All the talk this week has been of the appearance of a soundboard recording of the Buffalo 2002 aftershow. Any new soundboard is welcome, and although this show is not new to us (a Sabotage release of an audience recording has been circulating for sometime) it is a welcome addition to the bootleg canon. Unfortunately, it is incomplete – there are sections of the show missing, but when we put it together with the Sabotage release we can get a well rounded picture of the show. What excited me more than it being a soundboard, and it surprises me that this is not spoken of more often, is the sublime setlist and accompanying performance. The concert is relatively short, an hour and a half, but the setlist contains some show stoppers, including “Beautiful Strange” and “Paisley Park,” two songs that always deliver. The setlist is matched by a high spirited performance that permeates a sense of joy and fun at every turn. All in all, this looks a fantastic recording, and today I will be listening to it with the Sabotage recording near at hand to fill in any gaps, a stop gap measure that works well until something better comes along.
8th March (am) 2002 – The Tralf, Buffalo New York
An unsurprising call for no cameras – “It’s blinding up here,” is Prince’s opening line, and it immediately takes me back to his Copenhagen show later in the year – a show he infamously stopped to berate the audience for taking photos (and incidentally a show I consider on par with Small Club). The music begins with a groove constructed from the bass and organ, it’s warm and inviting, and rather than throwing down a challenge it lures me in with it’s easy sashay. Renato Neto is an obvious hero, but a closer listen reveals Larry Graham’s distinctive bass as the glue that holds it all together. The first surprise if the night comes with Prince’s first line, drawn directly from “4 The Tears In Your Eyes.” It is the essence of why I collect these bootlegs, to hear such a rarity, and appearing in a completely foreign context. My heart lifts as Prince continues with this lyrical line, the groove remaining subservient to his willful indulgence in this song from his past. The song continues to delight, the keyboard is the first draw, but also with a cameo appearance of Prince’s guitar briefly revealed before Prince folds it back in behind the soft curtain of groove the band continue to tinker with. “Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa” remains its own man, the insistent horn lines barely make an impression on the groove and colour the song ever so slightly with their input. Finishing with a soft drum solo, the song leaves me feeling nothing but good thoughts as we roll onward and into further groove territory.
The is a laid back feel to “The Work,” a song that normally I associate with a undeniable groove that I can’t resist. In this case the groove remains tightly in Prince’s pocket. It comes as a gentle wash, Prince depowering it and instead of weakening the song it strengthens as it as each player contributes a more nuanced performance. The soundboard recording doesn’t contain the whole song, but the Sabotage release is good enough for the final four minutes. Captured on the audience recording is Maceo’s solo, a piece of art that stands far above the quality of the recording and can be admired even under the most trying of circumstances.
I am not convinced that “The Jam” needs to be in this setlist given the quality of the two jams that opened the show, however with Larry Graham on board for the first three songs I can’t say I’m surprised. It is Larry that gets things started with his distinctive vocal delivery, something that is only matched by his equally distinctive bass playing. It plays as we have heard throughout the years, everyone has their part to play, but to my ears no one player stands out – they are all valuable yet equal, as they should be. With Prince’s guitar break kept to minimum, the song quickly moves through its paces, enjoyable yet undemanding.
Suddenly the sound of beach camp fires and relaxing with friends fills my ears with the gentle strum of “Paisley Park.” It has a simplicity to it that speaks to my nostalgia, and in this bare form one can easily imagine hearing it played at house parties over the years. Prince keeps this thought at the front of my mind as the he asks the audience to take up vocal duties after the first verse, a task they take to with great gusto and enthusiasm, albeit not with great musicality. There is sense of ease and humor present on the recording as Prince tests the audience of their knowledge of the lyrics, a test I may well fail myself if put on the spot. It is playful and light, adding a sense of intimacy to a concert that only has 300 people to begin with. Prince’s return to the song wraps it all up in a pop bow that neatly caps the most fun part of the recording.
