I was intending on writing about the second half of the 2008 bootleg that I took a listen to last week, but I have been overtaken by events in the fast moving world of Prince bootlegs. The last couple of weeks has seen the Eye records release of two great packages, the 1986 show at Boston, and “Rainmaker” that covers a some well known concerts of the Purple Rain era. Of the two I am more interesting in the 1986 concert as the other concerts have been circulating for some time in a variety of guises. I have audience recordings of the Boston concert, but I was excited to hear it in soundboard quality. As Prince himself once said “All that glitters, ain’t gold,” and this is true with this soundboard recording. Yes, it is a soundboard recording, but that doesn’t mean that it is perfect. There is quality issues (especially on the first disc) and to my ears the tape speed isn’t quite right. The first disc in particular sounds slow, it’s most noticeable with the opening notes that immediately sound off. Again, the second disc is better, but still not quite perfect. I may sound pedantic on this point, but when you listen to as many bootlegs as I do, then you tend to notice little things like this, and it is worth noting. As always, there are positives – it is a soundboard recording we haven’t heard before, and even as it is, it is still a fine document of one of my favorite tours, the hit n run tour of 1986. That is something worth celebrating and I am quite prepared to put aside my bootleg snobbery for a couple of hours and wallow in this glorious show.
3rd April, 1986. The Metro, Boston
There is no surprises with the setlist early on. Prince doesn’t deviate from any of the other shows of the era, and anyone who has been listening to these bootlegs over the years will know exactly what to expect. The flighty and twitching “Around The World In A Day” moves under the feet with ever changing soundscapes as an ethereal flute opening gives way to some Byrds-esque guitar before the sound unfolds with Prince’s chorus bringing the song to a firmer ground. Its a kinetic opener, even with the slight sound issues I previously mentioned.
The sound becomes bolder with “Christopher Tracy’s Parade.” There is more of the band to be heard, and even with muddled sound the recording captures the energy of the performance. What captures my ear the most is the horn section, here fully integrated into the band and providing early impetus. The song never fully develops though (due to the recording) and the remaining impression of it is the organ solo that is provided, one presumes, by Prince.
The sound strips back for “New Position,” the rhythm section outstanding with their funk and bump. Bobby Z and Brown Mark are often overlooked visually, but they more than make up for it their musical contributions, and this song is an early indication of how much their input makes a Prince concert what it is. Prince himself makes his mark, the one lyric that sounds very clear is when he asks Jerome to sing “P.U.S.S.Y.” It can be heard on album, but here is is very bold and obvious, it is the loudest moment on the song.
There is time for “I Wonder U,” although it doesn’t match anything heard in the first handful of songs. The crowd are bought back into the concert with “Raspberry Beret.” It’s not quite the riotous celebration heard on other bootlegs though. The crowd are present, but not to the same extent as other concerts. The payoff is that Prince sings most of the lines himself, something I greatly appreciate and enjoy.
I wish I could say the “Alexa De Paris” stands alone as a ornate monument surrounded by these slighter pop songs. However, the recording is again muddled with its mix, and although the individual parts sound great, when they all come together they don’t gel. There is some fierce-some guitar to be heard, but it is very low in the mix. If it was alone out front it would be scorching, but as it is it is no more than a smolder in the background, threatening to burst into flame but never reaching the point of combustion.
The is an outstanding start to “Controversy,” with scratch guitar to die for and the keyboards playing with a robo-funk coldness. The rest of the song sounds thin, and it has a weak ending with Princes overplayed “Where’s my cigarettes” shtick. All is forgiven with “Mutiny.” From the opening seconds it is has my nerves jangling, the music connecting my ears to my feet as my brain screams “dance!” The song itself would be enough, but when the sizzling saxophone of Eric Leeds is thrown into the mix, well then, it’s at that point that it becomes the epitome of Prince and the funk he was peddling at the time. Eric Leeds practically bursts into flames as he plays, and Prince does nothing to extinguish this fire as he has the band chant “St Paul, punk of the month” as Wendy and Lisa give clues to the hardcore with their “Dream Factory” chorus. The song is a tour de force for the extended Revolution; the rest of the concert and bootleg are irrelevant, this song alone is all you need as it covers all that was good and great about Prince and this band.
The following four songs maintain this thrill of excitement. “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window,” “Lady Cab Driver,” “Automatic,” and “D.M.S.R” come in quick fire succession, increasing the tempo of the show and laying the ground work for what will unfold next.
It is “The Dance Electric” that comes next, and from the title alone you know this is going to be something special. Needless to say, it matches Mutiny for funkiness, and upstages it in raw, unfiltered intensity. It has a deep funk in its groove, and Prince injects impassioned guitar into the vein, giving the song an uncontrollable rush and head-spinning high. This is one of the great performances of this song on bootleg, an instant addiction the first time you hear it.
There is the inevitable come down in the form of “Under The Cherry Moon.” Its other worldliness is heightened as it is coming directly after “The Dance Electric,” and as a contrast it is isn’t just a come down, it’s a crash. I rate it highly, but I would have preferred to have it somewhere else rather than directly after “The Dance Electric.”
I don’t know whats going on with “Anotherloverholenyohead,” but Prince’s vocals are almost inaudible for the first verse. However, Wendy and Lisa are enthusiastically loud and the keyboard can be heard dominating the sound. This is another song where the sound quality is less than stellar, unfortunately a recurring issue. There are positives though, Lisa is enthralling with her piano break, everything else disappears as she plays, the world turning on her breathtaking feel for the keys.
