I am now firmly ensconced in the bosom of the motherland, and surrounded by the books and records that I so dearly love. Now I am back in my comfort zone I thought it would be cool to revisit the Purple Rain tour, something I have been meaning to do for a while now. It might be interesting to listen to one of the earliest concerts of the tour and see how it stacks up against the final concert of the tour. Disregarding all the one-off shows Prince performed in the lead up to the tour, the first concert we have recorded from the tour itself is 5th November in Detroit. This is the second concert of the tour, but with the hit record and movie behind him, the sold out audience is already well primed for the performance. The recording is unfortunately incomplete, I will be listening to only the last ten songs of the concert, but these are the Purple Rain songs so I aren’t too upset. There is also some confusion over the date, the recording says the 5th, but the bonus Sheila E song comes from the following night (she states its their third night in Detroit). I am going to take the Prince songs at face value, they are tagged as the 5th, so the 5th it is.
5th November 1984, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit
The recording begins with the piano set coming to a close. It is an angelic “Do Me, Baby” that is the doorway into this show. I like it, some of the vocal audience members near the microphone, not so much. I have to chuckle as one guy can be heard saying “He’s good, but he gotta play more tunes and get the fuck away from this shit.” Purple Rain concerts are well known for dragging in the middle, and obviously it’s all too much for this guy. I have to disagree, and with this only partial recording I can fully appreciate the minute and a half of “Do Me, Baby” for what it is – graceful, delicate, and heartfelt.
The audience don’t settle for “Father’s Song” and although I can hear it just fine, the crowd can be heard talking and cheering most of the way through it. It doesn’t spoil the moment, but they certainly don’t show it any respect.
After these two shorter songs, we get something substantial with Prince’s “God.” On record I like it, in the live context, although it sounds good, it never quite works. The opening stanzas a little too ponderous for an amped up crowd, and in this case even at home I feel like I am just waiting for something, anything, to happen. The audience recording though is pretty good, and Prince’s spoken words in the midsection are well recorded and seems to again connect with the crowd, that is if the screams are anything to go by.
I had hoped for an longer version of “Computer Blue,” instead Prince gives me a fiery intense four minute version that razes everything to the ground. It is a scorched earth rendition and Prince and the band burn with a incandescent rage from start to finish, something I fully approve of.
Prince concerts are often about contrasts, and “Darling Nikki” is certainly that, coming hard on the heels of “Computer Blue.” As always it is a crowd pleaser, and even though the first twenty minutes of this recording has been full of audience screams, they still find it in themselves to scream louder. At times it does sound almost like Beatlemania, but things quieten for Dr Fink’s off the wall solo, he is easily the highlight of these few minutes.
After listening to “The Beautiful Ones” across Princes career, I am always knocked out by how great it sounds in 1984/85. It is a great song, but at this time it is right for the moment, and it’s right for Prince. Afterwards it always had too much associated with it, but here is the perfect moment in time, and it is simply glorious. The audience recording is superb, and even through the audience are with us every step of the way it still sounds divine, as if Prince is channeling it from a higher plain. It is a lengthy performance, but it feels all too short as Prince howls, screams and emotes his way through the entire six minutes.
“When Doves Cry” is one of the main pillars of the show, and it is given a respectful amount of time accordingly. The recording, while good, isn’t quite good enough for my tastes. The bass, and general power of the band, is diluted. Under normal circumstances I would say this recording is great (there is no distortion or muffle), but for these few minutes I wish it was even better. Wendy’s impassioned guitar break snaps through any thoughts about the recording though, and at the end of the day the music wins through with Prince’s sheer will power and conviction in the music he is playing.
The best part of the recording is “I Would Die 4 U,” with Prince’s vocals crystal clear from the very start. The song shines in this context, and after the previous intensity of “When Doves Cry” it is pure sunlight. As always it is short and bright, and it really is a song that I have come to appreciate a lot more over the years. The final couple of minutes become looser as it becomes pure groove, and I can’t help but fall in love with Wendy a little more as her guitar rings out.
It is only the second show of the tour, but “Baby I’m A Star” is already a behemoth, The Revolution riding Prince’s energy with their own vitality and animated style. It doesn’t reach the same level as some of the unhinged jams later in the tour, but the essential elements are all in place as it twists and turns through a maze of solos, brief musical thoughts, and throw away riffs. For all the ups and downs, it stays surprisingly focused, and there is a crispness to the performance that makes it all the more captivating. The solo bestowed upon it by Prince is noteworthy, butmy the player of the day award goes to Brown Mark and Wendy, who heighten the level of funkiness present with their inspired playing.
It is still the epic high point of the show, but “Purple Rain” doesn’t scale the same heady heights heard later in the tour. The animalistic snort of guitar in the introduction bodes well, but the rest of the song is still by the numbers. I don’t say that as a negative, this is “Purple Rain” played on the Purple Rain tour, and as such it has a majestic and regal aura of purple about it as Prince guides us through his most beloved song. Thirteen minutes is short by “Purple Rain” standards, but Prince has all the key milestones in place throughout the song (you can practically check them off as the song progresses) and anyone here for the Purple Rain album experience would leave happy. Even though this concert recording is short, it feels like we have come a long way since “Do Me, Baby,” and with “Purple Rain” it does feel like the end of a journey.
This audience recording was much better than I expected, and even though there was some audience talking early on, the music was still the key feature and remained at the forefront of the sound. The Purple Rain tour is well covered in the world of bootlegs, being the breakthrough tour that it was, but not many of them are as good as the recording we have here. It is short, but that works to it’s favor and the concert plunges through the Purple Rain album. Don’t be put-off by the audience recording, this is still worth hearing.
Next week, I will take a listen to the final show of the Purple Rain tour, I am curious to see how it evolved from this early concert to that final showcase.