Atlanta April 14th 2016, early show

Last week I finally overcame my mental and emotional block and took a listen to Prince’s final full live concert. I feel as if a great weight has been lifted, I now feel revitalized and ready to fully embrace the rest of this nights performance. Whereas the 10pm was emotionally heavy, the earlier show from that night promises to be a lighter experience, and something I can listen to without any emotional strings attached.

April 14th 2016 (show 1) Fox Theatre, Atlanta

The introduction music (“Confluence”) is a calm, serene way to begin the concert. What I notice is the sound of the ushers telling people to put their cell phones away – something I can appreciate as I recall the same experience when I saw the piano and microphone concerts in New Zealand. This introduction music is swept to one side as Prince takes the stage to the expected roar of the crowd. “Little Red Corvette” is a suitable opening number and the scene is set for what will unfold over the next 90 minutes. With “Dirty Mind” played mid song it lays the template for the evening, heartfelt ballads and stomping rhythmic piano songs alternating and demonstrating both sides of Prince’s piano talent. The one aspect of this performance that I find  uplifting is the easy way Prince has with the crowd, the stage is his home and natural environment and that is apparent through the song as he is completely at ease as he teases and talks to the audience.

The following song, “Nothing Compares 2 U”, is coloured by some wonderful piano flourishes. The lyrics may be what everyone remembers, but in this case the piano carries the day. It’s easy to sing along, but a close listen to the piano is far more rewarding.

Prince is in fine form, he speaks of his Father before giving a one time only performance of “Chopsticks”. Its worth hearing for novelty value alone, but Prince adds a musicality to it which elevates it to something much more. Trust me, you have never heard a version of “Chopsticks” as funky as this.

Without the guitar solo, “Joy In Repetition” becomes something else altogether. The  smokey opening of the song lingers throughout, without the payoff of the guitar break it stays in this sad melancholy mood, never breaking out of its foggy late night sound. I like it, I like it a lot. As much as I like the original, I find this arrangement grabs me tight round the heart and I am completely drawn into the web of music.

I am completely transported back to the ONA tour as “Muse 2 The Pharaoh” plays in my headphones. Nothing has changed in 15 years, and it is now just as it was then. The lyrics may not be to everyone’s taste (or anyones), but the music itself is fine and I am attracted to it. The fact that my head is nodding is a very good sign and once again Prince injects funk into it throw his playing. It comes as a pleasant surprise on the recording, but things about to get even better.

“U Got The Look” has Prince’s spoken “Here we are folks, the dream we all dream off” introduction, immediately it draws attention.  Without the drive of the guitar it isn’t as forceful, Prince instead using to the spaces in the music to make it a slow and rhythmic hip swinger. It isn’t as 2-dimensional as the original sometimes is, and I applaud Prince for adding new dimensions to a familiar classic.

It is “Pop Life” that follows and it moves in the other direction. The pop is missing out of it and this performance sounds labored and heavy. The audience do their part singing along, but it lacks color and to my ears it is a weak moment in the concert. The redeeming feature is the piano that rolls across the soundscape like an early morning mist across the fields.

Prince continues to craft atmosphere in the arena, his piano sculpturing and shaping the music into a mood. “Elephants & Flowers” has a rugged charm, the vocals following the piano into an ethereal pop dream. Criminally short, Prince again channels an all enveloping warmth through his instrument.

The show becomes a more traditional as Prince takes on “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”. As the piano rises and falls Prince delivers an urgent vocal delivery, each line coming as a jab out of the darkness. The lyrical content is highlight by Prince an his piano flourishes, the keys weeping as the female protagonist tells her story, before becoming  melancholy with Prince’s response of “I could never take the place of your man” It is a vivid demonstration of the power of music, and the ability to evoke emotion through both words and music.

“Under The Cherry Moon” is a delicate introduction to what is the heart of the concert. “A Case Of U” is played with a stark intimacy, Prince naked and vulnerable in this performance of one of his most endearing covers. The lyrics may be Joni Mitchell’s but the performance is pure Prince, the song climaxing with several raw shrieks that turn a love song into a jagged wound.

There is a familiar warmth to “I Feel For U”. Like oak paneling it is both warm and homely, without ever raising a level of excitement.  As always it is more than welcome in the setlist, but as far as challenging the audience, it is about as threatening as wet spaghetti.

The following “Controversy” is equally familiar, but its energized in the skeletal form. The expected funk is generated purely by Prince and his piano, a more natural funk than what is heard in the full band performances later in his career. There is an extra buzz as he threatens to go off script and deliver the whole Lords prayer,  the tension is palpable as he sings the first line, but he reins it in and ends the song. A shame as that would have sent the whole thing over the top.

There are limitations to “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”. Prince’s vocals are stressed and one feels its not coming to him as easy as it once did. His lower register is much more rewarding, for both him and the listener, and it is at this point the song becomes a vivid tribute to all those beautiful women in his life.

I dare you to listen to “I Would Die 4 U” without a huge smile on your face. A glorious pop song, after 30 years its time in the sun surely should have passed – yet it hasn’t and on this recording it sounds just as evangelical and uplifting as it ever has.

“Baby I’m A Star” draws energy from the same place and the crowd are soon whipped up into the frenzy that Prince’s concerts are renowned for. Without a full band it falls on Prince to provide the impetus and drive for the song, there is no doubt that he more than rises to the occasion. With a jolt of energy he plays a spirited and intoxicating rendition that sounds just as good on the bootleg as it does at the live show.

One vinyl David Bowie’s “Heroes” is a sonic storm that makes the ordinary extraordinary, small moments becoming heroic gestures as Bowie buildings everyday life into triumph of man. Prince’s cover, although well intention, is none of these things. Whereas Bowie had the metallic whine that spoke to the grimness of everyday life before reaching the life affirming chorus, Prince has piano flourishes and runs that come from a musicality rather than emotional space. David Bowie ends “Heroes” in near hysteria as he sings his vocals from the end of the world. Not once does Prince dig deep into this same emotion instead he gives the song a light touch, electing to highlight the joy of the piano as he replaces the intensity with a soulful performance that sounds as if its being played in a church. It is a beautiful moment, but it can’t come close to the raw-nerved performance of David Bowie.