“Soft And Wet” comes from another world, sonically and historically. It still proudly wears the disco coat of the era it was born in, and is shameless in the way it sparkles and glitters in this show. Dr. Fink’s solo is particularly nostalgic, and for a few minutes I forget this is 1986 as Prince and the band recreate the brown and orange world of the late 70s.
Prince stays in the era with “I Wanna Be Your Lover” which performs the same trick on steroids. Everything “Soft And Wet” was, “I Wanna Be Your Lover” is, times five. It is stronger, funkier, and forceful throughout, not just suggesting you get up and dance but roughly shaking you to your feet and dragging you to the dance floor. The real action happens in the second half of the song, as the groove moves from the dance floor to a dark corner of the room for some nastiness. Even with the gleam of the horns, there is a dirtiness that can’t be shaken – definitely a recommendation.
“Head” leads us further down this path, the music becoming darker and murkier as Prince spreads a layer of sleaze across the performance. The song lives up to its name, but there is no climax, just more nastiness and Dr Fink adds his own smutty solo before the the scratch guitar hints at all sorts of unmentionable things. It would be the most sexual part of the show, if not for Prince talking about Morris Day and chopping down the Oak tree. This takes me out of the moment, and I do up my pants and move on to the next song.
There is an extended opening to “Pop Life” which gives us all a chance to regather our composure, before Prince delivers a sunny version of one of his greatest pop songs.It floats easy as a cloud, a feeling further enhanced with Eric Leeds’s flute solo that flutters and flits across the sky. It is far removed from the previous song, but it moves the concert forward and brings us back into the sun.
With Eric Leeds’s saxophone, and some slippery guitar to grease the wheels, “Girls And Boys” ticks two of the key boxes for what makes a great song. This is song is entirely representative of the era, it perfectly encapsulates the era and the music Prince was creating. Prince’s voice has a touch of arrogance, born of the confidence in the scope of work he has created, while Eric Leeds’s saxophone ties the groove to the ground before taking flight late in the song. Elsewhere Dr.Fink, and the twin guitars of Wendy and Miko, give it all the funk you will ever need. It never reaches the same funky heights as some of the earlier songs, but it does neatly package up what the era was all about.
These two songs are the opening numbers of disc two, and they sound much better than the songs off the first disc. This standard is maintained for “Life Can Be So Nice.” It is a clean performance of the song, without being outstanding, but it does gain a few extra marks in my book with the improved sound quality. It doesn’t leap off the page as some of the other songs do, yet with all the instruments and vocals clearly heard it is a pleasant listen.
There is a buzz in the left speaker for the beginning of “Purple Rain,” that does initially detract from the moment. The rest of the opening is faultless however, especially the guitar of Prince that tiptoes briefly through the field of piano, creating a path for the listener to find their way into the song. It is this entrance and then the final exit that are the highlight of the song. The final guitar break sees Prince light up the darkness with its intensity, not just leading the listener through the final minutes but pushing them with an electrifying and emotive shriek.
I have never been completely sold on Prince’s performance of “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On,” and this concert isn’t going to change my mind. Its snappy and sharp, but undemanding and as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t add to the show and is unnecessary.
“A Love Bizarre” throws up the most interesting moment in the show. A minute into the song there is a glitch, one assumes with the drum machine or pads, and Bobby Z catches the moment with an effortless switch to a heavier, and more organic, live drum. The change comes in a split second, but one can clearly hear the change in the drum sound. The rest of the song lives up to other live performances from the year. It may start with a veneer of pop over a funk groove, but it is the second half of the song where this veneer is stripped back to reveal what the song truly is, a hard-hitting beast of a song that gives Prince and the band plenty of time to ride the groove where ever they please. There is very little surprises to be heard, but as always the song delivers with its strident and bold riffs, highlighting the rhythm section of Brown Mark and Bobby, and newly acquired horn section.
It is a firestorm of guitar that opens “America.” The guitar has been prominent throughout the concert, and here Prince takes it to new levels with an electrifying performance. The guitar establishes a beachhead for the rest of the band to storm through, Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss immediately providing a twin horn attack that tears the song in half. The breakdown halts this attack, the momentum temporarily lost as Prince indulgently leads the crowd with some chants.The rhythm guitars bring some forward movement to the song, but it fails to live up to the opening salvo heard in the first five minutes.
Screams and shrieks greet “Kiss.” It does sound strangely flat on the recording, all the fizz and pop is missing. An appearance of the wooden leg doesn’t help, but the guitar break brings a welcome surge of energy, and the song sounds more lively after its appearance. The final coda restores my enthusiasm for the song, an element of fun is introduced and this brings a lightness to the song that serves it well.
The concert ends with a intricate rendition of “Love or $.” It is a monochrome and highly manicured performance, highlighted by the soundboard recording. The horns are again high in the mix, giving a hint of sparkle to the intertwining sounds that can be heard. The song never bursts out of the tight cocoon that the band weaves around it, often threatening to break out in a flutter of color it instead stays tight in the pocket until the very end.
Ignore any negative comments I may have made about the sound quality and take this show for what it is – a soundboard recording of Prince and The Revolution at their very best. This is only the first show after the Parade warm-up at First Ave, but the band is already firing on all cylinders as memories of Purple Rain rapidly vanish in the rear view mirror. I wouldn’t go so far as to give this a five star rating, but it is a concert and bootleg that you need to hear. Indulge yourself and hunt it out.
Thanks again, next week I will tackle the other recent Eye release before I finally return to the 2008 show I previous started.