Lakeland 1980 – Rick James Tour

Whats better than a soundboard from 1981? A soundboard from 1980! I have just taken my first listen to the new Eye Records release I’m Just A Freak and I have to say, I am most impressed. Not so much the release itself, but the music contained within. The music is fresh and exciting, and listening to it gives me the exact same feelings I had when I first started listening to Prince bootlegs thirty years ago, I am reborn as a fan as I am baptized by the music as if for the first time. So, lets rewind the clock and kneel at the alter of this recording, and in particular pay respect to the first concert of the set, 8th March 1980 at Lakeland, Florida.

8th March 1980, Lakeland, Florida

The “Boogie Intro” has me agape from the very first moment. It is a rambunctious ball of all that Prince does, a four minute blast that encapsulates all his sounds and genres. From the opening groove underpinned with the brute strength of Prince’s guitar riff, to the fantastically electric wonder of Dr Finks synth solo, we are immediately transported into Princes world. I shouldn’t read too much into this opening number, but already I can hear funk, rock, and hints of the Minneapolis sound that will come in later years. It is an engaging opening that never wavers from its unflinching servitude to the groove, no matter what euphoric sounds Prince pulls from his guitar, the dance floor is firmly in mind.

On top of the cyclone of an intro, “Soft And Wet” plays as per its title, it is both soft and wet in comparison. Its only halfway through the song that the first musical punch is thrown, and the second half is a feisty drunk in comparison to the first sober minute. It does sound gorgeous in this quality though, and it only suffers in comparison to the earlier song.

The concert takes the phrase hot and heavy, and makes come alive in the music they are playing. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” bleeds a warmth through the recording, and Prince and Dez bring a heavier sound with their twin guitar onslaught. Its not about a wall of noise however, they play with a sparkling finesse that provides wings for the song to soar above such earthly sounds. If not grounded by Bobby Z’s insistent drive the song would threaten to disappear in its own swirl of smoke and mirrors, instead Bob is the captain who keeps it moored as he underpins Prince’s flight of fancy.

Prince stakes out his genre hopping style as he tackles a ballad, in this case “Still Waiting.” He plays it with a breezy style, there is space throughout the song and Prince feels no need to over complicate it with sound. It is a thoughtful performance and has a wistfulness to it that lies just beyond my ability to articulate. Its an immersive experience, the schmaltzy synths  a canvas for Prince to paint his vocals across.

After the color and sophistication of some of this earlier material, “Bambi” sounds positively caveman like. It plays as a battering ram, Prince clubbing us early with his muscular guitar riffs, but for me the real joy comes later in the song when he shakes of these rock cliches and plays his solos with his own unique electric fury. There is the feeling that I have heard it all before, but the unhinged final minutes awakens the fan inside me and I am caught up in this wave of untamed big guitar sheen.

The band introductions are timely, especially as “Sexy Dancer” is the moment when we can hear Andre and his bass in all it’s glory. With it’s nagging hook it is all about the dance floor, and even if I can’t see it I can certainly feel it in the low end. A coherent amalgamation of all the band’s talents, I am particularly taken by the synth solo that is sumptuous, yet lies entirely within the groove, always remaining slave to the beat. Andre’s bass solo goes one better, and leaves me full of regret that it isn’t longer, but the final guitar solo on the song cleanses me of any such thoughts and makes a strident statement across what had been a disco song.

There is a clutter about “Just As Long As We’re Together” and initially I aren’t drawn to it in the same way as I am with some of the other numbers. Prince is forceful though, and already he and the band are good enough to win me over with their evolving styles and hybrid sound. The bass and guitar battle to hold my attention, and I am the real winner as both are relentless in their drive for a petulant funk sound. Andre is thrilling in the bass lines he creates, I expect this of Prince with guitar, but Andre’s finesse and blistering skills is a revelation to me – this exactly why I collect bootlegs so passionately.

 

The show finishes with a strutting version of “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” From the first riff ringing out in the darkness it is a moment to stand up and celebrate the pure pop sound that lies at the heart of Prince’s music. Infectious and uplifting, there is nothing more to wish for, this concert may only be eight songs, but it holds everything you could want from Prince. The pop sound may reignite the audience, but Prince pulls the rug from under them as the final half of the song becomes an extended jam that touches on the bases all ready covered by Prince. He touches on the first base of pop, before sliding into the second base of funk. From here it is a helter skelter sprint for third base and his strong rock sound. The home run comes as all these are amalgamated in one glorious sound that can only be described as “Prince.” The music acts as a time machine, and this final jam has me right back in 1980, I am with Prince and the band every step of the way as they bring the concert to a close.

These Rick James concerts by Prince are short, but that matters not one bit as he crams every sound and genre he can into a short sharp set list. Each song comes as a jolt as he continues to change direction, but always the music is focused and  delivers a powerful experience. Eye records has done us all a favor with this release, these concerts are part of Princes legacy and an important part of his story that the estate are not telling, He was about the live performance as much as the studio, and this raw unfiltered Prince deserves every piece of coverage he gets. This will be on my player for a long, long time to come, and with every listen I remember just how electrifying Prince was in the 1980’s.

I’m going to give it another listen now,
See you next week
-Hamish

Omni 1980

I was only young when Prince was first starting out, so I have no memories of his first tours and performances. But I have read a lot about his earlier shows, and it’s apparent that he was great right from the start. Today I will be listening to a show from 1980 when he was opening for Rick James. By all accounts he gave Rick a run for his money every night, and this show seems to confirm this.

