Buffalo Aftershow, 2002

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.

The Fillmore 2001

After listening to a string of aftershows and one off performances from 1995, I was reminded of how large the gulf is between Prince’s main shows and his one off performances. Sometimes that contrast is lost on me as I rarely listen to the two side by side, and indeed I often treat the two concerts as two different artists. I thought it might be fun to compare the two concert styles by listening to mainshows and aftershows from the same night in a single sitting, and letting the enormity of the difference hit me. A good place to start would be  28th April 2001, where Prince played an arena show in Oakland, California, before an early morning aftershow at the Fillmore in San Francisco. When I started looking at this, I realized that I have already written of the main show in Oakland, so this week we we take a listen to the second half of this night, Prince’s aftershow at the Fillmore.

29th April 2001 (am) Fillmore Auditorium, San Fransisco

Ignore the first cheers and crowd noise and head straight to where the funk lies stretched out taut across the skeletal structure erected by the band. While the band maintains the shape of “Daisy Chain”, Prince and rapper DVS pull in separate directions creating a tension that Prince fills with unexpected melodies and subject matter. The song was released only two weeks prior to this, and it’s obvious freshness can be heard in the relatively quiet response Prince gets throughout the number. With the core song being unknown, it is the players themselves that gain the loudest cheers as they spin the song out to twenty minutes, the funk ribboning in and out the whole way.

There are only two know performances of “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” – this show and the soundcheck of the main concert played just a few hours earlier.  It is the immutable vocals of Rosie Gaines that stand unjostled at the center of the song, even when buffeted by the deep waves of sound coming from the keyboards and the combined power of the NPG rhythm section. Rosie never waivers from her stance, her performance unflinching and uncompromising as she demolishes the song in yet another barn burning vocal display.

It is Rosie who stays at the eye of the storm with an all conquering rendition of “Car Wash” that sweeps across the recording, leaving no room for any other member to shine. She dominates everything with punch and power, a colossal performance that has me temporarily forgetting that this is a Prince concert.

“Ain’t No Way” rounds out this Rosie Gaines trifecta, whereas the previous numbers were delivered with a force of nature, this time Rosie gives an earthy performance that grounds the show in a far more emotive energy, and this song is the one that really demonstrates the sheer power of music and live performance. This sounds as if it is coming from the heart rather than the lungs, and it is a dizzying performance that puts a emphatic full stop on Rosie’s major contributions to the evening.

Prince takes his rightful place at centre stage for an incendiary performance of “Joy In Repetition,” a song that burns long and slow in the wake of Rosie’s more tempestuous execution. The bass drips slowly across the brooding saxophone and keyboards, the music a forlorn lament long before Prince even enters the scene. When he does take to the microphone the dark atmosphere becomes all the more enveloping, the air becoming thick and unbreathable as Prince and the band draw the air out of the room with their sonic drama. Before we are all crushed under it’s weight Prince finally releases the pressure with a guitar solo that is blinding in it’s brilliance. The song melts before the heat of this final climax, and it is as near to perfection as I can imagine. There is joy in repetition indeed.

“Paisley Park” comes from another world entirely, yet is just as engaging as the previous “Joy In Repetition.” With it’s raw nerved guitar sound and vivid word play it clatters and rattles over the recording, forcing me to listen carefully for every speck of gold hidden in it’s many folds. This show has been thrilling in it’s variety thus far,  and “Paisley Park” is a rare treat of retro rock that adds a touch of wistfulness to the previous somber and substantial songs.

The pace becomes blistering for the “Santana Medley” and based on the quality of the audience recording so far I expect a lot from it. Sure enough, it delivers as Prince dismantles the song with a frenzied disregard from the start. It is Najee who injects some of his own personality later in the song with a surprising saxophone solo, but Prince is the marquee name, and it is Prince who punctuates Najee’s contributions with strutting guitar bursts that jolt the room with their electrical charge.

This ragged glory of “Santana Medley” is replaced by a rapidly deteriorating recording and “Oye Como Va” Until this point the audience recording had remained a secondary consideration, but it becomes noticeable with an ongoing crackle through this song. It becomes so much of a distraction that any positive thoughts, or indeed any thoughts at all, about the music is forgotten, replaced instead with an on going battle between my ears and the distortion heard.

