20TEN, Vienna

I remember 2010 well. I separated from my ex-wife, changed jobs, moved house, and came back to my own country after living abroad for six years. It was a year of upheaval, change and uncertainty.  Stability was a stranger to me. So when Prince toured through Europe in summer, playing another greatest hits package, I found myself devouring the shows as soon as they became available.There was a satisfaction in hearing the comforting songs I knew so well, and it was reassuring to know that those songs still existed as they were when my life was on steady ground. I often dismiss these hits shows, but these songs tie us back to a time when Prince was on top of the world, and his songs were the soundtrack for every aspect of our lives. Thirty years on they remind me where I came from and who I am as the world swirls around me in constant change. Sometimes it good to have that rock in our past that we can anchor ourselves to.  I have  rarely listened to the 2010 concerts since then, they are just on the wrong side of vanilla for me, but as a live package presenting some of Prince’s most well known material, they serve their purpose well.

13th July 2010, Vienna, Austria

Of the summer tour of 2010 this was the only concert to be played in doors. The assumption is that ticket sales weren’t as strong as expected, and from that we can further infer that Prince isn’t playing to a strong fan base here, there are more fans that fall closer to the casual end of the scale rather than the hardcore end of the spectrum. If that is indeed the case, then “Purple Rain”  is the ideal choice to open the concert with. A song that appeals to the most casual of casual fans, it immediately sets up the greatest hits show as it unfurls its away across the first minutes. The introduction itself is almost seven minutes, the tide slowly rising with the trickle of keyboards that slowly rise to a river. The first fingers of Prince’s guitar wraps themselves around the song, crushing the delicate and intricate lace of the keyboards and giving the song an extra power and emphasis. In this case however, the song doesn’t belong to Prince, but rather to the crowd who are involved throughout. Prince knows he is onto a good thing and doesn’t give them anymore than they need – his final guitar solo plays within the flow of the song, and instead of an emphatic exclamation mark it is little more than than a pleasant outro that equals the introduction of the keyboards several minutes previous.

 

“Let’s Go Crazy” is little more than a thin veneer over the insistent beat. With chants, the scantest of guitar riffs, and a quick verse and chorus, there is no real meat to the song. Its recognizable, but is an anorexic version of the Rocky-Balboa-punch of a song we know so well from the 1980’s

I prefer “Delirious” in this case, it is longer with punchy drumming and some added harmonica which brings a different flavor to a familiar tune. It is hardly a pulsating performance, but it keeps the show bouncing forward and provides me a chance to sing along.

The “Let’s Go Crazy” coda with it’s “Oh no, lets go” chant isn’t worth mentioning, but “1999” certainly is. I often underrate “1999,” and I have been dismissive of it’s live performance more than once on this blog. If “1999” was a person I would  apologize to it right now. Prince and the band play a lean and cohesive rendition of it at this concert, and to my ears it has never sounded better. With a sense of purpose it brings the concert onto an even keel, as well as satisfying the old school fan inside me that wants to hear these songs as they should be heard. It’s an exhilarating few minutes, and if it is nostalgia you want to hear then this is the place to start.

The opening stabs of “Shhh” contain far more keyboard than drums, and it doesn’t come as the intoxicating rush as we so often hear. The vocals though are far more noteworthy, Prince is in his element as he weaves his vocal magic through the song before topping it with the beguiling guitar work I have been waiting for. I am almost sick as he plays a head-spinning few minutes, the sound and the emotion perfectly enmeshed making for an alchemy that can be only found on live recordings.

“Cream” comes from the other end of the scale. Where “Shhh” had depth and emotional weight, “Cream” is shallow and narcissistic.That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable though, and with Prince’s guitar still adding body to the song, it does come across better than I expect. A lightweight and creamy sounding song, here it has a bolder sound that Prince will carry forth for the next few numbers.

That punchy guitar sound stays front and centre for “Dreamer.” No real surprises there, but it is an arresting few minutes as Prince and the band up the intensity and assault of sound from the stage. The only time this assault eases is when the harmonica makes an appearance and Prince eases the band back to allow the  crowd to clap. This merely signals things about to get a whole lot better, as Prince takes up his axe to deliver several killer blows that close the song on a murderous high.

