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

Le Bataclan 1999

Sadly this week Cynthia Robinson, formerly of Sly and the Family Stone, passed away. Sly is a certifiable genius, but to get where he wanted to go he needed a great band. And just as Prince had the Revolution to help him achieve greatness, Sly had his band Sly and the Family Stone featuring Cynthia Robinson on trumpet. Cynthia also played in Graham Central Station, and naturally enough played with Larry Graham and Prince late in the 1990’s. 1998/1999 isn’t something I delve into too often, there is plenty of material coming from Prince, but I feel that he is regrouping and finding his way for the next step in his evolution. He does indulge himself by playing with some of his heroes, and this brings us to where we are today, a gig from Le Bataclan Paris, with Prince playing with Larry Graham, Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini, all former members of Sly and the Family Stone as well as Graham Central Station. As a rule, shows from this era generally don’t fill me with excitement, there isn’t much happening in Prince world in 1999, however I can’t deny that the set list looks inviting, and I know Prince greatly enjoys playing with Larry Graham. Having Cynthia Robinson playing is something I look forward to hearing and a fitting way to remember her wonderful life.Cynthia Robinson

17 November 1999, Le Bataclan, Paris

Things get off to a great start with a brief drum solo from Prince. The quality of the recording is surprisingly good, and Prince’s playing sounds light and playful. I know many people, myself included, like to hear him on various instruments and I always crave more whenever I hear him play drums, bass, keyboard or whatever. The drum solo is only a cameo and after a minute he picks up his guitar for a series of runs as the crowd chant “Let’s go” – a la Let’s Go Crazy. After this light-hearted introduction the funk comes on thick with the band vamping on Doing It To Death. Prince knows how to funk, and his guitar sound is all over this one. Again the band is still feeling their way into the show, and the groove only runs for a couple of minutes, but Prince has signalled his intentions, this is going to be one funky gig.

My summation proves correct as the horn section begins to play and Prince starts singing Bustin’ Loose. Initially it’s Prince and the horns that we hear most, the rest of the band have their moment later in the song as Prince leads us through a series of tempo changes as the song both speeds up and slows down. Kathy J plays a solo, and its leads rather nicely into another change as things slow again and Prince chants and sings. The whole song is saturated in funk, Princes vocals, the horns, the rhythm section, it’s all locked on the groove. As the song plays through I can almost feel the walls shaking and the sweat of the show.

Things sound promising as Prince calls for the keyboards to be turned up, and the guitar to be “turned way up.”  The introduction of Larry Graham gives us The Jam. Larry does a great spoken introduction, and the song sounds sharp right from the beginning. Perhaps I have listened to too many poor recordings of this song, this one seems to sparkle in comparison. Normally I am effusive in my praise of Morris Hayes, but I can’t hear his performance on this one, and its Mike Scott’s guitar break that kicks things off in great style for me. The NPG horns sound equally good, although I start to tune out later as Kip Blackshire sings, and Kirk Johnson plays a drum solo. The party mood is restored to my house as Larry plays and the crowd begin to chant and sing.

Rave 99b

Everyday People sounds much funkier too, with some of pop sparkle initially replaced with a deeper groove and funk. Sure, it’s still sounds like pure sunshine as Larry sings, but the intro has a groove to it, and I do like that Larry does his best to reclaim it from the Toyota advertising. The horns are turned up mid song,  before a trombone solo takes us off into a new direction. My mouth opens as there is a fantastic bass solo that pops along, before a choppy guitar furthers the sound in this direction. It’s all tied together by some great guitar and bass work, and there is a tightness to this band’s playing that I hadn’t expected. They looked like a random selection of players, but upon hearing them I can definitely see that they are a well drilled band.

