Act II Vienna

Last month someone kindly suggested that I should take a listen to some shows from Austria, with the promise that Prince always played something special when he played there. The obvious place to start would be a couple of aftershows, or a main show from later in Prince’s career. Instead I have elected to run with an Act II show from 1993, mainly because I have a DVD of the show but have never quite got around to watching it due to the very 90’s looking cover. I probably have a better audio copy of the concert somewhere, but I know that during this period the look was just as important as the music (although I could probably say that about every stage of Prince’s career), and I am pretty excited to watch a full concert again.

25th August 1993, Vienna, Austria

The first minutes of the video are entirely typical for an audience recording of the era, filmed from the far left we begin with the camera out of focused and shaking. This is matched by the audio which is equally shaky and thin sounding. The visual aspect rapidly improves though, with the zoom utilized we have a nice close view of the action unfolding on stage, which is timely as the pseudo Prince onstage strips off his clothes at the end of “My Name Is Prince” to reveal Mayte’s shapely body. However, the audio never improves, and I resign myself to the fact that it is what it is and I had better get used to it. “My Name Is Prince” is a frantic way to start with plenty of motion all over the stage, although to be honest I only have eyes for Mayte.

Prince makes his appearance for “Sexy M.F.”, the greasy funk of it highlight by the person who can be seen crossing the stage with a mop.  The audience may have be agape any the bombastic opening, but they come forward for “Sexy M.F.” and can be heard all through the song with their singing and clapping. Asides from Prince and Mayte, it is Levi who gets plenty of spotlight, and I can’t deny it is definitely his guitar sound the oils the funky cogs.

 

The soft sound of “The Beautiful Ones” is unwittingly matched by the soft focus of the camera as we temporarily have a blurry image at the song’s beginning. The look of Prince is casual/cool, and this is equaled with his low key delivery of this normally heavy hitter, he maintains his facade of cool and never digs as deep into the song as I hope. This isn’t helped by the sound quality which stays shallow, and I am sure I would have a much better opinion of the song if I heard a better recording of the concert.

The concert is front loaded with hits, it is “Let’s Go Crazy” that vanishes any thoughts of “The Beautiful Ones” from the stage. With an elongated keyboard opening from Tommy Barbarella I am immediately impressed by the extra depth to it, and Prince delivers with his punchy guitar line that gives the song a steely force that I haven’t previously heard at this show. With guitar a blaze, and lights and streamers adding to the moment in a spray of colour, I expect the song to go for longer than it does, but we only get a few minutes. Prince gives us plenty in that time, but it only makes me hungry for more.

“Kiss” is too busy for my tastes, and the stage is awash with horn players and musicians which takes away from the stripped back funk sound that first drew me to the song. Visually Prince is looking great as he works his way back and forth across the stage, but I can’t find an entry point for me to really get into the song, and it leaves me feeling ambivalent about the whole performance.

The performance of “Irresistible Bitch” isn’t a patch on the original, and with the previous “Kiss,” this becomes a flat spot in what has been otherwise a funky show.

Redemption comes with a blistering “Always in My Hair” The organ stabs come as soft punches, before the Prince hits us with jabbing guitar that leaves a burning impression. Coupled with some of his trademark showmanship, one feels that at this point the show has reignited and the next portion of the concert might be the essence of the performance.

From the high voltage “She’s Always In My Hair,” Prince easily transitions to the pure pop of “Raspberry Beret” It’s always too sweet, and Prince knows this as he ends it quickly before one has time to tire of it’s upbeat joy. “The Cross” is a polar opposite, the music is joyous and the lyrics celebrating Princes spiritual beliefs, but it is a heavy and sincere rendition giving us a sense of how important this song is to Prince. All things considered, it is wonderfully filmed and Prince looks brilliant in the spot light while his Cloud guitar provides a stunning contrast in it’s deep blue color. This is easily the part of the concert that demands watching most, and I drown myself in the music through it’s entirety.

Prince stays with the heavy hitters, “Sign O The Times” just as compelling and every bit as intense as “The Cross.” They are a good match, despite the bleakness of “Sign O The Times,” it is countered by the note of hope that Prince hits in “The Cross.” Both sound weighty and deal with themes that you wouldn’t normally hear at a pop concert, and that excites me about the music even more. The music is the main focus of “Sign O The Times,” and even with Mayte being a visual supernova it is still the music that stays to the fore.

“Purple Rain” is light weight in comparison, but that may well be due the previously mentioned audio limitations. There is a lightness to Prince’s performance though, hand in pocket early on does give an indication that he is holding back from a full blooded performance. The guitar break more than makes up for it though, and I am most pleased to see him on top of the piano, head thrown back and guitar howling. If you’re looking for an iconic image of Prince, this would be it.

