Roxy aftershow, 1997

Last week I listened to an aftershow from 1997 released by Sabotage records. This was part of a two disc set which presented me with some problems. The first disc has the Denver show, while the second disc covers the Roxy show, and two extra tracks. These two extra tracks caused me to scratch my head, the databank listing them as from an unknown concert, while Prince vault had the listed as part of the Denver aftershow. I chose to run with the good folks at prince vault, and listened to these two tracks as part of the first disc.

The show covered on the second disc also presents some unknowns. This concert is also heavy on cover versions, there are only four Prince songs – two of them unreleased, which leads us into unfamiliar territory and offers a unique listen. With Marva King and Doug E. Fresh taking on the bulk of the vocal duties, Princes main contribution is his playing, meaning I have to at times listen carefully to hear his input – especially given that it is an audience recording.

11th August 1997(am) Roxy, Houston,Texas

Marva King sings the first three songs starting with the Prince penned, and unreleased, “Playtime.” It has a firmness to it, a solid warmth, that despite the audience recording still manages to sound weighty and carries an inner intensity. The band dwell on the song as an opener and, as long as it is, I still feel like I could listen to it longer. It is a good introduction to the quality of the recording, the audience  vocal, but the bass well rounded and without distortion.

The audience are heard more on the following “Sweet Thing.” Marva King does a commendable job of the vocals, although the song is well known and the audience add their own vocal flourishes. A bootleg snob would be disappointed at this point, but as a fan I simply wallow in the live feeling of it all.

“Lovin’ You” is so short that by the time I realized it has started, it is already half over. It’s too quiet, and the recording does it no favours at all, it disappears into the crowd and general background noise. It is disappointing to me, because when I do listen carefully I can hear that Marva is singing beautifully.

Databank wrote disparagingly of Doug E. Fresh, and the first minutes of “Flash Light” I can perhaps understand why as he engages the audience in chanting. I do find myself warming to it however, and Doug E. Fresh comes across as a perfectly likable bloke – before I know it I am chanting along with him here at home. What sounds best on the recording though, and what I really dig, is the bassline. It has a life of its own as it bounces and runs up and down the funky stairs, I find myself moving to it and temporarily forgetting Mr Fresh and his enthusiastic calls to get things moving.

Prince can be heard playing some lead guitar as the song morphs into “Jam Of The Year’ and for the first time in the recording I can safely assert “yes, that is Prince.” The song is a instrumental jam, barely distinguishable for “Flash Light” that preceded it, and as Prince chants “Turn This Mother Out” it becomes apparent that this is just a long medley of funk tunes and chants. The bass stays with its hypnotic loop, but with Prince on the microphone there is much more to pay attention to as Prince shifts and shapes the music into different forms.

The recording suffers somewhat as Prince carves into “Johnny.” The mix is murky and Prince isn’t as prominent as one might expect. However the rest of the band is sounding excellent, in particular Kat Dyson who delivers a weeping solo that stretches across the latter part of the song. Doug E. Fresh and his “Do It On Film” can’t match her, and the contrast between his over worked rap and Kats light guitar break is like night and day.

Morris Hayes opens “Cissy Strut” with plenty of power, but it is the Mike Scott guitar break that grabs all the headlines here. The rest of the band become yesterdays news as Mike weeps and wails, dips and dives, writing an array of emotion with his finger tips. Its only short, but it is a fitting digest of all he does well.

“Hotel Blues” is another unreleased song written by Prince and sung by Marva King. As its only live appearance, it should command attention. However, it doesn’t initially grab me, there is no rush of intensity and it is a laid back jam that offers no deep groove, or fiery statement of intent. It isn’t unpleasant on the ear though, and I do find Prince’s piano playing worthy of a closer listen – if only the mix was slightly better and more balanced.

There is no surprises with “Kiss,” it could have been lifted from any show in the 1990’s. The performance is mostly positive, but there are a couple of negatives. There is rather too much shouting and chanting for my liking, and the moments in between when the song is playing the audience are again very vocal on the recording. They aren’t really negatives, indeed they are a big part of the live experience, so I can’t complain about them being on the bootleg. These shows are after all for those in the room at the time, not us listening on a bootleg years later. The concert ends in this way, with Doug E. Fresh chanting and singing with the crowd, entirely representative of the show in general.

A very short concert, I can understand why Sabotage chose to pair it with the Denver gig. Of the two shows, the first disc easily out shines this one. This recording is poorer quality, Prince is largely absent from vocal duties, and while I greatly enjoy Marva King, I can’ say the same about Doug E. Fresh. If it wasn’t part of a two concert set I wouldn’t listen to this at all, but as a completest I am pleased it exists, especially for the performance of the two unreleased songs. A curiosity, but far from a good listen.

until next week, take care
-Hamish

The Church, Denver 1997 am

The Prince of 1997 is not the Prince that I grew up with. At this time a lot of the magic and excitement of being a Prince fan had dissipated for me. There is no doubting that Prince was still playing as well as ever, but for me the songs, the very heart of the matter, were missing. Aftershows still retained some thrill, a measure of excitement provided by guest appearances and cover versions. The gig I am listening to today has both and is all the better for it. The guest is Chaka Khan, both vocally and playing drums(!) and the setlist is chock full of cover versions, only the odd Prince song breaking up the run. It is an audience recording, and a scratchy one at that, but there is no distortion which about all I ask for out of a recording nowadays.

6th October 1997(am), The Church,Denver

Ignore the opening introduction as the announcer tries to flog off some t-shirts to the crowd, the real fun begins immediately as Chaka Khan emerges from the crackle of the recording playing the drums through the opening “Instrumental.” It isn’t a song that kicks sand in your face and laughs, with a kindlier gentler sound it is a gentle stroll into the show rather than an aggressive rampage. I would love to see footage of this moment, and this audio recording is a poor representation of what must have been a cool introduction.

It is Marva King who provides the entertainment for the next number, with a deep rendition of “Playtime.” Marva brings plenty of firepower to the performance, and she is ably matched by some equally insistent horn lines, and a dark organ swirl. The thin recording doesn’t do the song justice and it is up to the listener to fill out the sound in their mind. However, it does sound like a stonking version and we can only listen in envy of those that were there.

I’m not so fussed by “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” It’s not this perfoamce that I have a problem with, its just that I have heard it so many times from Prince and this rendition doesn’t add anything new that I haven’t heard before. Coupled with the quality of the recording,  it becomes a flat spot on the bootleg. Prince can be heard defiantly working his guitar and to his credit it does sound like it’s building to something, but we never get to fully appreciate the fruit of his labors as the recording saps the energy from his performance.

I am far more interested in “777-9311” and “Ain’t No Fun To Me” that come next. It is the bass line of “777-9311” the serves as the introduction, before “Ain’t No Fun To Me” comes snapping hard on its heels. It is only short, but Prince manages to evoke the spirit of the song with his impassioned delivery and the heavy wheeze of the organ that anchors the song. There is one point of the song where an audience member can be heard saying “He’s a genius, man, a genius!” and sitting here at home 20 years later, I am inclined to agree with him.

There is a “Colorado” chant that carries the first minutes of “Days Of Wild” before its crushing groove arrives proper and suffocates the recording with its thick funk. Even the thin recording is no match for “Days Of Wild,” it is just as wild as always, and even if it doesn’t stretch out for days it still sprawls itself across the recording for seven unequaled minutes. This wildness is personified by the hectic Tony Morris saxophone solo that bursts into flame in the final minutes of the song, making for a fitting end to what is a highlight on the recording.

Tony Morris is again present for the following Chaka Khan “Tell Me Something Good,” sung by the legendary Chaka herself. My feelings are mixed, I love the song and the performance, but I find the quality of the recording to be intrusive and several times I am taken out of the moment. However, it is a fantastic song and on a soundboard recording I would be positively raving about it.

