The saxophone solo is replaced with a trombone solo, something that adds an element of interest to a song I have heard many times in my life. The high point for me is the solo from Renato Neto, it beams in from outer space and has a beautiful alien quality that gives the song an edge. The coda of “3121” chants sounds like a plug for the perfume, and as such I consider it unnecessary to the song.

Shelia is low key on percussion but makes herself heard on Love Bizarre. This is a great version, and there is plenty of energy heard in the performance. Shelia and Prince sound excellent together, and the recording easily does justice to the song. Shelia sings with a fierceness, I get the feeling that she is investing a lot of herself in the performance. Although only four minutes, it plays like a jam with a saxophone solo that is invested with a touch of fire, before Prince and Sheila provide some rhythm and percussion on their respective instruments. This is an excellent performance, and should not be slept on.

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Get On The Boat takes a twist, and although the horns still drive it, its Princes guitar that catches the ear early on. It has a Santana flavour to it, and it wouldn’t be much of leap from this to the Santana medley that Prince was fond of a few years previous. This could be attributed to Shelia E, whose percussion is the bedrock that the song is built on.

Shelia E stays at the front of our minds as Glamorous Life makes an appearance in the setlist. It is fitting in this setting, and it does sound glamorous as they sing it. Prince can be heard singing, but mostly it’s Shelia that is heard, both singing and playing percussion. Her final solo is the highlight of the song and underlines her talent as it finishes.

How many times have we heard Prince say “So many hits, so little time”? Too many and he breaks it out here again. The following Take Me With U has also been heard many times, although it is a bright and fresh sounding performance here. Its  a standard run through, and the song shines even as the band sound like they are giving a perfunctory performance.

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Guitar was the song of the moment at this time, and Prince gives a performance that suggests he is feeling it. With the vocals coming with a rasp, the chorus come and go pleasantly enough before the song lives up to its name in the final minutes. The solo may start as expected, but soon enough it becomes more interesting and raises some pulses. The fireworks are all in the final couple of minutes as Prince and his guitar finally do take over.

Things get crazy for the finish. First Shelby J does her thing on a cover of Crazy. The groove is irresistible, and Shelby sounds full and bright on the recording. She raises several cheers from the audience as she sings, a sure sign that she sounds as good at the show as she does on the recording. There is some “put your hands up” shouting, but I’m feeling generous today and I’ll give her a pass.

Things become crazier as Prince introduces Let’s Go Crazy. It has the traditional spoken beginning, but the rest of the song is wild ride as Prince solos, drawing influences from Rock Lobster, and gives Shelia E another percussion break. It goes by with break neck speed, and before I know it Prince is howling the last notes into the sky. It is sharp ending to what has been a short and sweet show.

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Don’t be fooled by the length of the show, at 10 songs and 45 minutes, it is just as long as his shows earlier in his career. This recording contained a pleasing mix of old and new material and Prince played a lively show to match. It may have been a matinee but it still sounded like a rock show should. Another excellent aspect of the show was the appearance of Shelia E, she definitely put her stamp on everything she played. This is a sweet little show, and something I shan’t overlook again.

Take care
Hamish

Josh and Cora ‘power trio’

Prince has flirted with playing in a trio several times over the years, especially after the positive fan response to the Undertaker project with Michael B and Sonny T. With Sonny T and Michael B it was very much a power trio, today’s show with Josh and Cora doesn’t exude the same power, yet I think we can still safely describe it as a power trio.  I remember at the time of this show, an after show during his 21 night run in London in 2007, there was a lot of comment online about it, and many people had been wanting to see a show like this for a number of years. The concept is certainly mouth-watering, and what I really want to know is does the show, and this recording, live up to the expectation. There is only one way to find out, I will press play on it now.

29th August (am) 2007, Indigo O2   London

The recording eases us into it nicely with some audience noise before the trio of Prince, Cora and Josh start a slow groove. I enjoy it right from the start with Prince’s guitar having a nice raw organic sound. It’s not at all loud, it’s very laid back and the groove moves along gently. Having only three instruments playing Thank You For Talkin To Me Africa means that the sound isn’t at all crowded and Princes guitar playing is very clear in the mix. There is some strumming before later he switches up into a couple of cool sounding lead breaks. Each gets a hearty cheer from the crowd, and a thumbs up from me here at home. As an instrumental it serves as a good introduction to the show.

