21 Nights book launch – the aftershow

Several weeks ago I started writing about the 21 nights book launch and subsequent bootleg covering the event. It’s taken me longer than I though to return to this bootleg, but the second half of the recording covers the almost three hour aftershow and is well worth the wait. This is another Eye records release, it’s only by chance that they have had so much coverage on this blog recently, and although it is an audience recording it still holds my attention as Prince plays with a lighthearted touch across the sprawling set.

11th October 2008 (am) Hotel Gansevoort, New York

The pairing of “Crimson And Clover” and “Wild Thing” has grown on me over the last ten years. The fact that Prince dirties up the sound at this performance and gives the song some grit is all the more appealing, as is the hurdy gurdy guitar break that serves as an improvised opening. Prince leads us through delicate verses and well crafted choruses, but the real action occurs between these moments as he spits fire with several flights of fancy on the guitar that inflames the audience and the casual listener at home alike. The audience are loud in their appreciation, the only negative of this audience recording.

Prince’s cover of “Let’s Go” was in vogue at this stage of his career, and the performance of it here is true to form. It is punctuated by shouts and burst of guitar heroics, but for the most part it stays neatly boxed, and all Prince’s guitar work is nothing more than pretty packaging with no real gift to be revealed.

The a capella introduction of “7” suffers on this recording, the fully engaged crowd drowns out anything happening onstage with their singing. The song itself comes and goes quickly, there is no catch or hook to lure the listener in. Prince doesn’t give it time to work its magic, and it eventually decays into “Come Together”

The “7,” “Come Together” combination doesn’t initially excite me, although I must admit I do find myself singing the chorus with Shelby J before I know it. The recording perks up, and so do I, with Prince’s stabbing guitar solo, but interest wanes for the singalong. As always, great at the concert, not so great here at home.

The wheeze of keyboard heralds the arrival of “1999.” This band may not be The Revolution, but they do hold their own with a version that could have been lifted from anytime in the 1980s. The distinctive voice of Shelby keeps us in the present,even as the crowd indulge in the chant of “Party” over Prince’s scratch guitar. It is these final minutes that stand out for me, and with Princes high pitched singing and funk guitar 2008 disappears from view in a fog of electro funk.

Prince continues with his musical time machine, “Controversy” just as firmly rooted in the past as “1999.” I am surprised to hear Prince himself comment on this with his quote “they say where you from? I tell ’em the 80s” He lives up to this comment with a synth heavy, funk driven rendition of this classic slice of Prince 80s output. Shelby can be heard (imploring folks to clap their hands and stomp their feet), but the song firmly remains in Princes hands with his vocals and guitar the key sonic signature of the song. Even the bass break doesn’t derail this feeling, and it is almost with sadness that the song comes to an end after five minutes, bringing the curtain down on this diversion into nostalgia.

The comment “You ain’t ready for this” sums up my ambivalence towards “Sexy Dancer/Le Freak,” – I’m definitely not ready for it.  “Sexy Dancer” gets a thumbs up from me, “Le Freak,” however, leaves me less than cold. It lacks a distinctness, the music sounding watered down from the preceding songs.

It was P-funk who belittled The Doobie Brothers with their “It was cool, but can you imagine Doobie-in’ your funk?” line. As is his way, Prince goes against the grain, instead celebrating the Doobies with an infectious, and surprisingly likable, cover of “Long Train Runnin’.” There is an added energy to the performance, Frédéric Yonnet providing some harmonica that is a celebration it itself and lifts the song beyond the diesel locomotive sound of the original. Princes train isn’t as driven as the Doobies, but it does carry more sounds and textures lying deep in the grooves, making for a well rounded listen that delivers on several levels.

All these other songs are merely children in the presence of “Shhh,” a song that is steeped in maturity and strength. The lyrics are light and can’t compare to the power of the music that is the bedrock of this song. The guitar blows at storm force across the recording, while the drums crash like waves on a breakwater as the song reaches its hurricane peak. Even on this audience recording it has a radiating power that can’t be ignored, and it blows the doors off any doubts I might have about this bootleg.

There is audience noise marring the beginning of “Musicology,” as well a touch of feedback. It is airy against the concrete of “Shhh,” and this is further emphasized by the appearance of “Prince And The Band.” As much as I like “Prince And The Band,” it is a guilty pleasure and not comparable to “Shhh,” or even “1999” that came earlier. With such a spread of material, some of Prince’s later songs suffer in comparison, and “Prince And The Band” is certainly one of those.