The show has a warmth to it as Marva King displays her considerable chops on a cover of the Staples Singers “I’ll Take You There.” Even though Prince is barely noticeable, he doesn’t sing and there is no blinding guitar break, the song still has its place in the setlist, with its nostalgic charm and warm glow. This isn’t the first song I gravitated towards in the setlist, but I find it just as rewarding as anything else played.

“I Got The Feelin” is a cover of a James Brown song, but it lacks the drive and power that we would normally expect from a James Brown cover. The horns can be heard with their vigorous turn around’s, and after hearing them I can say that again it is the recording that is sucking the life from the song. There is no doubt that the band is playing an authoritative rendition, and their hard work is only undone by the shallow recording.

Prince goes even further back for a cover of “The Way You Do The Things You Do” This has me re-enthused for the bootleg, mostly because this is one of my favorite songs, and I am immediately transported away as Prince and the band play the song with plenty of sunshine and energy. It’s only a few minutes, but they cram a lot into the song, with the organ, the vocals, and the horns all vying for attention.

Prince goes even further back in time for an even bigger surprise – a short, sharp rendition of “Shout.” Forget the quality of the recording for a minute, if this doesn’t bring a smile to your face, then I don’t know what will. It has the crowd engrossed, and it’s easy to see why with its upbeat call and response and the undercurrent of swirling energy that never quite settles.

Ignore the next minutes as the announcer again reminds the crowd to buy T-shirts. The music returns with a slow building jam built around a lone drum sound provided by Chaka Khan. It doesn’t do much, it stays low and never gains any real intensity or intent, but it does pave the way for the next few songs.

The band is running at full power for an energized performance of “(Eye Like) Funky Music.” One of the few Prince songs to be played at this show, it gains even more respect in my book by being a song that was very rarely played live. Hearing it here, it sounds fresh and bright to my ears, and the chanting of the chorus is fun even if it is me alone a home. This is not a song I would play someone to demonstrate the genius of Prince, but as a fun song to hear on a bootleg it is right on the money.

We have another call and response jam next with “Denver Rock The Party”. As a horn lead instrumental it has the temperature rising on the recording, and this is made even better with Princes guitar break that he bestows upon it. It never blows out to a guitar jam though, and it is the horns and chanting that make up most of the song. I would like to say more about the guitar, but it is a little low in the mix, no doubt at the show itself it was louder, stronger, and altogether better.

There comes a slow down with the steady swagger of “Johnny” filling the air with its roguish grin. The lyrics make me smile, a smile made even bigger as Prince tells the audience that he and Chaka had said a prayer before the show, a prayer that the show would be funky. Well, that prayer has been answered, and the show is funky throughout, even if the recording can’t match the concert. “Johnny” maybe slower, but it is just as funky as anything else played, and is another highlight as the music curls and bends around the listener.

“I’m A Woman (I’m A Backbone) is a song with purpose and direction. It may be Chaka’s name and vocals that give the song early impetus, but later it is the saxophone of Tony Morris that drives the song into the ground. The saxophone stabs the carcass of the song with incisive cuts and wild slashes, leaving the music twitching and foaming with every attack, making for a wild and unhinged performance that tears though the skin of soft funk that has so far covered most of the evening.

I have often thought, and indeed written, that Prince and Hendrix aren’t the great mix that many imagine. The performance of “Little Wing” at this concert has me not just eating my words, but positively choking on them, the lump in my throat palpable from the opening seconds as Prince serves up a delicious treat of chords stacked on top of each other. It’s not just about Prince though, Chaka and the saxophone of Tony Morris bring their own flavours and tastes to the song, making for a balanced and well rounded dish.  Chaka is out in front, while Tony garnishes her performance with soft touches and a drizzle of sax as required. Prince displays another side of his playing, while known for playing the type of solos that would raze a forest, here his playing scatters seedlings that bloom and grow into a varied fruit as the song progresses. It is a thoughtful performance, with a trace of wistfulness that is never quite resolved. The song isn’t perfect though, the recording is too poor for that, and as effusive as I have been so far I must admit it is a song that requires close listening as for the most part it is distant and exists on the fringe of listenable.

Putting aside the sound quality for a second, this performance is a 10/10. I don’t say that lightly. The setlist gives no hint to how great the actual performance is, and having Chaka on board makes for a real treat. The songs swallow the room in there immersive brooding, punctuated by the electric fury of the guitar or the relentlessly vivid saxophone. Unfortunately, the bootleg is not a 10/10, the sound is too poor, and it took a close listen on headphones to really unearth the treasures buried in this release. For die hard fans this is another must listen, casual fans I would say approach with caution.

Thanks for joining me,
see you next week
-Hamish

Quasimodo Berlin 1987

OK, I admit it, I didn’t do my homework this week. Things have been kinda busy of late and I never found the time to have a quiet moment and think about what recording I would like to listen to and write about. So twenty minutes ago I found myself looking at a blank screen wondering where on earth I should start. Without a particular bootleg in mind I considered what sort of show I would like to listen to and what songs I would like to hear, which brought me nicely to this weeks recording – an aftershow from Berlin 1987 featuring Housquake and Just My Imagination. The recording itself is short, less than 40 minutes, and to be honest its rough to listen to. By rough, I mean plenty of tape hiss and a muddy sound, but I have recently come to the realization that I am a hardcore fan and will listen to anything with a beat, so with that it mind read on…..

15th May 1987(am) Quasimodo, Berlin

The first part of the show is missing from the recording, there is no Madhouse or the opening two songs from Prince, and instead as it begins we catch the tail end of Redhouse. The guitar is sweet enough, but it isn’t setting the world aflame, this is the sound of it slowly winding down in the last minute of the song. The following words by Prince are completely lost in distortion, before things pick up with the horn refrain that becomes Bodyheat. Now we’re talking, despite the recording it sounds like a great show as the band lock into a riff that will cement the funk of Bodyheat. The horn riff is good, the solo it plays even better as the recording briefly clears and the show really begins to cook. Through the limitations of the recording I can hear something special as the band play the living daylights out of Bodyheat, there is no doubt that it would have been a monster to hear live. Did I say solo? I mean solo’s, as Eric Leeds plays freely over the top a couple of times, each time upping the ante as far as intensity and pure musicianship go. The keyboard heard near the end comes from another place entirely, and is the icing on top as the song finishes with some of the horns as heard in It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night.

Led by a piano sound, Just My Imagination is different in this incarnation, and all the more soulful for it. With Eric Leeds giving it some extra life with his horn any other memories of the song are washed away as this version is heard in a completely different context. The spell is broken with Princes distorted vocals (its all the recording, not him) and although I can mentally fill it in and make it work, to be honest it’s a tough listen at this point. A shame as I can hear a fantastic gig unfolding before me, I just can’t hear it in a listenable quality.

Housequake is much more agreeable to the ears, although compared to other recordings its still rough. Prince’s vocals for the most part sound better, and the song is easily recognizable as Housequake. Eric adds his shine, but for most of the song it is the rhythm section that sounds the best -that is until his second solo, where I am forced to eat my words.

Prince Eric Leeds

The final It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night is yet another chance to enjoy the funk of Prince and the awe inspiring playing of Eric Leeds. Things improve sonically too, as the recording does become better midsong and the song can be heard in all it’s glory.  The moment right before Shelia E’s rap has me all in, as for a few moments the guitar sings out brightly in the darkness, so tight in it’s funk. The song becomes jam, and one of the better ones I’ve heard as it maintains it’s kinetic energy for the entire ten minutes. By the time the finishes I find I have forgotten and forgiven the recording limitations and I am enjoying purely the show.

Wow, that was shorter than I thought. It was also far better than I anticipated. There is no denying the recording was less than stellar, but the show itself was pure fire. Like everyone I trawl the internet looking for shows, and there seems to be the same shows circulating again and again among trading communities, leaving very poor recordings like this forgotten. I know that this type of recording appeals to a very small portion of the fan community, it is not an easy show to listen to. But part of the fun for me is listening to shows like this, with a faint hope in my heart that one day a better recording will surface of a show such as this. Final verdict:  Recording 3, Show  9.