After the briefest of breaks it is the line of “this will be the day” that draws the biggest cheer of the night. This opening is merely the entree, Prince pausing to let the crowd appreciate what is coming before he  resumes. Each line shines brightly as they quickly fade, the song itself barely a minute as it ends with the crowd singing choir-like the final line, a fitting end as the concert is about to become a revival meeting as Prince brings out some of his finest material.

Prince knows he doesn’t have to try too hard with these final songs, the crowd isn’t here for the full architecturally sculptured renditions, they just want to know the song was plays and have a few lines to sing along with. The opening line of “Adore” is enough to send the crowd into raptures before they provide back up to Prince as he sings the first verse. With pause the song becomes “The Beautiful Ones”, the crowd still very much involved as Prince lingers on the lyrics. Listening at home is a frustrating experience as Prince swings back to Adore after a few lines, each song uniquely beautiful yet neither is satisfying as Prince cuts and pastes them into the show.

Much more nourishing is “Do Me, Baby”. The song is only a couple of minutes, but Prince plays a traditional arrangement with verses and chorus appearing as they should. It is short, but it there is much more to sink our teeth into compared to the previous songs and at this point the concert resumes a familiar format.

“I Wanna Be Your Lover” gets the same respectful treatment as “Do Me, Baby”. Although it too is short, Prince plays as one might expect with a spring in his step and a the crowd matching him word for word. The audience are a little too much in places on the recording, but it is a live concert and I can fully appreciate they are in the moment.

The final song of the evening is “Kiss”. For the audience it is one final flourish, although Prince’s piano playing is rather rather workman like, the audience provide the spark and enthusiasm that is missing from the piano. It is a surprising end to the performance, the show never reaches the expected climax and instead stops suddenly instead of going out with a bang.

I wanted to like this show a lot more than I actually did. The pieces seem to be in place for a great show, the songs are certainly there, and Prince sounded great early on. I found myself waiting for a big moment, a big moment that never came. By the time the end of the show arrived I realized that the best pieces of the concert had passed and I didn’t even notice them. It’s hard to be too critical of the Piano and Microphone concerts, I applaud Prince for doing something different, but in this case I found the abridged versions too light for my taste and left me hungry for more. No doubt this will get played plenty more as a companion piece to Prince’s final performance later that night, but as a concert I would choose to listen to, I’d probably pass.

Thanks for reading
-Hamish

Atlanta, April 14 2016 – Final show

Prince’s final concert. I had intended to write about this a couple of weeks ago and post it before the first anniversary of his death. I prepared myself to listen to it several times, but in the end I just couldn’t. Even though I have these recordings in my hands for sometime now I have never managed to bring myself around to listening to them. I knew that hearing them I would have to acknowledge that these are his final performances and that he is no longer with us. Twelve months on and I can’t bring myself to do it. Deep inside of me I want to believe that there is more, that somehow this is all a dream, an alternative reality. I have experienced plenty of pain and loss in my life before, yet the passing of Prince has shook me to the core and I haven’t properly dealt with it as yet. I keep pushing the feelings away, turning the music up louder, thinking that I will process it at a later date. Part of that process starts now, as I sit with my headphones on, prepared to listen to his final show. The music of Prince has always been comforting to me and I hope the music will carry me through these days and weeks as the finality of his passing hits me. The next hour and a half I will both mourn and celebrate his music and life as I lose myself in the music.

April 14th 2016 (show 2) Fox Theatre, Atlanta

A heavyweight performance of “When Will We B Paid?” begins the concert. It has a sombre air to it, Prince making the lyrics real to him and the audience with an emotional performance that balances between melancholia and a deep anger. This song was played plenty of times over the years, but none punch as hard as this solo performance that distills 300 years of slavery and mistreatment into a gut wrenching four minute piano performance.

Lyrically “The Max” is completely different. The piano playing stays with the dark tone, a touch more funk in the keys, but it is the colorful lyrics that lift the concert. With plenty of encouragement to be heard from the audience, I am reminded that this is an audience recording. Its not a bad recording, but there is plenty of audience to be heard and I feel that as Prince’s journey is coming to an end so too is mine – the recording dragging me back to the first bootlegs I bought as I reflect on my own history through Prince’s music.

The change to “Black Sweat” is barely perceivable, the funk grows stronger with the piano gaining some intensity. Prince is in full flow at this point, the music and lyrics streaming from the stage to an appreciative audience who lap it all up and respond the best way they know how. Although the music is as sharp as ever, there is a looseness to the performance itself, the music serving as a bridge between the audience and Prince as they celebrate each other.

 

One of the first B-sides that I gravitated to as a teenager was “Girl”. I don’t know how many times I spun it on my turntable before I eventually dubbed it onto a cassette tape with some other B-sides so I could listen to it on the go. To hear it performed at this concert is a treat to the teenage me who still resides deep inside of me. It may not have the bump and pop of the recorded version, but here Prince lets it percolate in his off kilter piano playing, infusing it with a hint of jazz that appeals to the more mature 40 year old me. It is not the best song of the recording, but it does serve as reminder of all the genres and influences that Prince brought to his music.

I never realized how uplifting “I Would Die 4 U” was until I heard these piano and microphone performances. With the single piano building up with layers of music, it’s hard not to be swept up by Prince’s spiritual message and optimism. After the sober opening, it comes as a blinding light, sweeping away the shadows of the first songs.

“Baby I’m A Star” comes in the same vein, all energy and celebration of life and music. The lyrics may sound egocentric and boastful, but the music is pure joy and energy for all to enjoy. Coupled with “I Would Die 4 U” , these minutes see me sitting back with a huge smile on my face, wrestling with the urge to get up and dance by myself. There is plenty of humour as he indulges in an imaginary dialogue with Dr Fink, all the while puling more and more funk from his piano. This section alone is enough for me to strongly recommend listening to this part of the show.

Although only a few minutes long, “The Ballard of Dorothy Parker” has plenty of time for Prince to bury himself in the piano playing, especially as the song segues in “Four”. There are intricate flourishes as his hands flash across the keys, the notes spinning out quickly across the recording. It is easy enough to sing along with “The Ballard Of Dorothy Parker”, but the best moments of the song are when the piano dominates – like the poster says, it is piano and microphone .