“Stratus” is forceful and makes it mark with plenty of purse and direction. Sometimes I find it meanders, but not at this concert, Prince and the band play a tight version that contains several key elements – Prince’s guitar, the harmonica of Frederic Yonnet, and the drumming of Cora. Taken as a while they become a feast, and I dine on each of them individually as they have their moment on stage.

Sheila E. is on board for “The Glamorous Life” and although I love the song, I find this rendition just a little too thin sounding. It may or may not be the recording, but other songs have sounded strong, so in this case I’m going to assume it is indeed the performance. Prince isn’t on stage, leaving plenty of space for Sheila to get some shine. The singing is good, but it is the final percussion that makes the song valid and real, bringing something to the show that only Sheila can bring.

The natural pairing of “The One” and “The Question Of U” stands alone as the towering landmark at the centre of this concert. Building from Prince’s quiet lyrics it becomes an intricate maze of delicate vocal performances before the strident guitar builds architecture around  these more organic moments. It doesn’t have to be loud to be the most captivating part of the concert, I am completely enthralled throughout as the music continues to intrigue and swirl. Forget the rest of the recording, skip straight to this song and stay there.

I feel completely deflated as “Musicology” plays, the preceding song has sucked everything out of me. It doesn’t help that the recording sounds distant at this point, and a lot of the emotional tension that Prince has build up dissipates as the band rumble through the song. Sheila on percussion is a positive, but overall the song feels hollow and empty, leaving e hoping that the following numbers will raise the ante.

The hits arrive in the form of “Take Me With U.” Confident from the start, it sounds like a different concert entirely as Prince does his best to recreate his 1980’s sound. He’s not quite there, it harks back to the sound of his 2007 concerts more than his 1984 concerts, but it still retains an energy that gets the crowd moving. I think it sounds good, until I do actually compare it to a rendition from 1984. It’s at that point that I realize that it is missing a spark that lifts it from an energetic performance to an exhilarating ride.

From the same place comes “Kiss.” All the key components are in place, yet it remains flat when compared to its younger self. It’s dangerous to always look back and compare ourselves to the people we were 20 or 30 years ago, but when I hear “Kiss” on the radio I have no choice but to compare it to the more recent versions. Its still a great song to sing along with, and this performance has plenty to recommend it, but its not what it once was.

With Shelby J. singing with him, Prince plays a version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” which again consigns Sinead O’Connors version to the dustbin of history. With Rosie Gaines in the 90’s and Shelby J in the 2000’s, Prince’s live version has consistently eclipsed the more well known version, and he has clearly stamped it as one of his great songs. At this particular concert we get a solid rendition that still stands head and shoulders above Sineads rendition, Prince and Shelby invest themselves in the song making it much more than just a greatest hit.

Prince continues to reclaim his songs from other artists with a feisty performance of both “The Bird” and “Jungle Love.” They are watered down from what we have come to expect from The Time, nevertheless they fit well with the set Prince is presenting, giving the show a push towards the all dancing, all singing last half hour that Prince was doing at the time. With a couple of funk tunes thrown into the mix (“Play That Funky Music”, and “(I like) Funky Music”) Prince makes it quite clear where he is coming from. Neither excite me, but the blowtorch of a guitar break does have me raising my head with a smile.

I am fully on board for “Controversy.” It is another exercise in nostalgia, and one I happily buy into as Prince plies us with lashings of scratch guitar. The performance is tightly focused, and even with the audience interaction and harmonica solo it remains insistently on course and funky. It may not be as dry as some early performances, but it works well in it’s updated form.

It is Princes guitar that introduces “A Love Bizarre,” and if there was a song that was going to get me on my feet, this would be it. The crowd evidently feels the same, there is a noticeable increase in crowd enthusiasm as the song begins and this is maintained throughout. At only three minutes, it comes as a short, sharp shock, a feeling that is only heightened by the high voltage guitar break that short-circuits the song and introduces the next number.