Prince playing guitar 2

Anotherloverholenyohead actually works very well in this context. It rocks out well, and the crowd are feeling it with plenty of singing. I get a buzz out of hearing Princes vocals and guitar playing in this setting and the song sounds fierce in its stripped back form. It’s not well served by the recording, I can hear it fine and clear, but it doesn’t have the jump and pop I want to hear, it is missing some crispness in the recording. The segue into Rock Lobster is familiar to me, and doesn’t come as any real surprise. Its gives Prince an opportunity to crank up the intensity on his guitar playing and the break comes as a flurry of playing. I thought the whole song would be like this, but he pulls back in the last couple of minutes as Cora plays a drum break which is warmly received by the crowd.

I often associate Calhoun Square with the Michael B and Sonny T era, so I feel it’s a good fit here as soon as it begins. Initially the music sits in the background as Prince opens the singing, but soon enough his guitar is turned up and we get another round of guitar work. It must be good, because I find myself turning it up louder as the song progresses. The crowd are heard through the song chanting and cheering, and I know I am not alone in my enjoyment of this performance. Prince’s guitar playing becomes fierier in the last minutes of the song, at this point I find I am doing little else but listening to him playing.

Chaos and Disorder is perfect for this trio and they are become faster and tighter as they go. The drums aren’t as pounding and strong as you would get with a Michael B, and without that strength I find the song lacks some punch. Cora plays well enough, but she doesn’t have the power of Michael B. I can’t fault the enthusiasm of the trio, and Princes guitar is the main attraction and what holds it all together, as well as holding my attention.

I enjoy I Like It There which follows, but again it doesn’t have the power in the drums. There is plenty of noise on the cymbals and Prince sings more passionately which fills out the sound. The guitar is sounding very crisp and clean and I find I am enjoying the show much more than I anticipated. There trio isn’t a ‘power trio’ in the powerful sense, but they are nice and tight and do generate a good sound together. The song works best in the last minutes when Prince lets the guitar do all the work, and I think this is what most people want out of the show.

Prince playing guitar 1

There is along introduction next, with plenty of guitar grooves and some lead before Prince begins to sing. I can’t work out what it is, and it’s only once he begins singing that it becomes apparent that it is All Shook Up. I have heard this song plenty of times from Prince, but never like this before and I am surprised at how well it works for this trio. Prince sings over some choppy guitar, and during the chorus plays some lead that has a similar tone to the two previous songs. It’s far removed from the original and its more band centred rather than focused on the singer. There is some more soloing from Prince, it’s cleaner sounding than the previous solos, and he is sounding tighter and focused, rather than fiery and passionate.

Empty Room is phenomenal, for me it’s the best part of the gig. Sure, Princes vocals aren’t recorded as well as some of the earlier songs, but the guitar is the thing, and here is powerful and passionate sounding. The crowd goes silent during this performance, and I honestly think some of them are awestruck. It feels a lot louder than the other songs, and I think it’s mostly due to the fact that I am listening so closely. Prince gets an interesting sounding tone on his guitar that shimmers, I aren’t a great fan of it, but when his stronger tone returns I am very happy. The song dies with a whimper, which is surprising given how strong it was early on, but that’s OK, for me it’s the pick of the show.

I can’t get used to Spirituality, I still want to call it Sexuality, as that is what it always will be to me. If Empty Room was the highlight for me, then this would be a very close second. The drums don’t sound strong, it’s the guitar that drives this alone, Prince plays all sorts of fills compensating for the lack of keyboards that normally fill the sound. His guitar has a slightly jagged raw edge, just enough to make this a gritty must listen. I don’t get behind the lyric change, the rest of the song though is outstanding, and my only complaint is that it’s only a couple of minutes before he moves smoothly into the next song, I would have died to hear him play this one much longer.

Johnny B Goode is predictable and although the guitar sounds good and the mood is high, it leaves me disappointed. There isn’t really much to it, a couple of verses and then some frantic guitar work by Prince. It’s not at all bad, it’s just lacking soul, and I am more than happy with the couple of minutes we get.

Prince playing guitar

I was surprised to see Elephants And Flowers in the set, and I praise it for its novelty value. It’s less flowery than the album cut (excuse the pun) and much more straight forward sounding. It’s another chance for Prince to play some lead guitar, which he injects a lot of spirit into. The song moves by quickly, I think after the verses and chorus Princes guitar changes time and space in the universe because it seems like only a minute long when in reality it a good five minutes.

