Pittsburgh, 20 November 1981

A funny thing happened on the way here tonight……

I had every intention of taking in another concert from Austria, as I have done the last couple of weeks, but when I turned on the computer this morning I was surprised to find a soundboard recording from 1981 waiting in my inbox. There is several things you should know about me at this point:
1. I love concerts from the Controversy tour
2. Especially soundboard recordings
3. I am not one to be patient and wait.

So although I know this a premature leak with a complete recording and art work to come, I can’t help myself. All thoughts of the Austria concert are gone, and here I am with this 1981 soundboard recording blasting in my ears already. Oh the joy.

There is much more to it than being a simple soundboard recording. It is the first concert of the Controversy tour, and a mere four weeks after Prince opened for the Rolling Stones (we all know how well that went). So when we look at it in a historical context it becomes far more interesting than it might at first appear. With the typical Controversy setlist, and one of Prince’s more rock orientated bands, this is one show where I know exactly what to expect, and quite frankly I can’t wait!

20th November 1981, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Part of the trade-off of not waiting for the full release is that we don’t get to experience “The Second Coming” in way of an introduction.  Any thoughts of this are tossed aside as the band burst out of the speakers with “Sexuality.” My first thoughts are”My God, is this a 36 year old recording.” It is so clear and fresh, I could swear I was onstage with the band. It doesn’t have the ragged glory of some of the other soundboards of the tour, Prince and the band are calm and measured at this stage, and the guitar especially sounds as if it is in the studio and someone has simply turned it up in the mix. We have several other soundboards from this tour already in circulation, and from the first song I can already say that this is perhaps the best sounding. With Prince right in my ear it is a wild ride and a spectacular start to the recording.

 

The phrase la petite mort bursts into reality with “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” With guitar in hand Prince is a gentle lover, and as he reaches orgasmic heights he remains focused on the others in the room, providing pleasure without over stepping into the realm of over indulgence and self pleasure. It may be a guitar solo, but the moment belongs to all, and even if six minutes is disappointing by his standards (especially compared to some unhinged renditions later in the tour) it is still a satisfying experience that leaves me feeling like a post-coital cigarette.

“Jack U Off” is the complete opposite. Not only is it a song about onanism, but Prince performs it in a manner than complements the material. It is an exercise in oneism, everything is about Prince as he pushes himself forward. His vocals and guitar fill the air, and although I know his tongue is placed firmly in cheek, it is just too much for me. I seek redemption in his final guitar solo, and I find it both in the quality of his playing and the quality of the recording.

On other recordings, “When You Were Mine” leaves me giddy with it’s teenage energy and spunk. In this case it is the recording that shines brightest, the out of control guitar lines reined in and Prince’s pristine vocals sitting at the centre of the recording. It doesn’t lessen the moment at all, and I am just as enraptured by this version as I am by any other on the tour.

The same can be said of the proceeding “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” All instruments are secondary to the vocals of Prince. That’s not by design, merely that the recording is so clean that Prince sounds much more in the moment. With the pristine recording one can clearly hear the precision of his delivery, and indeed of all the performers on stage. It is the last minute where the guitar raises its head from its slumber, and it is with the guitar’s slippery funk that the band segues into the inevitable “Head”

There are longer versions and there are dirtier versions, but the rendition of “Head” on this recording is a perfect fit with all that has come before. With a performance so tight that it is almost suffocating, Prince and the band leave no room for error and sound  faultless and they turn the normally greasy funk of “Head” into something creamy. This can be heard nowhere more so than the final minutes as the guitar again lights up the darkness. It is neither heavy or forceful, but it takes the song apart with a scalpel like precise that cuts but does not tear the song apart.

The recording has brightened every song heard so far, yet “Annie Christian” seems to suffer in this case. It sounds strangely neutered throughout, the anger of the band and lyrics betrayed by the gentleness and crispness of the recording. There is some rage to be heard, especially Prince’s line about John Lennon being shot (only 11 months previous at this time), but it never becomes threatening or dangerous.

Later in the tour “Dirty Mind” will become an epic centre piece. First night of the tour and here we have a standard rendition that gives no hint at what will come later. The payoff of this neat package of a performance is we can hear Lisa in all her glory as she sings with Prince. Its easy to forget all else as she appears on the recording, and even though Prince turns up he energy later in the song, it is the vocals of Lisa that linger longest once the song has finished.

“Do Me, Baby” has a beauty that is infused into the heart. It may be a song of lust, but it retains it’s dignity through the reverential vocal delivery of Prince. Paired with music that is equally seductive, the song reaches out from the speakers, no longer just a song but instead taking on a life of its on and becoming an emotional experience. I have gushed over this song repeatedly in this blog, but here it is in it’s infancy and already one can hear that Prince has written his first great seduction ballad. Others may come in future, but this will always remain the first.