Ah yes, “Dance (disco heat),” I had forgotten that this was a regular on the setlists through 2010. At the time I found it unappealing, and as I listen to it now I find that that feeling hasn’t changed. The clapping and guitar are relentless, but they never build to anything rewarding and I feel shortchanged by the performance. I want to like it, I really do, but this just isn’t for me.

The inevitable come down from this mad party follows, and that comes in the form of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” The concert is transformed again as Prince takes us from the stomping dance numbers to a revealing piano confessional. I revel in the contrast and am rewarded by the backing singers joining Prince in the final minutes to lift it into the realm of spiritual music. A surprise package this late in the concert, it was well worth the wait.

An out of kilter lilt to “Mountains”  leaves me off balance as the band begin. It isn’t helped by the left turn late in the song as they veer into “Shake Your Body” Much like “Let’s Go Crazy” earlier in the concert, it is shorn of its cohesive sound as Prince breaks it down to a collection of ear grabbing soundbites, none of which work as well as the song as a whole.

There is something entirely predictable about “Everyday People” and “I Want To Take You Higher” Neither are show stopping in their intensity, they keep the show simmering rather than bringing it to a boil over. The show still sounds as if it has more to give, but these songs don’t bring us to the climax I crave.

I was looking forward to hearing “Ol Skool Company” again, and I am more than happy with the feisty performance on this recording. It has sass and attitude that elevates it beyond a mere recap of all that has come before. Even the “funky” chants in this climate sound better, and to my ears this is better than the funky songs that Prince played in quick succession earlier. Prince is indisputably better when he sticks to his full renditions of his own songs, rather than watered down covers, or abridged arrangements of past glories.

The last song on the recording is “Peach.” A late encore, we miss the first minutes, but it matters not as the joy lies in the unbridled guitar flurry that makes up the back end of the song. Prince doesn’t dominate though, as he has throughout the concert he lets Fredric Yonnet have time to come centre stage with his harmonica. The final burst though is pure Prince, and just as regal a guitar solo as we have ever heard. The final slash from the guitar is only fleeting, but a timely reminder of who Prince is and what he could do.

All in all, an enjoyable show. As you can see, I wasn’t enamored by every song in the performance, but at two and a half hours, there was plenty of something for everyone. Three songs stood out above all others for me, “The One,” “A Love Bizarre” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore.” All three had an emotion to them that appealed to me, and played on my feelings of nostalgia. Prince was often at his best when he was looking forward, in that aspect these concerts from 2010 don’t serve him well. But they are a fitting time capsule of how far he had come, and as a look back these concerts do serve a purpose. 2010 is a year I would prefer to forget, and these concerts will probably go back in the vault now for sometime. They served their purpose and got me through at that time, but like Prince I too am at my best when looking forward. Sometimes it’s good to glance back, but it’s dangerous to spend too long there.

Thanks again, next week I continue with my Austria concerts and will be taking in an aftershow.
-Hamish

Purple Rain in Milan

I have lost count of how many times I have heard Purple Rain in my life. It’s heard at almost every live show since 1984, and is universally the first song that non fans name when thinking of Prince. I am sure Prince is just as tired of playing it as I am of hearing it, yet he still manages to play it with a passion and gives the fans what they want every night. In the last few years, the video of him playing it at this show in Milan is often cited as one of the best renditions in recent times. He certainly seems to playing it up in the video, but I am not convinced that it’s as good as often stated. And seeing it stand alone like this, I often wonder how it fits in the wider picture of the gig. Today I taking a listen to the show as a whole, and see if this thing is as good as people say. At the time I thought the 20ten tour was a little bland, and I am hoping that upon second listen its better than I remember.

3 November, 2010 Mediolanum Forum di Assago, Milan

The show certainly starts well, I have heard Stratus plenty of times, but not opening a main show like this. It’s a very casual start to the show, with Prince seemingly just strolling out with his guitar and beginning to play. The drums and the bass and nice and full sounding, while Prince places with his guitar over the top. It’s almost after show like, and has that sound of the band warming up and easing into the gig. Princes playing is very relaxed, and I get the feeling that right from the start he is in guitar hero mode. Apart from Princes soloing there’s not much else happening in the song, that is until the space age sounding keyboard break by Renato Neto. This is immediately followed by Ida and some tidy bass work. I can’t fault it, but it fails to move me. The final guitar break by Prince is one too many for me, yet it’s the best played in this song. I have mixed feels about if I wanted this to go on and on, or finish. I was somewhat pleased when Prince makes the decision for me and the band play Mountains.

