First Ave 1982 Revisited

Recently Mace2theO commented that this bootleg from 1982 was the equivalent to his first girlfriend. We all have a similar first girlfriend experience – she may have had braces and carried some puppy fat, but she will always be special by the fact she was the first and painted in nostalgic hues forever more because of this. It was our first proper relationship, and doomed to a crushing teenage ending, but always conjures up warm memories that do not fade as time passes.

I’m sorry Mace2theO, but  in this case your first girlfriend got around a bit. Not only was she your first girlfriend, she was my first girlfriend too. Mace2theO acquired this concert on cassette (and all the nostalgic currency that that carries), while for me I found this bootleg on CD hidden away at the back of the record store. It was far from perfect in sound quality but I can assure you that when I took a listen it shook me to my core, and the fact that 35 years on I am blogging about Prince bootlegs demonstrates how much of an influence it had over the rest of my life. Like that first girlfriend, it was a formative experience. I didn’t quite know what I was doing and I have had better relationships since, but retains a special place in my heart.

A couple of weeks ago the soundboard recording of this show became widely available. It’s not always comfortable when we meet ex-girlfriends later in life, a messy divorce behind them, a couple of kids under their arm, and the first signs of a drinking problem hiding behind their forced smile, but in this case my first girlfriend has grown up into somebody I want to spend a lot of time with. The roughness of the audience recording is gone, replaced with a shiny soundboard, all slender legs, short skirts and long luxurious hair. Oh yes, my first girlfriend is now the hottest chick on the block. She is has grown up in every way, while retaining all the charms that I first fell in love with all those years ago. I may have talked about this first girlfriend before, but now she is in full bloom and stirring up those old feelings in me. It’s not very often that I spend time with ex-girlfriends, but in this case I am going to roll back the clock and wine and dine this girl one more time.

So with my first bootleg love rekindled, lets douse ourselves in cheap cologne, grease up the hair, and head straight to the heart of 1982.

(all photos by Mike Reiter)

8th March 1982, First Avenue, Minneapolis

There is a heat between the thighs from the opening minute, a few quick words by Prince and then a rage of guitar pulled down by Dez. With a punk rock assault Prince and the band hang it all out in these first minutes with both power and panache. In a frenzy of guitar scuzz “Bambi” storms into the room. It’s a wild eyed performance that bounces of the walls in a maelstrom of fuzzed up guitar and shrieked lyrics, capturing the listeners attention from the start. It is much cleaner than the previous audience recording, and the soundboard brings the musicianship to the the fore while retaining the fierce sound of the more familiar recording. That first girlfriend has cleaned up her defiant punk-rock hair style, but still has a fiery intent in her eyes that hints at an underlying violence that could bubble over at any second.

“All The Critics Love U In New York” is the most Princely sui genius song of the evening, and clearly maps out the territory that he will roam in the next few years. It wears its uniqueness proudly, face melting guitar work grafted to the undeniable beat that appeals to both my gut and my feet. I am never quite sure if I should be dancing or punching the air, the music insisting that I move my body in any way possible as Prince gives us perhaps the greatest performance of this song ever recorded. The keyboard solo gains on this pristine recording, Fink’s solo standing out among the more forceful blazing guitar and holding his own calm centre at the eye of the storm. For a minute we are in another world, before the hurricane of guitar solos return and swallow up the all the sound.

There is a glimpse of the first girlfriend I used to know in the opening of “When You Were Mine,” both the title and the sound taking me back to youthful summers that were equally long and lost. It is easy to project these feelings back on a song that has been with us so long, but even at this show it has a nostalgic feel – although it was only recorded just two years previous. This is the most comfortable song of the concert, and captures the exact feelings that I first had when I heard it all those years ago.

There is a world of difference between the audience recording and this soundboard recording when it comes to “Sexy Dancer.” A far more nuanced performance emerges on this recording, and whereas before it was strident and bold, here it becomes much more of a sassy walk rather than a march into battle. Both the bass and the keyboard via for attention, each adding to a show that I am already eminently familiar with. While the bass remains holding the song together, Dr Fink spins off into an intergalactic sound with his keyboards, making me draw a sharp breath in the thrill of it all. It is Dez who gets to put an end to these flights of fancy, his solo serving as an exclamation mark on all that has come before.