When Will We B Paid is another outstanding performance. Opening with a couple of minutes of gentle lead guitar, this is the type of Prince playing that I love to hear. Nothing too fierce, just some beautiful runs on his guitar and plenty of soul. It has a timeless quality to it, and I like that the recording gets the vocals nice and clear so we get the lyrics and their meaning. The guitar solo after the verses stays in this gentle way and keeps within the tone of the song. I would be quite happy if it stayed this way, however it picks up considerably near the end, and to my surprise I like it just as much as the rest of the song. This was another highlight of the show for me, there is much more to this show than I initially thought.

There’s the whine of the guitar that leads into the next song, and I am happy when I hear I heavy riff begin. Shelby is onboard here to sing Baby Love, and she does a great job, she sings full voiced over Princes guitar riff, and the song has a great push to it. It’s much more out front and in my face, and I like it all the more for it. Unfortunately about half way through Shelby begins her “Put your hands up, put your hands up” chants which throws me momentarily, although it’s only for a minute and the song is soon enough back on track. There is some juicy sounding guitar work from Prince after Shelby steps back and the song gets a whole lot better from here on. Prince’s guitar sounds great to my ears, and when Shelby starts to sing again she is very strong and machine guns the final chorus in brilliant style.

Alphabet street gets a verse, than a fast guitar solo that really kicks it off. The lightness returns for another verse, before Prince takes us deep into his guitar solo again. He repeats this, the light verse and then hammering guitar break, and although a little jarring at first, there is no denying that it all sounds so good. I preferred the guitar breaks to the singing, the singing was filler compared to the killer guitar licks he had.

The final song of the show and the recording is rather fittingly Guitar. This song neatly encapsulates everything I like and dislike about the show. The singing is light and throwaway, while the guitar breaks are excellent and the main reason to be here. The drums lack any real presence and everything defers to Prince and his guitar sound. I am happy with that, as I like Prince and his guitar, but I wonder how much better this could have sounded with other players. The best moments are when Prince shreds his guitar and fills the recording with guitar sound. He plays quick and the song speeds by at a very fast rate, and before I know it the song is over.

I found this recording to be very good, but I the back of my mind is the thought that it could have been a lot better too. The performance was good, the guitar breaks were great, what was missing was that little extra to give it more power. My first thought would be a different drummer, somebody who could really bash the drums and create a big sound for Prince to play against. Asides from that quibble I found that the recording was immensely enjoyable, and the fact that it was only an hour worked in its favour, much more and there would have been the feeling of repetition and sameness. I can understand why people like to see Prince play in a stripped back band like this, hopefully it’s something he will dabble with again in future.

Thanks for reading,
Take care
-Hamish

 

 

London 21 nights – September 12th

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.

Prince 2007

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.

Prince 2007a

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.

Prince 2007b

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.

Prince 2007d

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.

Prince 2007c

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.

Prince 2007e

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.

Prince 2007f

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.

Prince 2007g

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.

Take care
Hamish

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first night of 21 nights

Today’s entry is gong to be a little different from anything else I have written. I have written about some great recordings previously, and some significant gigs in the world of Prince, but this one is special to me for another reason. Today I will be writing about the first night of the 21 nights at the O2 London. Not only is it the first night of that series of concerts, it is also the first time that I ever saw Prince playing live. For me it is impossible to detach the recording from being at the event itself. I normally try to be fairly objective in my writing, but today any semblance of objectivity will go out the window. A lot of my memories and feelings are tied into this recording, I can’t listen to it without all these coming to the surface. So with that in mind, let’s take a listen- the CD is in the player, my cup of tea beside me, but in my mind I am coming up the escalator at North Greenwich station, and the excitement in the air is electric.

8 August 2007 O2 London

Opening the show is a video of the UK Hall of fame introduction. Prince is definitely marketing himself as an Icon/legacy act at this stage, and the video serves as a useful reminder to the fans there that he has had an outstanding career. I find it a little ho-hum, but it very much sets the scene for what comes next, and definitely gets the excitement levels rising in the crowd.