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Mountains has a very light feeling on this recording. All the pieces are there, and yet they don’t come together in a cohesive way I would like. I do enjoy it however, and especially I enjoy Princes guitar sound and vocals. The guitar sound is very sharp and I can hear it way above everything else when he plays. It’s an interesting start to the gig, I wouldn’t have expected to hear either song so early in the set list, but it does work for me. Of course, I am a fan and would enjoy anything he played. Parts of Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) are sung, and soon after the song further morphs into Everyday People.

Everyday People and I Want To Take You Higher are played together, as a Sly Stone one/two punch. I loved the original of Everyday People, but to be honest I don’t get much out of Princes version. There is that spark missing, and even though it sounds pretty it doesn’t speak to me. I Want To Take You Higher works better for me. The horns sound good on it, and there is a couple of other sounds thrown into the mix too. The band and Prince gain energy as it goes along and I can see the crowd becoming more animated as it progresses. There is a sing along and plenty of jumping as the song reaches its peak, and I love it when Prince finishes the song with a shout of “Veegggas!”

Things go dark, and a weedy thin version of the Lets Go Crazy intro begins to play. It’s OK, yet very thin sounding. Prince intones “Dearly beloved” beautifully back lit, and playing some epic sounding guitar. The rest of the song begins and it becomes much more party sounding. As of the time, it’s horn filled and brassy sounding. Prince keeps it to what people want to hear most, that is him and his guitar. He plays the first solo, and then abruptly changes the song to Delirious.

Delirious grows on me with every blog post I write. As the years progress I find myself enjoying it more and more, and today I find myself grinning throughout. It’s played with a smile and it adds a lot to the fun sound. Renato plays a fitting solo, and Prince enjoys prancing and playing as he sings the song. This one is pure fun all the way. All the band members join the party in one way or another and they all capture the spirit of the song well.

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With chants of “Oh no, let’s go” Prince again picks up his guitar and Let’s Go Crazy resumes. The reprise is little more than the chant and then Prince finishing of the song with his guitar break.

1999 sounds great. The beat isn’t too domineering as is sometimes heard, and the vocals all work very well off each other. Prince is sounding and looking youthful through the song, and the years roll back as I sit and listen to this one – I can feel myself getting younger. The song passes by in a flash, I must have closed my eyes for a second too long feeling nostalgic. Shelby can be heard encouraging the crowd through the “Party” chant, I do like her but I would rather hear Prince. The final minute is my favourite piece as Prince sings “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb”

Bathed in red, I have to say I register zero surprise as Prince draws out the opening guitar notes of Little Red Corvette. He milks it for all its worth and toys with the crowd for a minute as the song builds. The crowd is strangely silent on the recording as he begins to sing, I had expected them to be far more vocal in singing along. They are however back for the chorus, before Prince again slows things down with his guitar. I always associate the guitar solo with Dez, no matter how many times I hear it. Prince goes someway to reclaiming it, as after the recorded solo he plays for a minute more in his slower expressive style. What I like about this part of the recording is it’s not crowded, there is an empty sound, and Prince doesn’t over play, he does just enough to give it a warm emotive sound. The last few minutes are a completely different song to me, and one that I enjoy immensely.

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Prince tells the crowd “These are my songs, and I love each and every one of them” which I think is a nice sentiment, and probably has an element of truth to it. Finally the funk arrives as Prince’s chicken scratch guitar begins to play, and Controversy gets a long and welcome introduction. Prince has the crowd chanting long before the song starts, and once the rest of the band do join it becomes a monster. Maybe it’s not the recording, maybe it’s not the show, maybe I am just a fan who really loves this music and really loves this song, but here to me it is sounding wonderful. The crowd chant “ooh Milan” throughout the song, and Prince gives them plenty of funk to move to. There is a very long section where the crowd chants while Prince plays a variety of funky guitar breaks. Sometimes writing a weekly blog is a chore, but right now I’m loving it. The song itself disappears, and it is just a funky groove as Prince plays with the crowd. The song does however finally end, and I feel like a sit down and a cup of tea.

