Bennetts Lane, Melbourne 2012

This week I will be posting about two shows as both are short, yet they interesting for several reasons. Firstly, the legendary Bennetts Lane impromptu performance. Anyone who has spent time on the internet reading about Prince will be familiar with this concert; Prince made an appearance at Bennetts Lane jazz club early morning of 29th May, 2012. The show was only announced very late, and Prince and the band played to a crowd of about seventy people. In almost darkness, Prince played for close on three hours, with a setlist that is chock full of goodies. From all accounts this was a humdinger of a show, and it made all the mythical by the fact we don’t have a complete recording of it. We are spoilt nowadays by the scope and quality of recordings available for most shows, and this bootleg harks back to earlier days when shows were only partly available, or not available at all.The recording appears on an Eye records release, and covers a half hour period early in the concert. We don’t get the gems promised by the setlist, but it is a taste of the flavour of the evening and I have to say it well and truly whets my appetite for more. I thoroughly recommend taking time to go online and read about this concert from those who were there, there is so much more to this performance than what is heard on the recording.

 29th May 2012(am) Bennetts Lane, Melbourne

I am salivating from the first moments as John drums up a funky brew with Erykah Badu’s “On & On.” There is the wow factor from the very first seconds, John’s percussive sound setting a vibe that the small audience responds to with shouts of encouragement. The recording picks it up well, band is clearly heard, and although the audience call out they aren’t right in the microphone and sound almost as if they have been added in for atmosphere. Prince introduces himself with his first tentative notes stretching into the darkness, before the guitar takes an authoritative tone and lights the room in its luminescence.I have heard “Stratus” many times over the years, and wasn’t expecting much from this performance. Instead, the band floor me with a well rounded and satisfying performance. I think it is partly down to the recording, it is steady in its sound, and seems to have the mix in balance. Part of me wants Prince’s guitar to sound louder, but sitting lower in the mix works well for the song over all and I have no complaints. The band idle loudly behind Princes guitar sound, waiting for the clutch to be dropped and the concert to accelerate into the next few songs. It is John Blackwell that puts the pedal to the metal with a drum break that carries power, speed, and finesse in a combination that drives the show forward.

There is a break in the recording next, “Stratus” fades out at the end before “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” fades in, delivering us late into the song. We only get the last few call and response of “must be something in the water you drink” before the song fizzles out.

It’s not all that bad though as the following song is  “Strange Relationship.” The bass may not be particularly prominent on the recording, but there is plenty of funk dripping from the keyboards and Prince’s vocals. However, things flip when Cassandra plays her solo, the piano barely audible and the bass suddenly becoming the backbone of the song. It is a very loose performance, one that I feel as much as I hear, and it’s about this point that I decide I would gladly sell right arm for a soundboard recording of this entire gig.

Even “I Like Funky Music” sounds better in this context. A song I could happily pass on, here it becomes part of the “Strange Relationship” jam, and rather than drag it down it adds to it with the audience becoming involved with the chants. I must praise the keyboards again at this point as they continue to solo and delight me with their sprinklings of stardust.

This funk jam continues to evolve, and “Up For The Downstroke” reminds me of how much this white boy has learnt about the history of funk from Prince. My first introduction to Parliment/Funkadelic/George Clinton was from hearing performances like this and then going back to find the original artists. This performance is worthy of those predecessors as the song swells and bloats,Prince and the band playing the audience as much as they are playing the music. It remains a beautifully unfocused, all encompassing jam that is further enhanced by cameos from “Fantastic Voyage” and “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” Its not an intense jam that fills the recording, but it is one of the most enjoyable I have heard for a long time, and again I am quite ready to sell my bodyparts for more of the same. Oh to be there!

I am seriously overwhelmed as the the jam continues to creep across the land, this time swallowing up Mary J Blige’s “Be Happy” and consuming it into the body of the music. I regret that I am sitting at the computer at this stage, such is the urge just to get up and let my body move to the music. In my book, there is no higher recommendation. I am an old jaded fan who spends too much time listening to bootlegs, but performances like this are what I live for.

A brief “Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough rounds off this jam, before the recording ends with a final hit out from John Blackwell. At this point the recording is raggedy sounding, with John’s drums distorting. In some ways it is probably just as well it finishes here, least my previous buzz from the funk jam is shattered by this less than stellar sound. Nothing against John himself, it is purely the recording that is sounding rough at this stage.

There is no mistaking, this a great show and one that I want to hear a lot more of. A sparkling setlist is matched with a classy performance, and throw in the vibe of the room and this makes for one heck of a show. It is all the more disappointing then that we can only enjoy a half hour of the performance, with another two and half hours missing I can only imagine how good the rest of it is. Again, I strongly recommend researching more about this gig, with first eye accounts the music takes on a whole new dimension. I am grateful for what we do have here, but I want so much more. This recording creates a thirst that I know will never be quenched, no matter how much I hope and pray. Worth hearing, just try not to think about what we are missing.

Thanks for joining me, as this show was only short I will take a quick listen to another short show I have been meaning to cover for sometime.
-Hamish