Big Chick Benefit Concert April 1990

This week was the 26th anniversary of the passing of Charles “Big Chick” Huntsberry. It is often commented on Prince’s lack of sympathy or empathy in regards to former friends and employees, here we have an example of him doing something very generous for the family of Big Chick, a benefit concert just a few weeks after his passing. It’s not a remembrance show, although Prince does talk about his passing, it is a benefit show with all proceeds going to the Huntsberry family. Admittedly the recording is not of the greatest quality, the main attraction for me being its significance as a benefit for Big Chick, as well as the live debut of songs from the Batman album, and then to top it all off the first live performance by Prince of Nothing Compares 2 U. Plenty there for me to enjoy, hopefully I can overlook the rough audience recording.

Prince-BigChick

30th April 1990, Rupert’s Nightclub, Minnesota

The recording opens with Prince speaking about Big Chick, this would be great but the recording is muffled early on and I don’t have the patience or ears to understand exactly what Prince is saying. With more time I could probably work it out better, but right now I am here for the music. It’s followed up with the DAT intro, which I feel ambivalent about in most circumstances. Tonight I find it quite enjoyable, and hearing all the snippets does fill me with an anticipation of what might follow.

What follows is a recording drop out, and then a sharp rendition of The Future. The Future is one of those songs that I have come to gradually over the years, and even though there are a few more drops in the recording as the song plays, it does sound better as it goes. Princes vocals are smooth sounding, and the keyboard swells fill me with a warmth on this cold evening. I do have to turn it up loud to fully appreciate the music, and I do at struggle times as it crackles and pops in my ears. The show is sounding good, even though it feels like I am listening through the wall, the crowd is loud and vocal and I can hear plenty of cheers.

1999 is a crowd pleaser, and I do like this version with it played over the same drum beat as The Future. There is plenty of room for the band to make themselves heard, and I recognise Rosie’s voice through the noise of it all, and that always brings a smile to my face. It’s a pleasant change to hear 1999 early in the show, too often it is relegated to the party near the end of the show in recent memory.

I’m not a great fan of Housequake in this incarnation. It’s too plastic sounding to my ears, it has been neutered to fit in the beat of these opening songs. A lot of the smaller sounds and subtle pieces that I can hear in it are stripped out, and it’s the pounding beat and the vocals that I can hear most, although we could attribute that to the quality of the recording.

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I know that Sexy Dancer would follow, but I don’t derive any pleasure from being right. It’s very truncated, and a mere coda to the trilogy of songs that opened the show. The happy side effect of it being on this recording is now I want to dig back in the crates and give the original a spin. It’s a very good song that deserves a better airing than what it gets at this show.

My love/hate relationship with Kiss live follows next, and I decide to give it a good listen before I judge this one. The verdict is a solid pass, it retains the key elements of the album recording and Prince injects an element of fun into it. Another aspect that I like is that it isn’t overworked and it retains the simple charm of the original. So we are all good in the performance side of things, the downer again being the recording that drops a few seconds midsong. This is coupled with a muffled sound, so it neutralizes all the great aspects of this live performance. The magnificent Rosie Gaines is in fine voice later in the song and she delivers a big sounding Let’s Jam, well it would be big sounding if we were there, as once again we are let down by the recording.

Purple Rain has the slow sentimental sound that is purpose built for a show like this. Prince talks about Big Chick, frustratingly I can’t make out what he is saying – but I do hear what the people near the taper are talking about- typically my luck. Prince gives us the Purple Rain ‘highlights’ version, that is an opening verse, a chorus and then some of his trademark guitar work. I decide that I must be mellowing in my old age, a younger me would rail against this sort of thing and demand the full uncut masterpiece, but tonight I am quite content to sit and enjoy it as he plays. It’s actually very soothing as I sip my cup of tea and wallow in his guitar sound.

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We stay on the Purple Rain trip as Prince breaks out Take Me With U. It’s all a lot of fun, and the crowd participation and energy is noticeable. It’s strange, for a song I often consider lightweight, it has something to it that people can’t help but respond to. Even here at home I am swaying and singing along.

Alphabet St comes next, fast and furious with the crowd becoming more enthused as the show progresses. I would have liked to hear the guitar better, on the other hand the drums and bass are sounding better, and the recording does seem to pick them up the best.  This is the same as the live version played through the Nude tour, with the It Takes Two middle section with Rosie owning the microphone. Back in the early 90’s I wasn’t exactly enamoured by this arrangement, 25 years on and I find I get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Prince sounds energetic as he spits his lyrics, and I have nothing but good things to say about Rosie and her fantastic voice.