Things become harder and heavier as “3121” marches into view. Like most of the other songs, the audience detract from the moment, but one can’t blame them for enjoying one of Prince’s strongest songs in the latter part of his career. The guitar break he laces it with adds just enough venom to make it a dangerous moment. I temporary forget the audience noise and focus on the dark clouds that swirl around Prince’s guitar solo.

There is a slightly deranged sound to “Girls And Boys.” To my ears it is unbalanced, and the fact that Prince lets the crowd do all the singing definitely counts against it. He does pick up the baton for the second verse, but the sound remains out of kilter, the song not quite meshing into the killer performance that Prince’s guitar break hints at.

“Honky Tonk Woman” comes in waves, the initial crunch of the guitar riff, Shelby’s soulful voice, and then the incisive guitar solo by Prince. As a Stones man I fully approve, even if this slice of retro rock doesn’t reach the heights of some of the other performances of the evening.

There is a lack of bite to “Stratus” and although I usually love the meandering way that Prince takes us down various rabbit holes, this time it just doesn’t spin my wheels. It continues to grow and evolve, but there is not enough change for my liking and for the most part I feel we are stuck in the same place. There is other bootlegs where this song is outstanding, unfortunately this concert doesn’t live up to those high standards.

The moment is saved as Prince rasps his way through a light-headed-sing-along-at-home rendition of The Rolling Stones “Miss You.” The recording isn’t quite good enough to catch the nuances as Prince invokes the spirit of Mick Jagger, but it does capture the busy harmonica work by Frédéric Yonnet. Prince shines a different light on the song with his guitar work, it is a delight on the ear, but hidden behind the not-so-soft veil of the audience recording.

Prince stays on this classic rock trip as he sashays into “Red House.” Without ever becoming challenging, it manages to tread the fine line between a smooth listen and something that slips into the background.It is one of the least demanding parts of the show, yet at the same time the one part that rewards a closer listen.

“Purple Rain” is a smoldering, slow burn that never ignites into life. The delicate introduction sets the standard for the song, and it stays with this low slung sound for the duration, even Prince’s final guitar break fails to fly as is it’s wont. Thin and sickly, this “Purple Rain” can’t match the performance captured on the first disc of the earlier concert.

The bootleg derails with a brief set by Dave Chapelle. Although it makes the show complete, it does break the flow of the music, and to be honest I would have been forgiving of Eye records if they had have left it off. Normally a completest, in this case it is unnecessary and adds nothing.

The music resumes with Shelby J and “Brown Skin.” It has a sense of purpose and brings a fullness back to the concert after the anorexic “Purple Rain.” Forceful and proud, Shelby gives the song the respect it deserves in one of the stronger songs in the set.

An audience members comment of “Do you think he’ll play Raspberry Beret?” suggests that this audience isn’t as cool as Prince and the band. No doubt this commentator was disappointed as the next twenty minutes Prince takes on a series of well-considered and mature cover versions. “Summer Madness,” “In The Morning,” “Can’t Hide Love,” and “Free” all have an easy way to them and a vibe that hints at Sunday mornings relaxing in the Sun. The music flows easily, transporting me far down stream from the Prince hits we heard earlier on. On a raft of gentle keyboards and soulful vocals, Prince drifts a long way from the “Raspberry Beret” wanted by the audience, and offers something far more refreshing and cool.

Equally relaxed is “Cream,” in this case the music is well behind Prince and his vocals. This isn’t served well by the recording, for the most part it sounds distant and is a lot harder to listen to than the previous few songs.

It is “U Got The Look” that gets the crowd screaming, again messing with the recording. Prince’s guitar is forceful, yet weakened by the quality of the recording. It is an enjoyable enough performance, but with the recording as it is, it is another moment that could have been more.

I am pleased when the funk arrives back in the form of “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” although I could do with a lot more bottom in the recording. The bass is hot, but it deserves a better recording, and one can only imagine how it would sound with a heavy sound. The segue into “Partyman” is unnecessary as far as I’m concerned, but I understand that this is the way Prince chooses to present it. As much as I love Prince’s original material, it was “What Have You Done For Me” that really caught my attention.

The show continues to accelerate in this way as the band quickly swarm over “It’s Alright” It is similar to the previous songs in both sound and intent, a seamless part of the setlist where all the jigsaw pieces come together. After a weak start to the concert, this half hour is where the treasures lie, and it is worth the wait.

