Before I take a listen to today’s show, I feel I must first apologize. Reading some of my more recent posts and comparing them to some of my earlier ones I see that my standards are slipping, and my recent posts have been shallow and empty. I read them, and I can see that I am not really feeling what I am writing. The problem is, like many people, I am very time poor. You might think that its easy to find a couple of hours to sit down and listen to a Prince show, but I barely have two hours to spare. Often I am racing against the clock, and I can see that my enjoyment and appreciation of the shows is dropping. So, instead of knocking this out quickly between other attention grabbing activities, I am dedicating as much time to this as it takes. My doors are locked, my blinds drawn, and my mobile phone turned off. Prince and the third night of the North Sea Jazz Festival has my complete and undivided attention.
Obviously I have quite a few Prince bootlegs, and there is plenty to choose from every time I have an urge to hear a live show. My criteria to decide on what to listen to is quite simple. The first and overriding consideration for me is setlist. I want to hear something unusual, something I haven’t heard before- be it B-sides, deep album cuts, or unreleased tracks. Secondly, the intensity of the performance is important to me. Shows where Prince is on fire, and you can hear him singing and playing with a lot of passion. Thirdly, the quality of the recording. I can overlook this, if the first two criteria are more than met, but if its an average recording of an average show, then its unlikely to get much play at my place. The last thing I look for is pretty shallow- a cool cover. Anything eye catching and interesting, for example any boot with a cover by The Reverend gets me interested. There is plenty of boots out there that look better than the album covers of Prince’s official albums, and that’s one thing that makes the bootleg scene interesting for me.
This third show of the North Sea Jazz Festivals ticks several of the aforementioned boxes. The setlist looks great on paper, I see a couple of B-sides, some rare tracks and a couple of internet only releases, as well as an unreleased track -what could be better! I can’t comment on the intensity of the performance yet, but the quality of the recording is just fine, and the art work is pretty to look at, so I have a confident feeling for the show.
11 July 2011, Ahoy, Rotterdam
Right from the start the show lives up to expectations. Laydown is a song that sounds like it was written to open shows. Prince has so many great songs for opening a show, and this one is just as good as any other. What I like about it is that it’s a statement of intent from Prince. The sound of the music matches his lyrics, as he sings about laying it down there is an intensity that has me believing it. Even with it not sounding as sharp as I expect, I still find plenty to admire about it, and it does hook me. Prince’s guitar is to the fore, often I am torn between my love of rocking Prince and funky Prince, on this recording we start with rocking Prince,and that’s just fine with me.
A sudden change of music and styles is common from Prince, and as a fan I expect to hear a variety of styles from Prince throughout a show, throughout an album, and even within a song. He lives up to this as the intensity of Laydown quickly fades as the band lower the mood with The Question of U/The One. The opening strains of The Question Of U sounds, before the band quieten and Prince begins singing The One. The One is a fantastic song, and its a shame its not known by a wider audience. Sure, most Prince fans know and love it, but the Purple Rain/Raspberry Beret causal radio listeners never got a chance to hear this one, and that’s a travesty. Prince’s lyrics are clever and heartfelt, and at this show he delivers his lines with a lot of passion that I don’t always hear on this song. Often he is very smooth as he sings it, here he is throaty and sings from a deeper place that gives me a sense that he singing for me as well as him. Maceo plays later in the song, at earlier shows he was outstanding, and on this song he is much more restrained and sounds very good without ever taking over the song. Its to his credit that he plays within the song rather than over the top of it. I think the song is coming to an end, but Prince teases it out further, and it feels much more like an aftershow gig. He firstly plays some fragile sounding guitar as the music comes up, and then after a couple of minutes steps back to let the band play -and play they do, the sound becoming more free as they progress. The music gains intensity as Maceo plays again, and then Prince returns with another guitar break that by now is sounding like a completely different song. The music pulls back once again, and over the top of The Question Of U Prince begins to sing the unreleased Gingerbread man. The lyrics are intriguing, a simple story of the Gingerbread man that with Princes vocal delivery sounds like it could mean so much more. Its then that Prince brings out his secret weapon- Morris Hayes. Morris Hayes is the special ingrediant of Prince’s band, even though it took me many years to recognize it. He has played with Prince for such a long time, and he delivers at every show, his playing filling out Princes sound, and his solos are always right in the pocket. His playing should not be under estimated, and he deserves much more credit than he gets. I listen carefully to his organ break, and I have nothing but admiration for him. By now the song has been running for a good 15 minutes, and every minute of it has been worth the listen. Its Prince playing for the love of playing, and he is giving us a great vocal delivery, some sweet sounding guitar, while the band play beautifully behind him. I am not sure the rest of the gig can match this, but I certainly hope so.