Prince 21 nights 2007

I am not convinced that Purple Rain is a great song to open a show with. Although, once again, I have to concede I do understand exactly why it is here at the beginning of the show. Prince is making a statement, opening his 21 night stand with the song that is most closely associated with him, and from the most stellar part of his career. On a personal note- this is not one of my favorite Prince songs, it has been played at 100’s of concerts over the years, and has long since lost its sparkle for me. But, this was my first time to see Prince after being a fan for 25 years, and as he rose out of the dry ice, singing his signature song, I have to say it was pretty emotional. There may well have been a tear in my eye (I am sure it was just from the dry ice). On listening to the recording now I find that away from the hype and excitement, it is actually a good rendition of the song. Instead of the hanging guitar chords at the beginning, we get a nice little piano intro. It’s not drawn out at all, and Prince starts singing without too much intro. The drum beat isn’t as strong as it used to be, and the music sounds very much in the back ground, this is all about Princes vocal delivery, and its nice and strong right from the start. To his credit, he does play a full version, every verse is there as it should be. I am always pleased when it gets the full treatment, and the crowd is in fine voice for every chorus. The guitar solo has a fine sound to it, it’s not muscular as it sometimes sounds on the symbol guitar. There is nothing extra or unheard in the guitar break, but it is very decent sounding. It is a little strange to hear the crowd singing “oww, owww, owww” and knowing that this is still the first song, and we have a long way to go yet. I found it enjoyable, but perhaps a much better measure would be what a more casual fan thought of it- immediately after the song finished my friend, who had rather reluctantly come along to the gig, turned to me with a massive grin on his face and said “That was brilliant- I got my moneys worth right there with that song”.

Prince 21 nights 2007 1

Girls and Boys ups the tempo, and for me the gig begins now. Although the recording isn’t soundboard, it still is good, and Girls and Boys sounds great. Prince has a great funky sounding vocal delivery and the keyboards and horns propels it along in a non-stop fashion. This is the funky Prince I enjoy most, and it is an early highlight. The best part of it is when Maceo takes over and delivers a killer solo. It just takes off, and has a life of its own. There is also a trombone solo, which although not as good as Maceos solo is still a different addition that I really enjoy. Prince does break down the song at one stage for some audience singing of Dance, Music, Sex, Romance- it does break the momentum, but things ramp again with some more great horns and singing straight after. This song has lost nothing of its funk after all these years. It finishes with Prince yelling “Somebody scream!” It’s an excellent start to show after the slow start.

Third song in and things really pull back with a smoky version of Satisfied. It’s quite a change after the stomping Girl and Boys, but as Prince says- he’s got two sides and they’re both friends. There are plenty of roars from the crowd as Prince performs this one in typical seduction mode. It sounds like the ladies in the crowd are hanging on every word as there is screams and yells after almost every suggestive line. Maceo gets a nice lead break, and he shows of another side of his playing- completely different from the previous song. He is definitely a master, and I love listening to this one too. Maceo finishes up and we return to the seductive sounds of Prince. It sounds like he could deliver this easily all night, but he winds it up after just another minute.

Normally I would readily dismiss Cream, but this one is a more up-tempo, and the drums and horns are more to the fore. It strengthens the song a lot, and I find I enjoy it much more than I have in years. Prince reminds the audience midsong that he wrote this one looking in the mirror, and the crowd gives an approving cheer. The guitar break is worth mentioning, the sound is not as weak and thin as the album version, and although it’s very short, it is an improvement in my opinion. I also find the horns add a lot to it, they aren’t playing anything extra, but they do fatten out the sound.

We segue easily into a rock number next as U Got The Look gets an outing. With only Prince playing guitar it’s a less rocky than usual, but he makes it for it with some extra oomph in his vocals and the drummer does give it plenty too. His lead break is good, but does sit low in the mix. We can perhaps blame limitations in the recording for this, but his guitar sound does sound a little lost amongst the other instruments. It’s a shame, as it I have often felt that this song hinges on the sound of his guitar breaks in it, and here it comes across as much lighter.

I don’t think I have ever heard a version of Shhh that I didn’t like. This one is no exception. Again I am somewhat limited by the quality of the recording, but Prince sounds just as good as ever. This song dates from my favorite era of Prince, and I only wish that more songs from this period were played live now. Of course he delivers the verses with plenty of passion, but its the guitar playing where the emotion really comes through on this song. His guitar says what his voice can’t, and sitting here today listening to it I find it brings all sort of emotions out of me. A fine performance of one of his greatest songs, this one is only let down by it being an audience recording. The song ends with a half a minute of furious guitar work, and I am already reaching for the repeat button.