Thankfully the noise issues are gone as the band settle into 100% pure groove for “Come On.” Only the horns dare raise their heads from this bass driven sleezy, their brightness providing a gleaming foil to the otherwise titanic crunch and roll that crushes the rest of the song. True, it would be better served on a cleaner recording, but even as it is it punches hard below the belt.

The opening of “Alphabet St” is promising, the drum settling on a quick beat while the rest of the band flitter and flame around the rapidly sketched out song. With no lyrics to speak of in the first half of the song, it is all about the instrumentation, and the band deliver with a range of sonic invention. Things accelerate later as Prince does bestow some lyrical content upon the music and the song leaps forward in response. It is a gleeful stomp to the finish, the crowd and band coming together in a moment of solidarity and celebration.

The difference between this concert and the main show couldn’t be more striking. While the main show was a soundboard that offers a selection of tried and trusted hits, this concert is an audience recording that serves as a smorgasbord of after-show flavors. The covers, audience participation, and extended jams are all there in a 90 minute show which is only marred by the appearance of crackle in the a couple of songs. If I had a choice between this or the main show, I would plump for this everytime. It’s not one of the greatest, but it is very,very good.

Thanks again,
next week I will look at another double header, this time from 2012

-Hamish

 

Paisley Park 30th August 1995

The 1995 Ultimate Live Tour was relatively short, and the rest of the year saw Prince play a number of one-off shows, in fact far more than main concerts. The last half of the year he was firmly ensconced in Paisley Park where he played most of these shows, and a good number of them have been bootlegged. This week I am listening to a short but excellent show from August of that year. It differs from the main concert I listened to last week in that there is no material here from the Gold Experience as Prince gives a performance that draws heavily from Exodus, and some well chosen cover versions. The cover versions heard at this performance are not his usual choices of “The Jam” and “Hair” and it is refreshing to hear a show from this era without those two selections. The real highlights though come from the Exodus songs, in particular a rare performance of “Count The Days” and an incendiary performance of “Return Of The Bump Squad” that is the key to understanding what Prince and the NPG were achieving at this time

 30th August 1995 (am) Paisley Park

The influence of Sly and The Family Stone on Prince at this time cannot be understated. Sly’s music is regularly covered through 1995, along with a healthy selection of tunes from Larry Graham. We know that in future Larry Graham will feature heavily in Prince’s personal life, but 1995 is the first year where we see Prince drawing overtly from Sly and Larry’s musical heritage.  The opening cover of Sly’s “M’lady” comes then as no surprise at all, but what does surprise me is how good this audience recording is. The quality is high, and although there is audience noise on the recording it is negligible. The music itself has a brightness to it, and one can sense Prince’s energy and enthusiasm bubbling away on the tape as he plays. It is the NPG who take centre court with a vibrant and buoyant rhythm section, and the spiraling uplifting keyboard work that is distinctly theirs.

“Glam Slam Boogie” is Prince’s musical equivalent of Graham Central Station “The Jam.” It takes on the same form as the baton is handed from player to player, each having a moment to solo and propel the song further forward. I prefer it to the “The Jam,” it is sunnier and faster moving, my feet tapping and head nodding throughout the song suggests the band have hit just the right groove for me. Princes guitar rises twice in the performance, first with a light skipping burst, and then later with a smolder that sits lower in the mix but is no less relevant.

The first real highlight of the show is the rare appearance of “Count The Days.” Performed only during 1995, this becomes a sensitive moment as Prince’s guitar plays a dainty opening before the vocal performance takes over and carries the song in rising harmonies and impassioned choruses. Prince’s voice doesn’t stand alone in this number, he is ably supported by the NPG, and for me this is where the real treasure lays as the closeness of the band becomes the alchemy for a divine vocal performance.

“Get freaky, let your head bob” could well be Prince’s credo at the time, and its hard not to obey this command as “Big Fun” booms out of my speakers. It is based on the big bottom end foundation that Prince was so fond of at the time, Michael B and Sonny T rock solid in their furrow as the lay the ground work for the rest of the band to build the song upon. The song is pure groove, and it matters little that the vocals are inconsequential, it truly is a song where one should get freaky and let their head bob.

