Camden Palace 1988

The Palace in Hollywood wasn’t the only “Palace”  aftershow that Prince played in 1988. Earlier in the year he played a late night show at the Camden Palace in London, just one month before the famous small club gig that we all know and love. This concert is well known, in a large part due to the proshot footage that was later aired on “Prince: Musial Portrait” and “Omnibus: Prince Rogers Nelson,” both which provide a rare proshot glimpse into aftershows of the era. The concert itself is notable for three things. Firstly this proshot footage that hints that the full show remains on video tape somewhere in the vault. A tasty morsel of what could be an appetizing prospect should this whole show ever see the light of day. Then there is the guest appearance of Mica Paris, who Prince spots in the crowd and hands the microphone to for a guest spot. It is a glorious spontaneous moment that perfectly encapsulates the pure love of music and feeling that anything might happen at the show. Lastly, the show gains further luster from the guest appearance of Ronnie Wood, and immediately after  Mavis Staples. Although neither guest is heard on the bootleg (which sadly cuts out before they come to the stage), it still adds to the mythology of the show, and Sabotage have tried their best to give us a taste of what is missing by appending 20 seconds of Ronnie Woods appearance onto the end of the bootleg. It is a pointless exercise, but does serve to remind us of what we are missing from the recording. What we are left with though is a a fierce performance that touches on historic as Prince lavishes a hot and sweaty, yet utterly cool, performance on one of the most famous venues in London.

26th July (am), 1988. The Camden palace, London

It a special gift to Cat that introduces us to the bootleg as Prince gives a unique performance of “Happy Birthday” in her honor. It is a playful rendition as he flirts with different characters in his voice, and gives a gentle ad-lip with only heightens the lighthearted feel to the song. It is far from essential listening, but it does has its own simplistic charm.

“Forever In My Life,” is sonically far more serious, although the recording is less than ideal with its tape hiss just loud enough to catch my attention. The music that the band is cooking up is full of different flavors as Prince takes it from a campfire sing- a-long start to a song steeped in gospel and history, filtering it through a lens that colors it both with blues and funk while settling in neither camp. The guitar runs that appear midsong become the most fascinating feature as they carry the rhythm and the emotion of the song long after Prince has given up singing. Coupled with the popping bass sound, the song becomes the type of jam that contains far more rhythmic ideas than melodic ones, something for the feet rather than the ears.

The recording does no favours for the following “Strange Relationship.’ All the pieces are in place for a grand rendition, Prince’s guitar coupled with Eric Leeds horn sound as if they are prepared to inflict some serious damage upon the dance floor, but the recording remains willfully thin, all the more frustrating given that what we can hear is full of shadows and echos, a highly contrasting collage of sounds for the listener to luxuriate in. Prince’s guitar does whine and cut through the recording, but it never wails and howls as it would on a more full blooded recording, making this a neutered version of what we know would be a testosterone fueled performance.

“Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” is undoubtedly the high point of the show for a number of reasons. The introduction gives no hint of what is to come, the tape hiss stealing some of the intricacy from the performance, leaving only the bold strokes for us to hear. However, it settles down after this with the music elevated above mere trivialities. The vocals don’t fare so well, but as we approach the chorus the sound lifts as the sun bursts through the clouds of the recording. It is Dr Fink who first breaks this initial spell with his glistening and chiming solo. It does play to the divinity sound the rest of the band are weaving, with Eric Leeds following in a similar suit there is the feel that the band are indeed taking it higher. Prince’s guitar solo is different from the small club gig, in this case it is far more nuanced in the opening minutes, and Prince draws a slow build from his instrument, not so much playing rushing to hurricane force finish, but rather playing with the eddies and wind gusts before he finally blows us away with the gale force crescendo that follows. There is much more to come though, and as he spots Mica Paris in the audience he casually hands her the microphone for an impromptu performance that musically is just as rewarding as all that has come before. She grounds the song with strong roots, while Prince creates something otherworldly onstage Mica brings a humanity to the song that we can all relate to. This performance alone has me salivating at the prospect of a full proshot ever appearing.

I find the appearance of “Colonial Bogey March” and “Under The Cherry Moon” to be nothing more but a diversion, although “Under The Cherry Moon” offers a fresh take on a familiar song with the keyboard squelching and heaving in a psychedelic way that would sit happily at home in any late 1960’s commune.

“Six” brings further interest, as Eric Leeds brings his horns and Jazz sensibilities to what would otherwise be a pop rock concert. The opening horn refrain signals what will follow, and the song throws down a challenge from here on in as Eric wiggles and squiggles across the beat for the next few minutes in a manner that suggests the wider palette that Prince was drawing from at the time. Its a far from the furious guitar rock we heard earlier in the show, and even when Prince’s guitar is heard it remains subservient to the mood of the piece, remaining busy without ever coming into full focus.

 

This audience recording finishes with some funk in the form of “Dead On It” and “Housequake.” “Dead On It” is notable only for inclusion, musically it doesn’t muscle up  to the other songs performed in the evening. “Housquake” is more rewarding, there is some punch to Prince’s performance, and the beat alone is  reason enough to always dedicate time to this song. Unfortunately this is where we leave the concert as the recording finishes midsong, leaving us to only guess what the following “Miss You” (with Ronnie Wood) “I’ll Take There,” “Chain OF Fools” (both with Mavis Staples) and “Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic” offer in the way of musical treasures. Part of the “Miss You” performance with Ronnie Wood can be seen on the circulating footage, with Prince giving a fine impersonation of Mick Jagger, and the Sabotage release of this show has tacked the 20 second snippet onto the end of the recording, a waste in that it doesn’t offer much listening value, although I have to admit the video footage out there looks fantastic.

This is almost one of the greats. A 1988 era aftershow, a bevy of guest appearances, and some of Prince’s finest music all makes for a memorable performance. On the downside, the recording is just on the rough side of good, and incomplete. In itself this would be no bad thing, but having seen parts of the video, we know that this show has so much more, and the thought that it exists on video out there makes for a frustrating listen, always there is the voice in the back of my head saying “this could be so much better” Until we do get a better recording of the show, we will just have to make do with what we’ve got. It’s not perfect, but it is definitely a show that every needs to hear at least once.

Thanks for joining me again
-Hamish