I have strong feelings about the medley of “Thunder,” “When Doves Cry,” and “Nothing Compares 2 U.” I don’t like it. The first two songs are merely throw away hooks that introduce the slightly longer “Nothing Compares 2 U.” All are instrumental, and even with Mayte providing some sense of spectacle with her dancing, my interest begins to wane. This interlude continues with “And God Created Woman,” and “Diamonds And Pearls,” but there is no doubt that without Prince on stage this feels like a different concert entirely.

Last time Prince was on stage he was blazing with his guitar, his return see’s him conquering another instrument as he delivers the intimate piano set. As is his way so often, this begins with the gentle “Venus De Milo.” With very little moving on stage, the melody is the motion that carries the performance and sketches out where Prince might go with this set.

If not for an annoying buzz on the recording, “Condition Of The Heart” would be be one of the quietest moments on the bootleg. Its only a verse, but the audience is reverentially  quiet as Prince delivers it. “Little Red Corvette” comes from the same place, and gets equal respect from the audience. It’s easy to forget how big this concert is as Prince draws the crowd in with his intimate delivery.

There is a major tape drop out for “Strollin.” The picture rapidly deteriorates into grainy static, before stopping all together a minute into the song. When the picture resumes it is in time for us to enjoy the final portion of “Scandalous.” Prince whoops and squeals to the crowd, but without the foreplay of the first half of the song it is a unsatisfying climax.

The NPG do a fine job of taking us back to 1986 with their take on “Girls And Boys.” Eric Leeds may not be in the line up, but Prince has the band stuffed with horn players, all who are eager to make their mark on this song. It isn’t particularly clean sounding, but it is energetic and engaging and that more than makes up for any audio inconsistencies.

On audio boots, the Arabic intro is enjoyable enough, on video boots it becomes much more as we witness Mayte dancing with a sword perched on her head. I’m not convinced it belongs in a Prince concert, but there is no doubt that this is just the kind of thing we expect at a Prince concert. Expecting the unexpected was always part of the anticipation of a new tour or album, and Prince certainly delivered that in the early and mid 90’s.

Predictably, it is a smooth “7” that follows. The person filming is evidently in love with Mayte, and the camera follows her relentlessly for the first part of the song, Prince only seen when she is nearby. Prince gives a highly staged performance, it is almost too slick, every note and moved planned,all rehearsed with very little sign of spontaneity in the song. I enjoy it, but it just makes me wish he would break out and give something extra at this stage of the show.

The encores open with another predictable song for the moment – “1999.” With the large ensemble on stage it becomes lost in the crowd, the song is there somewhere, but I can’t see it for all the bodies and different sounds emanating from the stage. It is only near the end as Prince and Levi play up with their slick guitar sound do I finally engage with the song, and just in time too for the quick transition into “Baby I’m A Star.” This is a far better song for this group, this time all the bodies and instruments make sense as they have a strong hook to play against and plenty of time to display their skills. It becomes and evolving jam at this point, and as “America” pounds out I am completely in awe of the moment, even the slightly tacky US flag made of fireworks has me excited. The horns are a fantastic addition to the song, and one can only imagine how overwhelming this musical assault must have felt in the flesh.

The funk continues to flow through “D.M.S.R,” this time the trombone becoming a key player and adding some depth to a recording that is otherwise high in treble. Morris Hayes cuts into his work, fleshing out the sound further with his muscular keyboard. Prince’s diversion into the lyrics of “Gett Off” doesn’t enthuse me, but the NPG is simply untouchable throughout, and I fall easily into their orbit. Another drop in the tape breaks me out of this moment, and when it resumes I find Prince in the middle of “Johnny,” a song so laid back it is almost comatose and a million miles away from the previous rambling medley.

Prince ups the pace as he closes the concert with a quickfire “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night.” It comes at breakneck speed, and there is barely enough time to register what song it is before Prince ends with his traditional “thank you, good night.” The crowd reaction isn’t as vocal as I expect, and I think a lot of them find it hard to believe that it is actually all over.

This would not be my first choice to watch or listen to from this time period. We have better videos circulating from the Act I tour, and soundboard quality audio circulating from the Act II tour (especially the Germany festival show just one week later). However, this show does have its place in the bootleg canon. It is yet another record of the NPG as they were really hitting their stride and driving Prince’s music in a new direction. There are parts of this show where I felt the NPG were almost upstaging Prince, and with Mayte serving as a visual foil there were times when Prince disappeared into the performance going on around him. With a setlist nicely balanced between old and new tracks, the concert is a marker of the two eras Prince was straddling, the slave era is almost upon us and this is a final goodbye to his back catalogue for the next few years. It is difficult to recommend this bootleg, but I know how addictive this game is and I am sure most fans would want to see it anyway.