An equally brisk “Alphabet St.” has the crowd on board with hand claps, to the detriment of the bootleg. Prince is crisp and sharp with his guitar, and it keeps the tempo of the show up as we approach the end of the concert.

Prince rounds out the show with a string of songs he gave away to others. “The Bird” opens this feeding frenzy, before giving way to “Jungle Love.” I prefer “Jungle Love” for its fierceness and the blowtorch guitar solo that Prince ends the song with. It is worthwhile for that moment alone, the guitar shining out in the audience noise.

There is a long introduction to “The Glamorous Life,” but the song is little more than this. The song vanishes soon after the introduction, it is fleetingly pleasurable but ultimately unsatisfying.

However, there is satisfaction to be found in the last song of the concert – “A Love Bizarre.” Prince loads it at the front end with a guitar line that has a fierceness and fire unheard elsewhere on the recording. For the first time the music rises above the quality of the recording, giving the show a punch and direction that is lacking elsewhere. It is a shame that the rest of the show doesn’t sound as purposeful, but I am more than happy to have this to cling onto. It is an ending that is unrepresentative of the concert, giving the show perhaps more gloss than it deserves.

After listening to the earlier show in this set I was looking forward to hear this later aftershow. It did not live up to expectations. The biggest problem was the quality of the recording. While nowhere near as bad as some I have heard, the audience was still far too prominent and detracted from several key moments throughout. As always I found some positives to enjoy, but the show did leave a bad aftertaste in my mouth. I would happily listen to the first concert in the set again; this one I’d take a pass on.

Thanks again
Hamish

NOTE: The Eye package has Prince’s guest appearance with Q-tip as an extra bonus track. It doesn’t sound like much on the CD and is a waste. But the guest appearance is one of my favorite videos. The reaction of the crowd when Prince appears on stage is priceless, and Prince himself has never looked so cool. You can check out the video below, it’s well worth a look.

 

21 Nights book launch 2008

2007 was a big year for live concerts for Prince, 2008 not so much. Whereas 2007 saw him play a long residency at Vegas followed later in the year with a 21 night stand in London (coupled with a string of great aftershows), in 2008 Prince played only a handful of shows and a few guest appearances. Coachella is the most well-known of these concerts, but as far as bootlegs go, it is his 21 Night book release and charity concert that generates the better bootleg. The show sees Prince triumphantly celebrating his 21 nights in London with a show that is brings a satisfying mix of new songs, covers and some old friends. It’s a balanced mix and Prince plays with a freshness that infuses the music with an inner energy – all which can be clearly heard on a great, yet underrated, bootleg.

10th October 2008, Hotel Gansevoort, New York.

The bootleg starts in the best way possible with the inspiring debut of “Colonized Mind”. It may be its live debut, but it sounds faultless on the bootleg. Prince has the balance just right, with the song sounding both thoughtful and a powerful statement at the same time. This is emphasized with with Princes solos that are all brute strength. He may pause and linger over the lyrics, letting their meaning hanging in the air, but it is when he unleashes his guitar that he is at his euphoric mind bending best.  Its hard not to be caught up in the fervor of the moment, and as I stated earlier, this is the perfect beginning to the bootleg.

It may be only an audience recording, but it is a very good one and this is highlighted with “1999” that has a freshness I don’t usually associate with performances later in Prince’s career. It’s a sweaty, frenetic rendition, the band breaking loose of their restraints to set up the party early on. The recording is fantastic, not only do Prince and the band sound great, the crowd are equally involved. But for me the best feature of the recording is Prince’s rhythm guitar which adds a vibrancy and sense of urgency.

The storm quietens for a more relaxed “I Feel For You.” It is still upbeat and fun, but not quite as frantic as the previous “1999”. With scratchy guitar and quirky keyboard, it is of its era, and the following “Controversy” reinforces this as it comes quickly after as an euphoric celebration of Princes early 80s’ sound. It is a sizzling rendition, the band tearing through the song as if it was brand new. The attack doesn’t let up with Prince engaging in some guitar foreplay that doesn’t ever reach a climax put keeps me hanging on and crying for more.

Prince is content to stay with his back catalogue, “Sexy Dancer” feeling like a natural selection to follow. The “Sexy Dancer” – “Le Freak” combination was heard many times over 21 nights in London, and the later 20TEN tour, making it feel rather overplayed to my ears. This rendition differs in that it retains its freshness and is livened up by a Frédéric Yonnet harmonica solo that adds novelty without silliness. It may not look much when reading about it on the set list, but it is another important piece of the show.