I have to admit, I don’t know Eye’magettin’ very well (Sorry, I refuse to type in Princebonics). I enjoy it immensely on this recording, with lots of bass and crowd interaction. The rest of the band take a back seat for this one, it’s most definitely about Larry and his bass playing, and the man certainly does live up to his reputation. The song twists and turns a couple of times, and it keeps me guessing with what might come next. This is the early highlight of the show for me, and I hope there’s more like this later on. The sheering guitar sound at the end puts an exclamation mark on it, and I nod in appreciation.Rave 99a

We stay with Larry Graham, and after Prince fights some feedback, it’s the crowd themselves that begins to sing Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again) The band plays and the crowd instinctively sing along for sometime as Prince gets the sound right on stage. There are evidently problems with feedback, as well as Morris Hayes organ being absent/low in the mix. Things immediately improve, and it’s quite noticeable as I hear the organ properly for the first time.  The delivery of the song is almost casual, you can hear the familiarity of the song both with the band and the audience. There is some nice back and forth with the crowd, and it’s very much an ensemble piece, with every member playing their part, including some tight horn work.

Prince takes his time next with a speech to the crowd. His sentiments are well placed, and admire him using his position to say something. It does distract me from the music, so I find myself waiting until it’s over and we can get back the show.

I am rewarded with an uplifting rendition of Purple House. This has been played plenty of times over the years, yet this one sounds a lot better than a lot of other bootlegs I have heard. There is a nice fat organ sound behind Prince as he plays early on, and then later in the song Larry’s bass underpins it while he lets fly on his guitar. His solo is strong and loud, he plays cleanly during the verses, but the guitar is very rock sounding for his solos. There may be better renditions of Purple House out there, but for now this is one of my favourites. Prince stays with the guitar for a further minute after the song finishes and delivers a minute of fantastic guitar shredding. I thought he sounded good during Purple House, but this cameo of a performance is more than its equal, and a nice addendum to the song.

Kiss has a very long introduction, with Prince singing a bass line as the drum begins. It’s not immediately recognizable as Kiss, and Prince takes some time to get some dancers up as the organ and guitar groove. A further surprise as there is a long bass intro while the band work up a head of steam. Finally there is a release as Mike Scott hits the guitar riff, and the song emerges from the jam. The rest of the song is almost a disappointment after the build up we had, and it follows a fairly standard script from here on in.

The following song is Gett Off, and it’s a shadow of itself former self, a lot of the power of the original is gone, and apart from that electrifying guitar riff, it sounds a much more relaxed groove. I would dismiss it, but guitar riff and accompanying solo is just too good, and I can’t turn away even for a second. The last half of the song is buried under Princes guitar sound, and a highlight is as he holds a quivering note for sometime before plunging into more guitar pyrotechnics.

Rave 99

I almost laugh as Gett Off (Housestyle) begins. It is night and day compared to the guitar sound we have just heard, and there is plenty of horn all over it before Mike Scott plays a feather light solo that gains in power as it goes on. There is a fun sound to it all, and it’s hard not to smile as I listen to it, even though under normal circumstances the thought of Gett Off (Housestyle) would make me cringe.

A couple of horn blasts signal the beginning of Talkin’ Loud And Saying Nothing. In a clever symmetry the show is ending as it began with some James Brown and Graham Central Station. Prince can be heard on the microphone, but for me this song is all about the band and their strength in playing together. Typically for this part of a show things become a jam, and Prince throws a couple of songs into the mix as well as giving individual band members a chance to play.

The bass of Larry plays us right into Release Yourself, which skips along at a good pace. There are the horns propelling us forward, as well as the organ of Morris Hayes and some quick guitar licks that underpin the whole thing. The standouts for me are Larry’s bass early on, and a tambourine break that seemly appears out of nowhere. There is a lot going on, and instruments and sounds seem to be coming from every direction – there is no mistaking that this is last song and the band is throwing everything into it. It’s a frenetic end to the show, and I almost feel tired by the time it’s over. A final word from Prince reminding people to be careful and to love God and it finally comes to a close.

This is the second of the three Bataclan shows that I will be listening to, and although completely different from the others, it’s still just as every bit enjoyable. Prince and Larry are undoubtedly the key attraction here, but the rest of the band prove their worth and it’s a complete performance in my view. On paper 1999 may appear a weak year for Prince shows, yet this one shows us otherwise. A fun show at a fantastic venue, with some of Princes (and mine) funk heroes, this one I can safety recommend to all.

Rest in peace Cynthia, thanks for the music.

-Hamish