Prince 21 nights 2007 3

Musicology sounds like a song that was purpose written for shows like this. A throw back nostalgic song in both sound and lyrical content, it’s very much tailored for audiences like this, as well as serving as an introduction to the band. It’s a party song, and you can hear the audience responding to it, it very much lightens the mood. Again, Maceo is very much a highlight in this for me, his playing is exceptional. The other band members all play well too, no slight against any of them, but Maceo is the one I enjoy most. There is some chanting of ‘Funky London’ and the audience does seem to get behind this a lot. It does perhaps go on a little long for my liking, but I always prefer that rather than having songs cut short.

Prince takes the time to talk to the crowd between songs at this point. It’s a nice couple of minutes, he asks about his stage, how’s the band, and then mentions his excitement of playing in London again.

The up-tempo beat of I Feel For You has me back on board. Prince doesn’t have to try too hard with this one, it has a nice inner energy to it, and pushes all the nostalgia buttons to me. This isn’t the greatest version I have heard, Shelby (love her) is just a little too strong on it, and although she doesn’t drown out Prince I definitely hear her voice more than his. If anything, it feels there is a little too much on this one. It doesn’t have the cleanness that I like about it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s not as great as it could have been.

Staying in the era, Prince calls for Controversy next. It’s got that great pounding beat, and what I like most about it, is the beat doesn’t overwhelm everything, as per other recent versions I have heard. The bass is nice and prominent, and it’s a great throw back to his early years. The horns are another nice touch and give it some color. The only problem I have with it is when Prince calls for people to jump up before the main groove. It seems to derail the song somewhat. But more than making up for that is another appearance of Maceo. His sax is sharp sounding against the neat, and it works very well. Later in the song the rest of the horn section join for a horn break, but it doesn’t seem to work quite as well. But I do like that they played around with it. And there is a nice break when just the trombone plays that I enjoy.

Prince 21 nights 2007 2

Things slow down as Prince leaves the stage and Renato Neto and Mike Phillips play an instrumental What A Wonderful World. I have been effusive in my praise of the horns so far on this recording, but here is a bridge too far for me. With Prince not on the song at all I find my attention quickly waning. Although it all sounds pretty, I find this one bland and am bored with it before we even get half way.

Somewhere Here On Earth, although sounding good, barely gets my pulse going again. I am not going to dismiss it though, Princes vocal deliver on it is excellent. I would like to hear more ballads in this vein as he ages. It’s got an easy listening sound to it, with a nice gentle horn playing in background. Prince has a nice croon in his delivery and I could well imagine him singing like this in a piano bar well into old age. And that is the reason I don’t like it. The quality is excellent, there is no denying that, but it’s too safe, too middle of the road for my tastes. It’s a nice deviation in the gig, but in the end I find it to be a side dish, rather than the main course.

Lolita has questionable lyrics, but an upbeat pop sound. I have seen a variety of opinions on this song, it’s very much a song you either love or hate. I enjoyed it on record, but here it doesn’t match that. Prince’s vocals are easily heard, but not easily understood. I can’t make out the words, and this time I’m not sure I can blame the recording. The O2 does have some sound issues, and I am putting it down to this. The song is OK, but it does finish before I can form a strong opinion one way or another.

Prince then engages the audience with “I got more hits than Madonna got kids” I have heard it plenty since then, but at the time it was still quaint and funny. I am expecting him to then play one of these hits he is alluding to, but instead we get a reprise of the last chorus of Lolita.

Prince 21 nights 2007 4

We are back on track when steamy groove of Black Sweat begins. It doesn’t have the dark sound of the album, but it still sounds good to my ears. It could have been much funkier and heavier, but the crowd seems pretty happy with this arrangement, and so am I. The only things that count against it is Prince shouting “I got too many hits” midsong, and the fact that it barely reaches the three minute mark before it ends. After the last few songs dragging us down, it would have been good hear this one worked up more and injecting a bit more funk into the evening.

There is another interlude as Prince name checks possible songs he play next. This elicits a predictable response from the audience before the strum of Kiss brings us to the next song. Prince gives the audience a few chances to sing along with this one, and they respond with a loud call. The best part of the song is very much the guitar solo, his guitar has a nice tone to it, and as I say so many times, it sounds great. Prince does have another couple of crowd pleasing moments- the lyric change “You don’t have to watch desperate housewives, or big brother” and then lets the audience finish out the song singing themselves. It’s very very short, but it is crowd pleasing.

