Atlanta April 14th 2016, early show

Last week I finally overcame my mental and emotional block and took a listen to Prince’s final full live concert. I feel as if a great weight has been lifted, I now feel revitalized and ready to fully embrace the rest of this nights performance. Whereas the 10pm was emotionally heavy, the earlier show from that night promises to be a lighter experience, and something I can listen to without any emotional strings attached.

April 14th 2016 (show 1) Fox Theatre, Atlanta

The introduction music (“Confluence”) is a calm, serene way to begin the concert. What I notice is the sound of the ushers telling people to put their cell phones away – something I can appreciate as I recall the same experience when I saw the piano and microphone concerts in New Zealand. This introduction music is swept to one side as Prince takes the stage to the expected roar of the crowd. “Little Red Corvette” is a suitable opening number and the scene is set for what will unfold over the next 90 minutes. With “Dirty Mind” played mid song it lays the template for the evening, heartfelt ballads and stomping rhythmic piano songs alternating and demonstrating both sides of Prince’s piano talent. The one aspect of this performance that I find  uplifting is the easy way Prince has with the crowd, the stage is his home and natural environment and that is apparent through the song as he is completely at ease as he teases and talks to the audience.

The following song, “Nothing Compares 2 U”, is coloured by some wonderful piano flourishes. The lyrics may be what everyone remembers, but in this case the piano carries the day. It’s easy to sing along, but a close listen to the piano is far more rewarding.

Prince is in fine form, he speaks of his Father before giving a one time only performance of “Chopsticks”. Its worth hearing for novelty value alone, but Prince adds a musicality to it which elevates it to something much more. Trust me, you have never heard a version of “Chopsticks” as funky as this.

Without the guitar solo, “Joy In Repetition” becomes something else altogether. The  smokey opening of the song lingers throughout, without the payoff of the guitar break it stays in this sad melancholy mood, never breaking out of its foggy late night sound. I like it, I like it a lot. As much as I like the original, I find this arrangement grabs me tight round the heart and I am completely drawn into the web of music.

I am completely transported back to the ONA tour as “Muse 2 The Pharaoh” plays in my headphones. Nothing has changed in 15 years, and it is now just as it was then. The lyrics may not be to everyone’s taste (or anyones), but the music itself is fine and I am attracted to it. The fact that my head is nodding is a very good sign and once again Prince injects funk into it throw his playing. It comes as a pleasant surprise on the recording, but things about to get even better.

“U Got The Look” has Prince’s spoken “Here we are folks, the dream we all dream off” introduction, immediately it draws attention.  Without the drive of the guitar it isn’t as forceful, Prince instead using to the spaces in the music to make it a slow and rhythmic hip swinger. It isn’t as 2-dimensional as the original sometimes is, and I applaud Prince for adding new dimensions to a familiar classic.

It is “Pop Life” that follows and it moves in the other direction. The pop is missing out of it and this performance sounds labored and heavy. The audience do their part singing along, but it lacks color and to my ears it is a weak moment in the concert. The redeeming feature is the piano that rolls across the soundscape like an early morning mist across the fields.

Prince continues to craft atmosphere in the arena, his piano sculpturing and shaping the music into a mood. “Elephants & Flowers” has a rugged charm, the vocals following the piano into an ethereal pop dream. Criminally short, Prince again channels an all enveloping warmth through his instrument.

The show becomes a more traditional as Prince takes on “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”. As the piano rises and falls Prince delivers an urgent vocal delivery, each line coming as a jab out of the darkness. The lyrical content is highlight by Prince an his piano flourishes, the keys weeping as the female protagonist tells her story, before becoming  melancholy with Prince’s response of “I could never take the place of your man” It is a vivid demonstration of the power of music, and the ability to evoke emotion through both words and music.

