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

Glam Slam MPLS 1994

There have been a rash of great recordings popping up in the last couple of months, and I am spoilt for choice when I want to hear something new. I was unsure which one I should listen to this week, and in the end I chose this recording from 1994. I mostly chose it before I have been listening to quite a lot from the 1990’s recently, and this seemed to fit nicely. Last week was the glamour and show of a Diamonds and Pearls show, this recording is a couple of years later, and completely different in many ways. In the two years in between a great deal has changed in Prince’s world. It’s a small early morning show from the Glam Slam club in Minneapolis, and show cases the strength of Prince and the band musically. All the key elements of a great show are there, and as a nice bonus it’s a soundboard recording.

29th May 1994 (am) Glam Slam, Minneapolis

Things start very well indeed with a heavy insistent riff from Prince and his guitar. The scene is well and truly set as the bass and keyboard coming it, and it has a full blooded raw sound which I always like. This cover version of Sly Stones Sex Machine is well chosen, and for those fans of Princes guitar work there is plenty to enjoy and admire. He warms to his work, slow and steady with plenty of groove. It certainly has that aftershow vibe about it, the guitar moves in and out as the music swirls around it.

Prince 1994b

We don’t move too far from the Sly Stone sound, as next the band plays It’s Alright by Graham Central Station. I know this song very well now, having heard Prince play it many times over the years, what makes this version good is that it is the first time that Prince and the band played it live. There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the performance, and Prince sounds quite young in places. I can feel this rubbing off on me, and as I listen I feel uplifted. It is truncated, but thankfully it’s not part of a medley, the band just fades it out after a couple of minutes.

Listening to New Power Soul next, I am thinking here’s a song I don’t recall hearing live before. It seems I was right, this is the only live performance of it. At first it fails to excite me, that is until a crisp bouncy guitar appears midsong, and there is plenty of interesting things to listen to from here on in. Prince mentions Poor Goo, the song doesn’t eventuate, he’s just talking. Morris Hayes on the keys sounds good, I would like to have him further forward in the mix though. Asides from that it’s a nice performance, and a cool oddity to have thrown in mid-set.

I saw Dolphin on the setlist and I had my hopes up. Unfortunately we don’t get a full performance, instead Prince sings the first verse before bringing it to a halt and telling us “sorry, we can’t do that, it’s private” Again, it’s the first public airing of a song, and although it was little more than an intro, it is another tease and clue to what’s going on in Prince’s world at the time.

Prince 1994

I always associate The Most Beautiful Girl In The World (Mustang Mix) with this band configuration. Played this way it’s a perfect fit with their style and it works extremely well in this club setting. It has a slow burning sound to it, and I think this is heightened by Morris Hayes playing. Some of the glitter and sparkle is taken from the song, and we have here a darker, warmer groove. Twenty years ago I didn’t get it, now I do and it’s a firm favourite.

Things get funky when the band start on a 15-minute version of Get Wild. It’s slow to start, then builds into a big groove. The best part is when we get to the breakdown in the middle of the song, first there is there is a solo from Brian Gallagher that leaps out at me, it’s got plenty of life to it, then Prince breaks it down before the chorus and groove return with a vengeance. The horn section adds a lot to the show at this stage, there’s plenty of stabs and swells as the band and crowd chant. The horns add some brightness to the groove and emphasis the main riff, giving it a real lift.

Prince 1994a

I am very pleased to hear Billy Jack Bitch next. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I am a fan. It does sound flat in places here, energy wise, luckily the horns and the chorus bring it right back up.  There is a pause midsong, when it comes back it is heavy with the horns and organ, and it’s this part of the song that I dig most. Prince yells “release date never” which gives some insight to where he was in his battle to release material at that stage.

The show goes out on a high with a performance of Days Of Wild. The start is particularly good, with Prince sing a capella for the first minute before the power of the band come in behind him. The lyrics are crystal clear, this sound board recording is great for highlighting his vocals, and the lyrics are fun. There is nothing new as they groove into Hair, although the song does seem to lose it momentum, only to gear up again into the heavy grind of Days Of Wild a minute later. It is Michael B and his drumming that carries us through to the end of the song, with the crowd heard chanting “Go Michael”, a fitting end to the show.