The highlight of “Good Life” is undoubtedly Prince’s first rap. I have heard it described is lazy, it is so laid back that Prince sounds almost comatose, but it serves the song well, and this rap alone makes the whole concert worth hearing. His later raps in the song are just as fun, and I must admit I listened to this whole song with a smile on my face throughout. His comment “I got a white man on the piano” brings another smile to my lips, but again it is his rapping at the time that makes this song what it is, he may be unfairly maligned for bringing rap into his music, but it does give another color to his palette and that is what make 1995 so interesting and essential to understanding his music.

A triplet of cover versions keep the concert moving quickly forward as Prince ticks several musical boxes as he shifts gears through music genres. Good old fashioned Rock N Roll gets a nod with a perky rendition of Little Richards “The Girl Can’t Help It,” before a more thoughtful and melancholy tone descends on the concert with Prince’s finger picked opening to “Que Sera Sera.” There is no time to let this atmospheric dust settle upon the show though as we quickly swing into an instrumental take of Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” It is an uninhibited moment of  vitality that changes the complexion of the concert completely after the previous “Que Sera Sera,” but Prince has one more stylistic change to come.

“I Love U In Me” has Prince crunching down through the gears to low, the band all but disappearing for the opening stanzas of the song. They emerge slowly through the gloom, adding a bright note to Prince’s delicate and low hung vocals. The precise guitar break that Prince layers the song with comes as a real treat, it conveys far more than his vocals could express and becomes at shining moment at the heart of the song. The audience can be heard, but it adds to the moment of poignancy, and I temporarily forget that this is an audience recording as the the song becomes all enveloping.

The jewel in the crown is a sample heavy, infectious performance of “Return Of The Bump Squad.” It is rambunctious and incisive, the heavy funk of the NPG neatly popped with humorous and political samples. The band bulldozer through the performance, and just like “Days Of Wild” on the best nights, it crushes all in it’s path with a groove that overloads the system and leaves one  spinning and grinning with enjoyment. This performance would make any one of my numerous “Greatest” compilations, it is one of the greatest when it comes to funk songs of the 1990’s.

Although it doesn’t climb the same heady heights of “Return Of The Bump Squad,” “Get Wild,” does stay with the heavy funk of the evening.To my ears the quality of the recording drops ever so slightly at this point, but it doesn’t in any detract from the enjoyment of the performance as the band end the concert with the type of loose jam they excelled at. It isn’t the most challenging part of the show, but there is no denying the sheer enjoyment factor that can be heard in the recording, and as a record of the NPG at the time it is the perfect summation of all their skills and abilities, and the style of music that they produced at will.

All in all, an outstanding gig. Don’t be fooled by it’s length, the performance of “Return Of The Bump Squad” is absolutely devastating, and coupled with the other treats in the setlist, along with the pristine and crystalline recording, this is a show that is worthy of lavish praise and attention. There is a couple of bootlegs in the ether that cover this particular show, my recommendation would the the 4DF release -they have gone to some lengths to clean up the sound. This show was so good that I feel completely enthused for all things 1995, and in the next few weeks I will be taking a listen to other shows of the era and will hopefully unearth other similar lost treasures..

Join me again next week as Prince continues to shower us in Gold.
-Hamish

 

 

Camden Palace 1988

The Palace in Hollywood wasn’t the only “Palace”  aftershow that Prince played in 1988. Earlier in the year he played a late night show at the Camden Palace in London, just one month before the famous small club gig that we all know and love. This concert is well known, in a large part due to the proshot footage that was later aired on “Prince: Musial Portrait” and “Omnibus: Prince Rogers Nelson,” both which provide a rare proshot glimpse into aftershows of the era. The concert itself is notable for three things. Firstly this proshot footage that hints that the full show remains on video tape somewhere in the vault. A tasty morsel of what could be an appetizing prospect should this whole show ever see the light of day. Then there is the guest appearance of Mica Paris, who Prince spots in the crowd and hands the microphone to for a guest spot. It is a glorious spontaneous moment that perfectly encapsulates the pure love of music and feeling that anything might happen at the show. Lastly, the show gains further luster from the guest appearance of Ronnie Wood, and immediately after  Mavis Staples. Although neither guest is heard on the bootleg (which sadly cuts out before they come to the stage), it still adds to the mythology of the show, and Sabotage have tried their best to give us a taste of what is missing by appending 20 seconds of Ronnie Woods appearance onto the end of the bootleg. It is a pointless exercise, but does serve to remind us of what we are missing from the recording. What we are left with though is a a fierce performance that touches on historic as Prince lavishes a hot and sweaty, yet utterly cool, performance on one of the most famous venues in London.