Thanks for reading,
Back next week for more of the same
-Hamish

Rock Over Germany

It’s very rare that I listen to an Act II show. Not that there is anything wrong with them, or that I strongly dislike them. But they do fall between his 1980’s golden period, and his interesting and fascinating symbol era. Today’s show from Germany 1993 is a great show, and it’s unfortunate that I overlook it. The set list is a hotchpotch of songs and styles, but it’s all of a high standard, and a couple of songs in the set list have my mouth watering. And best of all, because I listen to this so little, it is always fresh sounding to me.

3 September, 1993 Flugplatz Lüneburg, Germany

A very rock n roll introduction from the announcer on this one. Its clichéd but exciting as he says “And now…..without further ado…please welcome Prince and the New Power Generation!!” Prince goes on to say “there are no kings on this earth, only Princes” and a very funky My Name is Prince is played by the band. The bass, drums and rhythm guitar lock in very tightly and the guitar especially catches my ear- it’s minimal but funky. There is a sample of I Wanna Be Your Lover which seems to be an odd choice, but utterly works. Princes rapping is good here, he doesn’t try too hard as he does on other recordings, and in this case it serves him better. He raps in his deeper voice, but resists temptation to yell as in some of his rap songs. The power of Michael B comes across very well on this recording, and it’s a joy to listen to him pounding the drums.

The silky guitar line of Sexy MF gets the next song off to good start, and Prince intones easily over it. I don’t love the singing, but the music is brilliant. The sound of that guitar, and then the nice horny chorus. Tommy Barbarella plays his part well, and adds an organic sound to the smooth shiny funk. Levis solo is distracted by Prince speaking to the crowd at the start of it, but he plays out long enough that there is plenty for me to enjoy. The second part of the song after this isn’t as enjoyable for me, Princes rap sounds corny to my ears, but there is a horn solo which I get right into and leaves me with an overall positive impression of the song.

Prince ActIId

I didn’t see The Beautiful Ones coming, but there is absolutely no complaint from me as it begins. The keyboards swells sound just as divine as they always have, and the sound of live horns updates the feel of it. Princes vocals aren’t as good as they are on the album, but really- could anything match that performance? He does sound great here, but the spoken ‘perfect picture’ sounds too contrived and loud on this recording for my personal taste. He makes amends with some screams, and closes the song in the style which I know and love, along with a nice little horn flourish.

Lets Go Crazy’s organ intro is the next thing we hear on the recording, and its nice and full sounding. Prince gives us “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life” before the pounding beat and the band come onboard. Although an excellent recording, the mix here is a little off, and mostly we hear Prince and the beat while the other instruments are somewhere lost in the mix. That changes when Prince begins the guitar solo, and that comes at us front and centre. The solo disappears into a funky rhythm and some encouragement to the audience before the rhythm of Kiss begins.

Prince Act IIb

Kiss begins with the trademark funky guitar, but it’s backed with some heavy sounding bass, and plenty of horns. It’s far from delicate sounding, and it’s the bass gets me shaking. With the horns there is a Vegas sound to it, and they give it a lot of push and fullness. Prince vocals are stronger than I expect on this song, and in fact his vocals have been very strong so far in the show. This is quite a likable version of kiss, I can’t say it’s particularly faithful to the original, but it’s a lot of fun. For all the sounds and going ons, its still the horns that I come back to, they are that good. The song ends with plenty of call and response with the crowd.

There is a segue into Irresistible Bitch, which I can’t speak highly enough of. Like the previous song, this one is heavy on the horns, but still lacks a little of the heaviness that I have heard on other tours. But its still one of his funkiest and its inclusion is a definite highlight. It’s with great regret that it only lasts a couple of minutes, but all is forgiven when the next song starts.

The familiar riff of Always In My Hair has me out of my seat. This is two gems right next to each other, and is another stand out for me. Prince’s guitar is crisp and clean, and I am much relieved when he strikes up the first solo. Its anything you could want or imagine, and I’m pleased to see a show so heavy on dance and props still has time for a classic Prince guitar moment. He doesn’t stretch the solo or the song out too long, and the song moves naturally enough to him jamming solo on his guitar. And this is where things really go up a notch. The playing is playful, sometimes light, sometimes heavy but always it sounds a lot of fun. It gets faster and faster, and ends with me shaking my head. Brilliant.