Prince Slave

Although short, this show was well worth a listen. The fact that it was a beautiful sounding soundboard added a lot to a show that looked somewhat short on paper. It was in fact a very nice document of a show from the string of shows such as this that he played in 1994. I will be playing it for the next few weeks in my car, and really I can’t give it a higher recommendation than that.

Thanks again, have a great week
-Hamish

The Hi-Fi Brisbane

I shouldn’t like today’s show, but it is one that I actually listen to quite a lot. On paper it doesn’t have much going for it, it’s an audience recording, the set list is rather ho-hum, and it’s only just over an hour long. But I find myself coming back to it again and again- I guess there is no accounting for some peoples taste. An aftershow from the Australian tour of 2012, it’s more recent than some of the gigs I have dusted off over the last couple of months. So before I begin, please bear in mind that although I enjoy this one, it’s probably not to everyone’s tastes.

Brisbane 2012b

19 May, 2012 (am) The Hi-Fi Brisbane, Australia

There is an unusual start to this recording and show, as the first thing we hear is a couple of minutes of the PA, while there is a live sound check. While ‘I Know You Got Soul’ plays you can hear various instruments being checked, a few drum beats here and there, and a bass run or two. Often I find that the beauty of listening to these recordings is that I listen carefully and imagine that I myself am at the show. And with the band sound checking with the PA I can well imagine the excitement in the room, as that is the feeling I get here listening at home. And to give you further insight to my world, I often dance around the room listening to these songs, before forcing myself to sit down and listen again and write about it, and believe me and was and truly dancing around the room for the first portion of this show.

Brisbane 2012

The PA stops playing abruptly and the drums of Musicology begin. It’s got a good shuffle to it, and the horn stabs and prominent while the organ adds depth behind it. The bass enters, and then some great rhythm guitar. It’s got a funky wah wah sound before it changes and starts to play some funky sounding lead lines. I have never been a fan of Musicology but if it had hace been played more like this in the main shows then I definitely would have given it much more love. Played here as a jam with plenty of guitar and bass its sounds much fuller and funkier. The bass hits a nice loop and the singers join in with a good harmony of “I know you got soul”. Because this is an audience recording, there is a lot of crowd noise, and sometimes it does drown the band, but I feel it’s a trade off, as it does give it a brilliant live feel. This one is far from the sterile shows I sometimes hear. Prince call “Brisbane, I know you got soul”, and there is great cheer from the crowd before Prince goes on to play a lot more guitar. Its not a roaring guitar solo, just very long, funky, improvised playing. Mr. Hayes gets called for a solo, and there is a moment when you can hear Prince calling to the sound desk “Turn him up, help him, help him”. The organ then becomes noticeable louder and Mr. Hayes plays a very nice break. Shelby J follows soon after singing Mama Feelgood, and I must say it’s very refreshing to hear her singing, rather than encouraging the audience as we hear at the main shows. She does have a great voice, and is a favorite of mine, but I feel she doesn’t play to her strengths at the main shows. Here it’s all about her singing, and I am onboard as a fan. The band do all get a chance to play, there is a brief drum break for John Blackwell, and Cassandra O’Neal also gets a small solo. Both are good in their own ways, but too short to be noteworthy. Again, there is very much the feeling that its a live show as Prince gets on the microphone to speak to the crowd, and at the same time asking for the sound desk to give him “more high-end on stage, more high-end” I love that this is raw and unpolished, and they are working on it as they go. He further goes on to explain to the audience “we get it right, we can stay here all night” There is then a few minutes when the song is stripped back to Ida and John Blackwell, before the crowd start to chant with Prince “ooohhhhh, Brisbane”. The last two minutes of the song is Cassandra and John Blackwell playing, it’s a funky rhythm and has me itching to dance. The song ends, and I see it’s clocked in at almost 18 minutes- a great way to start an aftershow.