As much as I enjoy “Dark”, at this show it is neither here nor there. There is no single part of the song that stands out, it flows easily enough without grabbing my attention. It is one of the longer songs of the concert and for that it has to be commended as many other songs are truncated. However, it drifts without direction and leaves no memorable impression on me.

 

“Indifference” is the first song of the concert that has me emotional. Maybe it’s the music, or Princes spoken lyrics. As the song plays out my eyes glaze over and I feel a lump forming in my throat. This feeling is only heightened as the song ends with several audience members calling out “We love you” as Prince begins to play one of my favourite songs “I Love U, But I Don’t Trust U Anymore”. The lyrics are what I appreciate most in the song, but in this case I concentrate on the beautiful piano playing that sweeps and washes across the recording. As emotionally poignant as the lyrics are, the music is the main focus and draws just as many tears as Prince’s vocals.

I do enjoy the beginning of “Little Red Corvette”, but it is the song it is paired with, “Dirty Mind”, that I really get a kick out of hearing. With its youthful exuberance I am transported back in time, when everything felt so free and easy. Prince’s lyrics maybe pleading for more from his girl, but the music tells a different a story, a story of hope and the possibility that anything might happen. The song comes full circle as Prince returns to “Little Red Corvette” but nothing can beat the previous few minutes.

There next comes another emotional heavyweight with “Nothing Compares 2 U”. This weight of emotion is undone by the quality of the recording, for which my tear stained handkerchief is thankful. It is another classy performance, yet as I listen to Prince play and sing I can’t help but think how much stronger it sounded (and how much more emotional) with Shelby J. Without the strong female vocals to bounce off, a lot of Princes vocals seem to disappear into the darkness of the arena without finding an emotional base to land upon.

Although I am no great fan of “Cream”, it certainly brings a smile to my face. Prince toys with it, playing a stop start version that has the audience singing heartily along (after some encouragement from Prince himself). Prince tells the audience to sing it to themselves in the mirror when they get home, yet this version is all about togetherness and being in the moment as Prince and the crowd come together for a  fun filled performance that sounds just as good here at home as it was no doubt on the night.

The easy swing of “Black Muse” follows. Dedicated to the ladies, it has me nodding my head with the beat from the start. This performance highlights the ‘pop’ aspect of the song, and provides a pleasant diversion from some of the other heavy weights surrounding it.

There is very little surprise with “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” in the setlist, and in this case the familiarity of the song works against it. Most of these songs are new to the piano setting and gain from the stripped back arrangement. “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore?” has always been a solo piano number and as such there is nothing new here at all. Prince is in a playful mood, the audience responding with plenty of laughter and singing along to the very end, making this an enjoyable listen without being essential.

The encores get off to a strong start with a gentle “Waiting In Vain” / “If I Was Your Girlfriend”.  “Waiting In Vain” is the more dominant of the two, and the music begins and ends with this song. It is a gentle performance, the music moves easily without drawing emotion. It is the longest song of the night, yet it moves at its own pace and never out stays its welcome. I was expecting a lot more from “If I Was Your Girlfriend” but I more than happy with what I hear.

Again emotion creeps into the recording as Prince plays “Sometimes It Snows In April”. It’s not over wrought, most of the emotion I hear is what I bring to the moment rather than the performance itself. Listening carefully, it is surprisingly light, and Prince keeps it upbeat. The music may draw from melancholia, but Prince’s sad words are delivered in an bright manner that undoes some of the emotion. It is easy to listen to, the song that I thought would be hardest to hear tonight is instead a beautiful moment that brightens the room.

“Purple Rain” has a majestic opening and for the first few minutes I listen intently, completely forgetting that I am supposed to write about it. The piano introduction has a grandeur to it which is unmatched elsewhere in the song. The arrangement from here on in is an interesting one, Prince reaches the  chorus, where he gains a strong audience singalong, before moving on “The Beautiful Ones”. “The Beautiful Ones” aches as Prince teases out the first verse and chorus. It never reaches the climax it promises, just as it seems he will take it to the epic finale it deserves he returns to “Purple Rain”, picking it up easily where he left off. It’s short-lived, another verse and chorus before “Diamonds and Pearls” makes an appearance. It’s not particularly noteworthy, barely half a minute, but it does elicit an cheer from the crowd. Prince again picks up the strands of “Purple Rain” as he returns for the climax of the song and the performance. The final minutes of the music are lost to my conscious self the thought plays over and over in my mind  “this is the last time, this is the last time”. “Purple Rain” can run on and on,there are concerts where it flows like a unending river, but here it doesn’t and its over before I am aware of it. The cold reality hits me.This is the last time.

Reflecting back over this recording my thoughts are many. I can’t untie this bootleg from the rest of Prince’s life and career. There are fleeting moments when I consider the bootleg dispassionately, its good and I want to hear it again. But mostly it tugs at my heart, my emotion. It draws tears to my eyes, and brings a lump to my throat. This recording will always come with the caveat – this is the final one. My collection of Prince concerts ends at April 14th 2016. This is the last time.

Piano And A Microphone, Auckland – New Zealand

I thought I was just another jaded fan. I thought Prince had done everything. I thought I knew what this night would bring. It would seem I know nothing. Prince didn’t just exceed expectations, he smashed them to pieces. It was a night where I was reborn several times, and every note and song lifted me higher and higher until I was in heaven itself. I am not one who normally talks this way, but the last few hours have been a revelation. The show finished a scant 20 minutes ago, and I am in my hotel across the road, still with the warmth of the show, and the sound of the music still dripping off me. What will follow will be from a fanboys perspective, expect no objectivity, I am still in the midst of an almost spiritual experience.

princeAuckland

24 February, 2016,  Auckland, New Zealand

Five hours ago Prince stepped out to his piano in a blinding white light, with the cheer of 2500 fans who did their best to sound like 25,000. I have seen Prince perform before, I listen to his music almost daily, I am 42 years old, and yet I screamed like a Beatlemanic school girl as he pimp walked on stage, glittery cane in hand.