Things slow down next as Prince takes a break and Shelby sings Sarah McLachlan’s Angel. Shelby sounds great, she doesn’t overdo it, and it’s suitably emotional. I appreciate the song even more now that I know that Sarah McLachlan wrote it about the death of Jonathan Melvoin. Elisa joins her, and their vocals together are beautiful. Things get better when Liv joins and all three of them sing the song to the end.

Prince Milan

Prince returns and keeps things at an emotional level with a rendition of Nothing Compares 2 U. I always like it when he sings this with Shelby. Shelby has a lot of detractors, but her chemistry with Prince can’t be under estimated and they bounce well off each over through the song. Shelby sings with plenty of passion, while Prince sounds smooth and this seems to work as a nice contrast. Prince calls the crowd to show their appreciation for “The baddest piano player in the world” and Renato plays a nice little flourish. The song ends with some lovely vocal touches from Prince and a gentle landing.

In the dark Prince plays some quiet lead guitar, before he softly sings “she saw me walking down the streets of your fine city, turned me on, she looked at me and said” I wonder if he is going to do it, and sure enough the band kick into Uptown. My old school roots betray me, and I immediately feel a surge of excitement. The guitar sounds just like I always love, and the only real difference is the girl’s vocals all over it. The recording sounds very good, and Princes guitar is very clean sounding. My only complaint would be that the song is played way too short.

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With a count of “one two three four” the band take a pop twist and begin to play Raspberry Beret. Prince does no singing at all, the crowd are more than happy to oblige and sing all the lyrics. It’s fun, but somewhat hollow, I would have liked to hear even a line or two from Prince. It’s not too long, and is no more than a verse and a chorus.

Cream gets a much fuller treatment, Prince sings loudly and full, and the girls are once again strong sounding in the mix. Prince’s guitar break interrupts the smooth sound of it, and he again has a nice clean sound. I am never a great fan of Cream, it’s a cool song but it doesn’t ring my bell. Here is a nice sounding clean version that feels shorter than it really is.

The party starts with Cool. The crowd dance a lot to this, and listening to it here at home it’s hard not to be moved myself. Prince is very much front and centre for this song, listening to it his vocals and guitar are the things I hear most, that and that sythn loop playing over and over. The crowd are obviously singing along, but I don’t hear them well on the recording, and indeed it is noticeable on the recording there is a lack of crowd noise, which is a plus in this case. There is a lot of dancing and fun being had on stage, but without the visuals it wouldn’t be half as enjoyable.

Prince keeps things firmly in the 80’s as Let’s Work begins. The party mood is kept up with the crowd and there is definitely a lot of arm waving and dancing. The band is playing tight and smooth, and all the fun is coming from the vocals and performance. There is some amusing dancing between Prince and Shelby before he picks up his guitar.

Next played is U Got The Look, complete with Princes “girls vs boys” spoken intro. I like the sound of this song, even if I don’t always like the song itself. This recording is pretty decent, the guitar is front and centre, but not overwhelming, Prince keeps it nice and balanced. There is the usual guitar breaks but they aren’t over the top, and the crowd does have space to enjoy it.

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Finally we reach Purple Rain, the reason I chose this show. It does begin in the traditional way with the gently chords before the keys swell and the drums enter. Nothing is rushed, which anyone who knows me will appreciate I really enjoy. The crowd play their part, with “ooh, oohh, oohh” beginning almost immediately. There is some lovely cascades played on the guitar, and it gives it an extra feel of rain falling. The strings then play for half a minute before Prince appears waving to the crowd, and then playing some further lead guitar. His vocals are clean sounding, there is very little or no echo on them, and I enjoy them like this. It’s interesting to watch him here, I can see him working himself into the song, at first he is fairly passionless, but he emotes as he goes along, and you can see him working himself up as the lines progress. He looks like he’s really feeling it as he finishes his vocal duties and picks up the guitar break. With a jarring start we are off into the solo, and Prince is playing just as much with his face as anything else, and he is telegraphing everything he is playing in his expressions. I can’t decide if its showmanship or pure emotion, but I certainly enjoy it. The first half of the break is as to be expected, and the second half where he traditionally cuts loose is more enjoyable to me. The playing isn’t as breath taking as I have heard elsewhere, but I have to give credit here to Prince for a great performance. Prince finishes by placing his guitar on the stage before taking a bow and exiting. I liked the performance, but I can’t quite find it in me to love it. Without the visuals it would sound a lot like any other performance, and here I think it was Princes showmanship that really makes the song what it is.