26th July (am), 1988. The Camden palace, London

It a special gift to Cat that introduces us to the bootleg as Prince gives a unique performance of “Happy Birthday” in her honor. It is a playful rendition as he flirts with different characters in his voice, and gives a gentle ad-lip with only heightens the lighthearted feel to the song. It is far from essential listening, but it does has its own simplistic charm.

“Forever In My Life,” is sonically far more serious, although the recording is less than ideal with its tape hiss just loud enough to catch my attention. The music that the band is cooking up is full of different flavors as Prince takes it from a campfire sing- a-long start to a song steeped in gospel and history, filtering it through a lens that colors it both with blues and funk while settling in neither camp. The guitar runs that appear midsong become the most fascinating feature as they carry the rhythm and the emotion of the song long after Prince has given up singing. Coupled with the popping bass sound, the song becomes the type of jam that contains far more rhythmic ideas than melodic ones, something for the feet rather than the ears.

The recording does no favours for the following “Strange Relationship.’ All the pieces are in place for a grand rendition, Prince’s guitar coupled with Eric Leeds horn sound as if they are prepared to inflict some serious damage upon the dance floor, but the recording remains willfully thin, all the more frustrating given that what we can hear is full of shadows and echos, a highly contrasting collage of sounds for the listener to luxuriate in. Prince’s guitar does whine and cut through the recording, but it never wails and howls as it would on a more full blooded recording, making this a neutered version of what we know would be a testosterone fueled performance.

“Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” is undoubtedly the high point of the show for a number of reasons. The introduction gives no hint of what is to come, the tape hiss stealing some of the intricacy from the performance, leaving only the bold strokes for us to hear. However, it settles down after this with the music elevated above mere trivialities. The vocals don’t fare so well, but as we approach the chorus the sound lifts as the sun bursts through the clouds of the recording. It is Dr Fink who first breaks this initial spell with his glistening and chiming solo. It does play to the divinity sound the rest of the band are weaving, with Eric Leeds following in a similar suit there is the feel that the band are indeed taking it higher. Prince’s guitar solo is different from the small club gig, in this case it is far more nuanced in the opening minutes, and Prince draws a slow build from his instrument, not so much playing rushing to hurricane force finish, but rather playing with the eddies and wind gusts before he finally blows us away with the gale force crescendo that follows. There is much more to come though, and as he spots Mica Paris in the audience he casually hands her the microphone for an impromptu performance that musically is just as rewarding as all that has come before. She grounds the song with strong roots, while Prince creates something otherworldly onstage Mica brings a humanity to the song that we can all relate to. This performance alone has me salivating at the prospect of a full proshot ever appearing.

I find the appearance of “Colonial Bogey March” and “Under The Cherry Moon” to be nothing more but a diversion, although “Under The Cherry Moon” offers a fresh take on a familiar song with the keyboard squelching and heaving in a psychedelic way that would sit happily at home in any late 1960’s commune.

“Six” brings further interest, as Eric Leeds brings his horns and Jazz sensibilities to what would otherwise be a pop rock concert. The opening horn refrain signals what will follow, and the song throws down a challenge from here on in as Eric wiggles and squiggles across the beat for the next few minutes in a manner that suggests the wider palette that Prince was drawing from at the time. Its a far from the furious guitar rock we heard earlier in the show, and even when Prince’s guitar is heard it remains subservient to the mood of the piece, remaining busy without ever coming into full focus.