Brisbane 2012a

Ida on the bass, and some heavy organ from Mr. Hayes starts us into Days Of Wild. The first call of Prince to the crowd of “these are the days, these are the days” has them chanting along from the start. There is some heavy organ which I do like, before Prince starts to sing. As I said earlier, there is a trade off with audience recordings, and here I find I don’t hear Princes vocals as well as I expect. He’s not spitting the lyrics as intensely as he used to, and there is also some distortion in the sound which makes him hard to listen to. And of course I should mention, I have this playing way too loud for my speakers, so it’s not always just about the show! Prince comes out with his “oh by the way I play the bass guitar” but what follows is fairly muted and restrained by his standards. There is then a nice moment when the main refrain from America is played, before we return to the heavy organ groove of Mr. Hayes. I have to give further love to Mr. Hayes, when he then goes on to play a great organ break for a good minute or so. It fantastic, and adds a warm darkness to everything. There is then a great break, with just the band pulling right back while the guitar plays a funky stroke. It’s the funkiest moment of the song, before Prince begins to sing Wild And Loose. He only sings it for a verse, before there is another keyboard solo. This song is just dripping, and it’s impossible not to move to it. Liv also gets a moment to sing on it, and she delivers an impassioned and deep Ain’t Nobody. I am really feeling this one as another keyboard solo comes at us, and the heavy groove goes on and on. Cassandra plays great on the piano, but its only fitting that it’s Mr. Hayes who plays us through to the end of the song with his organ. “These are the days, these are the days”!

Brisbane 2012c

The Question Of U starts as purely an instrumental, while Prince plays some restrained lead guitar. I say restrained, as in its not fiery and loud, but it does have a stratospheric sound. He does sing, but it’s not The Question Of U, instead he sings the lyrics of The One over the music. The One is some of my favorite lyrics, and I am pleased that the recording is good enough that I can hear him quite clearly throughout this song. He pauses after each verse for some guitar play, nothing wild, just suitably mournful. After the second verse he does play with a tone more in line with what I expect from A Question Of U. Although he plays a good long break, the song isn’t totally about him and his guitar. After his solo, there is then a long piano break, played by presumably Cassandra. The surprises keep coming as Prince begins to the sing Gingerbread Man. The band is very quiet at this point, and it’s mostly Princes vocals and the crowd we can hear. I am not overly familiar with the song, but I really enjoy it here, and it’s a great fit for the song. Soon after Mr. Hayes plays another break (he sure is busy tonight) before the song comes to a soft end with the audience clapping and singing “ooohh, ohhh. ohhh, oooohh” A beautiful song, and again it’s played to maximum effect with nothing feeling rushed at all.

Brisbane 2012d

The dark bluesy arrangement of I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man follows next, and it’s soaked in a melancholy feel, especially the guitar tone and Princes vocals. I am a big fan of this slowed down arrangement, and this one is particularly smoky. Prince’s guitar playing is tight earlier on, but there is a great release when he does open up and play the first break. Like a door cracking open, the opening notes pull us in and I want to hear what comes next. Prince doesn’t unleash it right away, he returns to the verse after a few bars, but it builds the anticipation. At this point you can hear some people in the crowd commenting that this version is better, and although I don’t like hearing them on the recording, I do agree with their sentiments. After the next verse Prince does open up on the guitar fully, and this is a good one, I mean the solo is full of emotion and soul. It’s not a solo for the ages, but on this song on this night it’s just perfect. He does play faster as the song goes, but never furiously so, and as I said before, the fact is it’s a very soulful and mournful solo. The emotion continues as the music breaks down and Prince sings “I could never” over and over. Every word is full of passion, and it gives the song a vibe that is missing on the album. The keyboards play some piano and organ, before Prince sings the refrain a couple more times and closes the song with one last mournful line.

Brisbane 2012e

Prince gets a break from vocal duties next as Shelby takes the lead for a rendition of Brownskin. After the intensity of the previous song, it leaves me a little deflated. Shelby sings well, and I can hear the band is in good form with Prince on guitar, but it’s not at the same high level of the first four songs. There is a guitar break by Prince midsong which is noteworthy, plenty of sustained notes and a very electric tone to his guitar, but it’s only short and we return to Shelby. On a better recording, I would give this one a lot more time, but being only an audience recording it is hard work to listen to, and even with another fine guitar break by Prince near the end I still can’t quite give it a pass.