Things stay on track as Prince next plays When Eye Lay My Hands On U. Its not the show stopper that the previous song was, the band is fine and so is Prince, its just that I don’t enjoy the arrangement so much with Prince singing with the backup singers. Shelby is a shade too much for me, and I preferred earlier when I could hear Princes voice alone. I don’t have too long to think about this, as Prince begins to play his guitar, and with plenty of face pulling he plays a very tidy solo. Its not one for the the ages, I couldn’t pick it out of a line up, but its good in that it fits nicely in the song, and that is an art in itself. The second half of the song is much more to my tastes as Prince sings alone over a quieter band. I like that I hear his voice much better, and he adds some humanity and soul to a fairly clean sounding song. Its enough to save it in my view, and he even adds some moans and howls that seal the deal.
The song segues easily into Brownskin, with Shelby taking the lead on the vocals. This arrangement isn’t as intense as I have heard elsewhere, and usually I dismiss it as a a throw away, at this show I like it much more, especially as Maceo comes and adds his sound to the mix. The song starts gently but soon is fiery and gains an added push as it goes. Prince is playing guitar, I can’t hear him in the mix, its very much all Shelby and Maceo. Maceos second break is the one I like the best, its a little longer, faster and sharper. There is a bonus later in the song as Prince begins to play guitar matching Shelby’s vocals lick for lick. The song returns to its structure, but now I am satisfied as I can hear Prince much better and his guitar sound is what drives the latter part of the song.
Empty Room sounds like the classic that it is. Princes opening guitar and vocals are soft and gentle before he ups the intensity and emotion. The music is good, but its the lyrics, as well as Princes guitar, that really make this song what it is. I can hear Princes lyrics clearly, and the song gains a lot from that. He sings his lines with a full sound, before stepping back and playing his guitar, emphasizing the emotion with his playing while giving us time to digest his lyrics. The guitar and lyrics compliment each other well, both highlighting the emotion of the other. Its a fantastic balance, and even though I don’t always give this song a lot of thought, I can’t deny that its great.
Calhoun Square next, and even though we hear it plenty at aftershow gigs, its still a surprise as he begins to play it here. Its missing something on this recording, and I wonder if its the sound, or the venue. Its too relaxed sounding, that’s not a big criticism, its just not as I usually hear it. I can’t complain about the band sounding relaxed, they have sounded relaxed all show and it gives the sound of the show a joyful sound, the band sound best when they are having fun. Calhoun Square feels very short compared to the previous songs, and it quickly ends as Prince stops and quickly speaks to the crowd.
The following song is People Pleaser and Prince introduces Andy Allo to the crowd as she takes vocal duties. As a people pleaser myself, I really like the title of this song, as well as the lyrical content. It sounds pretty good live, and Andy does a great job of getting it across to the crowd. Maceo also adds some weight to it with his playing, and it would be a pretty miserable sort of person that didn’t enjoy this song. Its not heavy with Prince,and not as funky as some of the other songs played tonight, but it does have its place in the set list, and gives us a fun break before Prince takes the show back.
Prince claims the stage back in style as the opening riff of She’s Always In My Hair sounds. Its not as heavy as the 3rdEyegirl version of late, nevertheless it’s still got Princes distinctive guitar sound all over it. I find that even with Princes guitar sound, there is still something missing. It’s too clean sounding to my ears, and lacking that raw, impassioned sound. Its still great to listen to, and Princes guitar break does have me smiling, yet its much shorter than the current configuration, and ends quickly after Princes guitar break. Its a timely place to end, I am just hungry for more as Prince closes down.