 

This audience recording finishes with some funk in the form of “Dead On It” and “Housequake.” “Dead On It” is notable only for inclusion, musically it doesn’t muscle up  to the other songs performed in the evening. “Housquake” is more rewarding, there is some punch to Prince’s performance, and the beat alone is  reason enough to always dedicate time to this song. Unfortunately this is where we leave the concert as the recording finishes midsong, leaving us to only guess what the following “Miss You” (with Ronnie Wood) “I’ll Take There,” “Chain OF Fools” (both with Mavis Staples) and “Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic” offer in the way of musical treasures. Part of the “Miss You” performance with Ronnie Wood can be seen on the circulating footage, with Prince giving a fine impersonation of Mick Jagger, and the Sabotage release of this show has tacked the 20 second snippet onto the end of the recording, a waste in that it doesn’t offer much listening value, although I have to admit the video footage out there looks fantastic.

This is almost one of the greats. A 1988 era aftershow, a bevy of guest appearances, and some of Prince’s finest music all makes for a memorable performance. On the downside, the recording is just on the rough side of good, and incomplete. In itself this would be no bad thing, but having seen parts of the video, we know that this show has so much more, and the thought that it exists on video out there makes for a frustrating listen, always there is the voice in the back of my head saying “this could be so much better” Until we do get a better recording of the show, we will just have to make do with what we’ve got. It’s not perfect, but it is definitely a show that every needs to hear at least once.

Thanks for joining me again
-Hamish

The Palace 1988

When it comes to bootlegs of aftershows in 1988, the Trojan Horse stands above all others. It is the most beloved and well known of the aftershows, but there are several others from the same year that deserve attention. The Warfield aftershow from November is highly regarded, as is Große Freiheit ’36 (especially by me). There is also the aftershow from the Camden Palace in London (sadly incomplete) and then the bootleg I will be listening to today, the early morning performance from The Palace, Hollywood. Superficially all these concerts appear to be similar, but I find that when I listen to them each has it’s own character and feel, and so it is with The Palace. It appears to be a standard aftershow set of the time, but it is played with a heavy dose of swing that is missing in the other shows. There is an element of fun, and the intensity that smothers the other concerts is instead replaced with a bright and breezy performance. The audience recording isn’t too bad, considering the era in which it was recorded, and even if the sound is thin in places, the performance can always be heard without distortion. It can probably be best compared to the Warfield show, recorded just four days later, the setlists are almost identical, and although two different recordings of that later show are in circulation, I prefer the sound of this concert.

 7th November 1988 (a.m.), The Palace, Hollywood.

It is the keyboards that roll out the red carpet and lead us into the show. The slow build into “Positivity” gives the song the solemnly that the lyric content demands, and as the rest of the band join there is the feel that something special is in the air. Without becoming too intense, the song lets the individual players feel their way into the music, along with the audience, and the song envelops the recording in it’s timeless mist.

A brightness enters the recording as Prince plays a sharp version of “Eye Know.” It is at this point that the recording briefly flickers, but the band and Prince remain upfront and loud, and there is an extra energy as the song and concert blooms into something a whole lot more colorful and celebratory. Despite the wobble in the recording, it is apparent that Prince is giving another star performance, and he burns with supernova power even this early into the show. The song isn’t as as complex as it is heard on record, but the band add a baroque sound that melds well on top of Princes bare funk that can be heard churning away beneath the song.

“Wade In The Water” gives the recording an extra depth, as Prince pulls us back to his roots, while delivering some feathery guitar that sounds as if it has been handed down from God himself. Prince stays on this route, “God Is Alive” bringing spirituality and funk together in a mix that is Prince at his very best, bringing these two desperate strands together to create something unique that bestrides both sides of this religious gulf. There is the feeling of God in the air, while the bottom of end of the music suggests all sorts of other sins, this unresolved tension creating a music that never gets tiresome or stale.

The piano introduction to “The Ballard Of Dorothy Parker” shines in the darkness in this recording, and the rest of the song is equally well served by the quality if the tape.  The nuance of the song is captured well, and as it segues into “Four” the piano and horns can both be heard, without either taking precedence over the other, making for another colourful and three dimensional moment caught on tape.

Boni Boyer does not disappoint as she comes forward for “Down Home Blues.” I prefer her performance here over what is heard at the Small Club gig (incidentally, the first live performance they did of the song) , she is more subtle here and rather than belting it out she instead gives it to us piece by piece, making for easy digesting before Prince makes his first major guitar move of the show with some surgical playing that neatly dissects the song. Boni Boyer returns for a final “Rock Me, Baby,” but it is Prince who burns the house down with one last fiery burst from his guitar.