 

Take care
Hamish

 

Cabaret Metro

This week I am digging back to a recording that I used to listen to a lot, but haven’t heard for a few years now, the show from the Cabaret Metro Chicago in 2000. It is worth the listen as Prince and the NPG play a show with the aid of a couple of guests’ appearances, namely Macy Gray and Common. The show starts with very little Prince, initially it is Macy Gray and her band playing before Prince slowly eases his way into things. By the end of the show however, he is fully engaged and playing just as hot as ever. It should be good to revisit this old friend, hopefully it lives up to my memories.

17th November (am) Cabaret Metro, Chicago

The show starts with Macy Gray and her band playing without Prince. Common is on the mic free-styling as the band run through a jam that includes Voodoo Chile (slight return), Sexy M.F. and D.M.S.R. Considering Prince isn’t anywhere to be heard, its surprisingly enjoyable and something I could easily listen to again. Of course without Prince and the NPG playing it does lack intensity, it meanders easy in it’s on way without ever being taxing to listen to.

Things finally start on the Prince front as Macy sings a sweet sounding Forever In My Life. I find her voice to be a good match to the song, and for the first few minutes she makes the song her own. She’s unrushed, and sings in a style that is unmistakably hers while the band quietly bubble along behind her.  A happy cheer greets Prince as he arrives mid-song to sing his lines, and he promptly reclaims the show. As good as Macy Gray sounded, there is nothing quite like hearing Prince sing it, and when he sings his lines there is no mistaking whose song it is.

The show moves up a notch with The Bird. It’s not immediately recognizable, but there is an increase in tempo and beat that signals something more funky is coming our way. With Common and Macy hyping the crowd the wave builds with the bass and organ adding momentum. That wave never crashes, and the band keeps on grooving, with the bass being the tracks that everything runs on, it sounds great on the recording and has me reaching to turn it up. I am underselling it a little, it is a fantastic jam.

With a funky guitar and a steady beat another jam starts, this time more downbeat and easy. There are also the contrasting sounds of some bright sounding horns, some squealing guitar and the shine of the organ. It all comes together in a mix of sounds and colours that keeps things moving, and I am very surprised as it ends in a sudden stop after only a few minutes.

prince-2000

Prince next tells us that Macy will sing a country song, so while the band plays a country sounding beat she sings for a minute “baby, baby, baby”. There’s nothing to it, it is barely a minute long, but it does show the easy nature of the show, and as Prince and Macy talk it’s obvious they are just hanging out and having fun.

The show settles as Macy sings her own I Try and it’s on her own song that she really shines. The band provide a strong skeleton for her to sing over, and as she sings it easy to feel the warmth in her voice. I am so lost in the moment that it ends before I realize it, and a moment of horns carry us through to some heavenly guitar from Prince, playing in his clean sound as he solos around No Woman, No Cry. I thought Macy Gray was good, but this is even better, and takes the show to another level altogether. He doesn’t play fast, or make it scream, his carefully chosen notes carrying all the expression and emotion he needs. As the music rocks back and forth Macy sings lines from a few Prince songs (Take Me With U, Anotherloverholenyohead, Adore) but its Prince’s guitar that holds my attention, injecting beauty and heart as it plays. As Macy sings Take Me With U the music increases in intensity and with the guitar still playing we reach new heights in the song, and if not for some distortion on the recording it would be an unforgettable moment.

With Prince on guitar and playing so well, it’s only fitting that the next song should be The Ride. It not as dark as sometimes heard, the groove is lighter, as is Prince playing. After an initial bluesy run he swirls for a time, before returning to the bluesy tone. From here on Najee plays his sax for a time, bringing in a different sound to a song so familiar. Najee doesn’t get a lot of love from Prince fans, but he does a fair job and it is fun to hear him bringing something different to a song I have heard so often. Prince finally sings some lines, before he cuts loose with the guitar in the final minutes, really making it sing. Just as expressive as his singing voice, it more than lives up to the previous song, and Prince is bringing all his guitar skills out for the final part of this show.

With a quick drum rattle Prince turns everything up to ten for his final Santana medley that will close the show. As always he is on top of his game, but still provides plenty of space for the keyboards to fill out the song. There is some distortion, mostly from one of the keyboards, but for the most part it’s a clean recording, and Princes guitar sounds clean and strong all the way. The band chase each other round in a circle of riffs, as the intensity rises and falls. Again Najee gets a chance to contribute, his sound unusual for the Santana medley, yet I enjoy every moment of it. Despite being a band performance, it is Princes final guitar solo that leaves the lasting impression, as he duels Najee blow for blow before laying the matter to rest with a scorching run that can’t be matched. I am surprised (although I shouldn’t be) by how good they sound playing off each other, and although this is far from my favourite band, they turn on a great performance that ends the show in style.

The recording is very short, and the songs only a few, yet it was the jams and the guest appearances that made this recording an interesting listening. Hearing Prince interact with Macy Gray and Common was a different perspective, and with them putting their twist on his songs it added something interesting and new to the show. Najee too contributed late in the show, and his sound with Prince worked well, something I hadn’t considered for an aftershow. All in all, a short but sweet aftershow and there was something for everyone in it. Far from a classic, yet worth a listen.

Thanks for reading
Hamish

 

Act II Aftershow -Zurich

“A funny thing happened to me on the way here today” begins the old joke, only in my case those words do ring true. A funny thing DID happen to me on the way to writing today’s blog, and the show I will be listening to is not the one I originally intended. I have been meaning for some time to take a listen to the Paris Club Rex show from 1993, but I never quite get around to it. I thought that this week the time had come, and I was looking online for more information about the show when I stumbled across a forum where someone recommended this show from Zurich in the same year. Although this show is equally well known, it too remains waiting for me to write about, and since it was closer to hand than the Club Rex show it will be the one I will listen to now.  I am fooling myself that I am living life spontaneously, but really it’s just more effort to find the Club Rex show in the archives.

30th August 1993, Kaufleuten Zurich

This recording has been circulating for years now, in many guises. I am running with the 4DF release, mostly because it has been cleaned up somewhat to move the audience noise back to their rightful place -the background. On first impressions I immediately like the set list, I see Blue light listed (many don’t care for it, I do), plenty of funk jams, and then what looks like a rock fuelled ending.

The recording lives up to my expectations from the opening moments, a rising horn riff and the crowd on board from the opening seconds. They introduce themselves as The New Power Generation, and that is borne out by the following performance, it is a complete band performance with Prince being very much band orientated for the bulk of the show. Deuce And A Quarter is right in line with this thought, Tony M does the speaking, while it up to Kathy J to provide the early initiative on the horns. She is of course ably assisted by Michael Nelson and his trombone solo. With the band swinging, Tony M does his best to hype the crowd, and I am most surprised to hear it’s working for him. The party is already starting in style.

Deuce And A Quarter may have started the party, but its’s the following Black M.F. In The House where things take off. The band plays as the first song, only more so. The horns are brighter, the band funkier, and Prince sings his lines with great relish. It’s hard not to like it, and I find I am singing loudly here at home, at least until my wife comes in to see what the heck I’m signing about. As the crowd gives a rousing cheer it feels more like a house party than a concert, the audience and the band are already connecting.

Prince keeps in theme with Race following naturally enough after. The recording does give a wobble at this point, it’s no real problem, and Prince and the band are still chewing it up on stage. Race isn’t as intense and full on as I sometime hear, it’s more relaxed and flows easier. The band are playing brilliantly and keeping it in the pocket without ever pushing the song, I think I prefer it this way, and I am thankful the recording is sounding as good as it does.