There is some more of Prince name checking possible songs he could do next, before he decides to go old school with If I Was Your Girlfriend. Again, to leave the recording for a moment, this was the point at the gig where ‘I lost my stuff’ so to speak. This song is a top 5 favorite for me, and to hear it live was sensational. And today as I listen back to it, I realize it’s not a great version, but every gig will be someone’s once in a life time chance to see Prince, and sometimes the quality of the song doesn’t matter, the fact it’s played is enough. Back to the recording itself, it’s a light version of the song that is played. It’s very much played as an upbeat party type song. There calls from Prince for the crowd to wave their arms side to side, and Prince addresses the audience informally several times, which takes me out of the song. There is a very nice deep organ groove under it, and that is what makes the song for me on this one. Princes asks the crowd if they are having a good time, and he gets a rousing cheer in response.

The song segues easily into Pink Cashmere. I often overlook Pink Cashmere, but it is actually a very good song. It got a little lost in everything else that was happening in Prince world at the time it came out, which is a shame, as it has the sound of a hit to my ears. The rendition here is smooth enough, and Mike Phillips plays an upbeat Sax solo on it, which does lift it up a lot. As he finishes Prince says “Careful Mike, you might get someone pregnant” His easy humor always makes me smile, and it’s a fitting comment for a nice solo. There is some nice Prince talk near the end of the song, and surprisingly it’s not corny at all. I would have enjoyed it much more, if he hadn’t of then started singing “Oh funky London” again. Mercifully it’s only for a couple of bars before the band jump back in and bring the song to a close.

I hadn’t expected to hear 7 next. It’s played very straight and doesn’t seem to deviate at all from the original recording. At this point I am reminded of why I dislike audience recording, there is a loud hand clap on the recording, and for the duration of the song I find it hard to listen beyond this. The song is played well, but like I said before there’s not too much about it that stands out.

The band then moves directly onto the next song, Come Together. There was a time when I would have loved to hear a cover such as this, but in this case it mostly disappointing. It’s obviously played with the UK audience in mind, but it’s mostly Shelby that I can hear. The first half the song I mostly concentrate on her voice, and the annoying audience hand clap. The second part of the song through picks up immensely and Prince plays the best guitar solo of the night. It’s a shame the whole song wasn’t as good as that solo, but at least the solo does redeem the rest of the song. The song finishes, predictably enough with the audience clapping and singing “Come together”

Every week I write that I don’t like Take Me with U, but that whatever particular version I am listening to at the time is great. Maybe I should just face facts, and admit that I probably do love this song. The drums aren’t the strongest on this, but the keyboards are sounding very bold. They have a nice full sound to them, especially during the chorus. Prince’s voice has a slight echo to it, and that is not due to any of his doing, it’s the sound in the venue that is at fault. The song gets the energy levels back up and this continues as the next song starts quickly after.

Guitar is one of those songs that always sounds ‘up’. It’s hard to imagine Prince playing this without a big smile on his face. The sound isn’t great during the song, his first break does sound a bit muddy and lost, but the second break is much more clear and crisp. I always think of this as being a very short and sweet song, but it does seem to go on for a while here, there is more verses than I remember! But the playing on it is good, and I always enjoy anything that showcases Prince guitar playing. The end of the song is when he goes deep into it, and there are some nice moments during his playing.

Another 360 next as Prince puts down his guitar to sing a beautiful rendition of Planet Earth. Yes it’s beautiful, but it fails to engage me emotionally. I think this song could sound better and he could do more with it. This sounds good to me, but I just can’t connect to it. There is almost too much band in it, and I do wonder if it would be better served with a stripped back arrangement. I should point at that the song does also suffer from being a less than ideal recording. Listening to this I am reminded of my teachers comments at school “Shows potential, could do better”

A longer break ensues, before we get an encore. Shelby J leads the band through a fairly robust version of Gnarls Barkly’s ‘Crazy’. It’s redundant and doesn’t add anything to show, asides from giving Prince a break and showing off Shelby’s vocals. There is no denying she’s got talent, but like many people I do tire of her extolling the crowd to ‘Put your hands up’. I do like the funky break when they start to sing ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ and I would have preferred to hear a full blown cover of that rather than Crazy. It is however of its time and place, and in 2007 that was THE song, so there is no doubt that the audience at time enjoyed it.

Prince is back in form with a fantastic Nothing Compares 2 U. Asides from letting the audience sing a line here and there, it is great to hear him perform on this. Like a lot of songs on this recording, it does have its positives and negatives. He does only sing the first verse, but then he hands it over to Mike Phillips who plays a very decent sax break. Prince returns after the sax break, and sounds much more impassioned. If anything he sounds too passionate, and the song loses some of its emotional clout. The audience is left to sing the last few lines before it fades out.