It takes some time for the band to build into “Cold Sweat,” but even these opening minutes are funk fueled and one can almost hear the sweat dripping through the tape and the recording. Boni Boyer and Eric Leeds dominate the overall sound, and although the song is grounded it its forceful rhythm, it is these two can be heard adding the most to the overall feel of it. For all that though, it is a Sheila E. solo that brings the song to a close with a simple and effective break, only to be out done by the moment where Prince briefly sings the “Bad” bassline. Well worth checking out!

Some interlacing guitar work introduces “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me),” draping a soft lace of rhythm guitar across the sparse opening. At first Prince is swallowed up by the song, but he does emerge from this aching sound with a emphatic plea from the heart as the song builds to it’s emotional core.  It is the first pillars of the guitar solo that are the gateway into the heart of the song, and as the guitar cries in the darkness the song slips away, only to be replaced by raw emotion and the purity of music itself. It’s hard to know where to place this solo on the Pantheon of Prince guitar solos, but as it claws it’s way across the raw bloodied heart at the centre of the music, it speaks not to the ear, but to the very soul, making for one of Prince’s most powerful performances.

It is a frantic “Supercalifragisexy” that banishes any such sentimentality from the show, and Prince gives a furious and mesmerizing performance. With guitar in hand he ladles on great dollops of funk, all at a breakneck speed that never lets up through the ten minutes the song twists and turns in various shades of funk. It is Eric Leeds who is the foil to Prince’s kinetic sound, he matches him blow for blow through the song, both matching Prince and pushing him further. It is only in Prince’s final hurricane of a solo that he bests Eric, and after such a blitzkrieg it is hard to envisage what might come next.

What comes next is  “I Wish U Heaven (part 3).” With a heavy beat, the drums overwhelm the previous all conquering guitar, a heavy march compared to the guitar’s earlier wild night flight. The song smolders with the appearance of the horns, and as Prince hits his lines the song heats up, but it never quite bursts into flame as it promises. The rhythm though is undeniable, and it never once lets up in its drive and momentum as it powers towards the end of the show. The music glowers and growls, there is no bite, only the threat of imminent danger and darkness. It is a decisive finish to the concert, and the band unfurl their strident brand of funk in these final minutes, making a lasting impression that lingers on long after the concert has finished.

It has been quite sometime since I listened to this entire show, and I have to wonder why it doesn’t get more play at my place. An excellent show with Prince and the band at the height of their powers, there is a lot to love about this bootleg.  There is very little rock or pop to be heard here, it is all about the funk, and Prince gives us plenty of his own unique style of funk as each song is brushed by his sound and sonic flavor. This bootleg is easy to overlook next to the highly esteemed Small Club, but it holds it’s own in comparison, and should not be discounted. As a record of Prince’s funk style at the time this recording is outstanding, and is not to be missed.

Thanks again
-Hamish

First Ave 1982 Revisited

Recently Mace2theO commented that this bootleg from 1982 was the equivalent to his first girlfriend. We all have a similar first girlfriend experience – she may have had braces and carried some puppy fat, but she will always be special by the fact she was the first and painted in nostalgic hues forever more because of this. It was our first proper relationship, and doomed to a crushing teenage ending, but always conjures up warm memories that do not fade as time passes.

I’m sorry Mace2theO, but  in this case your first girlfriend got around a bit. Not only was she your first girlfriend, she was my first girlfriend too. Mace2theO acquired this concert on cassette (and all the nostalgic currency that that carries), while for me I found this bootleg on CD hidden away at the back of the record store. It was far from perfect in sound quality but I can assure you that when I took a listen it shook me to my core, and the fact that 35 years on I am blogging about Prince bootlegs demonstrates how much of an influence it had over the rest of my life. Like that first girlfriend, it was a formative experience. I didn’t quite know what I was doing and I have had better relationships since, but retains a special place in my heart.

