Rock This Joint – Cologne 1998

After dabbling in Eye record releases for the past month, it is time to return to a one of the most influential and well known labels bootlegging Prince concerts and recordings -Sabotage records. Sabotage have a long record of quality bootlegs and is highly regarded in the Prince bootleg community. With a catalog that covers the full scope of Princes career, not every release of a winner, but they are for the most part of a high quality, especially compared to a lot of other labels trading Prince material.

The concert I am listening to today comes from late 1998 and is an after-show from Cologne, Germany. Although it is also released by Dreamline, I have chosen to listen to the Sabotage release, mostly for sentimental reasons. I can’t comment on any similarities or differences between the two, I simply don’t have the time now to listen to the concert twice, but the concert itself is outstanding, and I am sure either would be adequate for those wanting to hear it.

With Larry Graham, Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini, Morris Hayes, Mike Scott, and Candy Dulfer in the band there is plenty of funk fire power, and if this combination of musicians fail to get you moving then I suggest the problem lies with you, rather than the music. The setlist consist of the usual suspects appearing in the late 90s – “Everyday People”, “The Jam”, “One Of Us”, and “Days Of Wild.” One could make a case for familiarity breeds contempt, but the band play with plenty of heart, making the show fresh, even if the music is well-known to all.

28th December 1998 (am), Live Music Hall, Cologne, Germany

I am raving and drooling from the very first moments as the band carve out an insistent groove that “Days Of Wild” rolls across. The song is a powerhouse, here even more so as the band lend their full weight to the groove, pushing the song across a sprawling twenty minutes. The groove is paramount and it takes sometime for “Days Of Wild” to rise out of the tight groove the band is laying down. In fact, the band is so deep down in the groove that the song almost sounds like a jam of “3121” – I half expect any moment for Prince to tell me to take my pick from the Japanese robes and sandals. As “Days Of Wild” emerges from the groove it is both Candy Dulfer and Morris Hayes who add the most to the swirling mix of sounds, they drive the first part of the song before Prince’s guitar briefly cuts through the density of the music later. However, the song ends on a downer as Prince chastises the crowd for smoking and insinuates that they won’t play on until some puts out “them funny cigarettes”. Apart from this it is an outstanding beginning to the bootleg, and one wonders how Prince could possibly top this.

The band pick back up into “Days Of Wild” for a brief coda, before steamrolling the rhythm across an equally forceful “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). It has the same feel and intensity as “Days OF Wild,” only lightened by the horn section playing sharp and incisive, cutting easily through the dark and dense swirl. It is Larry Graham that comes to the fore during this song, and he will stay at the centre of things for the next few songs.

It is a short and sweet “You Can Sing It If You Try” that follows, coming as a deep breath after the crushing intensity of the first numbers. It may be short, but it is perfectly placed in the setlist and allows the crowd to draw a collective breath before the band continue on.

Apparently all is forgiven in regards to the cigarette incident, as the band play a humorous cover of “Ole Smokey.” With Larry Graham on lead vocals it has a depth to it, which is off set by the gleaming horn section giving it some air. It is almost throw away to my ears, but there is just enough going on in the background to keep me listening.

The Larry Graham show continues with “Hair.” Oh boy, this one has me gasping for air as the song opens with some fantastic bass work that is fast, funky, and freaking awesome. The song is full of band contributions, but it is Larry’s bass that holds me enraptured, usually I lose interest without Prince on the microphone, but in this case I am enthralled from the first moment to the last.

I can still barely breath as “Love And Happiness” bounds into view. As Larry Graham leads the crowd through the lyrics, it is the rhythm section that has me squirming and shaking in my chair.  It is incredibly infectious, both uplifting and dance-able at the same moment. I was wondering how they could top the opening “Days Of Wild” – well this could be it. The funk flows effortlessly, it is almost magical the effect the music has on my body as Larry Graham and Prince conjure up a potion that delivers for nigh on nine minutes. It is a swaggering performance that never wavers from the sweaty fervor unleashed by Larry Graham in the opening stanza, an electrifying jolt that moves my body, yet paralyzes my mind in its crushing beauty and immersive electric wonder.