I haven’t used the word ‘intense’ yet, but that is about to change with the introduction of The Undertaker. With its creeping bassline and misty horns swirling there is a feeling of impending seriousness. Prince delivers that seriousness in his lyrics and with the backing singers it does lose that party vibe as it slips into darker territory. There is the much admired guitar break, but what demands listening from my point of view is the Tommy Barbarella keyboard break that pulls us deep into the swampy sound. Its thick and all enveloping, a juicy warm sound that you can lose yourself in, and that’s exactly what I do for the next ten minutes. The final coda sees some funk enter the picture, and we are left on an upbeat groove that contrasts all that has come before.

Some guitar and keyboard interplay, and before I know they are playing Six. What a great song to be able to pull out at a moment like this, and with the horn section on board it gets a work out in the full sound it deserves. It’s the keyboard and guitar that leads us into it, but come the chorus the horns make themselves heard, and they are the key component for the rest of the song. I can’t stress enough how good this all sounds, the song and the band are a perfect match, and this is certainly one of the standout songs of the night.

The horn section stays at the front of our minds, and the sound mix, as they next tackle Intermission. It’s lively and sharp, something I enjoy, but at only a couple of minutes it’s much shorter than anything else heard at the show.

I was surprised to see Delirious clocking in at over seven minutes, but all is explained as I listen, it’s played as a swing-time jam, with plenty of horns bouncing back and forth, and long guitar break by Prince that keeps in this theme, and a joyful sing along by the crowd. The mood and tempo is kept up the whole time, and it’s adds a lot of lightness and fun to the evening.  Prince does very little singing and instead it’s the band that gets all the shine as they play.

Typical, I was looking forward to hearing Blue Light then when it starts I don’t immediately recognize it. After the beat and a few seconds of lead guitar it settles into the groove I recognize, especially as the horns begin to play. It has an easy way about it, and flows easily in and out as Prince and the crowd sing together. The horns give it the sunshine feel, and with the crowd singing along it seems to work much better than it does on album.

Come gets things moving again, with its smooth sound much more driving than the previous Blue Light. There is a slippery guitar underneath which I always listen for, and the crowd clap and chant their way through the song. They aren’t intrusive at all, and the overall effect is one of unity between the band themselves and the crowd. All in all, it’s a very smooth and clean performance, something I could easily listen to again.

A pounding drum, a scream and the opening riff of Endorphin Machine opens the next part of the show in style. The guitar isn’t right to the front as perhaps most would like, but that hardly matters as Prince sings the lyrics, his guitar sawing back and forth underneath. It’s bold and energetic, and as Prince launches into the guitar break I am sold on it. He sings with a hint of venom as he spits the lines before his guitar flies, it’s captivating even on an audience recording listening here at home.

Peach starts slowly, before Prince turns everything up to eleven to give us a rendition to remember. His vocals are full throated, and only matched by the full blooded guitar sound he gets out of his axe. There is some interaction with the audience, but we are all here for the guitar pyrotechnics, and Prince delivers on that front bringing out the best of his playing. I’m not always a big fan of Peach, this one has me all in.

What Is Hip? is intriguing from the start, with plenty of horn work (obviously) and a very funky guitar, it is constantly moving and evolving. Morris Haynes playing a swirling organ solo is an added bonus, and without Prince singing again it highlights how much of a total band performance this show has been.

Prince is back on the microphone for a final stomp through House In Order. With a call of “everyone go to church y’all” there is definitely a church vibe as the crowd claps and the band swings. The first few minutes are great, but it’s the scat and funky guitar that appears midsong that floors me, they slip between gospel infused singing to funk in a heartbeat. Prince keeps the crowd just as involved as the band, and as you might imagine there is plenty of chanting, singing and clapping in the final few minutes, Prince always leaves the crowd finishing the show as if they are very much a part of it.

And just like that it’s over. I wasn’t 100% confident about this recording, but the show is yet another good representation of the aftershow experience. The real surprise was how little Tony M was heard on the microphone, and how much the audience noise had been toned down. This recording has been around for a long time now, and I’m glad I gave it another listen with fresh ears. Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.

Club Black 2004

If you fall off a horse the best thing to do is get back on it, and that’s exactly what this week’s post feels like after listening to last week’s recording from 2004. It was an assault on the eardrums, and I need to get back to listening to other shows from 2004 to reassure myself that not everything is so tough to listen to. This week’s show is just the tonic, recorded a month later it is a joy to listen to, both the recording and the performance. The show at Club Black is recorded at the aftershow coming on the heels of the Rock N Roll hall of fame induction, and is well regarded in the fan community, and from my initial impression I can see why. It’s got crowd noise, like all recordings, but the band is heard crystal clear through the whole show, and they are playing a great set. This one is a breath of fresh air, and I feel refreshed as soon as I begin to listen.

16th March, 2004 Club Black, New York

The sharpness of the recording is apparent from the very first note that is heard. There is a considerable cheer from the crowd, but once they sit back and listen you can hear the band just fine. The opening song is a showcase for the horns and keyboard, a full and clean Footprints is the first song of the evening. There is some sax work, be it Maceo or Candy, to begin with, and this is well worth the time it gets. Not to be outdone, Greg Boyer blows up a storm on his trombone, it’s got a big bounce to it and fills out the sound. The best is saved for last however, with a piano solo dominating the final third of the song. A great moment early on, this is the cue to close your eyes, sit back and take it all in. Already the memories of last week’s blog are receding.

Prince 2004 a

Prince gives Musicology plenty of hype from the get go, pausing the band early on to tell the crowd “you’ll ain’t ready”. After the obligatory applause the song starts proper, Prince has the band in his pocket, everything is smooth and fits together perfectly. There’s no fire in the performance, the band is too cool, and they glide through the song with ease. The saxophones do raise the levels somewhat, but for the most part it’s smooth as glass.

Things do morph, and Maceo plays us into Tighten Up. Maceo never lets me down, and as the crowd chants “Don’t stop Maceo” he blows up a storm. As he steps back, Mike Scott steps forward with a guitar break that is distinctly his. With the guitar sounding so clean and funky, Mike is in his element. The consummate bandleader, Prince keeps everyone involved with firstly a piano break, and then another chance for the rest of the horns to play. As an easy jam this song works, and it’s a great chance to highlight the band early on.

Shhh is introduced as “a quiet ballad” which greatly undersells in what is in all honesty one of his greatest songs. The band keep things low-key and the song belongs to Prince and Prince alone, firstly with his vocal performance, and then with his guitar break that starts with a lone whine, and ends several minutes later in a howl. Normally it would be Prince’s guitar playing that would have me waxing lyrical, and although the guitar here is of his usual high standard (the second guitar break in particular), it’s the vocal performance that gets under my skin, Prince still sounds as if he means every word even after all these years. The final workout on the guitar leaves us on a high before we get funky with the next song.

Mike Scott always sounds great playing D.M.S.R, his guitar tone has a sharpness and gives the song a new lease of life. Prince too seems to be sharper, he sings with a freshness that belies his age, and the age of the song. The horns add some sparkle, the song suddenly sounding brand new again. I Like The Way You Move is seamlessly brought into the mix, and Prince acknowledges OutKast as the crowd chants and sings. The band hit the groove as the crowd join them and the next few minutes are the perfect storm where the show becomes a party. With the horns and guitar all jamming and adding different lines it becomes an irresistible dance, time seems to slip away as I am caught in its funky web.

House Party continues on right where D.S.M.R. left off, it’s down low steady funk keeping the band locked in tight to a groove. Its slower and heavier, and keeps the heads bobbing as the band play. It’s for the most part a showcase for the horns, they play plenty over the steady groove, and they sound brighter against the low heavy beat.

The flurry of A Love Bizarre and Glamorous Life run us into a sprightly sounding I Feel For You. Princes vocals aren’t the sharpest, it’s up to the horns to inject the sunshine and brightness into the song. They are everywhere, their clean sound elevating the song wherever they riff.

We stay firmly in the Eighties with the appearance of Controversy. The guitar is initially low key, before it explodes out of the gate at the one-minute mark with some fabulously funky sounding playing. Prince and the band play well, and it’s an enjoyable listen, but when the rhythm guitar plays it becomes something else altogether, the moments are short and easily the highlight of the song.