Brisbane 2012f

Prince calls for the lights to be turned up as he starts the rhythm guitar of Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). I have heard this one plenty over the years, so it fails to fire me up when I hear it here. It’s as we have heard it previously, although the break with Prince playing plenty of rhythm guitar is cool, and for me the most enjoyable part of the song. It’s at this stage of the gig that things speed up a little, and the earlier vibe of a jam is lost. This is very much a show that has two halves. The first few songs were all longer jams, and plenty of intensity, but at this stage a lighter vibe is present, and the songs are getting shorter. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) only goes for a few minutes before it ends and Prince plays the funky guitar intro of Love Rollercoaster. He doesn’t go on to play the rest of the song, we just have half a minute of him alone playing the rhythm before we move on to the next song.

Brisbane 2012g

Next his guitar playing moves to the rhythm of Controversy and the kick drum comes in behind him. There is the keyboard sound, before we have the main groove that we know so well. The crowd gets a chance to sing along as the band play, and the band do a great job of it, they sound very tight. Prince does play with the crowd little, getting them to scream and shout in a brief call and response. There is then another verse and chorus a break down and Prince doing his “people call me rude” speech. Then as the Controversy groove continues Prince asks “how many people know about the quake” and we get a minute of him and Shelby encouraging the crowd to clap their hands and stomp their feet, before the song is brought to a close. Again it’s very short, and light.

Brisbane 2012h

The party is kept going as Prince and the band start to play I Know You Got Soul, nicely taking us back to where all this begun. Prince mostly speaks to the crowd, getting them dancing, before a very short chant of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie”. The funky guitar starts again and we move to Play That Funky Music.

Play That Funky Music I have very strong feelings about. I don’t like it in his main shows, and I definitely don’t like it here. The band plays it very easily, and it feels a little throw away for them. This one is slightly better than others, in that Prince starts a guitar solo early on and maintains it for most of the three minutes. It swirls and grinds away while Prince occasionally sings a line or two to the audience. The song never really starts, nor does it ever turn into a jam, and it ends very quickly with Prince “Thank you Brisbane, and good night”

Brisbane 2012i

So there it is, an odd little show that I listen to a lot. The first part is very strong, and even though I dislike the second part of the show, it is very short and the first few songs more than compensate. As I said earlier, it’s not for everyone’s taste, but if you aren’t adverse to an audience recording and want to hear something a little off the radar, this would be as good a place as any to start.

Plenty of good shows been played here recently,
Hopefully I will get them on the blog as soon as I can.

Thanks again
Hamish

 

Beautiful Experience

I have been badgered into writing today’s entry by long time Prince fan Jony. He has long maintained that this is one of Princes greatest recordings, and I should check it out. For the longest time I was adamant that I didn’t actually have this one, and I hadn’t heard it. Then last week I was cleaning the spare room, and voila, there was the CD. The recording itself is from early 1994, and believe it is Princes first performance as Symbol. Some of these songs are now firm favorites in my house, but at the time they were all new to me and quite a departure from what had come previously. A quality recording of one his most creative eras? Yeah, I’ll give that a listen!

13 February, 1994, Paisley Park

I love the start of this one. The first thing we hear is Prince saying “alright, lets get it started” before the sound of a computer keyboard and a voice-over telling us there is over 500 experiences to choose from, the same as we hear on the Gold Experience album. A nice scream from the back of Princes throat brings the band and the music into focus with a fine sounding performance of Interactive. This is a soundboard, but my copy sounds a little muted, its does seem to be missing some of the top end, and a little bass. Perhaps because I only have it as MP3’s. A bit of tweaking and it would sound much fuller. The band pause after a minute, while the voice over returns, then we kick back in. The drums sound good here, some excellent sounding tom-toms, before Princes guitar solo brings things nicely into focus, and energizes the song again. About now I can hear the keyboards underneath, and I realize that this one will give me something more with every listen. It’s a short sharp song, and nicely sets the scene for what is coming next.