A couple of weeks ago the soundboard recording of this show became widely available. It’s not always comfortable when we meet ex-girlfriends later in life, a messy divorce behind them, a couple of kids under their arm, and the first signs of a drinking problem hiding behind their forced smile, but in this case my first girlfriend has grown up into somebody I want to spend a lot of time with. The roughness of the audience recording is gone, replaced with a shiny soundboard, all slender legs, short skirts and long luxurious hair. Oh yes, my first girlfriend is now the hottest chick on the block. She is has grown up in every way, while retaining all the charms that I first fell in love with all those years ago. I may have talked about this first girlfriend before, but now she is in full bloom and stirring up those old feelings in me. It’s not very often that I spend time with ex-girlfriends, but in this case I am going to roll back the clock and wine and dine this girl one more time.

So with my first bootleg love rekindled, lets douse ourselves in cheap cologne, grease up the hair, and head straight to the heart of 1982.

(all photos by Mike Reiter)

8th March 1982, First Avenue, Minneapolis

There is a heat between the thighs from the opening minute, a few quick words by Prince and then a rage of guitar pulled down by Dez. With a punk rock assault Prince and the band hang it all out in these first minutes with both power and panache. In a frenzy of guitar scuzz “Bambi” storms into the room. It’s a wild eyed performance that bounces of the walls in a maelstrom of fuzzed up guitar and shrieked lyrics, capturing the listeners attention from the start. It is much cleaner than the previous audience recording, and the soundboard brings the musicianship to the the fore while retaining the fierce sound of the more familiar recording. That first girlfriend has cleaned up her defiant punk-rock hair style, but still has a fiery intent in her eyes that hints at an underlying violence that could bubble over at any second.

“All The Critics Love U In New York” is the most Princely sui genius song of the evening, and clearly maps out the territory that he will roam in the next few years. It wears its uniqueness proudly, face melting guitar work grafted to the undeniable beat that appeals to both my gut and my feet. I am never quite sure if I should be dancing or punching the air, the music insisting that I move my body in any way possible as Prince gives us perhaps the greatest performance of this song ever recorded. The keyboard solo gains on this pristine recording, Fink’s solo standing out among the more forceful blazing guitar and holding his own calm centre at the eye of the storm. For a minute we are in another world, before the hurricane of guitar solos return and swallow up the all the sound.

There is a glimpse of the first girlfriend I used to know in the opening of “When You Were Mine,” both the title and the sound taking me back to youthful summers that were equally long and lost. It is easy to project these feelings back on a song that has been with us so long, but even at this show it has a nostalgic feel – although it was only recorded just two years previous. This is the most comfortable song of the concert, and captures the exact feelings that I first had when I heard it all those years ago.

There is a world of difference between the audience recording and this soundboard recording when it comes to “Sexy Dancer.” A far more nuanced performance emerges on this recording, and whereas before it was strident and bold, here it becomes much more of a sassy walk rather than a march into battle. Both the bass and the keyboard via for attention, each adding to a show that I am already eminently familiar with. While the bass remains holding the song together, Dr Fink spins off into an intergalactic sound with his keyboards, making me draw a sharp breath in the thrill of it all. It is Dez who gets to put an end to these flights of fancy, his solo serving as an exclamation mark on all that has come before.

Things slow, sex and lust temporarily forgotten as Prince dips into a song of love and yearning with “Still Waiting.” Prince is on lead vocals, but it is Sue Ann Carwell who is the star attraction with her contribution. At almost ten minutes long there is plenty of time for the candles of love to flicker and flame, and musically one can hear the lights being turned down as the song slows to a velvety and warm breakdown. In this circumstance it is grating to hear Prince saying “I got cause to celebrate, because my girlfriend died” but as Brown Marks bass rises up from this crushed velvet sea all is forgiven, and I am again transported away on the winds of Sue Ann Carwell’s voice.

The recording slaps me in the face and snaps me out of this reverie with a furious “Head.” On the previous recording it was nasty and slutty, on this recording it is far more sexy and erotic. While the audience recording sounded like a blowjob in the Walmart carpark, this one speaks in the language of fellatio and sex on the hood of a Porsche at a Beverly Hills party. The outcome is still the same, but it doesn’t threaten to be as dangerous, and despite some superlative bass work I am comfortable that when it is all over I won’t be visiting the clinic in the morning.