Future Soul Song pulls us gently into Princes softer side. Its great to actually hear Prince play something off the current album at that time, and I applaud him for that, as its something that doesn’t happen enough now days. I like it when Prince has confidence and faith in his current music, and is wanting to share it with us.The song is very smooth, and Princes spoken middle section adds to the gentle feel of the overall song. The band is quiet, and this only heightens the message Prince is singing. The guitar playing again has has Prince pulling faces as he plays, and I can never quite decide if that means he is really feeling it, or its just part of the act. Although the singing is nice, its Princes guitar playing I keep coming back to, and he gives us another couple of guitar breaks, both short but heavy on his tone and feel. As a Prince fan, its exactly as you might want to hear. The song ends just as softly as it begun, its not the most memorably song of the evening, but it is the most pleasant.
I get a chance to collect my thoughts for a couple of minutes as Prince spends some time getting the sound just right on stage, he has obviously learnt his lesson from the first night. What happens next is a surprise and a casual moment that I appreciate. Prince begins to play, then tells the audience “this is what happens in practice” as he turns to John and talks him through the beat. The real surprise is what comes next as Prince begins to sing Girl. Now, this is one song I never expected to hear. An airy sounding B-side, it stands up well in the live setting. I used to play this a lot in my early days, and I find myself singing easily along with it as they play. Princes sings the first verse, then the lovely Andy Allo sings the second, with the sweet lyric change of “boy..” The bass bobs along more prominently than in the original, and Prince adds a guitar sound, that although slight, fills it in a little more. Maceo has his horn also in the mix, and as much as I love it, I still think I prefer the original. With that said, I would love to hear more of it live, so Prince can do what ever he wants with it, so long as he plays it onstage. The latter part of the song is a very laid back sounding groove, as Prince squeaks and tweaks his guitar. Its not captivating, instead just a lovely pleasant groove that has me in mind of a lazy Sunday. This feeling is heightened as Maceo plays the last minute, and for a second I close my eyes and imagine that I am in a Georges Seurat painting.
A brief band intro and Prince basically tells us that the party is about to start “That kick drum ain’t going to stop.” The first song they play is Partyman, although I struggle to pick it, asides from the lyrics. Rather strangely Prince calls for the crowd to pull their cell phones out, this from a guy who is always telling us to enjoy the show in the old fashioned way. Its just after this that the party begins, and Prince and the band hit their groove, with the keyboard horn sound especially prominent. I can’t complain about it all, but its just not my thing, its a little hollow and fake sounding. I change my mind somewhat as it drops to just the beat and the crowd very loudly sings “ohh way oohh” in a way that suggests that a great time is being had by all.
What follows is You’re The One For Me, a song I didn’t previously know before I heard it here. Shelby takes the lead vocals, and its a song that I immediate warm to an enjoy, I think I really need to go back and hear the original of this. Once again, Prince introduces me to another song and act I hadn’t previously known. Prince plays guitar on the back half of the song, and he has that Santana sound that he often favors on the guitar. John Blackwell gets a chance to play a solo, before the song moves on.
With the kick drum still pounding, I am not the least bit surprised to hear Controversy next. What does surprise me is how fresh and raw it sounds here. Not raw in the rocked out sense, rather its the urgency of it that takes me. I find that in the last few years, about this stage in the show, Prince plays Controversy, and its an uptempo dance number where the crowd get to sing and jump. This performance its gains some more of its funk sound, and the drum and synths are right in my ear, and they really give it a big push. True to form, later in the song Prince has the crowd jumping up and down, but I am more that satisfied with what I have heard up until now.