Prince Feb 1994

And what is coming next is something extraordinary- the first ever live performance of Days of Wild. Hold onto your wigs indeed! It sounds great here, I really dig the nice deep groove to it, and it’s got a slightly dark sound to it. There is a lot happening with first listening, the juicy bass line, the moaning and groaning keyboard, the sharp keys dancing overtop, and to top it all off we have Princes vocal delivery. Not just the lyrics he is singing, but also the passionate way he spits it out, it commands my attention throughout the song. The ‘hold on to your wigs’ refrain balances it nicely, and gives me a chance to wave my wild sign high as I write this. Oh by the way, he plays guitar- its a thin sounding guitar solo we get here, it doesn’t stand up again the dark deep grooves, but its not bad. The song is already very strong and a stronger guitar break would have been overwhelming. I could quite happily turn of my computer now and just groove to this, but it does end and I find myself writing about the next song.

Prince Feb 1994d

Now has a happy sing a long beginning. Again it is another first performance of a new song. On a good day I really enjoy Now, and on an average day I find it a bit ho-hum. It is at a great disadvantage coming straight after Days of Wild. Another groove song, it doesn’t have the dark strength of Days of Wild, nor does it compare in Princes vocal delivery. For all that though, it does draw me in, and by midsong I am hanging on Princes words, even if I do find the chorus too much. Putting down the laptop and dancing around the room it would be a much better experience, but sat as I am writing about it, it’s not that great. I cannot fault Princes passion, nor the performance of the band, it’s a solid B+.


The bluesy The Ride follows next, and Prince pitches it to the over 35’s in the crowd, great – something for my demographic. It’s a good clean version we get here, I have heard it much slower and bluesier. The recording is great in that I can hear Princes singing so well, something I usually miss on live recordings of this where I mostly concentrate on the guitar work. Prince’s voice is full and he’s in complete control after the fury and fun of the first couple of songs. No sooner had I commented on Princes vocals then the guitar work begins. It’s not long, but it is one of the better ones I have heard on this song. Very joyful to my ears, and something I will be coming back to again. It pulls back to softer guitar before Prince ends it with “If you got the time baby, I got the ride” and a call for “Vegas in E’. Now I have listened to this song plenty of times over the years, but this was the first time I realized the lewdness of the ‘the ride’. Let’s just say I was a little naive.

The Jam next, and its very much like the all the other jams we have heard from this era, lots of Prince calling “oh he’s a funky man” as he moves around the band and gives them all a moment in the sun. Nobody gets too long to really do too much, but most parts are enjoyable enough. I do like the guitar parts, it’s different from what you might expect and has a light rhythmic touch. Sonny gives us something in complete contrast with a short heavy moment, and the the band really begins to swing. This is reined in much too soon, but is none the less is very enjoyable.

Prince Feb 1994a

I Believe In U is a cool little cover, and plays to the strengths of this band. The keyboards in particular are very strong throughout. Asides from that there is not too much that can be said about it, it does come across as smooth and light in comparison to Princes own original material. I find myself nodding along, but at the same time looking at the set list and looking forward to what is still to come.

This show is also the first time that Prince played Shhh live and reclaimed one of his most beloved songs (in my house at least) Week after week I heap praise upon this song, and this week is no different. For a first live performance of a song, it’s outstanding. This version here is one of my favorite live versions- the fact it’s a nice soundboard, Princes band is as sharp as ever, and Prince clearly makes a statement in the way he sings this, it is most definitely his song. He does go too over the top, and as the guitar break starts it’s very nicely restrained and sounds very tight. It’s excellent in every way. The backing singers are right into the mix, and close behind Princes voice, adding a lot of depth and strength. There is the second drum rolls and crashes midsong, and then Prince really let’s fly with his guitar. The sound here is beyond words, it’s really something to hear. At this point I want to say thanks to Jony for pointing me towards this show, the show is great and this song is outstanding. Most excellent, although I find it is lacking a little ambiance from the crowd.

Prince Feb 1994c

What’d I Say had been covered by Prince for some years before this performance, so I don’t find it overly excellent in this performance. Prince does have Tattoo on stage to play some guitar, but it’s somewhat shambolic, and doesn’t add anything of value to the show. Its does pick up later in the song, and there is a decent solo, playing on a guitar with a very interesting tone. It doesn’t sound like his usual setup at all. I can’t decide quite how I feel about this song, I didn’t have the urge to skip it, but I could have quite happily gone without it.