Prince Act II

Things take a pop turn next when the band strike up Raspberry Beret. A feel good song, if ever there was one, this one lives up to its reputation. Without being able to see the ActII stage and costumes, this sounds like its straight out of 1985. Prince ends it after a single verse and chorus, but once again I am not too disappointed when I hear what is next.

The Cross has a nice raw sound here, especially Princes vocals with have a fantastic live sound- as you would fully expect. The first couple of verses I listen carefully to Princes voice, but once his guitar takes over its unstoppable. It’s got a great garage sound to it, but no garage band has played a solo as good as the one Prince plays on this track. His vocals become very impassioned as the song goes on, and the last verse he is singing half way between a sing and a scream. It’s not as long as I want, but I add it to my list of highlights from the show so far.

Sign O The Times also gets added to that list, as its unmistakable beat begins. Princes vocals have a great sound to them again, it’s strong and raw. The guitar is something I haven’t heard before, the solo is cleaner than I expect and goes in a couple of different directions. Prince then throws in an adlib with “Lets get married, have a baby, we can call him Michael B, if he’s a boy” and Michael B obliges with some great rolls before Prince gives us more excellent guitar work. This whole section of the show has been fantastic, and it doesn’t let up as the band begins to play Purple Rain.

Purple Rain begins with plenty of keyboards and a nice firm drum- just the way I like it. There is a nice organ swelling, and the piano is in the mix as well. Prince adds a heavenly guitar line, and I am salivating where I sit. We are only a minute in and already this is a great one. The heavier crunching guitar plays, and again its just right. It doesn’t overwhelm and slowly adds to the feeling. Prince takes a break from the guitar and we get a classic “owww” from the man. He then sings the verses and his voice and this recording are both top shelf. He is loud, clean and crisp, and so is he recording. I usually tire of Purple Rain but this one has me listening all the way through. Prince begins his guitar break midway through his last few lines, and as it begins proper he calls “Live for Love”. Maybe I avoid live main shows too much to concentrate on after shows, but this is one main show that has my full attention, and I can’t speak highly enough of this Purple Rain. I don’t quite get to the point of singing along, but a dare say after a few drinks I certainly would have. The last notes fade, and I sit back pretty satisfied.

Prince ActIIe

There is the sound of thunder next and I immediately know what’s coming next- or so I thought! Prince intones the opening lines of Thunder, but the song never starts, instead we get a cool little rendition of Nothing Compares 2 U. It’s an instrumental, but in everyway I love it. It’s a nice change in pace, and a nice reminder of what else Prince has in his bag of classic songs. It only goes for half a minute, but that’s just perfect.

I am knocked sideways next as the band begin to play And God Created Woman, not because of its inclusion in the set list, but the fact it sounds so good. I had forgotten about this song, and that’s a great shame, as in this show its sounds brilliant. Again, it’s another shortened instrumental, but just the taste of it leaves my dying to hear more. The horns play all over it, and sound great. I would have loved to hear Prince on it, but just hearing this small piece has me thinking I should pull the album version out next. There is then just a snatch of Diamonds and Pearls played instrumentally before we return to the main show proper.

The recording resumes with Prince playing the piano. Always a favorite part of the show for me, this one begins with the beautiful Venus De Milo. Of course its part of a longer medley so we only get another small taste, but it’s a nice start to the piano set.

Next Prince begins to play I Love U In Me. Despite the corny lyrics it still manages to sound very good here, mostly due to its stripped back sound and some nice piano work from Prince. He also personalizes the lyrics at one stage, which is always a nice touch. His vocals are deep and smooth and it’s a good match to his piano playing.

The band joins in for the next song as we move onto Strollin. Its nice easy feel is enhanced with the horn section adding a bit of sunshine to it. The drums are too much for my taste, but it no way detracts from the song. Just on the chorus they are a touch loud for me. The rest of the song glides by very easy.

Scandalous is another highlight. Prince’s voice leads the whole song, and the rest of the band sound well in the background. It’s a good performance, and more enjoyable after the run of shorter songs we have just heard. The horns play another excellent break, and it’s clear how much they added to his sound at this time. Hard to believe in another couple of years they would be gone from his sound. The song is either Prince voice, or the horns at this stage, and both play hard to out do each other. It’s not as smooth as you might think but it’s still another great part in what is proving to be a classic show

Prince Act IIc

Prince introduces the next song with a couple of lines from Girls and Boys before he says the old cliché “I’m gonna stay over here until you make up your mind”. Sure it’s old and corny, but it still gets a cheer from the crowd. Girls and Boys starts again, and it’s slightly slower, and heavy on horns. It lacks some of the sassiness of the original, but still has a funky feel. Prince sings with plenty of passion in his voice, and this helps inject some energy into it. It does become one for the crowd, as the horns play over Prince encourages the crowd with some call and response and ‘clap your hands’. After this it’s the horns all the way until the finish line.