The opening strum of Kiss sounds, and the band play an extended intro without Prince. There is the guitar sound, but it’s very much keyboard led, and Shelby does encourage the crowd to chant along before Prince appears to take his vocals. I miss the stripped back sound that made this song so distinctive, and with this band playing a fuller sound I find this song slips into the territory of Cream, a similarity I hadn’t noticed previously. Prince’s vocals are tidy, and his dance routine at the end gets a laugh and a smile out of me.

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If I Was Your Girlfriend is a song I would find very hard to be critical of. I am a big fan, and I enjoy hearing it every time. Prince’s vocals aren’t as high as when he was younger, but he still retains a smooth sound, and to be honest I am singing along too loudly to really notice. This song resonated emotionally with me when I was younger, and I am surprised when I hear it nowadays and it has a much lighter party feel. There is a keyboard break later in the song that I really should mention, its funky and fun all rolled into one, and plays for some time while Prince and Shelby dance. Prince matches it with some vocal yelps and the groove continues with that divine bass line. Renato gets to add his touch to it, with a piano solo that has a light touch to it. The song finishes on a high with a long play out and some cool chanting.

Prince begins to get some of the audience on stage with him as he begins to play The Bird. I get the feeling now we are approaching the end of the show, and Prince wants to end it as a party. The stage is pretty crowded as he begins to sing the Bird. His vocals are loose, and I am missing the tightness of Morris’s vocals that I normally associate with this song. As you might expect a large part of the song is dedicated to chanting, dancing and generally having fun. The band play well, but it seems secondary to the enjoyment of the night.

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Things don’t let up as the band slip easily into Jungle Love. I do enjoy singing along to it, but there’s not a lot else happening here. The crowd are still dancing and partying to the groove. I become more interested as Prince begins to play his solo, and it has a nice intensity to it which briefly causes me to reconsider my stance on these two songs. However as he finishes his break the chanting and dancing resume and we are back to the party.

I enjoy the sound of Love Bizarre much more, the bottom end especially sounds good. Prince puts plenty into his singing, and well he has to, just to compete with Shelby. I like it later in the song as Prince plays more rhythm guitar, and the band strip back. He maintains his funky guitar sound as the full band join in once again, and he maintains this to the end, and even throws in one more solo, which for me is the best guitar playing of the night. He downs his guitar for a round of waving to the crowd and then the party continues for another minute before a call of “Las Vegas!” ends it.

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With the stage emptied of people, Prince returns with his guitar and the band play Take Me With U. There isn’t much to the song, it doesn’t surprise me in anyway, and sounds pretty much the same as the day I first heard it. Having the girls sing strongly on it is a bonus, and they do well not to overwhelm Princes vocals. Its sounds empty after the previous songs, and it is a nice come down.

With a shout of “turn me up” Prince strikes up the opening riff of Guitar. It’s not as strong as perhaps I would like, however it does sound good. As throughout the whole recording, Princes guitar has a clean sound, and that is one thing I have really appreciated on this recording. This is the last song of the show, and I was expecting Prince to indulge himself in some guitar heroics, he is however very restrained. He does play some good solos, but he doesn’t go over the top, nor does he draw them out too long. The song wraps up quickly and even with a final reprise it is very short. With one final showman flourish the song and the show end.

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Purple Rain wasn’t as great as many people would have me believe, but the showmanship, and the rest of the show was worth the effort. The show was standard, but I did enjoy the effort that Prince put in, and I felt this is a good reflection of the 20ten shows. It was well paced, and it got better as it went along. A solid record of a good show- I’m still not convinced about that Purple Rain though!

Take care
Hamish

 

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