The live debut of The Question Of U next, a song I seem to be listening to plenty of times in the last few months. This one has more guitar in the intro and I am more than happy to sit back and soak it up. There is a moment where I wonder if Prince will sing at all, before he finally comes to the microphone and begins to sing his Electric Man lyrics. This works well for me, I liked hearing The Question Of U lyrics without lyrics, and the Electric Man lyrics, although slightly silly, have an intensity to them that really works for me. I could have done with more of both songs, instead it feels like I only get half of each which leaves me wanting more.

1990 Prince

Rosie takes control next with a cover of Ain’t No Way. I would be deliriously happy if this was a sound board, as it is in this form it’s still very good despite the distracting static and audience chatter. Rosie’s voice is so full and pure sounding that I am able to put aside these reservations and just focus on her, and for those couple of minutes she sounds heavenly.

Prince follows this in the only way he could, with a live performance that reclaims Nothing Compares 2 U from Sinead O’Connor. It’s a special moment as he plays it live for the first time, and my recently memories of him singing it with Shelby J are vanished as he puts his stamp on it. I close my eyes and cut out all other sound and just focus on Princes vocals, which are perfection. The piano break is great, and just what the song needs, it lifts it another notch and lights the leaden sound. This is the performance that brought me to this recording and it delivers.

Batdance sounds gloriously live, the guitar sounding particularly loud and funky. Like so many of these other songs it is its live debut. It’s hard to know what to make of it, I would have liked to see it as much as listen to it. One thing I know for certain is I am no fan of the Gameboyz and the sound of them chanting for a short time in the middle of the song. Things get better as Prince gets the crowd to participate, I do like that until the Gameboyz reappear vocally.

After this, things change dramatically as Scandalous gets an airing. I am all in for this one, it sounds exactly as it should, and I am surprised by how much audience chatter there is during such a fantastic song. There is just a hint of guitar in all the keyboard swells, and that gives it a sharper sound that plays well with the lush sound and Princes dripping vocals. Prince’s performance sounds great, sure there is a couple of drop outs in the recording, but Prince himself is marvellous through the whole song.

Baby I’m A Star, and we must be nearing the end of the show. Prince is well in his stride now, and I can feel the energy coming through the speakers at me, there is even a fantastic scream that has me excited on my side of things. The song degenerates into the jam often heard on the Nude tour with the Gameboyz providing rhythm and fun. The energy levels drop for some time in the middle of the song, and I find myself gazing into the distance for a few minutes before the things swing up again later in the song. For large parts of it I find it too ‘samey’ with not enough variation and individuality for my taste. The exception would be the piano break which I find pretty cool.1990 Prince Piano

We slip into a slow jam next, which is little more than an opportunity for Tony M to encourage the crowd to “make some noise” over a quieter slow beat. Thankfully it’s only a minute before we launch back into the Baby I’m A Star jam.

The jam takes off at this stage, and with Rosie belting out Respect I am well back in my comfort zone. Its a shame she isn’t utilised more, as he does with his modern day backing singers, she always delivers at this show, as she does with other shows from this time that I have listened to. The beat continues on, and we can hear the band throwing more into the mix as the song is obviously nearing an end.

There is a celebratory mood to the end of the show with plenty of clapping and cheering before we get a fun filled sounding Partyman, complete with long intro that sounds like it’s taken straight from the video. Despite the muffled sound, it’s hard not to enjoy this song, and I love listening to it here tonight. It starts off fun, then gets better from there with plenty of piano through the song giving it a jazzy sound. This jam works much better for me than the previous Baby I’m A Star jam, and it ends the show on a real high.

A benefit show for Big Chick, this was no morbid memorial, Prince played an enthusiastic and upbeat show and even though it was a poor recording the performance shone through. Make no mistake, the recording was hard listening at times, I wouldn’t recommend this to the more casual listener, but if you had the time and inclination it’s an interesting show. The songs debuted are played with gusto, and as always they are well rehearsed and betray no hint of being new to the band. I don’t know if I will be listening to this one again for a while, there is so many more recordings out there, but it was certainly an interesting diversion.

Thanks for reading, next week I am going back to a proper full show, I seem to be caught up too much in these one offs and after shows recently.

Take care
Hamish

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