The piano interlude by Renato is light and undemanding. It’s a tasty morsel between courses, and at a minute long it doesn’t out stay its welcome before we return to something special from Prince.

That something special is a soulful rendition of The Beautiful Ones. The song flows easy, firstly with some piano, and then some sax playing that has wings. For a while I forget that this is even The Beautiful ones, with the sax playing for some time, before we return to some cascading piano playing for a couple of minutes. All of it is classy, and it’s even better when I consider that Prince has yet to sing. And sing he does, when he does appear on the mic it’s with a gracefulness and measured performance. He sings beautifully, seemingly without pushing himself. There is emotion in his vocals, not over wrought, and well balanced performance that demonstrates his experience, showing us all that sometimes less is more.

Nothing Compares 2 U is noteworthy for the contribution of the Candy Dulfer. Prince’s vocals are as to be expected, but it’s the sax solo that soars and lifts the song. With no female counterpoint to Princes vocals, it’s this saxophone sound that provides colour and contrast to the performance, and it’s only fitting that the sax is the last thing we hear as the song fades out.

Prince pours it on for Insatiable, and gives a vocal performance that befits the subject matter. I have heard plenty of great performances of this song before, and I can safely add this one to that list. Prince’s vocals are smooth as butter, and have a creamy thickness to them that washes over you as you listen. Prince does deliver a spoken thanks to a list of people midsong, he’s very gentle with it and it doesn’t interrupt the mood at all. The transition to Call My Name is equally smooth, he called for the lights to be turned down low early in the song, and it still retains that late night dimly light through the whole 7-8 minutes. Call My Name is softer than on record, and Prince’s lyrics are dripping with passion and lust as he sings. As Renato plays some piano I reflect on Princes vocal performance on the last few songs, he has been sublime throughout, and this really is a master class.

prince 2004c

The rhythm track of Sign O The Times has a heavy dose of funk in it, and the introduction takes on a more dance-able tone as Prince hypes up the crowd. His vocals come quick and clearly, before the horns again begin to raise the heat a little. In fact, with the horns and piano playing it becomes an entirely different beast altogether, the seriousness of the song washes away and we are left with a funky little jam.

The balance is restored with a low key The Question Of U. Prince gives us plenty with this one, his guitar early on sounds as good as it ever has, there are some nice runs and fills that keep us engaged, before the song strips back for some guitar noodling. Things get even better as he sings new lyrics over the quiet music. It’s refreshing and intriguing, I find myself listening closely as he sings these words. I can’t believe how fantastic the last 30 minutes have been, and Mike Phillips puts his spin on things with a solo that easily matches every else thus far, this band is on top of their game right here. His playing in the last minute is outstanding, it demands listening.

The One and Fallin’ come together, intertwining with each other, and fitting well. The One has always been a song I look for in setlist, the version here is good, but it can’t compete with all we have just heard. Prince does come back strongly on the guitar, at first it doesn’t grab me, but it does get stronger and stronger and soon enough I am swept up by it and carried away.

Things change direction as Prince calls for the house lights and the band groove into Let’s Work. The bass isn’t as loud as I would like, and it does sound brassy with all the horns playing. In some ways it loses it attraction for me because of this, it doesn’t have the sweaty sound that I normally look for. The band do give it plenty of energy though, and soon enough it becomes U Got The Look.

U Got The Look has an electric sound to it, the guitar isn’t strong at all, and it has a more interesting sound because of this. That is until Prince calls “Turn me up Scotty” and begins to solo, crisp and clean in this case. The crowd come to the party with some singing that doesn’t add much to it, but does sound like fun.

It’s at this point that it becomes a jam and a party as Prince begins to call people on stage and the band begins a medley of party songs. All the usual suspects are in the mix, Talkin Loud And Sayin Noting, Life O The Party, and Hot Pants are prominent, as is Princes ‘Uptown up’ chant. Things move quickly, the beat and the dancing being the most important things. Soul Man adds some brightness, and seems appropriate for the performance that Prince has thus far delivered. Chance Howard takes on the vocal duties, leaving Prince to party up and keep things moving. It all ends with a crisp and poppy sounding Kiss. The horns and the guitar outdo each other to be heard, and the song is full and bright sounding. The guitar has a superb tone, and for me is the star of the song, I could have done with the song being a whole lot longer. Prince ends with a simple good night, and suddenly it’s all over.

This recording was better than I could have ever imagined. I had heard others speak highly of it, and although I have heard it before I don’t remember it being as good as it was. The first third was great, but the second third was outstanding, and it’s this part of the show that I found mesmerizing, Prince was at his peak with the band doing a fantastic job of supporting him. The end was weaker, but still well worth the time. I rate this recording highly indeed, and I am almost tempted to call it essential. When I think of 2004, this is how I want to remember it, a great show and a brilliant recording.

Thanks for reading
See you next week
-Hamish

The Astoria 1995

Recently I took a good listen to the Emporium set from London 1995. Viv Canal kindly got in touch to let me know that he had seen his first aftershow about this time at another London venue – The Astoria. This got me to thinking that I should give this one a listen to as well, and I did wonder about it as I couldn’t immediately recall hearing it before. Some digging revealed that I do have it, and it was actually a bootleg I remember very well, as I paid far too much for it back in the 1990’s. It has sat unloved on the shelf for too long, and is well overdue for another listen. It’s immediately made more appealing by the fact that both George Benson and Chaka Khan play with Prince and the band, and I do wonder why I haven’t played it more. The reason being, perhaps, that the recording isn’t great? I don’t recall, and there’s only one way to find out, let’s give it a spin.

9th March (am) 1995, The Astoria London

George Benson makes his appearance on the first song of the set – Glam Slam Boogie. Without hearing it and just seeing the name on the case it seems like a match made in heaven, one can almost hear the guitar sound of George Benson working very well with the lighter guitar playing that Prince sometimes indulges in. The reality is not quite what I expect, but still well worth the listen. Prince tells the crowd that George Benson is one of his heroes, and I fully believe him, you can hear it in the way Prince plays- there certainly is some influence there. The song is a fine introduction for the band as they each play their own solo as the groove carries us along just right. The sound of the recording is much better than I remember, and I am finding it to be a very easy listen. Each instrument can be heard clearly, and the drum sounds full without ever taking over. It takes some time to reach George Benson and his playing, and he is well hyped up by Princes introduction. His solo is worth the wait, and as he plays I can hear how Prince has been influenced by him.  The solo is shorter than I hoped, and Prince resumes his dialogue with the crowd, this time having them singing “ooww, weee, oooww”. They sound great, and for a minute I am a touch envious and wish I was there.

1995 GlamSlam

We go from one hero to another as the soft introduction of Sweet Thing brings Chaka Khan to the fore. It’s ethereal sounding, the sound of the keyboard wash while the guitar cascades, I am lost in the music as it plays. The crowd recognizes Chaka as she comes to the stage, and there is an appreciative applause before she begins her vocal delivery. I thought the intro was beautiful, things get even better as she sings. Its glorious in every way, and already I am regretting I haven’t been playing this bootleg more often, things are off to a wonderful start. The vocals are the centre piece as they intertwine, raise and fall, and I feel myself falling in love as I listen to it.

Things become more upbeat as the guitar begins a wah-wah sound and You Got The Love begins. A song from Chaka’s back catalogue, it’s not something I am overly familiar with, but I do like the bands performance, and Chaka always gives a great vocal performance. As the song plays on I find I am swept up by it, and I find I am turning it up louder and louder as it goes- always a good sign. There is some silky guitar work near the end by Prince, he sounds good but it’s not enough to upstage Chaka or the band especially as they up the groove for the climax of the song.