The kick drum continues as the keyboard sounds and Prince begins his spoken word intro to Let’s Go Crazy. Its disappointing that this is the arrangement of Lets Go Crazy that I don’t like. Prince and the band fair race through the song, and there’s no much left for me to enjoy. Prince sings the chorus a few times, briefly plays guitar and then finishes it without a guitar break. Its a song I have heard thousands of times, so I didn’t feel I needed to hear a kick ass version every-night, but I would rather not hear it at all rather than hear this truncated version.
Delirious is fun,a s always, the band persist at breakneck speed, and me and the crowd both appreciate Princes free spirit. Another aspect of the song I liked, was that the band got a chance to solo, only very briefly, but still the had that chance. Prince then returns to Lets Go Crazy, and this time he does close out the song with his guitar howling.
The medley is dispensed with, and we again get a full proper song with 1999. This is the type of 1999 I like to hear, there are no bells and whistles, the song is heard just as it was 30 years ago (That sentence makes me feel old) The syths are nice and loud, and Prince sings in a strong voice. The only part that I would want to hear better is his rhythm guitar, but later in the song I do indeed hear it much louder and clearer. Even played in full, the song still feels very short, and soon Prince is waving farewell to the crowd as the song ends.
Prince takes a break now, and we get Maceo and the band playing Pass The Peas. It excited me not one jot. It does have its time and place, but right now, listening close, its something that I want to skip over to get to me next Prince fix. However the sound is good, the band is in fine form, and Maceo’s playing belies his age.
Prince repays my patience with the always excellent Something In The Water (Does Not Compute) This was one song that I really latched onto in my teenage years, and I am always thrilled to hear it live. Prince sings at the microphone, leaving the piano to played by the band. I get the feeling that it maybe would have been better with him at the piano, as his hands move and swing with the music, making it look like a dance song rather than a plea to love lost. His vocal performance cannot be faulted and even though its not as emotionally wrought as I like, its still excellent. Prince ends the the song by confirming that it is Cassandra on the keys.
Another emotional love lost song next, this one has a completely different feel to it though, as Prince and Shelby give us a sonically full Nothing Compares 2 U. This song doesn’t mean as much to me as the previous song, and yet I can’t help but feel the emotion in it. Both Prince and Shelby are in fine voice, and they more than do the song justice. Asides from Shelby and Prince, the other highlight of the song is the Morris Hayes organ solo. He really is great, and I am listening to him more and more carefully on every recording.
There is barely enough time for us to catch our breathes before the band pound into Take Me With U. Its not a classic performance of it, but I haven’t heard it for a while, and I find myself easily enjoying it. Andy is stronger sounding on the mic than Apollonia ever was, and the song is sounding much stronger and fuller overall.
The old one two punch follows with Raspberry Beret very naturally coming next. There is plenty of space for the crowd to sing, but they are sounding rather quiet by this point. Perhaps the recording isn’t picking them up, or maybe they are jaded and a little over the Take Me With U/Raspberry Beret combo, much like myself. Prince still seems to be enjoying it, and its is uplifting to see him still playing pure pop.
Cream has a strong Maceo presence, and it feels so natural and good I am wondering why this arrangement wasn’t played more often. Prince doesn’t sing too much, only the first verse and chorus, and from then on its all Maceo. Its a good use of the sax, and something I find interesting.
Cool is absolutely timeless. Prince does more than enough to reclaim the song, and he is indeed the epitome of cool as he sings and struts across the stage. The almost obligatory Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough is thrown into the song, and the band are sounding like they are having a lot of fun onstage. The groove comes effortlessly, and I could see the band just sitting on the groove for hours. After some time for dancing, Maceo gets a chance to play, and he gives a nice riff before Prince calls “Vegas” and the show comes to an end.
I thought the second show of these three was outstanding, but in many ways this one was just as good. It was a delight to hear some of these selections in a live setting,and in particular I really enjoyed hearing Girl live. There was a sense that perhaps Prince wasn’t entirely happy with the sound, but it certainly didn’t come across in the recording. All three of these shows had their own unique character, and perhaps the best way to appreciate them is to listen to all three. This one was my favorite, but any other given day I may well say the second night.
Thanks for joining me, next week more of the same, but completely different
Take care- Hamish