Five hours ago Prince sat at his piano, and with no safety-net of a band, or indeed a stage show, he showed us the power of not just musicianship but songwriting. No glitz or glamour to paper over the cracks, it was the songs themselves that were to be the making of the show. I Would Die 4 U and Baby I’m A Star are certainly crowd pleasing favorites, but in this new arena they became more. I Would Die 4 U shone as an uplifting moment, the chords pulling us up, each one piling on top of each other and creating a platform that sounded glorious and joyful.

Four and a half hours ago Prince played one of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio, I Feel For You. Slowed down, the lyrics toyed and  pulled with, the piano had a swing to it that clearly showed us it’s roots,and indeed Princes. This is music with a history, it came from somewhere, and this is ably demonstrated as the piano lends a warm timbre to a previous cool synth driving song. Yes, the warmth of the piano filled the hall and our souls.

Four hours ago Prince played Condition Of The Heart, a delicate love song that I once copied the lyrics to and gave to a teenage love. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times I have listened to it on record, to see Prince sitting right in front of me playing it on the piano was ‘a moment’. I felt a life time of girlfriends flash by my eyes as Prince’s voice dripped over the lyrics, before he floored my for the first time in the evening with a rendition of Noon Rendezvous. Can I describe it? Not a chance, it was personal moment that was shared with 2500 strangers, and something that will stay with me for a long time.

Forever In My Life is another touch stone song in my life, one readily associated with girlfriends and loves won and lost. A slight song on record, in this setting it’s a slow-burning song that smolders and glows. There is a seriousness to it, and even the “da da da” at the end sound heavy and important. The song is the thing, and Princes piano playing is very gentle, his voice carrying the weight and reminding us that there are two instruments on stage.

Three and half hours ago Prince darkened the room and played a smoking version of Thieves In The Temple. Like most Prince songs I carry associations with it from my teenage years, in this case I recall staying up late to hear it first being played on the radio back in the day. I was ecstatic to hear it played, and once again Prince upped the stakes when he started to sing the song It. I am sure I must have screamed or shouted as Prince howled into the microphone, much like the Sign O The Times film. I can’t tell you, did I scream, was my mouth wide open, did I faint? Maybe all three. All I know is I had my moneys worth right there.

Three hours ago Prince played Paisley Park, a song that swung and rocked back and forth on the motion of his left hand as he banged out the chords. Like so many of these songs the rhythm was inherent in the playing, and Prince was able to be incredibly expressive in his playing, conveying all sorts of rhythms and emotions. Paisley Park is one of Princes songs that speaks of an utopia, much like Uptown, and I think he had us all transported away with him as he played.

Just over two hours ago Prince started his second show, and despite myself I am still screaming and cheering like a fool. A slower song to start, Love Thy Will Be Done, but every bit as good opening, the crowd moved swaying as the notes fly off the piano and over our heads. No snare drum beat, just Princes delicate vocals moving up and down as the piano plays endless variations. A master class of everything in a single song.

An hour and a half ago Prince played U Got The Look, a song that normally wouldn’t warrant a mention, in this case its that honky-tonk left hand of Prince that drives the rhythm and gives the song a great Ray Charles sound, and I think he acknowledges that influence later with a considered cover of Unchain My Heart. Prince knows the piano is the thing, and often resorts to just piano along in the show, the crowd enraptured. I didn’t want to miss a single note, and I am amply rewarded later when he sings a few lines of Erotic City. I’ll say that again, a few lines of Erotic City. It’s not much, but I’ll take it. That left hand is still banging on the keys, I just can’t forget the sound of it.

Condition Of The Heart came out again, this time the crowd in silence watching reverently as if at a classical performance. The piano was the hero for a long time, no longer being hammered, instead eyes shut moving from side to side Prince filled the hall with some playing that would be at home in any concert hall in the world. I would have shut my eyes and been transported away but I didn’t want to miss a thing.

An hour ago Prince hit me with one of the greatest 1,2,3 punches ever. The Ballad Of Dorthy Parker,  Something In The Water, Strange Relationship. Each one pulling different emotions and Prince loading his piano and singing with as much heart as he could muster. The first two were stunning in their beauty, and Strange Relationship coming as the redemption, the funk so strong. And a revelation as we watch Prince play, he wrote these songs like this, sitting alone at the piano. It’s a rare thing to see their roots laid out bare like this.

He teased us and toyed with us as he played a long How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore. The crowd, me included, impatiently singing the first line while Prince was still repeating the intro, only for him to stop with a “Oh no you don’t” before starting over and reclaiming the line for himself.

Fifty minutes ago Prince played A Case Of U, a song I swore I would die if I ever heard live. I’m still here, but those minutes as Prince played and sung will stay with me for the rest of my life, and hopefully beyond.

Forty minutes ago Prince played a four songs off Purple Rain, culminating in the song itself, in what I thought would be the show closer. But then came one of those moments, planned or accidental I don’t know, that stick with you forever. Prince played the opening of Purple Rain, before something changed. The stars aligned, lightning struck and the evening became better than I could have every imagined. First he played The Love We Make, before segueing into The Ladder. Prince started to speak and sing and suddenly the concert seemed to melt away. No longer were we spectators watching Prince play his songs, now he was music personified and we were drawn into the very music itself. The music seemingly flowed out of him, all of it glorious, all of it uplifting and spiritual. People speak of the healing power of music, but here it was in action. The Ladder ebbed and flowed into Adore, the crowd singing along, but not too loudly lest we can’t hear Prince. A song that means so much to so many, here I am standing alone listening to it, and yet not alone – 2500 people sharing the same emotion and experience with me. The crowd lending their claps to the beat, and now all of us involved in making the music. The music continues to flow out of Prince, he isn’t even performing now, he is just a conduit for the songs themselves which seem to be coming from a higher place. Nothing Compares 2 U keeps the crowd quiet, yet involved, firstly clapping, and then Prince coaching us through the lyrics. Purple Rain comes quickly after, and then we get our final upswing to the finish.

