The Orbit Room 2000

I have painted myself into a corner. Sometime ago I listened to an aftershow from Chicago in 2000, and although it wasn’t really my cup of tea, I found I enjoyed it. This week I picked another afteshow played just a few days after, but when I listened to it this morning I found it wasn’t quite what I expected. Most of the performance is Doug E. Fresh, and Prince can only be heard, along with his songs, a couple of times in the show. However, it’s too late now to find another bootleg to listen to, so I am stuck with my first choice. I find Doug E. Fresh inoffensive and pleasant enough, but he lacks any real bite and most of performance is toothless. At this show Prince’s performance is understated and subdued, leaving us with an entirely forgettable experience. Being a hard core fan I have to hear everything, and sometimes means listening to flat concerts like this as well as the more dynamic performances I usually gravitate towards. So with that it mind, this is very much a concert that will bring balance to my listening experience.

20th November (am) 2000, The Orbit Room, Grand Rapids

I listened to both the Sabotage release and the Thunderball release, and to my ears they sound near enough to the same. The opening two minutes is entirely representative to what will follow, two minutes of Doug E. Fresh rapping and hyping the crowd while the music stays secondary in the background. If you weren’t a fan of Doug E. Fresh before this then you aren’t going to be a fan after as he stays in the safe lane and delivers a rap that fails to elicit any sort of emotional response.The concert improves considerably with “I Can Make You Dance” as the band build a solid foundation for Doug E. Fresh to frame out his song. Musically it’s more interesting than the opening rap, but it’s not the typical Prince aftershow we have come to expect, and even as an electric guitar begins to cry in the background the song still remains far from inciting a riot. There is no sense of adventure, the music and delivery remaining tame for the time being.

Another rap from Doug E. Fresh has me again questioning why I am listening to this. Guest appearances and other players are par for the course, and there is no denying that they do bring interest to these concerts. However, in this case it feels too much, and there is very little Prince influence to be heard in the music. I do play along with the call and response, mostly to keep myself interested, but this is a Prince blog, not a Doug E. Fresh blog, and I do wait impatiently for my hero to make his mark.

Finally I am pacified by the appearance of “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” and Prince on the mic. The performance is easy enough to enjoy, although Prince seems caught in the same quicksand as the previous numbers, there is no punch to the performance, nothing challenging to grab on to, and very little in the way of surprise. It is a smooth, almost glassy performance, that is emotionally hollow and leaves me entirely unmoved.

With “Passin’ Your Name,” all is temporarily forgiven. Kip Blackshire takes vocal duties, and paired with Doug E. Fresh, the song has a drive and impetus that has previously been lacking. I can’t say I have heard a lot of Kip Blackshire’s singing, but from what I hear in this case he gives a nuanced performance that has a lot more character than the overwrought rapping by Doug E. Fresh. As one might expect, the horns rise to prominence through the song, and with some soulful keyboard, the song becomes greater than the sum of it’s parts. On a better recording I wouldn’t think much of this song, but surrounded by half-baked performances, and a concert largely lacking in Prince, it punches above it’s weight. With a crisp and taunt guitar solo breaking up the groove the song changes direction and ferments with a Najee solo in the final minutes into something far more interesting than heard elsewhere on the bootleg.

There is a sudden shift in gears, and an quickfire “Gett Off (Housestyle)” takes the previous laid back jams and accelerates them into a something that finally gets the heart racing. Prince’s performance doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm, but Najee elevates proceedings with his contribution before Prince’s final guitar solo starkly reminds me that I am actually listening to a Prince gig.

It is the sound of Prince’s guitar that heralds in the final song of the night, a detached rendition of “Johnny.” It sounds as if nobody is really invested in the performance, and  the halfhearted audience response matches the sound of the music. Even Prince’s guitar solo waxes and wanes in an uneven and inconsistent performance that is symptomatic of the show in general. On a positive note it is short, and it is the end of he show.

I don’t expect to love every Prince concert I listen to. I am a hardcore fan, but I am also a realist, and I trust my ears. This show isn’t dire, it certainly doesn’t sound like a disaster, but it is lacking in the soul, the emotion, that I so regularly hear on these bootlegs. We could attribute this to the lack of Prince’s input we hear on the recording, but it does sum up where he was at the time, musically adrift and leaning heavily on those around him. Normally I find something positive to say, and usually finish with a recommendation to listen to a recording at least once. You needn’t bother in this case. There is very little here for a fan to enjoy, and it is a soulless experience.

Thanks for joining me again,
Next week I will do some homework and find us something exciting to listen to
-Hamish