“Under The Cherry Moon” is a delicate introduction to what is the heart of the concert. “A Case Of U” is played with a stark intimacy, Prince naked and vulnerable in this performance of one of his most endearing covers. The lyrics may be Joni Mitchell’s but the performance is pure Prince, the song climaxing with several raw shrieks that turn a love song into a jagged wound.

There is a familiar warmth to “I Feel For U”. Like oak paneling it is both warm and homely, without ever raising a level of excitement.  As always it is more than welcome in the setlist, but as far as challenging the audience, it is about as threatening as wet spaghetti.

The following “Controversy” is equally familiar, but its energized in the skeletal form. The expected funk is generated purely by Prince and his piano, a more natural funk than what is heard in the full band performances later in his career. There is an extra buzz as he threatens to go off script and deliver the whole Lords prayer,  the tension is palpable as he sings the first line, but he reins it in and ends the song. A shame as that would have sent the whole thing over the top.

There are limitations to “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”. Prince’s vocals are stressed and one feels its not coming to him as easy as it once did. His lower register is much more rewarding, for both him and the listener, and it is at this point the song becomes a vivid tribute to all those beautiful women in his life.

I dare you to listen to “I Would Die 4 U” without a huge smile on your face. A glorious pop song, after 30 years its time in the sun surely should have passed – yet it hasn’t and on this recording it sounds just as evangelical and uplifting as it ever has.

“Baby I’m A Star” draws energy from the same place and the crowd are soon whipped up into the frenzy that Prince’s concerts are renowned for. Without a full band it falls on Prince to provide the impetus and drive for the song, there is no doubt that he more than rises to the occasion. With a jolt of energy he plays a spirited and intoxicating rendition that sounds just as good on the bootleg as it does at the live show.

One vinyl David Bowie’s “Heroes” is a sonic storm that makes the ordinary extraordinary, small moments becoming heroic gestures as Bowie buildings everyday life into triumph of man. Prince’s cover, although well intention, is none of these things. Whereas Bowie had the metallic whine that spoke to the grimness of everyday life before reaching the life affirming chorus, Prince has piano flourishes and runs that come from a musicality rather than emotional space. David Bowie ends “Heroes” in near hysteria as he sings his vocals from the end of the world. Not once does Prince dig deep into this same emotion instead he gives the song a light touch, electing to highlight the joy of the piano as he replaces the intensity with a soulful performance that sounds as if its being played in a church. It is a beautiful moment, but it can’t come close to the raw-nerved performance of David Bowie.

After the briefest of breaks it is the line of “this will be the day” that draws the biggest cheer of the night. This opening is merely the entree, Prince pausing to let the crowd appreciate what is coming before he  resumes. Each line shines brightly as they quickly fade, the song itself barely a minute as it ends with the crowd singing choir-like the final line, a fitting end as the concert is about to become a revival meeting as Prince brings out some of his finest material.

Prince knows he doesn’t have to try too hard with these final songs, the crowd isn’t here for the full architecturally sculptured renditions, they just want to know the song was plays and have a few lines to sing along with. The opening line of “Adore” is enough to send the crowd into raptures before they provide back up to Prince as he sings the first verse. With pause the song becomes “The Beautiful Ones”, the crowd still very much involved as Prince lingers on the lyrics. Listening at home is a frustrating experience as Prince swings back to Adore after a few lines, each song uniquely beautiful yet neither is satisfying as Prince cuts and pastes them into the show.

Much more nourishing is “Do Me, Baby”. The song is only a couple of minutes, but Prince plays a traditional arrangement with verses and chorus appearing as they should. It is short, but it there is much more to sink our teeth into compared to the previous songs and at this point the concert resumes a familiar format.

“I Wanna Be Your Lover” gets the same respectful treatment as “Do Me, Baby”. Although it too is short, Prince plays as one might expect with a spring in his step and a the crowd matching him word for word. The audience are a little too much in places on the recording, but it is a live concert and I can fully appreciate they are in the moment.