There is snap, crackle, and pop to the bass line of “Let’s Work” the makes my heart skip a beat. Again, I can’t help but compare it to other renditions on tour. It is not as forceful or driven as some later concerts, but it does retain it’s groove and easy flow. Prince hasn’t turned it into a stomping party song just yet, but we can hear all the key components and they have never sounded as clear as they are here.

The following “Controversy” is of similar ilk. The song sounds great, there is no  denying, but it lacks the energy and impulsiveness that is heard later. There is still plenty to enjoy, the dry guitar line by Prince has me salivating as it wraps me up in its funk. Brown Mark carries a lot of the load through the song, and for me it is just as enjoyable to listen to his contribution as anything else.

I am surprised to hear the guitar so low in the mix for “Uptown.” The band play with plenty of passion though, and although Prince remains the epicenter of all that happening on stage, this is the song where it most feels like a complete band performance. Like everything else on this recording, it is faultless. Everything comes together in a holistic performance, and the only wiry moment that stands out to me is the final guitar solo that appears both spontaneous and fueled by a deeper emotion.

“Party Up” takes “Uptown” and turns it up to 11. At this point the band throw caution to the wind, and for the first time it feels as if they are playing with an inner freedom that seeps through the music. With choppy guitar lines, keyboards dropping in unexpectedly, and some wild sounding yelps from Prince, this is a song I can instantly relate to as it seems to capture the inner workings of my mind.  The moment that sums up Prince’s performance most is as he tells the band to quieten as the crowd can’t hear themselves. He draws the room in at this moment and from here on in it is about performers and the crowd together in the spirit of the song.  It’s not a mind crushing finale, but it is perfect for this recording, and as the final notes recede I sit back, still trying to digest this wonderful recording.

There will never be another first time. This was my first time to hear this concert, and as such I will always remember this day. It was a day when I heard one of the best soundboards to appear in recent times, a recording that takes in another significant concert in Princes career as he turns his back on the Rolling Stones debacle and begins his Controversy tour.  You may think I have been over the top with my praise for this recording, but it is another keystone bootleg in the discography, and one that you need to hear. No controversy about this one, go out and get it.

Next week normal service resumes,
until then, take care,
-Hamish

Capitol Theatre, Passaic

I am very excited about today’s recording. I am going to be listening to Prince playing Passaic in 1982. What is really getting me excited though is I am watching this on a proshot DVD. Prince shows from this era are always very intense and enjoyable to listen to, but being able to see it as well as hear it adds so much more to the experience. I love the music, but I want to see the performance, see the dancing, see the funk face, see the band, see the moves, see the interaction on stage, see the audience reaction. Today I get all of that-let’s go!

30 January 1982, Capitol Theatre, Passaic

The show opens, as they did on this tour, with the sounds of Second Coming while the stage is in darkness. A soulful a capella number, it acts as a nice counterbalance for what is to follow.

Prince Capitol Theatre

The band explodes after this with a very fast drum roll from Bobby Z, and plenty of Prince “Awws”. The first song is Uptown, which I suppose could be taken as Princes agenda at the time. The band have a raw sound, and with Dez on guitar a real rock presence. Asides from Prince, Dez seems to be the focus of a lot of what is happening on stage, and it’s great to see the interaction between him and Prince.

Prince Capitol Theatre (2)

Why You Wanna Treat Me So bad has an introduction that seems to ramp up the energy levels in the building. The crowd can be seen hands in the air right from the go. The song pulls back, and Prince delivers the first verse, looking dead cool in his trench coat. The chorus sees Prince hamming it up with the crowd, pulling faces to the side of the stage. He seems to be putting a lot into this performance, puling faces, and eyes at the crowd one moment, then closing his eyes and singing passionately the next. The guitar break is the highlight of the song, and sees plenty of play back and forth with Prince and Dez. The playing is great, and as he starts playing Prince gives an expression that says he knows how good he, and he’s about to kill it. Prince dominates this song with his playing and its just as good as anything else I have heard on the tour, but Dez and Brownmark aren’t forgotten- they move plenty around the stage, and they make themselves heard on the recording. The song ends with Prince playing guitar and accompanying himself on the keyboard, it’s hard to describe but he does do it- playing his guitar one handed, before band come on board for a final crash and the finale of the song.

Prince Capitol Theatre (4)

The nice electronic sounds of the keyboards introduce the next song, I Wanna Be Your Lover. It’s always a favorite of mine, and here is a very good version, the crowd is clearly enjoying it too. Prince loses his trench coat and guitar for it, and gives a nice performance. The song only lasts a few minutes, but Prince works the stage very well, giving plenty of attention to everyone. I have heard heavier more energetic versions, but this one isn’t bad. I was expecting the latter part to be played out longer, but there is only a minute of groove before Prince picks up his guitar and the band segue into Head.