If there is a moment that demonstrates how much better this new recording is, it is the final minute of the “Head” when we can hear Prince preparing the band for “Sexuality.” We have heard his yell into the microphone before, but this time we can hear him say it a couple of times earlier to the audience. It’s not a big thing, but it does show just how good the sound is. “Sexuality” is relatively short, most of the song is given over to the audience sing-a-long that dominates. It does lose some of it’s impact on this soundboard recording, the audience recording obviously doing a far better job of capturing this moment with the audience. This is crying out for someone to combine the two recordings in a matrix mix that would better give us that electrifying live sound that makes this recording so vital.

Prince’s brief speech introducing The Time has been often discussed, and for good reason. His easy banter with Morris is refreshing, and its hilarious to hear him and Morris go back and forth, trading lines and barbs that belie the darker waters that swirl just under the surface. “Dance To The Beat” maintains this veneer of lightheartedness, and provides a pop twist to a show that has been thus far guitar heavy and drenched in intensity. There is a lift in the atmosphere and the recording shines bright for these minutes.

Prince continues to fire broadsides at the band between songs, this time with the comment “I didn’t like that, play something you know how to play.” The response from The Time is a taunt version of “The Stick” that would satisfy the most demanding of audiences. As much as I like The Time and this song, it does feel as if they have gate-crashed the date, and there is an awkward third wheel experience to hearing them on the bootleg. The real draw card though isn’t the music itself though, rather their dynamic tension with Prince, a tension that fuels his music and will provide some of his most dramatic work in the following years.

“Partyup” fuses these two elements together in a climatic finish that delivers all it promises. The opening talk between Prince and Morris sets the scene, the back and forth continues between them continues as Morris takes his place at the drum kit for this final stomp. Prince and his guitar lead from the front, but most fans will be focused on Morris and his drumming. He lives up to expectations, and the foreplay of the opening talk is forgotten as the the song becomes further arousing. Morris’s drum solo almost brings us to orgasm, but Prince pulls him back just in time with some great bass work from Brown Mark. The final climax comes with an inflamed guitar solo from Prince,but as with the audience recording there is coitus interruptus as the tape fades out, the rest of solo never realized and leaving us to only wonder what might  have been.

I have loved this concert for as long I can remember. I have grown older, but it has remained forever young, even with the imperfections of the long circulating audience recording. With this soundboard recording we have a chance to revisit our youth, and a chance to reconnect with that elusive first girlfriend. I have mixed feelings as I know that the first girlfriend is forever gone and never again will I listen to the audience recording. This new recording has created new memories and sparked a new love. It is time to move on and file the audience recording in my box of faded photos, yellowed love letters and yesterdays glories. I am firmly looking forward as with this soundboard recording I feel reinvigorated, my love burning with a new intensity. I have made up my mind, this is the recording that I want to spend the rest of my life with.

-Hamish

Bonus material:

Mace2theO messaged me this quickfire review when I told him I was covering this bootleg. It’s not written with public consumption in mind, but he has agreed that I could share it with you. I am in full agreement with everything he has written here, and he is far more succinct than me!

Re 82 – reasons the show is important to me, rediscovered with the SBDs

The First Ave show came the night after the main show at the Met Centre so going back to a small club, it has the feel of an aftershow. It is the first Revolution in all its glory, with Dez as a proper Keith Richards lead as the Black Rolling Stones, all pre-Purple Rain. Starting with a raw punk version of Bambi, it then goes into a monster version of All the Critics. While “Let ’em out of his cage” is great, my favourite is before Doc’s solo when Prince and Dez start soloing and Prince yell’s “Wait a minute, Dez” before ripping off a monster solo.

Sometimes audiences make the boot and I had been living with crowd singing at the end of Sexuality for so many years, it took me a minute to adjust to the soundboard. Same with All The Critics – without that kickdrum in your face, the SBD didn’t feel the power of the earlier version…although it sounds much better.

Most important – this is really the closest we will ever get the inspiration for the Purple Rain battle. Before all the controlling issues that came along in 83-84, you can feel the real affection between Morris and Prince (“We used to be friends”) – as trivia, it has the only time in bootleg history where someone gives Prince shit “You wanna borrow my comb?” Also history, as only time live Prince with Morris on drums.

I have fallen in love with my first girlfriend all over again – not looking forward to telling the wife

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