1995 Prince

Love Thy Will Be Done initially sounds distant, but soon enough it becomes stronger as the audience claps along. It’s got a sound that is right to be played with, and sure enough it is played out with a suitable long introduction before Prince speaks. As he counts off again the sound suddenly opens right up and he plays some punchy guitar that serves as a wakeup call. It’s probably wrong to say this, but I prefer Martika’s singing to his, at least based on this performance, however the guitar playing amply compensates as I find the performance again to be top notch. I have to give special mention to the last lead guitar break, it had just enough fire to ignite the song for me.

Following straight after is Funky. I loved the version that he played at Emporium, this one tonight doesn’t reach the same heights for me, although the chorus has me sitting up and taking notice, especially as Prince hits us with a blast of lead guitar every time. Things get seriously intense after the last chorus, and at this point the guitar is deep and rough sounding, it’s just the sort of naked raw sound I like to hear.

1995 Prince Netherlands

I actually salivate as 18 And Over begins. I have always had a soft spot for it on the album, and in the last few years I have warmed to the live versions, to the point now where it is something I look forward to in the set. The music is enchanting, and I find Princes vocals to be just on the right side of clever, I listen with a big sloppy grin on my face as he sings. People get different things out of different shows, and for me this is the highlight. I don’t care if there’s no guitar solos, or a soaring vocal performance, the mood and groove of the song is just right for me. Despite the smutty lyrics the music retains a sense of elegance, its beautifully balanced.

Prince next plays homage to another one of his heroes with an enthusiastic cover of Graham Central Stations I Believe In You. The first couple of minutes is very much a band performance, until Prince begins to play his guitar with a loud solo that claims the song as his own. There’s still plenty of funk there, but Prince certainly puts his stamp on it with his crisp and crunchy guitar sound.

As The Ride begins I know we are about to get a whole lot more guitar, yet in a completely different style. Sure enough after a slow steady start Prince begins to weave his magic on his guitar. It’s got an easy swagger to it, and as Prince is so fond of saying, they do indeed sound as if they have days to play. He plays his solo for quite some time, and I find it interesting to listen to without ever feeling its punching me in the face with intensity. In particular I like the way he gets the guitar to whinny and rear up like a horse, the sound of it definitely evokes that image.

1995 P and M

The last song played by the band for the evening is an extended Get Wild, I say extended but in reality it’s always this way, played out to the max. The popping bass solo is cool, all “up” sounding and bright. The smile stays on my face Prince has the crowd singing “play that motherfuckin bass” -oh to be there! Mr Hayes comes to the party with a trademark solo, very playful and heartfelt. Tommy matches him with a more electrifying break, its shorter and much sharper.  As it becomes a jam and groove with Mayte dancing, it needs to be seen as much as it needs to be heard, all the calls for her to shake her money maker has all sorts of images playing in my mind. I hope for much more music to follow but the song ends at this stage, as does the show.

As a final exclamation point, Gold is played over the P.A. It is on the recording, nice and clear and, although it’s good to hear, it doesn’t add anything else in terms of the show, especially since it was later released and now familiar to us all.

Personally, I think Viv was lucky to see this as his first after show. The centre piece of the show was the band themselves, and at this stage of his career Prince was very trusting of his band, as I have written of other shows from this era the band sound like they are a gang, bonded together against the world. This isn’t a setlist to set the world on fire, but it was all played  well and passionately and with the bonus of George Benson and Chaka, it all adds up to make this a show worth listening to. Thanks for the recommendation Viv, I will be putting this one in the car for the next road trip.

have a great week
next time, back to 1986 for the end of The Revolution
-Hamish

 

London, The Emporium 1995 – Part 1

This week’s bootleg has a special place in my heart. It may not be the greatest bootleg of all time, but it is the one that I have listened to most. When I was younger I lived in London for a few years, about the same time I bought my first iPod, and the music I had on it was severely limited. Today’s recording was one of the few Prince shows I had with me, and I listened to it many times as I shuttled back and forth from work.  It was quite some time before I was able to put more music on my iPod, and over the course of the year I listened to it countless times. The show itself comes from 1995,  a couple of weeks after the Wembley show, but a few days before the Paradiso show and the Dublin show with Bono. What I find so good about these shows is that they are all extremely different from each other, and stand up to repeated listens. It’s at this time that Prince released Exodus with the NPG, and this show is an interesting mix of songs from that album and some other odd songs from that era that never really found a home. It looks like an unusual mix, but they all work well together.

22nd March (am), 1995, The Emporium London

Given the lay of the land at that time, it’s no surprise that Prince begins the show by heavily promoting the Exodus album. He gives the crowd some titles and they respond with a supporting cheer to every title. Then we get into things with a chugging drum sound, some swirling organ and the song Big Fun. Its cooler than cool, and although Prince does sing early on, it’s the sound of the organ and bass playing over the drums that carries the day. The looping roll of it is broken by Eric Leeds sax playing, and listening to it now it’s easy to get carried away by the snaking sound of it, my head nods involuntary to it as the it flows on. This is the first live performance of Big Fun, and it is a tremendous debut, at almost 10 minutes of mostly Eric Leeds and Morris Hayes things couldn’t get much better.

Prince London 1995

A sharp change in tempo moves the show along briskly, and its Race that next gets an airing. In a lot of ways things are very similar to Big Fun, with the song being another chance for Morris Hayes to strut his stuff, the first few minutes being a nice showcase of his sound. Things become more balanced as Prince sings, but I find I am enjoying the band performance just as much as Prince. The jam feel resumes, and we have a nice Controversy riff played on the keyboard, which in this context sounds very cool to my ears. We also get a “the roof, the roof, the roof is on fire” chant, which has appeared in Prince concerts and shows many times over the years. Just like the Controversy riff, the appearance of a few lines of Girls And Boys reminds us that Prince isn’t quite dead, even if the setlist would have you believe otherwise. I do like the Goldaxxe and the solo played before the segue to the next song is worth a listen.

I have always liked Superhero, and I especially like this version. It’s not a great recording, what makes it so good for me is the band, and the energy they infused it with, both at the chorus and the keyboard riff. It swings and has a funk to it that makes me move. It has an uplifting keyboard riff, with somewhat of a funky Commodores feel to it, and I can’t help but think of Machine Gun when I hear it.

Dark by name, the song itself lightens the show, and with Eric Leeds again playing it continues to follow the brightened sound of Superhero. The horns have plenty of long swells, and with the keyboard playing similar long chords it is very warm sounding. I thought the first half of the song was good, the second half was even better as Eric Leeds takes over. He doesn’t push anything too hard, instead he flows in and out beautifully. As always I find Eric’s contribution just as important as Princes.

Prince Slave 95

Sweet Thing is a firm favourite of Princes, and of mine. The cascading guitar is beautiful, and even with this average sounding recording it is still sharp and clear. Stacy Francis does all the singing, I’m not taken by her, although she does win me over as she gets deeper into the song. I think she would be better served on a higher quality recording, but her vocal abilities are clearly demonstrated here. For me the high point is near the end of the song as the guitar echoes her vocals, a touching moment that works well despite the cracks in the recording.

I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl) was first covered in Vienna 1987, here it makes a reappearance.  The robotic, automatic funk of the guitar is killer, as is Princes vocal delivery. This time its Barbarella who gets a shout out for a solo, but he is no more than starting when we swiftly transition into Skin Tight.

This is a song I always get a lot of mileage out of, the guitar, bass and keyboard interplay slays me everytime, as does Princes vocals. Its keep minimal at this show, barely a couple of minutes, however that is a great two minutes and I can hear the band are doing their thing with style through and through.

The funk doesn’t let up for a instant, with the next song performed being Funky Stuff. I know the chant right away, but in this case resist the urge to sing along as Eric Leeds again plays up a storm. When we reach the break down things heat up, with Prince calling on Eric to school the audience. Prince preaches about real instruments and his words are reinforced by some great sax work that is matched on the guitar. There is also the classic moment when Prince calls for the band to give him 25, something they do very well.