The final song of the evening is “Kiss”. For the audience it is one final flourish, although Prince’s piano playing is rather rather workman like, the audience provide the spark and enthusiasm that is missing from the piano. It is a surprising end to the performance, the show never reaches the expected climax and instead stops suddenly instead of going out with a bang.

I wanted to like this show a lot more than I actually did. The pieces seem to be in place for a great show, the songs are certainly there, and Prince sounded great early on. I found myself waiting for a big moment, a big moment that never came. By the time the end of the show arrived I realized that the best pieces of the concert had passed and I didn’t even notice them. It’s hard to be too critical of the Piano and Microphone concerts, I applaud Prince for doing something different, but in this case I found the abridged versions too light for my taste and left me hungry for more. No doubt this will get played plenty more as a companion piece to Prince’s final performance later that night, but as a concert I would choose to listen to, I’d probably pass.

Thanks for reading
-Hamish

Atlanta, April 14 2016 – Final show

Prince’s final concert. I had intended to write about this a couple of weeks ago and post it before the first anniversary of his death. I prepared myself to listen to it several times, but in the end I just couldn’t. Even though I have these recordings in my hands for sometime now I have never managed to bring myself around to listening to them. I knew that hearing them I would have to acknowledge that these are his final performances and that he is no longer with us. Twelve months on and I can’t bring myself to do it. Deep inside of me I want to believe that there is more, that somehow this is all a dream, an alternative reality. I have experienced plenty of pain and loss in my life before, yet the passing of Prince has shook me to the core and I haven’t properly dealt with it as yet. I keep pushing the feelings away, turning the music up louder, thinking that I will process it at a later date. Part of that process starts now, as I sit with my headphones on, prepared to listen to his final show. The music of Prince has always been comforting to me and I hope the music will carry me through these days and weeks as the finality of his passing hits me. The next hour and a half I will both mourn and celebrate his music and life as I lose myself in the music.

April 14th 2016 (show 2) Fox Theatre, Atlanta

A heavyweight performance of “When Will We B Paid?” begins the concert. It has a sombre air to it, Prince making the lyrics real to him and the audience with an emotional performance that balances between melancholia and a deep anger. This song was played plenty of times over the years, but none punch as hard as this solo performance that distills 300 years of slavery and mistreatment into a gut wrenching four minute piano performance.

Lyrically “The Max” is completely different. The piano playing stays with the dark tone, a touch more funk in the keys, but it is the colorful lyrics that lift the concert. With plenty of encouragement to be heard from the audience, I am reminded that this is an audience recording. Its not a bad recording, but there is plenty of audience to be heard and I feel that as Prince’s journey is coming to an end so too is mine – the recording dragging me back to the first bootlegs I bought as I reflect on my own history through Prince’s music.

The change to “Black Sweat” is barely perceivable, the funk grows stronger with the piano gaining some intensity. Prince is in full flow at this point, the music and lyrics streaming from the stage to an appreciative audience who lap it all up and respond the best way they know how. Although the music is as sharp as ever, there is a looseness to the performance itself, the music serving as a bridge between the audience and Prince as they celebrate each other.

 

One of the first B-sides that I gravitated to as a teenager was “Girl”. I don’t know how many times I spun it on my turntable before I eventually dubbed it onto a cassette tape with some other B-sides so I could listen to it on the go. To hear it performed at this concert is a treat to the teenage me who still resides deep inside of me. It may not have the bump and pop of the recorded version, but here Prince lets it percolate in his off kilter piano playing, infusing it with a hint of jazz that appeals to the more mature 40 year old me. It is not the best song of the recording, but it does serve as reminder of all the genres and influences that Prince brought to his music.

I never realized how uplifting “I Would Die 4 U” was until I heard these piano and microphone performances. With the single piano building up with layers of music, it’s hard not to be swept up by Prince’s spiritual message and optimism. After the sober opening, it comes as a blinding light, sweeping away the shadows of the first songs.