The last fifteen minutes will stay with me forever. First Kiss, I will always cherish this performance more than the song itself. Prince banging the keys, the top of the piano, the floor, anything to get that beat, that sound out. Like a man possessed by the muse herself, he would do anything to convey that sound, that feeling. And best of all, he swept me, all of us, up with him. All clapping stomping, singing, Prince was giving us his gift, the gift of music, to us all. Half Ray Charles, half Jerry Lee Lewis, he was feeling it and it was impossible not to go with him. Standing and stomping behind the piano, shaking his hips, he reclaimed rock n roll from Elvis and all that came after him. He took us back to the beginning, a man who was music itself driving out the songs, the beat.  Then to emphases this point further he picked up his stool and started banging it on the floor to create a new beat. Quickly picked up by the crowd I find I am a puddle of water as he plays the unreleased Purple Music.  The music pours down upon us,and I am having an out of body experience, I am literally beside myself at this point. I am not alone, all around my people are singing,clapping, dance, expressions of pure joy, no one the least bit self conscious. The hall takes on the feeling of one, and this spiritual moment is highlighted as Prince plays Free Urself, the crowd clapping and chanting to Princes call of “wheres the choir?” No longer a concert, it is now a rally, a congregation singing in unison. 2500 people have now become one, and Prince is no longer performing, he is guiding us and channeling the music through us. The song goes for ten minutes, but it might have well an hour, I was so lost in the moment. Prince skips from the stage, and we sing and clap Free Urself for a good few minutes afterwards, not wanting this show, this feeling, to ever end.

Twenty minutes ago I came back to my room, opened up my laptop and tried to record every moment of the show, trying not to forget a single thing about a show that is simply unforgettable.

-Hamish

Piano & A Microphone – show 2

The first show of piano and a microphone is still running through my head. Since listening to it yesterday I have been thinking of it constantly, and at work today I had cravings to listen to it again. However I know I must put that aside for a moment so I can concentrate on this, the second show. A preliminary glance at the set list shows this to be a different show in many ways, I see quite a few songs from the last ten years in there, and I think that bodes well. I adored all the older songs he played at the first show, but I also appreciate hearing some of these newer songs in the same setting. Hopefully Prince will bring something new to the table with these songs on the piano, and I can’t wait to hear it.

21st January, 2016 (show 2) Paisley Park

I can’t help but compare this show to the earlier show. The introduction to the second show is much more straight forward. There is the ethereal sounding music, but Prince starts quite suddenly with Wow. I was constantly surprised by his selections and arrangements on the first show, and right from the start I have the same thoughts here. On record I found Wow to be good, live on the piano it is something else. It’s uplifting and soulful, and Prince makes it shine in a way that it doesn’t on the album. Prince has the ability to take songs and infuse them with a lot more heart in the live setting. In this case Wow gains a lot, I would happily listen to this uplifting sound all day.

The Love We Make I have heard on a lot of boots, and usually in a similar way to this, that is the piano and vocals. Prince sounds more restrained in this rendition than I have heard elsewhere, usually it comes later in a set list, so maybe he is pacing himself rather than investing too much of himself into it. However, that in no way diminishes the power and performance of the song. Prince sounds weaker and more melancholy, and I find that moves the song in another direction. I appreciate his vocal performance, and later in the song I lean back and soak up his piano playing. I love hearing the lyrics as his sings, it speaks to me both with the words and the music. The last lines in particular are achingly beautiful.

Piano Mic 2016

I have never sat down and fully appreciated Hitnrun phase 2, so Look At Me, Look At U strikes me for its newness. Prince is effortless in his delivery, and one feels as if this song just fell into his lap as he was playing. His vocals are low key, and once again it’s the piano playing that I get a buzz out of hearing.

The Question Of U is unlike I have heard before. I have heard subdued versions, and instrumental versions, but nothing quite like what we have here. This one is my new favourite, the piano sounds as if it is floating on air and Prince picks out different parts and keeps the song twisting and turning. There are so many words I could use to describe it, it’s beautiful through and through.

1000 X’s & O’s sounds thin, yet very enjoyable. Prince doesn’t push it hard, and the music glides out of the speakers at me. There is a downbeat feel to it, but the playing is divine. Prince on the piano is sublime, and I have to be careful because I could well write that for every song. I listen careful to his playing, and lose myself in its sound.

The next song played is U’re Gonna C Me. To be honest it’s pretty much the same as we heard in the earlier show. It’s a good song that doesn’t leave any lasting impression on me. I know it must be someone’s favourite song, for me it’s something I enjoy then forget about shortly after.

It has been a while since I last heard Call My Name, and listening to it now I wonder why I don’t play it more often. The piano is again sublime, some pieces are just plain brilliant. The vocals are uplifting, although as with the previous songs it sounds as if Prince is being restrained in his delivery. I love the way Prince sings it in this manner, later in the song he warms up, and I am drawn right into his world as he sings. As always my favourite parts are when he sings “I just can’t stop writing songs about ya”. A great performance again.

Whenever I see Purple Rain in a set list I wonder what can I write about a song that I have heard so many times. I knew when I saw it here that it would be something different and maybe more emotional. There will be no big beat stadium sound, no guitar solo release. Instead just Prince, his piano and the song. Purple Rain sounds better than I have heard it in years. The slow keyboard as Prince sings the opening lines sets the tone. He plays a variety of parts, mixing them up and that keeps me interested as we go deeper into the song. He draws out the verses, there is a lot of space in there, and I think that adds to the emotional element as after every few lines there is time to soak up the sound and feel the weight of the words. He never enthusiastically sings it like a stadium show, instead he passionately sings it to himself and mic in a way that feels much more personal. There is one moment that I particularly enjoy and that is when as he sings “I never wanted to be your weekend lover” some one in the crowd lets out a whoop, very similar to what’s heard on the original recording. By design, or accident, it’s a cool moment.  At one point he plays some chords on the piano that recreate that strong guitar sound as he sings “I know, I know, times are changing”, and it’s all these little things that add up and make this performance so great.  Most of the song I feel like the crowd you see in the Purple Rain movie, I am nodding along feeling all the emotion of the song. There may be even a tear in my eye (it’s just dust, honestly)

The Dance is an overlooked song. It gets its moment in the sun here, and rightly so. I hadn’t heard it for a while, so I find myself concentrating carefully on the lyrics as I listen and Princes vocals are flawless throughout. I am so pleased that Prince pulled this out, I am sure there is many other great songs buried on albums that would be much appreciated on a fresh airing. The song sounds almost new to my ears as I listen, and I will make a point of playing this a few more times in the coming days.