Exodus

When one is tired of the Santana medley, then one is tired of life. This is the moment when Prince engages in some of his lead guitar fireworks. Its a fitting tribute to his hero, and I can only imagine how full blooded this would have sounded at the show. Prince is a great one for sharing the spot light, so we get a Michael B moment as well as a solo from Tommy Barbarella. Both are good in their own way, but it’s Prince and his guitar skills that we want to hear in this song, and he delivers that in spades in the final few minutes. He switches from a buzzing guitar sound one moment to a razor sharp sound the next, and its right now that I am lost in the show and forget that this is an audience recording.

Prince tells us that Mayte says they can’t leave until they do Get Wild, I don’t believe him but I am thrilled to hear it. This song is very much of the time, and to me sounds like the sort of funk jam that Prince would write with ease in the mid 1990’s. As you might expect there is plenty of chanting and a casualness on stage as the music raises and lowers in intensity. Eric gets a moment as does Tommy Barbarella again, and mostly it is Prince toying with the audience and the band. I only wish I could see it, especially as Prince calls to Mayte to shake her money maker. There is a camaraderie you can hear between Prince and the band and do sound like a good bunch of friends together on stage. This is a jam that sounds as if it might last all night, and they do throw everything bar the kitchen sink into the song, making it an epic 15 minutes.

The chant of “Lets get satisfied’ takes us into the next song which is Funky Design. It still retains a shout of “Get Wild” for the first minute before some lead guitar takes us to a different place. When Prince starts chanting “Blow your mind, blow your mind”, thats when the song starts proper for me. The song is full of strut and swagger, and its always empowering to hear Prince sing it. I would bust out a couple of verses myself, but it ends after a verse and chorus.

Prince tells the crowd that they’ll be back the next night (next weeks blog post) and a laid back dripping Johnny brings us towards the end of the show. Its an excuse to have the crowd chanting “NPG, in the M***f*** house, before we have some tasty keyboard playing. I was expecting this be stretched out as well, although it stops abruptly with Prince calling “On the one” and the show is over.

They say familiarity breeds contempt, but listening to this show again I find my feelings to it are just as warm as the day I first heard it. An audience recording, true, but it covers  a show from the most fascinating few months of Princes career. There are other shows from 1995 that I enjoy more, but this has its place in the canon, and its part is an essential piece of the story. In my life I have heard this recording 100’s of times, and I think I’ll be giving it a few more listens in future too.

Thanks for taking the time to drop by
See you next week
-Hamish

Oscar Aftershow, Avalon 2009

This week I am listening to another release that recently came to light, an aftershow played after the Oscars in 2009. I am unsure about this release, looking at the band and the setlist it all seems bland. The band is a thin version of the NPG, with only Prince on guitar and Morris Hayes holding the keyboards, the Dunham backline combination and Liv and Shelby on vocals. The band lacks firepower, at least on paper, and the setlist reads like a cross between a hits package and the usual aftershow suspects. However, it is new to my ears, so I appreciate that aspect of it. And of course I love bootlegs, so I am itching to give this one a listen.

23rd February (am) 2009,  Avalon, Hollywood California

It sounds like a party right from the go, there is the hum and hubbub of a party before the opening strains of Purple Rain cuts right through. It’s a Trojan horse of a beginning as Frederic Yonnet as his harmonica are heard and we cut into a very interesting take of Ol’ School Company. It gets the full aftershow treatment, and there is plenty of time for Frederic to play over the extended intro. Normally I wouldn’t give much time to this song, this one has me sitting up and taking notice as Prince claims the song and the stage. There are times when I find the harmonica piercing, Prince makes these feelings disappear with a ‘take no prisoners’ vocal performance. The challenge is thrown down from the start, and I am beginning to think I was too quick to judge a book by its cover (by the way, the cover is very cool). Shelby joins the fray as the song climaxes and we have a couple of lines from other songs tossed in for good measure.

Frankenstein has Prince warming up his guitar licks, before things kick off properly with a sharp cover of The Cars – Lets Go. I do like Prince’s cover of this song, it harkens back to his sound in the early Eighties, especially with the synth and clean guitar sound. I am surprised by how clean and fresh it sounds, and I am impressed that Prince chose to cover it for a few years.

We stay on this nostalgic trip as Prince looks back with another cover, this time Crimson And Clover. I find it reminds me of my Father, he used to play the original on the record player when I was a child, but it never sounded as guitar heavy as what Prince delivers up. Don’t be fooled by the soft sounding intro, when Prince hits the chorus and cranks the guitar it turns into another beast altogether. He does of course do his Wild Thing cover at the chorus and he does a fine job of channelling both the Animals and Hendrix. The guitar solo for the last couple of minutes is however all his, and it is undeniably the sound of Prince doing what he does best.

prince 2009b

As good as 7 is, the recording doesn’t do it justice, and I get the feeling that something is missing. Princes vocals are good, it’s the rest of the band that seems to be lacking, and I can’t quite pinpoint if it’s the band, the mix, or the recording. That said, I do enjoy hearing it, as it is a song I would rarely listen to otherwise.

The segue into Come Together is predictable, and the recording is less than perfect for the first minute. On the positive side we do have more harmonica, and the band get a chance to get loose and jam. It plods for a while, but things look up as Prince calls for his guitar to be turned up on stage and we hear some nice rhythm work from him. Asides from that I find it overly long, although I can see it has its place as the crowd sing and enjoy the party. We are rewarded with some guitar work from Prince that threatens to burst out but stays neatly in its box.

I was beginning to drift, Shhh has me well and truly back in the moment. It does miss the powerhouse drumming of Michael B, but Prince’s vocals remove any other negative thoughts from my mind. In fact Prince owns every aspect of this song, when it’s not his vocals commanding my attention it is his exquisite guitar playing. He does call for the drums, but they are nowhere near as powerful as his guitar playing. The band is good, but it’s not one of his great bands, and that becomes very apparent through this song where Prince is on another level to everyone else on the stage.

His guitar sound holds centre stage as we build into the next song. First a guitar groove into Mother’s Finest ‘Baby Love’. Mother’s Finest is a fantastic band that don’t get nearly as much credit as they deserve, and it’s great that Prince pays respect to them with a cover of this song. It’s fierce, but criminally short as he slows things down into Brown Skin.

Mothers Finest

Mothers Finest

 

Brown Skin is, as always, Shelby’s moment to shine. She seizes the opportunity and does a fine job, even though Frederic almost upstages her with a harmonica solo, and I never thought I would be writing about a harmonica solo, but there you go.

And oddly enough it’s the harmonica that leads the band into Stratus before inevitably Prince takes control with his guitar. The song swirls and shakes without ever hitting great heights. Princes guitar playing is nice, although that’s not a very strong word, and Frederic’s harmonica is interesting, if not somewhat grating by the end of the song. Of interest to me is the keyboard break, and a drum solo that plays out more on the side of interesting than powerful, and all the better for it.

Things stay interesting for us with a cover of Miss You. I do always like Princes vocals on this song, and having Frederic on harmonica adds another layer to the song. It’s not as funky as perhaps I like, but nevertheless I find it irresistible. Asides from Princes vocals it’s his funky guitar playing that I am drawn too, and the last minute is a treat as he plays.

Normally dismissive of Cream, tonight it gets a pass from me. It’s shorter, and it seems to have an extra push to it. The band are sounding lighter on this song, and yet give it a stronger sound. It’s at this stage that there is a real fun sound to it, and the mood in the music is much brighter.

Prince's The Purple Party Oscar After Party for LotusFlow3r.com - ShowBack with another Stones cover, Prince and the band lurch into the herky-jerky groove of Honky Tonk Woman. Shelby’s vocals feel like a good fit for this song, as does Princes guitar and the ever present harmonica. The spirit of the Stones is definitely in the music and the band seem to capture the swagger and strut well.

I have always enjoyed When Will We B Paid, and tonight is no different with another fine performance. Prince dials it back for this performance, with only his guitar, Liv’s vocals and the harmonica. It does the song justice, and the lyrics are all the more powerful in this setting.