“Baby I’m A Star” comes in the same vein, all energy and celebration of life and music. The lyrics may sound egocentric and boastful, but the music is pure joy and energy for all to enjoy. Coupled with “I Would Die 4 U” , these minutes see me sitting back with a huge smile on my face, wrestling with the urge to get up and dance by myself. There is plenty of humour as he indulges in an imaginary dialogue with Dr Fink, all the while puling more and more funk from his piano. This section alone is enough for me to strongly recommend listening to this part of the show.

Although only a few minutes long, “The Ballard of Dorothy Parker” has plenty of time for Prince to bury himself in the piano playing, especially as the song segues in “Four”. There are intricate flourishes as his hands flash across the keys, the notes spinning out quickly across the recording. It is easy enough to sing along with “The Ballard Of Dorothy Parker”, but the best moments of the song are when the piano dominates – like the poster says, it is piano and microphone .

As much as I enjoy “Dark”, at this show it is neither here nor there. There is no single part of the song that stands out, it flows easily enough without grabbing my attention. It is one of the longer songs of the concert and for that it has to be commended as many other songs are truncated. However, it drifts without direction and leaves no memorable impression on me.

 

“Indifference” is the first song of the concert that has me emotional. Maybe it’s the music, or Princes spoken lyrics. As the song plays out my eyes glaze over and I feel a lump forming in my throat. This feeling is only heightened as the song ends with several audience members calling out “We love you” as Prince begins to play one of my favourite songs “I Love U, But I Don’t Trust U Anymore”. The lyrics are what I appreciate most in the song, but in this case I concentrate on the beautiful piano playing that sweeps and washes across the recording. As emotionally poignant as the lyrics are, the music is the main focus and draws just as many tears as Prince’s vocals.

I do enjoy the beginning of “Little Red Corvette”, but it is the song it is paired with, “Dirty Mind”, that I really get a kick out of hearing. With its youthful exuberance I am transported back in time, when everything felt so free and easy. Prince’s lyrics maybe pleading for more from his girl, but the music tells a different a story, a story of hope and the possibility that anything might happen. The song comes full circle as Prince returns to “Little Red Corvette” but nothing can beat the previous few minutes.

There next comes another emotional heavyweight with “Nothing Compares 2 U”. This weight of emotion is undone by the quality of the recording, for which my tear stained handkerchief is thankful. It is another classy performance, yet as I listen to Prince play and sing I can’t help but think how much stronger it sounded (and how much more emotional) with Shelby J. Without the strong female vocals to bounce off, a lot of Princes vocals seem to disappear into the darkness of the arena without finding an emotional base to land upon.

Although I am no great fan of “Cream”, it certainly brings a smile to my face. Prince toys with it, playing a stop start version that has the audience singing heartily along (after some encouragement from Prince himself). Prince tells the audience to sing it to themselves in the mirror when they get home, yet this version is all about togetherness and being in the moment as Prince and the crowd come together for a  fun filled performance that sounds just as good here at home as it was no doubt on the night.

The easy swing of “Black Muse” follows. Dedicated to the ladies, it has me nodding my head with the beat from the start. This performance highlights the ‘pop’ aspect of the song, and provides a pleasant diversion from some of the other heavy weights surrounding it.

There is very little surprise with “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” in the setlist, and in this case the familiarity of the song works against it. Most of these songs are new to the piano setting and gain from the stripped back arrangement. “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore?” has always been a solo piano number and as such there is nothing new here at all. Prince is in a playful mood, the audience responding with plenty of laughter and singing along to the very end, making this an enjoyable listen without being essential.

The encores get off to a strong start with a gentle “Waiting In Vain” / “If I Was Your Girlfriend”.  “Waiting In Vain” is the more dominant of the two, and the music begins and ends with this song. It is a gentle performance, the music moves easily without drawing emotion. It is the longest song of the night, yet it moves at its own pace and never out stays its welcome. I was expecting a lot more from “If I Was Your Girlfriend” but I more than happy with what I hear.