Prince gives a dripping performance of Ta Amo Carazon, the song lends itself well to this performance and emotion. I am impressed how many of these modern songs carry more weight solo at the piano, and Prince is able to give them the same status as some of his earlier material. I find I am feeling just as much emotion at this second show as I felt at the first, although they are different in many ways, and this one is less personal to Prince, and yet more emotional to me.

Paino Microphone 2

A Million Days follows suit, and again it’s Princes vocal delivery that has me in raptures. His voice doesn’t have the same smoothness, and it gives the song more feel as he cracks and growls in places, before ending with a beautiful falsetto. It’s another master class as he injects the song with new life.

I do greatly enjoy Nothing Compares 2 U, although I can’t find anything that I feel is new in it. I have heard Prince sing it plenty of times, so it’s piano playing that I find I listen to most and he gives it a little extra which I appreciate. He doesn’t draw the song out too long, and he gives us the essentials, again I think that is a smart move for a song that we all know so well.

With the words “one more sad song” Prince takes us back with a performance of How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore. The previous show he only teased us with it, this time we get the full song, complete with the audience clapping and singing along. With the audience involved it brings some warmth to the evening, rather than Prince singing melancholy songs alone at the piano. The are plenty of cheers and Prince rises to the occasion with some whoops of his own. The song ends with some call and response and it lightens the mood considerably.

Listening to the last show I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I heard Condition Of The Heart, this time it’s The Ladder that has the same effect on me. It’s good. I mean it’s really good. It’s a brilliant moment at the show, with Prince speaking the lines as his piano rocks back and forth underneath. When he releases and begins to finally sing the effect is spellbinding. It’s everything you could ever wish for in a performance, and it cements my thoughts on these two shows, they are easily up with the best I have ever heard.

I Wanna Be Your Lover brings a pop spark to the show, and Prince sums it up nicely with the single word “karaoke” as he begins to play. Sure enough the fans deliver, singing the lines back to him as he plays. It’s very infectious, and my partner is laughing at me as I play air-piano along with it. It’s full of fun and, as with the last show, it’s the outro that steals it for me, with Prince playing it all on his piano. Again, he is untouchable.

Lisa gets credit again as Prince plays Raspberry Beret. He doesn’t give us a full story like we heard in the previous show, but he still mentions the part Lisa wrote. The spoken part in the middle song sounds a little strange to my ears, the crowd however love it and sing enthusiastically along. Prince gives a laugh and I can feel his smile coming through the speakers at me. You can’t beat hearing someone who sounds like they love what they are doing.

Piano and Mic

Starfish and Coffee sounds good, this time I know what to expect and as before Prince keeps it short and perfunctory. It is a fun song, yet it doesn’t quite fit with the pop of I Wanna Be Your Lover or Raspberry Beret, nor does it fall in with the melancholy ballads that we heard early on. It is its own thing, and seems out of place here. I still love it though.

Once again Venus De Milo is mesmerizing and I can do nothing but sit and listen. A classic though and though this almost steals the show, as it did in the earlier show.

Second time round I appreciate Sometime It Snows In April much more. Prince sounds cleaner to my ears, and the words speak for themselves. His piano swells and rolls under the lyrics, and I know this is a slow burner that will stand up to repeated listens. He plays with the arrangement later in the song, and for me that adds to the attraction of this song.

I have always liked Dear Mr Man, so I was very interested to see how this arrangement would play out. The piano works well for the song, and it’s got a fuller sound than the guitar. That might detract from the lyrics, but Prince is well in his stride now and the lyrics are infused with a quiet power that has me nodding in approval. The lyrics are poignant, and I think the crowd realize that as the quietly listen. Prince’s piano has a slight swing to it, I am impressed by how expressive he is with it.

After listening to the first show, hearing A Case Of U doesn’t come as such a great shock. It’s still a great performance, although I am not as moved as I was when I first heard it on the piano. It’s a touching song, and I wouldn’t want to hear Prince play it too much, least it loses that sheen of special it has about it. As great as Prince’s piano sounds, it’s the lyrics that have me transfixed. They convey so much and in such a beautiful way, this could be the best cover he has chosen to do.

I must admit that I didn’t pick Kiss right away, it’s a left field selection for a show like this. It has me scratching my head, its takes some time to wrap my head around what I am hearing. It’s mad, in a genius sort of way, and I can’t help but like it. That sharp rhythm guitar that I thought was so important is gone, and instead Prince bangs out the rhythm on his piano, again demonstrating how rhythmic a piano player can be. The break is excellent, the clunky piano reminds me of some party’s I have been to, and it has a homely feel to it. The crowd get into it, with some singing that adds the sense of fun with Prince teasing them a couple of times.

What the, is that Black Sweat? Indeed it is, and it’s a lot of fun. Prince is still playing that heavy rhythm on the piano as he sings, and I almost laugh at how he is even doing this. He definitely has vision. It sounds like the crowd are with him as I hear some cheers and clapping along. He only keeps it up for a couple of minutes, its well worth hearing though as it shows him attempting something unexpected.

I was unfamiliar with Free Urself. Prince sings “if you know the words sing along” and it seems I am not the only one who doesn’t know this song. The song has a simpler feel to it, and it kicks along nicely as Prince sings Free Urself. It’s up against some great songs in this show, it’s never going to be a knock out, yet it has its place and is an uplifting way to finish the show as I can hear the crowd singing ‘Free Urself” It’s a positive ending to yet another great show.