Head sounds suitably nasty right from the start. The drums seem a little quieter compared to other recordings from the tour, but the sound of the band playing this great. It’s particularly good to hear Lisa’s vocals are nice and clear on here. There are plenty of cheers from the crowd, they are obviously enjoying it as much as I am. Do I need to mention Dr Finks solo? You know I love it! It’s so good to be able to watch him bobbing and twitching as he plays. Right after the solo, there is break down and Prince encourages the crowd to sing a long. It doesn’t take much, they are more than happy to yell “head!” The best is yet to come, and there is another break down and some great bass sound from Brownmark. Then over just the bass and cymbals Prince indulges in some very good guitar work. Not fast at all, but very loud and clear. The song then lives up to its name, and Prince his reputation, when he engages in some very sexual acts with his guitar. It sounds crass, but I love it, and I know that this is why the teenage me became a fan. The guitar sound here is sometime whiny, sometime rhythmic, and yet always interesting. Although it goes for sometime, I just don’t have the words to describe it. But watching this was the highlight of the whole DVD for me. It ends with an orgasm, both visually and sonically.

Prince Capitol Theatre (5)

Dirty Mind is bounces along very nicely. I really like the sound of Dez’s guitar on this one, nice and rhythmic. Watching it, it’s apparently the Bobby Z is putting a lot into his playing, and really seems to be pounding the drums. Prince too is giving it plenty and can clearly be seen sweating. There is a lot of motion, but the music is always first, and it sounds just as good as it does on record. Prince plays a little keyboard himself, which is always great to see. There is an interlude mid song, but its not as long or drawn out as I like, nor does it have the intensity I have heard elsewhere.

Prince Capitol Theatre (6)

The more I write about these shows, the more I fall in love with some songs. Do Me Baby is one of those songs. It’s gone from being a song that I like, to being a song I love. There is a nice introduction to it on this recording, and Dez plays some very nice guitar with Prince looking over his shoulder. The song is a great show case for Prince, and his vocal delivery is fantastic. I love every minute on this recording. His shrieks and yells are what really make it for me, and they sound crystal clear. The spoken parts really get the ladies in the crowd excited, but it doesn’t do anything for me. The song ends with him shirtless and sweaty, and the crowds are lapping it up. It’s not really my sort of thing, but I must admit he’s in pretty good shape!

Prince Capitol Theatre (7)

Prince dons the trench coat again as the throb of Controversy begins. The band play faithfully to what is heard on record, but that’s no bad thing, the song is pretty well perfect to me already. Brownmark gets plenty of shine on this one, and it’s nice to see him get some spotlight and play. Prince is back on the guitar by now, and playing with plenty of vigor. Again his showmanship is outstanding, and the performance is mesmerizing. I have heard this song hundreds of times, but I find myself watching this performance transfixed. The crowd is apparently enjoying it just as much as I am, there is a lot of very energetic dancing to be seen, and people loosing themselves in the music. For a bit I think the song may turn into a long jam, but it finishes up in good time.

Prince Capitol Theatre (8)

Lets Works begins with Prince dancing on the raised section of the stage before sliding down his fireman’s pole to deliver the opening lines. The trench coat is gone now, and the gig seems to change gear somewhat. The song gives Prince plenty of opportunities to dance, and he dutifully obliges. At this stage he was no great dancer, and often he looks like he is doing calisthenics rather than dancing, but he is passionate about it, and the music does seem to genuinely move him. The song is played for fun, and the band seem to enjoy playing this one. The crowd obviously picks up on this vibe, and there is plenty of dancing and singing along from them also. There is a fun moment mid song when Dez sings lets work several times from the central microphone before Prince pushes him aside to take up the singing. The song ends in darkness as Prince says thank you and good night.

Prince Capitol Theatre (9)

Half a minute of chanting “we want Prince” and the lights come back on. Prince delivers a sly “Do you want some more” and the band career into Jack U Off. For me Jack U Off was a quirky little song, that didn’t quite seem to fit on Controversy, but here in the live setting, it is brilliant. Prince doesn’t play guitar, all the furious playing is coming from Dez. . Dez sounded impressive on the recording, but seeing him play – he is even more so. Prince himself seems to love singing this one, he has a big grin on his face throughout the song. The song is very short, as it is on the album, but there is a lot happening in those couple of minutes. I love seeing the interaction between the band, and the end of this is great, Prince gives five to a couple of people in the crowd, before heading over the Dez for some more skin. Then he is back to the mic for his “If anyone asks you, who you belong to?” He has such a big grin by now, and the crowd yells and screams his name. A final crescendo, Prince waves bye and the show comes to an end..

Prince Capitol Theatre (10)

My final thoughts on the recording are very short. I loved it from the first second until to last. Not very objective, I know, but that’s the truth. I have heard plenty Controversy recordings where the energy and intensity could be heard in the music, but in the show that energy and intensity can be seen in all aspects of the show. As far as Controversy shows go, this one is a must have.

Take care
-Hamish