Again emotion creeps into the recording as Prince plays “Sometimes It Snows In April”. It’s not over wrought, most of the emotion I hear is what I bring to the moment rather than the performance itself. Listening carefully, it is surprisingly light, and Prince keeps it upbeat. The music may draw from melancholia, but Prince’s sad words are delivered in an bright manner that undoes some of the emotion. It is easy to listen to, the song that I thought would be hardest to hear tonight is instead a beautiful moment that brightens the room.

“Purple Rain” has a majestic opening and for the first few minutes I listen intently, completely forgetting that I am supposed to write about it. The piano introduction has a grandeur to it which is unmatched elsewhere in the song. The arrangement from here on in is an interesting one, Prince reaches the  chorus, where he gains a strong audience singalong, before moving on “The Beautiful Ones”. “The Beautiful Ones” aches as Prince teases out the first verse and chorus. It never reaches the climax it promises, just as it seems he will take it to the epic finale it deserves he returns to “Purple Rain”, picking it up easily where he left off. It’s short-lived, another verse and chorus before “Diamonds and Pearls” makes an appearance. It’s not particularly noteworthy, barely half a minute, but it does elicit an cheer from the crowd. Prince again picks up the strands of “Purple Rain” as he returns for the climax of the song and the performance. The final minutes of the music are lost to my conscious self the thought plays over and over in my mind  “this is the last time, this is the last time”. “Purple Rain” can run on and on,there are concerts where it flows like a unending river, but here it doesn’t and its over before I am aware of it. The cold reality hits me.This is the last time.

Reflecting back over this recording my thoughts are many. I can’t untie this bootleg from the rest of Prince’s life and career. There are fleeting moments when I consider the bootleg dispassionately, its good and I want to hear it again. But mostly it tugs at my heart, my emotion. It draws tears to my eyes, and brings a lump to my throat. This recording will always come with the caveat – this is the final one. My collection of Prince concerts ends at April 14th 2016. This is the last time.

Purple Rain Atlanta

The Purple Rain tour is very well documented in the bootleg world. There were several very good shows I could have chosen, but I plumbed for one I have a DVD of. The Purple Rain shows are standard from show to show, they didn’t deviate too much from a set formula, and listening to them is sometimes a little repetitive. I especially tend to lose interest in the mid portion of the show when there is a lull in the proceedings. However I love watching the shows, the Purple Rain tour looked great- the costumes, the dancing, there was something exciting and exhilarating about the whole thing. It really was an event, not just another gig. So with that in mind, today I will be watching a show from Atlanta 1985, Prince playing his most successful album to an adoring audience.

January 4 1985, Omni Atlanta

I don’t mind admitting that even after 30 years I still feel a thrill of excitement when Prince says in darkness “Hello Atlanta, my name is Prince, and I’ve come to play with you.” The organ swells that we know so well, and the spoken intro of Lets Go Crazy gets screams of anticipation from the crowd, and when the single spot light hits Wendy for the main rift there is a further scream before the stage lights up and the show begins in an explosion of light, noise and flowers raining down. I have seen it I don’t know how many times, and I still get a kick and a rush from it. The song does not do much more than what we hear on record, there is no piano break in the middle, or drawn out solos, but it does lack any intensity or punch. And to my mind there is no greater sight in concert than seeing Prince playing the guitar lead here, leaning back, face contorted with the music, and his pink stole blowing in the wind over his shoulder. This will always be the Prince I reference when people ask me about being a fan. The song ends much as we have heard plenty of times before, Prince wailing on his guitar. He doesn’t solo too long or hard, but it’s still a perfect opener to the show.

Atlanta 1985

There is plenty of noise from the band next as they stall while Prince hands of his guitar and removes some clothes. Things suddenly take a pop turn as with a shout from Prince of “one two” the band strike up Delirious. I often dismiss Delirious as its not my cup of tea, but even my ice cold heart enjoys it here, its a lot of fun to watch Prince prancing and dancing around the stage. The music doesn’t do much for me, but the visuals more than carry it. As an up-tempo fun number it does it job and keeps the show moving a fast pace.