“Dearly beloved” followed by a long pause and organ into leaves me hanging for what seems an age. After a long tease Prince eventually follows up with “we are gathered here today, to get through this thing called life” and Lets Go crazy follows proper. There isn’t much left of the song, Prince skips all the verses and plays the first guitar break straight off, before encouraging the crowd with “lets go crazy, go go go”. There is another brief guitar break and some more singing along with audience. As I said before there is no verses and no choruses sung, it’s all guitar and sing along. It ends, predictable enough, after a couple of minutes with Princes guitar howling ending. “Thank you and good night” ends the main part of the show.

Pausing for a minute, I would like to explain what happened next at the show. All the house lights came up, there was a minute or two of cheering, a few technicians appeared on stage and the crowd began streaming out of the exits. Not being in any hurry to leave, me and my friend stood for a few minutes discussing what a great time we had, and comparing highlights. After a couple more minutes there was a shout and Prince came running across the floor of the arena and hauled himself back on stage, sending the technicians diving to get out of the way. Immediately there was a rush as people clambered to get as close to the stage as possible, and people came running back into the arena. Prince picked up his guitar and began to play solo (it should be noted, this was the best moment of my life).The lights dim and the show resumes. And on that note, we return back to the recording.

With just his Horner guitar for accompaniment Prince now plays a solo version of Little Red Corvette. In a mark of just how great this song is, it more than stands up in just this simple arrangement. The lyrics and basic melody is all that is required for this one. It seems to gain something more from the simplicity of it. Although he doesn’t play the whole song, these couple of minutes are more than enough, and this song stands out as a highlight of the recording.

Prince then calls for all the lights to be turned up and again with just him and his guitar plays a very simple, yet beautiful version of Raspberry Beret. Having been there, I would have to say it was amazing how he made a 17000 seat arena feel incredibly intimate. It was more like a camp fire sing along than a rock concert. Prince only sings the first verse and a chorus before letting the crowd sing “I think I love her” and replying with “and I love you too.

Keeping in character he then plays Sometimes It Snows In April. This is one of the better versions I have heard, the audience don’t drown it out, and with only Prince it shows off his playing and vocal skills much better. He isn’t totally unaccompanied, there is a keyboard playing softly along with him, but it still does have a lovely solo sound to it. I thought it may have had that over played sound about it as many of his songs from the 1980s do, but it still sounds like its fresh and has legs. It’s a great way to finish this mini solo set.

Next the band rejoins the stage and after a couple of “Oh funky London” from Prince (enough already) we get a nice brassy rendition of Get on the Boat. With all the horns onboard, this one really jumps. This works much better live than it does on record and it’s a shame that its cut short in its prime. It sounds great here, and it really needed to be played in full.

Thankfully another one of my favorite songs follow, with A Love Bizarre. This recording is really finishing on a high, the last few songs are all top notch. Love Bizarre sounds good, with the girl’s vocals fitting in very well behind Prince, it harks back to the Shelia E days (although I don’t want to be accused of wallowing in nostalgia). The horns again shine out, they go all sorts of places I didn’t expect during their break. Unfortunately, and it is hard to be critical about something so small, Prince does begin to chant “oh funky London” again, and it’s at this point I inwardly groan. But it’s only briefly and does lead us into the next song.

I didn’t expect to hear the music of Sexy Dancer again, but here it is in all its glory. On the downside, the lyrics are dispensed with, and instead Shelby sings Le Freak over the top of it. It’s not such a big deal, they are a good fit and the song is enjoyable enough. There is not enough Prince there for my liking, I can only hear Shelby, and then a brief but enthusiastic sax solo. The song has the vibe of a party or disco, and when Prince is heard again it is to get the crowd chanting “oh funky London”. Insert sad face here. And its on this note the show ends proper.

There is plenty of interesting moments in this show. Opening with Purple rain, the mini solo encore, and of course it is the first of his 21 nights and Prince is obviously trying to make a splash in London. Asides from being there, this show was enjoyable for me to go back and listen to. I was amazed how many of the moments and songs I had forgotten already (I had no idea he played Black Sweat, I don’t remember it at all). A pleasant recording, it was a good listen asides from nostalgia value.

Thanks for reading
Hamish