The next thing we hear is the intro music to around The World In A Day, which has be slightly confused at first, but it quickly gives way to some drumming from Michael B before the first chords of 7 are played on a guitar. 7 sounds fresh, and the crowd are strangely quiet as it begins. The first minute of so it has very much an Arabic feel to it, in fact its not really recognizable, which might account for the lack of audience response. Things change when Prince sings the first few lines and the music then begins as we know on album. The song is played as heard on record, although Prince does call to the crowd from time to time. It’s a come down after some of he songs we have heard in the last 40 minutes, but the crowd seem to like it well enough. The last minute of the song Prince reminds us that there are no Kings on earth only Princes as the band play out the last section.

The encore starts with Prince yelling “Whats up y’all?” He then presents Mayte who addresses the crowd in German – sorry no translation available! There is then a helter skelter rendition of 1999. The drums are a monster, and this one sounds like a train, it comes so fast and powerful. The band fly through it, Prince sings the first verse and chorus before the party continues with the last part and the crowd singing ‘party’. It’s a disservice to a classic song, but at the same time it is a party moment. And by this stage there is very much the feeling that we are accelerating to the finish line.

Prince ACt IIa

This is enhanced as the band without pause play Baby I’m A Star. To be honest I didn’t expect to like it, but I did despite myself. Especially I found the horns quite vibrant, but I didn’t get too long to enjoy it as its part of a longer medley.

The next song in the medley was rather surprising America. It’s not played the way I remember it to be back in the day, but it’s so good to hear it in the set list. Its not as tight as the original, the band are a little more loose and it does have a bit more swing. The horn in this is usually a highlight, but sadly it very much misses having Eric Leeds on it. A good concert moment, but we aren’t back in 1986, and that band casts a long shadow over this song.

DMSR gets thrown into the mix next. As with the last song it’s not as tight as I am used to. It doesn’t get played long enough for me to really complain about it, and the medley keeps moving quickly along.

Gett Off is the song I know and love in name in only. It’s stuffed full of horns here, and a funky keyboard. Prince sings the lyrics, but without the screams, classic beat and lead line it’s just a pasty imitation. But to be fair I do like as part of this feel good party medley. Prince does scat near the midsection, with the crowd failing to keep up with him. I would like to see this part of the show, as it does sound like a lot of fun. Just the songs flash by a tad fast for me to really enjoy. Prince displays his humor when he tells the crowd he can’t sing any more, maybe he should lip-sync. He quickly banishes that idea with a “fuck that shit!”

As a long time fan of Pope, I am very happy to hear a live performance of it. It’s slowed down, which gives us more of a chance to listen to Princes rap. His delivery is uneven, but as with most things on this recording it doesn’t diminish the enjoyment at all. After a couple of verses and chorus the band takes over with some very funky instrumental work. Some funky guitar and piano has the whole thing moving along nicely, before the horns enter and play Beautiful night. I wasn’t sure how much we were going to get, but its instrumental jam section of Beautiful Night, and Prince has some brief interplay with the audience. It very much reminds me of what we hear on the new years gig from 1987, this time without Miles Davis of course. After a couple of minutes Princes ends the song with a simple “What’s my name……confusion!”

After a minutes break the heavy crunch of guitar brings the audience back to life. Prince speaks the opening few lines of Peach, and then after that it’s all on as the guitar comes to the fore and the band joins the fun. I love the guitar sound on this recording, unfortunately I feel Prince is trying too hard with his vocals to match it. They do sound somewhat forced and a little ragged. All is forgiven however when he steps back and lets his guitar do his talking. The momentum is lost when he engages in call and response with the audience, and then some vocal adlibs. But the guitar is the thing and Prince soon returns to the solo before the song winds up. Of course it’s a false ending and there is several more minutes of heavy guitar action following this. It all sounds great, but nothing strikes me as spectacular or noteworthy.

A very well balanced recording, this one was well worth listening to. Some people have commented that it is their favorite, and I can understand why. Although not my favorite period, there was plenty here for me to enjoy, and I am confident it would stand up to repeated listenings. Not a top 10, but an excellent recording nevertheless.

Take care
Hamish