6 March, 1980. Omni, Atlanta

For the age of the recording, it is surprisingly good and crisp. It doesn’t start with a roar as you might expect, just a nice beat provided by Bobby Z. The keys join in very soon and it’s straight into Soft and Wet. I have a couple of immediate impressions. The first is that the band sound very accurate and it sounds very much like the album recording. I expected something a little more rugged like the recordings I have heard of the Dirty Mind and Controversy eras. My second impression is that Bobby Z is very good. I really enjoy his playing here, its not stand out spectacular, but very solid. The song sounds great, good enough that it makes me want to go back and listen to the original. Its sounds just as sharp as it does on record, the only real moment it deviates is the 1.40 minute mark when there is a brief guitar moment. It’s held in pretty tight, and the rest of the song is played straight.

Prince 1980 (2)

The guitars take a step forward after Prince introduces Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad, in his high/shy voice. But as soon as the song starts he sounds much stronger again, so I assume he was shy about speaking, and preferred to let his music speak for him. The song isn’t as loud and in your face as can be heard on later tours, but its fresh sounding. In particular the bass has a good fat sound here. The guitars are all over it, but they are pulled back in the mix much more than I have heard elsewhere. The guitar solos start of rather tentatively, but pick up as the song goes on. They sound a little thin in places, but still bring a smile to my face. The second half of the song is the highlight for me. After the guitar break and the song moves into the second half Prince sings “why you wanna treat me so bad? is it the clothes I wear? why you wanna treat me so bad? is it the style my hair?” and another couple of lines. It all sounds great as the guitar chugs along nicely underneath.

Prince 1980

A nice little change of pace next, as Prince brings us down with Still Waiting. I would love to see some footage of this show, I really want to know who is playing what. Still Waiting has a nice little keyboard intro, I want to say its Prince, but that’s just guessing, and a little wishful thinking. Still Waiting is beautiful. It’s a forgotten song in my collection, and listening here I want to grab out the first couple of albums and give them a week in the car. Again, I am amazed how good the band sound, everything is very clean, and I can’t fault a single note. Its not very rock n roll, but its fantastic on my stereo. Things take an upswing about the five minute mark, and nice drum fill by Bobby, and then the ever familiar Prince falsetto wailing. He sounds so young, and already so good. I can’t see the crowd, but I imagine there are some young ladies passing out about now.

There is a pause as Prince introduces the band, although it takes him a few seconds to quieten the crowd – “shhhh, Atlanta, shhh” The Prince I know and love becomes apparent as he introduces himself “I’m just a freak baby” Its a moment in the recording when I smile to myself. I Feel For You is very vibrant, and I guess most of the crowd are moving to it. The keyboard isn’t too strong, and the bass is more prominent. It definitely gets two thumbs up from me. In fact every song on this recording sounds great, its hard to say one is a highlight or any better than another. During the bridge Prince hits us with his faux seduction. He starts with “there’s so much I want to do to you”, and then goes on to mention his desires, before the music ups again, and dirty Prince starts “When I’m with you, all I want to do is screw you” Very funny, it seems in contrast to the rest of the song, but gives a true indication of what Prince was about in the earlier days. Straight after this Dez plays hard for a minute, and in the last couple of minutes of the song we see the template for the Dirty Mind/Controversy albums to follow.

Prince 1980 (1)

The bass is fantastic in Sexy Dancer, much louder and more popping than I have previously heard. I wish the album version was more like this, I would play it more often if it was. This for me is the most surprising song on the recording. Normally I would have Sexy Dancer on, but wouldn’t give it much attention, but on this recording I can’t ignore it. I listen rapt to the bass and guitar interplay. Weaved in with the keyboard, it casts quite a spell. The band play this one to death and the keyboards towards the end are well worth giving attention to. Things get even better when Prince says “Andre…” and we get a minute of bass work. I was just thinking, “Wow, this is a great song, the band is stretching out” and then the guitar enters for its turn. It’s fast, and tight. Even with all the fret work the song never once threatens to become rock, and I love it even more for this.

Andre (Prince)1980

Just As Long As We’re Together begins with Prince asking “Is everyone wet?” The song has a nice little feel to it, and I love it when Prince sings “I gotta always have you in my hair” – a foretelling of things to come. Once again I find myself listening to mostly the keyboards and Bobby Z on the drums. The song flies by and I find it finishing before I have properly composed any thoughts about it. There is another change near the end, and some nice interplay between the keys and the guitars. In fact the whole band locks in very nicely and keeps it going for sometime. Andre again is impressive on the bass, and again I find myself wishing there was some footage of this. I am very surprised, the song goes for 10 minutes, but its always interesting, and its one of the most enjoyable parts of the gig for me.

Prince thanks the crowd, and then encourages them to get up as the band plays I Wanna Be Your Lover. Like every song on this recording, the playing is so good, it’s hard to believe it’s live. The band is obviously very well rehearsed and drilled. There’s not much to say about this song, all the elements of it that we know so well are there, and sounding just as good as ever. I was thinking that this gig was pristine, and missing the grittiness that I often enjoy, but there is 30 seconds of guitar near the end that remind me that it really is a live show. It’s not too much, just enough to give it a live dirty sound. Again the band stretch it out after the three minute mark and it heads off into the territory I love, and good groove and some jamming. The whole thing winds up about with Prince exhorting the crowd “Yea……yea…….yea!” then in a flash its over.

Although very short, this recording is very highly recommended. The quality of the recording is excellent, and Prince and the band sound great. As I said earlier, I was impressed by how sharp they were. Although not as nitty gritty as the live recordings I normally enjoy, you cannot fault a band for being so sharp and good. There is plenty of indications as we listen here of what will come in the future, but this is hindsight, I don’t think at the time I would of guessed. All in all a great peek into the beginnings of the legend.

Take care
Hamish