1999 next and its performed as we see it on the video clip. Prince dons his shiny purple trench coat and we really are back to the 1999 era. The vocals from the rest of the band aren’t great, but I’m going to blame the sound recording rather than them personally. Now days Prince often races through this one near the end of the shows, so it’s a joy here to hear it given the full treatment. And the vocals from the rest of the band do improve as it goes, and by the end of it I have nothing negative to say. It sounds better here than it did on the 1999 tour, and it has a little more energy to it. The band seem to enjoy playing it, and again its great to see them dancing and interacting together. Perhaps the last minute is my favorite, after the “mommy, why does everybody have a bomb” Prince plays a nice guitar break, them ramps its up as the song ends in a crescendo of sound, light and smoke.

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The other big hit from the 1999 album follows close behind, with the warm swells of Little Red Corvette beginning as the sound and fun of the last song fade. There is the sweet piano refrain played, which I know I have said before I love. Wendy does of course hand out flowers to the crowd before encouraging them to clap their hands. It’s contrived, and yet I find it very endearing. Prince begins to sing bathed in red light, and it’s obvious that this show couldn’t fail, everything seems to have a touch of class to it. Princes vocals are getting better and better with each song, and on Little Red Corvette when he sings “oowwwww owwww owwww” it’s a great concert moment for me. He does his dance while the guitar solo plays, and while I do enjoy it, I find that it distracts my attention from Wendy. One thing I will comment on about this show, is that Prince and Wendy are the centre of everything. The other band members don’t get the moments that Wendy gets, and she does have plenty of interplay with Prince. Sure, a large part of that is the fact she is the guitarist, but I would have liked to see Brown Mark and Prince more often, or perhaps Lisa given more time. Little Red Corvette ends with a sudden handclap, and the rolling drums from the start of Take Me With U Begins.

Prince is right in his element for this one. Right from the start of Take Me With U, he stomps back and forth across the stage, guitar to the fore. I can hear Princes vocals very well, but unfortunately the girl’s vocals are lost in the mix. I can hear them, but not loud and clear like I would want. However, all that is made irrelevant as after a quick verse and chorus everything just becomes a big beat and groove for Prince to play guitar god over. And play he does, the next minute is guitar playing Prince at his very best. There is no sweet delicate playing here, it comes at us fast and furious, and plenty of rock poses thrown in to boot. I should be cynical and point out how clichéd it all is, but in truth I lap up every single moment of this. I love this arrangement, and this performance. The only problem is it ends way too short for my liking.

Usually I skip right over the Yankee Doodle Dandle section when listening to Purple Rain shows. It doesn’t do anything for me musically and I find it annoying. I have never properly understood what is happening on stage at this time, and even watching the DVD I’m not sure what’s going on. Mercifully it is quite short, but in future I think I will go back to my normal ways and skip right past it.

The next section starts with Prince sitting at the keyboard, and I am much more comfortable again. I do enjoy watching him play the piano, it’s hard to believe it’s the same man who floored us with his impassioned guitar playing just a minute ago. The piano set begins with some very soft and delicate paying from Prince, and I enjoy this just as much as any song he plays. He does settle down and begin to play Free. Free works a lot better live than it is on record. It’s not as over the top and the piano playing is much better without being drowned in the other distractions.

Prince leaves the piano next and delivers up Do Me Baby. This performance is very nice, he has all his moves and vocal styling’s down, and comes across very smooth. It’s not the greatest sounding version I have heard, the instruments are too loud and Prince is fighting against them to be heard. But the showmanship more than makes up for it, this is to be seen as well as heard. It’s very short on this recording, I was expecting more from it. Not the greatest I have heard, but still a vital part of the show.