It would be unfair to compare this second show to the other. It’s tempting to do so, yet both are quite different to each other, and this one stacks up very well to the earlier show.  A few hours ago I would have sworn the first show was the show to end all shows. Now in the cold light of day, and after listening to this one, I’m not so sure. This show was great in its own right, and deserves just as much praise as the first show. Prince has pulled out some forgotten songs, dusted them off and given them a new lease of life, and he must be commended for that. It was a brave move, and I think it paid off, especially as he threw in songs that are not easily suited to this style such as Black Sweat. All in all, I need this show just as much as the first show. If Prince ever chose to give this an official release I would be first in line paying whatever it took. Prince has given me so much joy throughout his career, and these shows are the cherry on top. Thank you Prince.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piano & A Microphone – show 1

When I first heard that Prince was going to do these shows I thought to myself “oh, that’s an interesting concept, it would be interesting to hear”. I enjoy his piano sections in concerts and thought an evening of his piano playing and singing would be something worth hearing. Then after the shows reports starting coming thick and fast about had brilliant it had been, and how intimate and personal. When I read about Prince speaking of his father and running though his own history of song on the piano it went from an interesting idea to something I must hear. With a recording surfacing in the last few days my prayers have been answered. I am unsure I should be blogging about such an important show after only listening once. I have blogged other shows on a single listen, but never one that carries the hype of this one. I have decided to write about it on my second listen, as I don’t have any history attached to it yet, and I am writing on what I hear. I am sure that in future I will digest this more fully, but right now I can’t wait to give it a listen.

 

21st January, 2016 (show 1) Paisley Park

A cheer, the sound of a piano, and another cheer opens the show. The recording is clear, and already I am feeling good about this show. Over some piano sound Prince sings in an echo, it sounds ethereal, but with the echo it is hard to make out what he is saying. The crowd is amazingly quiet, they do cheer, but while Prince sings there is absolute silence. There is a respectful and somewhat anticipatory hush. “I wish I could play piano” says Prince and he whispers about being three years old. “Maybe I will just watch TV instead” draws a loud cheer from the crowd before Prince talks about his father and not being allowed to touch the piano. It’s an insight to his childhood, I have heard Prince speak of his youth before, but not in a direct manner like this and tied to his music. He then talks of being seven years old and addresses the legend of the first song he learnt with a funky sounding rendition of The Batman TV theme. It’s glorious to hear, he bangs it out before picking it apart later in the piece. This is something I have always dreamed of hearing, and these few minutes are a brilliant opening to the show. It’s intimate and crowd pleasing, and sets the scene for the rest of the show. The second half of the song Prince plays with a jazzier feel, he keeps it short but it shows his development.

Paino Microphone 2

The singing comes next with a short and sweet I Second That Emotion and Who’s Loving You. Together they are both less than a minute and give Prince a chance to warm up his vocal chords. He holds the notes, quivers and inflects, and gives us a brief glimpse of some of his vocals that have always served him so well. The songs are nice, and I know it’s about to get even better.

And even better it does get as Prince says “I need to write some songs” before singing Baby from his first album. This is another WOW moment for me, Prince playing it live for the first time, and he delivers in the best way possible. The lyrics are vulnerable and youthful, I feel like a teenager again as I hear him sing. The song is beautiful and after hearing it in this setting I will be going back to the For You album to hear it a few more time. Prince lets the piano do the talking for the last part of the song and it ends on a high.

I Wanna Be Your Lover I have heard plenty of times on the piano, so I aren’t expecting any surprises. Prince does take the time to get the crowd clapping along, I think they probably would have any way. The song sparkles and shines as always, I have always found the piano to be uplifting and here is no different. Prince and the crowd trade lines for the chorus but the best is yet to come. The coda is played by Prince on the piano, and he generates a great sounding rhythm while picking out the melody. It’s quite a noise he manages to generate from the piano and it goes without saying that I am cheering at the end.

The first 15 minutes of this show has been phenomenal, and it doesn’t let up as Prince next plays Dirty Mind. I always associate Dirty Mind with the heavy pulsating keyboard, in this case the piano is lighter and it gives the song a different and more colorful feel. Dirty Mind is one of the songs I play most, and I enjoy the different feel this version has. It still has a lot of energy and isn’t as muscular, I am sure I will be revisiting this one also.

I would have thought that Do Me Baby was tailor made for a show like this. Indeed it’s a great rendition that highlights Princes vocals, and of course his piano playing. It loses none of its power in this situation, the song to me has always been about Prince’s voice and the piano and in this arrangement there is nothing else to distract me from those key elements. Over those wonderful chords Prince delivers some soft spoken word that is very much toned down from what he would have sung in his younger years. It is still on the same topic, just not so direct.

In recent years we have heard a lot of Something In The Water (Does Not Compute), so it’s no great surprise to hear it here. Again I am struck by how quiet the audience is through the song, and it gives it that lonely sound that initially drew me to it all those years ago. Prince pulls the song back and quietens it, it’s not so angry sounding as the last couple of years, and for me this gives it new life. I do enjoy his piano flourishes as well as his vocal performance, if I hadn’t of heard it so much of late I would rate it more highly.

Free is lighter sounding after the last two songs, I think maybe because it’s another song I have already heard a lot in this form. The real surprise comes as he interrupts the song to offer his thoughts on David Bowie. I hadn’t expected his to acknowledge his passing, but as I am a huge Bowie fan I was glad to hear Prince speak of his kindness. As a little aside here, I have always thought a dream collaboration would have been between ‘1999’ Prince and ‘Let’s Dance’ David Bowie. Prince and his creative use of synthesizers on the 1999 album reminds me of Bowie and his Low album, while Bowie working on Let’s Dance with Nile Rodgers would have had the funk to work with Prince. Of course Prince is not one for collaboration, so  it’s always been just a fantasy.

The next moment that leaves me floored is the cover of A Case Of U. The lyrics to this song mean a great deal to me, and to hear Prince sing it is amazing. I forget the piano and listen to just his vocals, which are exquisite. The song is beautifully balanced between vocals and piano, with Prince playing piano break before returning to the lyrics later in the song. No words can properly describe how good this song sounds to me, it might just be the highlight of the recording.

I have heard (Sometimes I Feel Like A) Motherless Child from Prince before, but never like this. Prince plays low and slow, using the space between the notes. His vocals aren’t too strong, he sings and plays as one, and neither the piano nor vocals take precedence. As the crowd snaps their fingers the music quietens before fading to nothing. It’s another lovely performance of a great song.