The next song in the set if very interesting. Peak The Technique is improvised and has all sorts of things thrown in the mix. There are plenty of samples and some very cool bass and guitar work. Prince can be heard laughing early on, and it’s obvious the band is having fun. There is not too much vocally to the song, mostly samples of Eric B and Rakims “Don’t Sweat The Technique”. The second portion of the song things really speed up and there is some excellent bass work that is funky and gets things swinging. It’s about here that I become very interested and my ears really prick up. The song ends after five minutes, but there was plenty going on there, and I could have easily listened to much more of this.

Prince Feb 1994b

I sneaked a peek at the set list and this was the song I was looking forward to hearing most. Martial Law is a George Clinton song that I never get tired of. The version here isn’t what I expected at all, it’s more a jam and groove, but it’s great. This band I have always thought sounded most like a Parliment/funkadelic band and there sound is very well suited to this song. That thought is further emphasized as Prince puts on a series of distorted and strange voices. The song pulls back to just a bare kick drum sound and more strange vocals from Prince has me slightly disorientated. The only parts left from the original song is where at one point we hear the backing singers singing “ow ow ow”. It’s the drum and piano sound that play all over this one, and some kinetic bass lines. The whole thing has certain strangeness to it, and I would have loved to see Prince do something like this more often. Weird but wonderful.

A Salt and Pepper song to finish? Why not, it’s that sort of show where nothing surprises me any more. Prince sounds very relaxed, and the piano playing also has a nice easy sound to it. It’s an instrumental for the main part, mostly piano playing over a groove, but there are a couple of DJ scratches thrown in for good measure. The organ too is well in the mix and the song sounds fat and full. There’s not much more to it than that, and it ends before I know it. A very smooth and listenable way to end the recording.

Thanks again to Jony for recommending this recording, it really was excellent. Old Prince very much was dead by this stage, and the new songs he is unveiling here sound much funkier and are coming from a different place all together. The start of the recording was sounding uptight, but by the end it was nice and loose, and somewhat strange. This is a keystone recording from a very important part of his career. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is still essential listening.

-Hamish

Montreux 2013, 2nd night

It’s taken me longer to get to the second night of Montreux 2013 than I anticipated. I was enjoying the first night too much, and although the set list of the second night was different, I found the sound and quality of the show to be very similar. Normally that’s not a bad thing, but in this case I just couldn’t find a reason to play it more. But today I have bitten the bullet and sat down to give it a proper listen and write about it.

14th July 2013, Montreux

 

The show begins as the previous night with the now familiar sound of thunder and rain. I don’t feel the excitement as much as the first recording, I guess because I have already heard it too much. I just want to skip past the past the prelude and enjoy the concert itself. The crowd gives a cheer but soon settle into a silence waiting for the show to begin proper.

The first night had started with a surprising Strays Of The World, and there is another treat to open this night too, as the first song up is Act Of God. It’s a nice song for the horns to play on, and it has a clean yet strong sound to it. I find the horns a little too brassy, but I really like the song. It’s got a nice steady flow too it, and Prince and his singers sound very good together. Princes voice isn’t overly strong, which is a shame, but it is only the first song. As the previous night, Prince calls on Marcus early for a solo, and it’s probably the most enjoyable part of the song.

Again, harking back to the previous night, the song flows into the next one, What Have You Done for me lately. The girl singers actually sound much better than Prince, he seems to be a little lost in all the horns and voices. There isn’t long to digest the song before it moves quickly into Northside.

I would like to write a lot about Northside, but it barely lasts a minute before the segue into the next song.

Although I would never call myself a fan of these medleys, I do accept that they are part of any Prince show nowadays, and a realistic way for Prince to cover a lot of material very quickly. The medley here isn’t musically bad, it just feels like it’s too soon in the show for it. To have a barrage of songs coming at us straight out of the gate doesn’t really give me a chance to enjoy or digest the music. I do like everything played here, but I feel like I am nibbling many dishes at a feast, rather than sitting down and really getting into it.

Prince Montreux 2013

Which Way Is Up is a song that I really dig. The horns and the girl’s voices do a great job of it, and for the first time in the recording I feel myself engaging a little more with the music. It’s only a couple of minutes, but it’s more than what we have had so far. The band is playing very well, but come across as being a little too polished, and the music lacks some feeling to it.