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How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore has Prince back at the piano, and initially its his piano playing that excites me the most. He does interact with the crowd to get them clapping along, but it’s the vocals and piano playing that are the most important things here. There is showmanship, but its all in his vocals and the looks at the crowd. That changes however when he does the whole “I’m gonna stand over here until you make up your mind” The crowd shriek and yell in delight, but I have heard it too many times by now to get excited. The song progresses to the point where Prince really plays with his vocals and demonstrates just how good a singer he really is. Like everything its just a few moments, but its enough. This guy really can do everything.

Things pick up when Prince starts with a spoken intro to Lets Pretend We’re Married. We now know that the spoken intro would later become the song Temptation, but at the time it was new to our ears. Prince teases us with the vocals, some piano playing and at one stage throwing off his jacket. Finally the teasing ends and Prince kicks into the song. His piano playing is very expressive and it’s a nice full sound he generates from the piano. The song played as we know it is only very short, it’s all about the tease at the start. There is a good energy to it, and Prince delights me, and the crowd, by leaping off his stool and playing standing up.

Father’s Song gets only a minute, but it’s my favorite moment at the piano, and of the whole show. In almost complete darkness Prince plays the refrain, and it’s filled with a melancholia that stays with me long after the performance. Sometimes the shortest moments are the best moments.

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The lights come back up a little as Prince begins to play God alone at the piano. With smoke swirling at his feet it does have a heavenly appearance. This is tempered somewhat by his vocals early on being fuzzy on the recording. After the first few lines this does improve, and I can better sit back and enjoy the song. The song does sound good, and Prince delivers some great screams near the end of the song. He loses me shortly after with his conversation with the audience being played out on stage and the bath sequence. Listening to the show, this part goes for too long, and even watching it I find myself just wishing it would end. Yes, it was cool the first time I saw the bath sequence, but now I just want it to end so we can get back to the music.

The purple part of the concert starts next as Lisa asks Wendy “is the water warm enough”. The next seven songs are all off the Purple Rain album and it’s quite a performance. First Prince rises from the stage to play Computer Blue. The song starts with plenty of keyboards. I usually associate this song with guitars, but the keys are nice and strong and form a nice thick sound for the guitars to play against. Prince starts off singing and playing well, and he gets louder and louder from there. His solos aren’t spectacular- they are as you hear on the album, but once again it’s the performance of the song that has t be seen. Firstly Wendy gives Prince simulated fellatio while he solos, then later in the song Prince puts down his guitar and dances. He dancing isn’t delicate, but he does capture the mood of the song. And visually its looks quite striking, especially when he dances next to the rest of the band.

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In a seedy red light Prince next sings Darling Nikki. An audience favorite, I am sure most of them just want a chance to sing the x-rated lyrics. There is several opportunities’ for the audience to sing various lines, asides from that the arrangement is as heard on record. The fun part comes later in the song when the good Dr plays his solo and the band all look like they are having a good time. I also appreciate the end of the song when the backwards music we hear on album is played forward and we hear Princes ‘hidden message’

The Beautiful Ones is, well, beautiful. Up high and in softy blue and red light Princes plays piano and sings the emotional high point of the Purple Rain album (asides from the Purple Rain song itself) Princes piano playing is good, buts its the other keyboards dong all the work, and Dr Fink and Lisa fill out the sound with plenty of swells and swirls. Prince leaves his piano for some delicate dancing, and to concentrate on his vocals. This is his best vocal delivery of the night, there is no distracting talking to the crowd, no guitar playing, its all pure vocal delivery. He looks suitable moved and drops to his knees to deliver some passionate screams and whoops. He eventually rolls on to his back for a final howl before the keyboards play us out with a couple more swells.