I have been enjoying the show so much that I haven’t been thinking about what might be coming next, which is usually a good sign that I am in the moment. Beautiful Ones I should have expected, and Prince plays it just as you might expect. With only the piano the song is delivered with just the essentials, and I like that he doesn’t push his vocals too hard on it. I listen carefully and soak up every note and word,and even a nice vocal adlib that he throws in. He doesn’t attempt the shrieks and screams near the end, and I think it’s great that he feels that he doesn’t need them to deliver the song. There are plenty of cheers at the end of what is obviously a crowd favorite.

Piano and Mic

U’re Gonna C Me is a nice break from the more well known songs we have heard so far. It lacks the intensity and serves as a good break mid show to catch our breath. Prince’s playing is light and his vocals are nice, asides from that I don’t get too much more out of it.

The segue into How Come You Don’t Call Me is clever, and I think Prince does the right thing as he chooses not to play the song in full. He gives us the opening on the piano before stopping and taking in a completely different direction. We have all heard this plenty of times on the piano, and playing it again doesn’t add anything new of unique to the show.

My heart almost stops as he plays Condition Of The Heart. I know I am not alone in my love for this song. Prince plays it better than I could have ever imagined, his vocals are brilliant, sometimes quietening to a whisper, and he rounds the song of with some runs on the piano that I leave an impression on me, I will be hearing this song in my head as I fall asleep tonight.

I had forgotten about Venus De Milo, of course he would play it a show like this. I sometimes think of Prince as being a Jay Gatsby type figure, in his expensive house and clothes sitting alone playing this song. They say familiarity breeds contempt, not so with this song. I know it so well, yet every time I hear it it’s as if it’s the first time. A heavenly song and the performance of it at this show is note perfect.

Another personal moment from Prince next as he speaks of Wendy and Lisa and the first time they met. He talks as he plays Raspberry Beret underneath before he changes tack and becomes thoughtful and does his best to imitate Lisa’s playing. It’s a thoughtful moment and adds to the intimacy of the gig. Raspberry Beret returns proper, but he doesn’t belt it out as is sometimes heard, instead we get a laidback sounding rendition with minimal fanfare. The crowd is subdued, and only come on board with some prodding by Prince.

The loudest cheer of the show is when Prince next plays Paisley Park. It’s a rare treat to hear it live, and I have never heard a piano rendition, so there is smiles all round at my place as this comes out the speakers. There is a lot of rhythm coming from Princes piano, and this drives the song along as the crowd claps. It’s hard not to move my head as he plays, and I may be guilty of singing along loudly. What an excellent surprise, it had a great groove to it.

Surrounded by so many other stripped back songs Sometimes It Snows In April doesn’t carry the same weight. The piano is good, but it’s the vocals that I like the most. Prince’s performance is very mature, he doesn’t do too much with the vocals, just gives it to us nice and straight. At the beginning it sounded like the other piano ballads in the set, but I was won over by the end, and happily clap along with the crowd on the recording.

Prince begins The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker, then kills me as he stops and teases us with “You don’t know that song” before picking up with Eye Love You, But I Don’t Trust U Anymore. This is another song that means a great deal to me, and I am sure that if it had have been on a better album it would reach a much wider audience. The song isn’t too long, or over worked, and I am very happy with what I have heard when Prince brings it to an end. It’s a classy rendition of a beautiful song.

The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker does get played next, and it’s worth the tease. The only thing missing for me is that downbeat muteness that I associate with it. It’s not too much of a problem, this is another excellent addition to the setlist, and Prince calls out for appreciation for Joni Mitchell mid song which is a nice touch. I do like the rhythm he produces with the piano, and this show has been an eye opener for me in that respect.

The cover of Ray Charles’s Unchain My Heart is entirely appropriate in this circumstance. I know he has covered it before, but I don’t recall hearing it. It’s a great cover and as is usually the way, my only complaint is that it is too short.

I was never a fan of Baltimore until I heard it here. It seems to take on a more serious tone solo on the piano. Prince does address the crowd, so the song only gets just over a minute. It’s a shame that he plays an abridged version, this one could have been much more if he had of played it longer.

We get another song from modern times next as he plays Rocknroll Loveaffair. I prefer this version to what was released. It’s got an easy groove in the rhythm Prince plays and has a swing to it. I like that it hasn’t had the life squeezed out of it by production or a full band, what we have instead is the heart and soul of the song. It has a freshness to it and like many other songs on this recording I will be revisiting it a few more time.

I guess Starfish and Coffee would be obligatory for a show such as this, so there’s no great surprise as I hear it next. The song is kept short, almost as if Prince knows there is nothing new here for us. It’s just right, enough for me to start to enjoy, but then stopping before it reached the point where I think I’ve heard it too many times before.

I could have guessed at Starfish and Coffee, I could not have predicted the next song would be The Breakdown. I am dumbstruck as it begins, this song for me was the highlight of Art Official Age, and to hear it on this recording is a real treat. Prince sings it extraordinary well, and injects extra emotion with a couple of well placed shrieks near the end. For most of the song I can only sit and listen, it is that good.

There is one more surprise and the whoops of the crowd echo my own as Prince plays the opening notes of Anna Stesia. His playing for the song is strong and powerful and I am amazed to hear this song again, especially in this setting. Like so many other songs played tonight I can only sit and wonder at the beauty of it all. The song gets softer as Prince sings quietly and it’s an entirely appropriate way to close the show. Prince singing ‘God is love” softly as the song draws to a close is almost a spiritual experience.

I have two thoughts as the recording comes to an end. Firstly, musically and performance wise this is one of the best. The setlist is great, the arrangements are beautiful and Prince is note perfect. Combine that with the personal spin Prince puts on it with his talk and this show is close to perfect. To hear Prince speak intimately and personally as he plays was a real treat, and that alone makes this recording extra special. And that brings me to my second thought about the show. When it finished I felt almost embarrassed and guilty I had heard it. The show was something personal, and played for the people in that room at that time. I don’t know why, it’s never something I have felt before, but on this one occasion I felt pangs of guilt that I have heard this show. It’s an absolutely beautiful show, and now firmly a favorite, so I am very grateful indeed that we are lucky enough to hear it. All the same, I can’t help but think how much more this show would be if it hadn’t have been recorded, it would have taken on mythical status.

Tomorrow I will take a listen to the second show
Until then, take care
Hamish