The cover of the Rolling Stones “Miss You” is always going to be a standout for me. I don’t care if Prince plays it on a a ukulele  recorded underwater and reaches me on an 8th generation tape -I wanna hear it.  In this case things couldn’t get much better for me, it is another storming version, with Prince doing a his best to channel Mink Jagger -something he does supremely well. Equally of note is the color that Frédéric Yonnet brings to the song, his harmonica grounding the song with a classic sound. However, this moment is all about Prince, with his vocals that whine and rasp through the lyrics, then his guitar playing which goes to battle with Frédéric Yonnet before the inevitable victory that sees him ending the song amidst cheers from the crowd. The song is six minutes long, but that is no where long enough for me, I could quite happy listen to it three or four times in a row. (Blame my Dad, he was a Stones man)

The mood of the concert changes immensely as Prince drapes the stage in the blues -“Satisfied” easing the crowd into a hush. With the keyboard swells coming like deep breaths, it is Frédéric Yonnet that provides the rush and impetus that moves the song forward. In fact, most of the song belongs to Frédéric, and I must admit he certainly gets the best out of instrument as he wraps me up in the sound of his harmonica.

“Beggin Woman Blues” comes straight out of the same box, the groove so slow and steady that it is barely alive. I love the humorous aspects of the song, although the music itself hardly holds my attention. In the stillness of the music Prince’s lyrics stand as an oasis, and his words wash over me as it croons some of his funniest lines. The drama comes in the final minutes as the swirls and washes of organ emerge from the groove and crash like waves until we are washed ashore at the end of the song.

It is a sleek rendition of “Purple Rain” that follows easily on, smooth and shiny, there is no jagged edge in the music at all. Even Princes emotive cry fails to bring emotion to the song, the ingredients are in place yet it fails to draw me into the music. Prince’s guitar bristles to begin with, but then fails to build to anything more than a whitewashed version of something we have heard many times before. It’s a bit much to expect “Purple Rain” to deliver every time, and this is one of the rare occasions when the song doesn’t meet expectations.

The most exciting part of the bootleg comes next as Prince plays freewheelin’  version of “A Love Bizarre”. The funk on it is immense, and nowhere more so than in the opening stanza as Prince opens the song with some raw scratch guitar. It is synth-pop masterpiece with Prince’s guitar serving as the exclamation point on each jolt of funk/pop. His takes to a finely woven solo that spreads a spider web of sound across the recording, the funky roots still visible beneath it all.

In complete contrast is “What Is Hip?”, which is stuffed full of sounds and instruments. As good as they sound they don’ have the cohesive power of the previous number. On any other recording this would be good, yet on the this recording next to “A Love Bizarre” it is a let down. Less is more, and with no sharp edge the song overwhelms me with noise, the only standout being the chant of “what is hip!”

I’m not always the biggest fan of “Stratus,” however this is one version I can get behind with its unflinching sonic weight that fills all corners of the room, leaving no space for anything else bar the dense music. Sure, there is Princes guitar work in there, but for me the keyboards sit at the heart of the matter, with a heavy handed sense of drama that drags the music into murky waters.

It is “Cream” that has to follow this sonic tornado, and it is a light breeze in comparison. It is “U Got The Look” that brings a heavy crunch back into the show, as Prince excels at turning his guitar into a battering ramp, striking the audience again and again with heavy blows from his instrument. It is a short yet intense performance, and one that rings in my head for several minutes afterwards.

I want to like “Angel,” I really do. But in this case I can’t find it in me to like it. The vocals are good, the recording is fine, and the band play well. I guess I just have to face facts and say this type of music just isn’t me. Don’t let that discourage you, its a nice moment on the bootleg and there is plenty to enjoy if this is the type of thing you like.

The concert ends on a high with Prince giving a worthy rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” He is not the star of the moment though, the highlight comes with a typical Morris Hayes solo that carries a powerful undercurrent to the feeling Prince is singing about. It may not put an exclamation point on the concert, but it is a strong finish.

This is a great bootleg. The show is short yet punchy, and there are many songs here that shine brighter than they normally would in a longer show. I don’t always give credit to concerts from this point of Prince’s career, but this is one I can definitely recommend. There is a the aftershow from the same night on the bootleg, and I will cover that next week. If it’s even half as good as this, I am in for a real treat.

Thanks again
Hamish