“Paisley Park” would be my favorite part of the recording, if it were not followed by “Beautiful Strange,” a song that is itself both beautiful and strange. It weaves it’s way slowly onto the recording, shimmering in and out of focus as the sound of a solo horn tries to tie it to something solid amidst it’s smoke and mirrors, hide and seek sound. There is only one way to hear this song and that is live. In the live setting it becomes bigger than on record, more mysterious, and several levels deeper as Prince and the band bury it in untempered guitar work and keyboards that add a sense of unease to the sound. It is a song that exists outside of the people playing it, in fact at times it sounds as if it plays itself as it becomes more unworldly as we fall deeper into the web of guitar that Prince weaves across the latter part of the song. It is the horns that I cling to in the final minutes, the anguish of Prince’s guitar replaced by their hopeless melancholy sound that only adds to the allure of the song. It is a song to be wallowed in, and in the last two minutes there is plenty of wallowing going on at my place.
The tight fisted guitar sound of Prince builds us into “Calhoun Square,” a song that feels rooted in the Seventies, especially compared with the choice of covers in this setlist. With an organ rolling back and forth underneath, and the horns adding their sound, it takes me to another time, while Prince’s guitar work draws from the same era – rocking and rolling but never dominating in the way that he often does on this song. It is a tidy performance, classy and missing any sense of danger, but then again this is real musicians playing real music, danger belongs to the young and the dispossessed.
This bootleg has thus far given so much, and that continues with a performance of “Dolphin” that is just as good as any other I have heard elsewhere on the tour. It draws from the well of sadness, Prince’s vocals saying so much in what he not saying, and even the quickening chorus remains low and serving a greater purpose. Prince inhabits the song, one senses he is not playing a character, rather he is himself directly speaking through the song. I cannot separate Prince from the message he is singing, and for me this is the true weight and power of the song, much more than the notes played and the lyrics sung. It is another heavy blow in the concert, and matches “Beautiful Strange,” for it’s beautiful and perfectly pitched delivery.
“The Ride” isn’t as essential as it was in the mid-Nineties, and Prince is more than happy to give way to Greg Boyer and Maceo Parker, before he finally takes up the cause on his guitar. The horns are sharp, but Prince buries them under a landslide of guitar work, the notes coming thick and fast as he plays with a quickness belying the slow crawl nature of the groove. The song returns to form as the groove sinks back into the undergrowth, encouraged by Prince and the steadiness of John Blackwell’s hand and Rhonda Smiths sense of time.
It is the loop and hook of the rhythm guitar that holds court throughout the cover of Jame’s Brown’s “There Was A Time,” it is relentless in it’s energy and ensnares me from the start. Unfortunately the soundboard is again incomplete, Sabotage’s release picking up the slack for the second half of the song. With Maceo picking up the lead vocals Prince sits back in the band, it’s no loss as the music remains central and one can hear his influence throughout.
Maceo doesn’t take the vocals for “Pass The Peas,” it is presented as an instrumental and initially it is the organ that has me salivating with it’s evolving wheeze and stomp. However, Maceo reclaims the song with his contribution, he was the man at the birth of it and in this context it is his baby and he squeals and shrills the room to a standstill. Even John Blackwell’s solo can’t upstage him, and the moment belongs to Maceo as the song crashes to a close.
Larry Graham returns for the final song, a quick run through of Sly Stone’s “Sing A Simple Song.” Compared to the rest of the show it is somewhat throw away, but one can’t deny the quality of musicians Prince has on stage with him and they certainly live up to their billing. However, the song remains firmly rooted in the past, and no matter what the band bring to it, it remains overly familiar in my mind. I am unable to hear any freshness to the performance,and even Prince’s guitar solo fails to excite me as it so often does. Again, it’s not without quality, but in the case it just doesn’t appeal to me in the way the earlier songs did. The show had to end somewhere, and here it is, not the exclamation mark I had hoped for, but a competent display by some world class musicians.
This old friend has been taken out and polished up with the appearance of the soundboard recording, and it certainly deserved it. I have previously enjoyed this, but perhaps didn’t give it the respect it deserved being an audience recording. That has changed for good with this new recording, and I can only hope it reaches an wider audience in this form. I am sure most people have heard it by now, but if you haven’t I urge you to find a copy, or pull out the old Sabotage release. This is real music by real musicians, and the recording is at it’s very best when Prince reinterprets his own music rather than take on covers. 2002 is a golden era in my eyes, and recording like this only cement this thought. Prince was striving for new heights, and as this show demonstrates, he was hitting them.