WOW. I still haven’t recovered from “Love And Happiness.”

Give me a minute here.

PHEW!

There is time to recover as Prince and the band build slowly into “Oye Como Va.” There is the sense that Prince is preparing to cut loose, but the first minutes he steadily climbs aboard this musical horse from which he will later ride. The guitar whinnies and neighs beneath his hands, while Morris Hayes offers a carrot in the form of some dark, dense organ. However, the song stays at a steady trot, never breaking into a gallop as Prince keeps the music, and his spirited guitar, on a tight rein.

Prince lets the guitar do all his singing though “A Question Of U.” The opening stanza of guitar giving way to a free flowing minute of molten rock spewing forth from Prince’s guitar. This is one of the shortest songs of the performance, but also one of the most guitar heavy.

The funk returns as Larry Graham resumes his place in the lineup  for a performance of his “Groove On.” It is Mike Scott’s guitar that the funk slips and slides across, his guitar almost liquid in sound as it greases the blocks of heavier music moving around him. Prince’s lead guitar is the centre of attention as burns in the light, but Mike is at the heart of the song, key to everything else happening around him. Candy’s late solo made all the more funkier by the grease under her.

This feeling is maintained through the easy “Joy And Pain” that comes seamlessly straight after. Little more than rhythm and chant, it has all I need at this point.

I am immediately reminded of “Everyday People” as Prince sings “Forever In My Life,” and I understand why as the band segue into “Everyday People.” It is a perfect match with the rhythm connecting the two seamlessly. Prince holds Larry Graham in high esteem, and usually defers to him throughout “Everyday People.” In this case Prince is far more prominent, and contributes heartily to the verses and chorus himself. The song becomes a celebration of the everyman, a mood that is brought into sharp focus by the audience joining Prince for chanting and singing in the final half of the song. The “aw aw” chant is irritating on the bootleg but the “everyday” chant is far more pleasant and representative of the the show in general.

You would expect that with this band “Release Yourself,” would be another showcase for Larry Graham, Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini, or maybe even Prince himself. Yet it is Morris Hayes who provides a shimmering tension to the song with his keyboard bleeding through every level of the song. The song is awash with his signature sound as the song sails across his swells and waves of organ, while other times it is his melodic style that catches the sails of the song and propels it forward. The stage may hold some legendary performers but these ten minutes belong solely to Morris Hayes and his titanic talent.

Larry Graham picks up where Morris Hayes left off, with his vocals and bass taking us naturally enough into a deep and all encompassing “The Jam.”  There is a connection to the previous “Release Yourself” with Mr Hayes again prominent early on before the song spins out in all directions as the each band member pulls it in their own direction. There are occasions where “The Jam”  is overly long and unfocused, and while this version is long it never once falters for energy or interest. Prince and the band sound sprightly, and the song skips along at an lively pace.

Prince brings his spirituality into the show late with a reverential cover of “One Of Us.” The religious message of the song seeps out of every pore, and nowhere more so than at the point where Prince’s guitar enters with a guttural choke before its fingers curl around the song, squeezing every drop of holy blood from the music. This is reinforced as Prince is at his evangelistic best late in the song with a homily and spiritual message for all in attendance. It is an inspiring moment, and even on the bootleg one can feel the power of the moment and his words. As a climax to the show it is perfect, and the holy spirit lingers with me for some minutes after the song and concert finishes.

 

It is easy to overlook this bootleg. 1998 is not held in high regard when it comes to Prince concerts, and on the surface this release doesn’t seem to offer much. I must admit, I did have my doubts when I saw the cover art. But as the saying goes – “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” There is actually a great concert hiding behind this facade. The look and sound may not be classic Prince, but the performance is full of enjoyable moments and some wondrous  musicianship. Sabotage usually deliver when it comes to bootlegs, and this is no exception with a fine concert and tidy release complementing each other. After listening to this show I am beginning to see 1998 in a new light, and may have to dig deeper into some other performances of the era.

Thanks for joining me again,
I look forward to doing it all again next week
-Hamish