I don’t recall ever hearing Prince cover The Middle before, and hearing it now has me scrambling for more information. I am of course familiar with the original, I just never expected to hear Prince covering it, and after the last few songs it totally comes out of left field. You got to love Prince and his setlists, you never know what might come next. As for the song itself, well it sounds fresh and bright and I happily sing along as Prince and the band belt it out. There is an opportunity for Prince to solo near the end of the song, and he dishes up a short and sweet guitar break.

Again we get another stylist jump as the band strike up The Bird. The opening synth riff is irrepressible and when the main groove hits I am well and truly sold on it. As you might expect Prince does a mighty Morris day, and the vocals are sparkling throughout. You can hear the band warm to their work here, and over the next three songs Prince reclaims compositions that he gave to others in the 1980’s. The sounds levels are uneven through The Bird, but despite that I can hear an uplifting performance.

Prince 2009

Naturally enough The Bird turns into Jungle Love, a song that sounds like it is filling the dance floor. I had been hard on the band earlier, they seem a lot more on top of this music and the performance is lively. The song sounds classic 80’s with all the synth happening in the right places. It follows the original blue print until midsong when there is a break down, and some audience participation. Prince does take a minute before he plays his guitar break, a break that should be a highlight but instead sounds a little quiet in the mix, or perhaps I need new speakers.

Prince telegraphs The Glamorous Life long before he sings it. He teases with the title for a minute before we get the familiar riff. I like the performance, though if I am honest with myself it’s not a patch on the original. That said, there is a charm to it, and it does only go for a couple of minutes before we spin into the next song.

Play That Funky Music has the crowd whooping, but when the singing begins it’s a let-down. I am not sure who is initially singing, it sounds like some people out of the crowd. Prince saves the day with a guitar solo that has a lot more focus than anything else that is heard on the song.

The next song is rather appropriately Hollywood Swinging. It doesn’t grab me and shake me by the collar, and I don’t know if I’m losing enthusiasm or the band is. The song warms up later in the piece and the harmonica gives it a warmer feeling. Asides from that I can take it or leave it.

There is a false ending the show, it sounds as if it is finishing up, only to return with the classic I Feel For You. The harmonica plays the lead line, and that’s a cool sound. The rest of the band also jump on board, and having it sung by the girls is a nice touch. I am really enjoying it, until the Shelby “put your hands up”. I was loving her until then. She gets away with it though, because at this point the band segues into Controversy.

Controversy is the final song of the evening, and it leaves me with a good taste in my mouth. Princes vocals are playful, yet funky. He does plenty of squawks and yells, and especially good is his “people call me rude” talk in the middle. Normally I am not for the jump up and down calls, this time it doesn’t seem as grating and for a few minutes the cynical, jaded me takes a backseat and I enjoy it for what it is. This is a party, and this is the song to get them moving. As the show finishes I feel it has gone by very fast, and it didn’t feel like two hours at all.

My first impressions of it being bland never came to fruition. Sure, it’s not the strongest of his bands, but what they did, they did well. The recording was uneven, I can’t deny, and there were moments when I wasn’t as fully engaged as I might otherwise be. The good moments were good, and there was enough of them to make a worthwhile listen. This one will never be on a top 10 list, and maybe not even a top 100, but it is a decent recording of a decent show. It’s good enough for the car, but I don’t think I will be playing it for more than a few days.

Thanks again,
See you all again next week
Hamish

 

 

U4 Vienna 1987

I have been meaning to listen to a Sign O Times main show for a long time now, and this week was going to be the week. Unfortunately, I got side tracked by today’s recording and never quite made it to a main show. This week I am listening to a real oddity from 1987. This recording comes from a charity show played by Madhouse, with a Prince set following. What draws me to it is the songs performed – The Ball and Adore in particular have me intrigued. The set is only short, clocking in just over an hour, and it is an audience recording, asides from that I think it looks good and worthy of a closer listen

29th May (am) 1987, U4 Vienna Austria

Things start off very well, and the landscape for the recording is set. A loud boisterous crowd, a scratchy recording, and then some fantastic music. The venue sounds small, on the recording at least, and we have plenty of audience talk quite clearly and frustratingly on the recording. Housequake starts us off, with just the drum beat for the first minute or so. It’s heightens the sense of anticipation, and I do like just hearing the beat run for some time. Prince teases the start a couple of times, but we never jump right into the song, instead it’s a slow burning groove. It’s played as a jam, rather than what we are accustomed to on record, and that works well for me, especially with the horns adding their weight to it. Later in the song is a highlight with the horns all sort of interesting lines, and it’s probably a blessing that I can’t understand the audience chat so I can listen past it to the music.

Prince 1987bb

 

The most interesting part of the show comes next as the band tackle the unreleased The Ball. It is such a delight to have a live recording of a rarity like this, and what makes it even better is the band jam it out for a good long while. The first few minutes we have a nice steady groove, before Prince sings and engages the audience- primarily having them chant “ball”. Asides from the beautiful groove, the other thing I must mention is the horns which again are the heroes in the song. Princes vocals sound strong, although slightly variable on the recording. The insistent beat carries us through to Shelia E rapping out Holly Rock, which sounds cool even as the tape fades in and out. The crowd feeds off the performance and the chat dies down with lots of singing and clapping.

At first I hardly notice we had segued into something else, until I recognize the bassline of Girls And Boys. This is pretty much all that remains of that song, as the band use the bassline as a step off point to go all sorts of places. Horns come and go, bass drops, guitars spring up, it keeps evolving in weird and wonderful ways. Its stays groovy and funk filled the whole while, and I have to say I am captivated by it. The last few minutes almost has me in a trance, and by this stage I have forgiven it for being an audience recording and I’m just so happy we get to hear it.

Prinec 1987a

Adore is led by a heavy organ sound before the horns lighten the tone and usher in the song I know so well. The tape hiss is very noticeable at this stage, and that’s a shame as the song itself sounds gorgeous. It’s not as smooth as the record, and I like the fact that at one point you can hear Prince call the chord change. I am less happy about the audience chatter that reappears, but some wonderful delicate guitar work on stage makes up for it. Some soulful vocals from Boni Boyer seal the deal, and the song ends at an all-time high.

I Got My Mind Made up is new to me, and I take an instant liking to it, especially the keyboard solo that plays for the first few minutes. Dr Fink is doing his thing, and he’s doing it well. It’s got another one of those steady grooves that this band seems to specialize in, and this gives a solid foundation for everyone to play off. The bass is the next to come out at us, and it adds some bottom to a show that has so far been dominated by horns and keyboard.

If a song is called Guitar Rock Jam, I would expect it to be a guitar rock jam. The first minute is misleading and the band grooves on sans guitar, but then it does appear and Prince plays a snake charmer sounding solo. It picks up from here, and as the band quickens so does the guitar and the flurry of notes. It’s definitely heating up, and Princes fingers are ablaze by midsong. The following few minutes are Prince at his very best on guitar, I forget the rest of the band even exist and listen purely to the guitar. To say it is stellar is an understatement – interstellar would be closer to the mark.

Prince 1987

It’s a comedown to have the gentle start of Purple Rain follow on from this, but I soon warm to its charms. It feels out of place after the loose jams that have come before, but Prince still gives his all to it, and his vocals are delivered in full effect. I can’t shake the feeling of the songs that have come before, and the structure of it feels heavy after listening to them. The guitar solo starts of well, and is shaping up to be more interesting, which makes the fact that the recording ends just as the guitar solo is reaching its heights all the more frustrating.

This recording deserves more coverage than perhaps it already gets. It is flawed in many ways, it’s the quality of the material and the performance that carries the day. The band are loose and stretch out across some very interesting song selections, and this is what marks it as a great one for me. I am prepared to overlook the audience recording when what I can hear from Prince is at this level. You can safely add this one to the list marked “shows I want to hear in soundboard”. As for a main show from 1987, that’ll have to wait for another time.

Thanks again
same time next week
-Hamish