The medley takes on Partyman next, and the gig feels like its beginning to build up more and more. The song sounds good, but if I compare it to the original I do find it a lacking in something. I cant quite put my finger on it, maybe there is a little too much, or perhaps the horns are running away with it, they certainly do seem to be playing all over it. Its fun, but unfocussed. I find myself wishing Prince would sing more of the song, rather than standing back and letting the horns play over it.

We are back in nostalgic territory next as the band slip easily into Take Me With U. Never a favorite of mine, I find that I am enjoying it more and more as I listen to these recordings. This gig is par for the course, Prince sings well with the girls, and I can hear some nice guitar playing underneath. It’s a nice pop sound, and the simplicity of a pop song sounds quite joyous compared to the over worked songs we are hearing more of nowadays,

Keeping with the pop motif, Raspberry beret follows straight after. The pop of it sounds fresh, and Prince does play around on it, changing a line, and singing some others slightly differently. For a song that has been so over played I am surprised that this is an early highlight for me. It’s never been one of his longer songs, but here the two minutes it gets barely do it justice. Still I rate it as a good moment.

Cool gets a very cool introduction, and Prince acknowledges that it was popularized by The Time. The women singers carry most of the load on this one, with Prince providing a few shouts here and there. He is much more to the forefront when the verses start properly. I can’t help but sing along with this one, it’s so catchy. I love the groove underneath and Princes vocals are very funny. It’s played very much like we heard on the welcome 2 America tour, and I guess the performance is pretty much the same. I feel I must be completely honest at this point, when this was playing I found myself dancing, singing and clapping my hands, so I had to go back and listen again to write this. It’s very enjoyable indeed. There is even a nice horn flourish to end it all, before there is finally a proper break between songs.

Let’s Work sounds different from like I have ever heard it before. Like all the songs from this gig, it is soaked in horns at the beginning. It sounds smooth, and Prince makes space for some funky guitar to be heard. But to my ears something is missing. It doesn’t seem to have that funky bass, it’s more smooth than nasty. And even the funk guitar is missing the rhythm that gets me moving. It’s played as long groove, with plenty of dancing, but it is unrecognizable from the sweaty funky song of the eighties.

The next song is U Got The Look, but it sounds like a pale imitation of the song I know from the eighties. Everything strong about it is gone, and even the horns playing on it can’t seem to inject any energy into it. It’s insipid, and seems to drag on lifelessly. I don’t want to be a negative voice for a quality soundboard recording like this, but this song is a low point. I don’t need to hear a full on rock version, but it does need to have some sort of backbone to it.

Prince Montreux 2013 1

Shades of Umber has me back on board totally. The horns sound very soothing and soulful on it, and it easily trumps anything else we have previously heard on this recording. I can’t quite define the sound, it’s a smooth yet up-tempo instrumental, and there is some wonderful horn solos throughout. I do know that Prince didn’t play an instrument this night, so what I am listening to here has no Prince input all, which makes it weird for me now as I type “this is the best song of the recording” There is an excellent point mid song when it slows down, and the guitar has a chance to solo. Nothing too full on or overwrought, the phrase “it’s all done in the best possible taste” springs to mind. The song ends with plenty of cheers from the crowd and I want to cheer too.

I love the deep groove of Days Of Wild, but here some of that feels slightly undone by the brassy horns. That is by no means a slight on the song, as always I find myself bobbing alone immediately. I love the guitar line I can hear in the left speaker, and I don’t need the band to tell me to “Get freaky, let your head bob” – that’s the default position for me when I listen to this song. I find the songs they throw in the mix with this to be better than ever, Big Fun, Ain’t Nobody, and the best of them all, Don’t stop the Music. The song started well, but it just gets better and better, especially as it breaks into a brilliant sax solo. I haven’t heard a solo that made me this excited for a while. It’s nothing spectacular, but it definitely hits my groove button. The song ends with a couple of strong horn rounds, which is only fitting. I thought the start of this one was average, but by the end they had blown the doors off -it’s great.