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Doves Cry gets the full treatment next. There is a brilliant long intro, with just the bare beat and the piano lead line played over it. It builds plenty of anticipation in the crowd, and for me here at home. The lead line on the piano is the key element in this song for me, and even through I have been listening to it for most of my life it’s still something I enjoy immensely. Prince begins his lines, but has almost too quiet, and I don’t get the strong vibe as I hear on the record. The lyrics of Doves Cry are amongst the best he has written, and it’s a shame I can’t hear them better on this. I used to think that the bass line would detract from the song, but it’s actually quite funky to hear the song with a bit more bottom end in the mix. Prince introduces Wendy to play the guitar solo, and I must admit that I fall in love a little. She plays so well, and she looks dead cool while she is doing it. The final section of the song features a lot of dancing from Prince. He doesn’t always look cool, but I have to admire his efforts to entertain us.

There is then a very long pause as the crowd chant for more. Finally the band return and the next song is I Would Die 4 U. It has a lightness and pop sound to it and is enjoyable right from the start. Wendy’s vocals sound good next to Prince, and there is a nice moment when they share the microphone before Prince engages in some enthusiastic dancing. There is some very funky guitar playing later from Wendy while Prince sings a long with the crowd. It is reminiscent of the 12 inch version, and that is absolutely fine by me. However after only a few minutes it segues into Baby I’m A Star.

Baby I’m a Star is an absolute joy to watch. Musically it’s awesome, and having the extra players on stage means there is so much to take in. Early on its Eddie M who I enjoy the most, his saxophone playing gives the music an edge. Prince also takes the opportunity with the extended line up to indulge in some James Brown style dancing, and band leadership. As is par for the course there are plenty of stops and starts form the band. After such a choreographed show it’s wonderful to see the band playing here, and there is the feeling that anything might happen musically. Baby I’m A star as we know it disappears and the funky jam takes over. Its Eddie who really steals the show on this one, he is just killing it on the sax. There is a funny moment when Prince begins to take the band off, before stopping to the calls of the crowd. It’s staged, but has me smiling. Prince gives us a little of everything, he sings, he dances, and he takes the piano for a while too, always keeping the groove and the beat going.

Atlanta 1985 1

Finally the last song begins, in what I’m sure was the high point for everyone there. I have heard many arrangements and performances of Purple Rain over the years, some are great, and some not so great. But for me the definitive version will always be the one played on the Purple rain tour, starting with the beautiful chords played by Wendy. Here is no different, the song begins with Wendy alone playing the soft chords I have heard a thousand times before, and I’m not tired of it one bit. She does get a few minutes along to play and I feel the song slowly drawing me in. The appearance by Prince is understated, and he adds his lead lines into the song. Playing the Horner he plays his delicate pieces, not hurrying at all, but slowly building the song up. I think this is my favorite style of his playing, when he’s softly playing lead guitar. He keeps it fairly short and begins singing early on. At first his vocals are a little lost in the echo, but it soon sorts itself out after a few lines. He is singing here in his vulnerable voice, rather than the triumphant tone we sometimes hear in Purple Rain. After only the first verse and some softer guitar he leaves the stage and returns with the cloud guitar. He immediately plays a more hard rock and anthemic sounding solo before singing the next part of the song. I can’t speak highly enough of his vocal performance, it’s not the notes he hits or the strength of his voice, it’s the emotional delivery and personality in his voice. Normally I would be writing about his guitar playing, but in this case it’s the vocals that have made the bigger impression on me. Prince does finally get to the guitar solo, but he doesn’t seem to pull anything special out for it. It’s played straight, and it’s only much later that he begins to let off some fireworks on the fret board. I have certainly heard other solos that have left me opened mouthed, but not this one. Despite that, my girlfriend tells me I did watch the TV transfixed while he was playing, so he must have had some sort of magic in there. He clambers to a high point to deliver one final blast before the keyboard twinkling ends the show.

Writing today’s entry was definitely a labor of love. The show was an excellent record of Prince at the peak of his powers, and despite the material and performance being very familiar to me I still loved all of it. There was a reason that Prince became a global superstar, and this is it. If you ever needed to see him during his purple period, this would be the place to start. Its not perfect, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

thanks for reading

-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