Nothing Compares To U gets a lovely little piano intro before Prince and the band come in. I was going to say I would refer a stripped down version, but the band pitch it just right, and I find myself eating my words. Although not as vocally strong as I have otherwise heard, it’s still a top performance. For all her detractors, Shelby is a very talented singer, and she sounds great here. Not classically strong, but her voice is beautiful and she more than does it justice. Cassandra has a small keyboard solo, its not as delicate as I expected, and for a moment I feel thrown off, but it is good, and the band does pull us back into the song well. The crowd does get to sing before the song ends with a nice saxophone break.

I completely misread this recording. I was expecting a polished but boring sound-a-like of the previous night, but already I have heard many things that stand out and are more than enjoyable. I love surprises like this.

Prince calls to take us back and then calls for Mutiny. As the previous night it’s played interspliced with Ice Cream Castles. This was my song back in the day, but I just can’t buy into the new version. It’s too much Vegas show tune for me, and the deep dirty groove seems to replaced by something a lot less fun. The horns dominate here, but there is some good guitar that can be heard underneath it all. I do enjoy it much more once the sax has a solo, and the band start their various chants. By the end the band has once again broken me down and I am smiling and bobbing along.

I have been looking forward to the next song ever since I read the set list, Something In The Water is a song that will always mean something to me, and I look forward to every version out there. This recording more than delivers, Prince singing against Cassandra keys. His singing is just beautiful, although not as weak and vulnerable as I am used to, its still very good. I can’t complain about lack of emotion when something sounds as good as this. In a recording full of highpoints this is yet another.

Big city follows next, adding to the rarities and oddities heard at these shows. Big City is a top notch song, and I feel it deserves a proper release. It’s got a light and groovy sound to it, and although the horns are strong on it they never dominate, its Princes vocals that drive this one along and that’s a definite plus. I love hearing songs like this, it’s played so well they could just put this live version out and that would be fine by me. The second half does break down into somewhat of a horn fest, but that’s fine, there’s still enough there to hold my interest. But when the horns come back to the main refrain and Prince sings again I immediately feel it again. This song needs to be played more.

In a similar vein Superconductor is played next. It’s the same sort of vibe to it as Big City, sort of fun and moves along nicely. It’s unfortunate that it’s truncated here and ends just after a minute. Still, you can’t have everything I guess.

Prince takes us right back with a full version of 1999 next. This sounds great with the full horn treatment. Normally I wouldn’t say that, but listening to it this time I am feeling it. The pounding beat is there as it should be, and that’s all I need. The whole song is just an excuse to get the crowd singing along, and the verses are quickly dispensed with to get the crowd chanting. It doesn’t quite sound like a party, but it does sound fun.

Just like the previous night Musicology is brought out again. It’s not as strong as the day before, but Princes voice seems to be better- much more into it. I rarely listen to Musicology on album, but it is tailor made for gigs like, and it stands up very well. The band gets plenty of shout outs, but nobody really has a chance to shine, except Shelby who sings a couple of verses of Mama Feelgood. Again I will go on record as saying, I’m no fan of Shelby’s shouting, but I am a fan of her singing. Marcus Anderson does play yet another short and sweet sax solo, and it only makes me wish that this band had more of an opportunity to stretch out.

Last song of the evening is Partyup. It’s not exactly the Partyup you remember and love, more a bastard child and an excuse to let loose and jam a bit. Over a long extended beat Prince encourages the crowd to chant “party up, got to party up” He keeps it rolling like this for a few minutes before he finally brings the band in. It takes a full four minutes before the band finally enters, but it’s not as boring as you might think. When the band does enter it’s not as the song you may expect, and there is no singing except Prince and the band chanting with the crowd. As I find myself saying on many of these recordings, it’s not bad, but it is something that you have to be there for. There is a couple of horn solos in the song, but they are very short and not particularly noteworthy. Well, that’s what I though on first listen, but with subsequent listens I have found them more and more enjoyable.

I can’t help but compare this show to the previous night at Montreux. Looking at the setlists and the overshow I fully expected not to enjoy this one as much. But, as always, I have found myself going in with low expectations then finding myself eating my words as the show more than delivers. Despite having a similar sound to the previous night, this recording has a personality of its own. I think the first night edges it, but there were more than enough great moments in this one to make it well worth listening to. A very enjoyable treat indeed.

Next week I will listen to the third and final Montreux show, this one slightly different in that it is Prince and 3rdeyegirl.

Take care
Hamish