Things slow, sex and lust temporarily forgotten as Prince dips into a song of love and yearning with “Still Waiting.” Prince is on lead vocals, but it is Sue Ann Carwell who is the star attraction with her contribution. At almost ten minutes long there is plenty of time for the candles of love to flicker and flame, and musically one can hear the lights being turned down as the song slows to a velvety and warm breakdown. In this circumstance it is grating to hear Prince saying “I got cause to celebrate, because my girlfriend died” but as Brown Marks bass rises up from this crushed velvet sea all is forgiven, and I am again transported away on the winds of Sue Ann Carwell’s voice.

The recording slaps me in the face and snaps me out of this reverie with a furious “Head.” On the previous recording it was nasty and slutty, on this recording it is far more sexy and erotic. While the audience recording sounded like a blowjob in the Walmart carpark, this one speaks in the language of fellatio and sex on the hood of a Porsche at a Beverly Hills party. The outcome is still the same, but it doesn’t threaten to be as dangerous, and despite some superlative bass work I am comfortable that when it is all over I won’t be visiting the clinic in the morning.

If there is a moment that demonstrates how much better this new recording is, it is the final minute of the “Head” when we can hear Prince preparing the band for “Sexuality.” We have heard his yell into the microphone before, but this time we can hear him say it a couple of times earlier to the audience. It’s not a big thing, but it does show just how good the sound is. “Sexuality” is relatively short, most of the song is given over to the audience sing-a-long that dominates. It does lose some of it’s impact on this soundboard recording, the audience recording obviously doing a far better job of capturing this moment with the audience. This is crying out for someone to combine the two recordings in a matrix mix that would better give us that electrifying live sound that makes this recording so vital.

Prince’s brief speech introducing The Time has been often discussed, and for good reason. His easy banter with Morris is refreshing, and its hilarious to hear him and Morris go back and forth, trading lines and barbs that belie the darker waters that swirl just under the surface. “Dance To The Beat” maintains this veneer of lightheartedness, and provides a pop twist to a show that has been thus far guitar heavy and drenched in intensity. There is a lift in the atmosphere and the recording shines bright for these minutes.

Prince continues to fire broadsides at the band between songs, this time with the comment “I didn’t like that, play something you know how to play.” The response from The Time is a taunt version of “The Stick” that would satisfy the most demanding of audiences. As much as I like The Time and this song, it does feel as if they have gate-crashed the date, and there is an awkward third wheel experience to hearing them on the bootleg. The real draw card though isn’t the music itself though, rather their dynamic tension with Prince, a tension that fuels his music and will provide some of his most dramatic work in the following years.

“Partyup” fuses these two elements together in a climatic finish that delivers all it promises. The opening talk between Prince and Morris sets the scene, the back and forth continues between them continues as Morris takes his place at the drum kit for this final stomp. Prince and his guitar lead from the front, but most fans will be focused on Morris and his drumming. He lives up to expectations, and the foreplay of the opening talk is forgotten as the the song becomes further arousing. Morris’s drum solo almost brings us to orgasm, but Prince pulls him back just in time with some great bass work from Brown Mark. The final climax comes with an inflamed guitar solo from Prince,but as with the audience recording there is coitus interruptus as the tape fades out, the rest of solo never realized and leaving us to only wonder what might  have been.

I have loved this concert for as long I can remember. I have grown older, but it has remained forever young, even with the imperfections of the long circulating audience recording. With this soundboard recording we have a chance to revisit our youth, and a chance to reconnect with that elusive first girlfriend. I have mixed feelings as I know that the first girlfriend is forever gone and never again will I listen to the audience recording. This new recording has created new memories and sparked a new love. It is time to move on and file the audience recording in my box of faded photos, yellowed love letters and yesterdays glories. I am firmly looking forward as with this soundboard recording I feel reinvigorated, my love burning with a new intensity. I have made up my mind, this is the recording that I want to spend the rest of my life with.

-Hamish

Bonus material:

Mace2theO messaged me this quickfire review when I told him I was covering this bootleg. It’s not written with public consumption in mind, but he has agreed that I could share it with you. I am in full agreement with everything he has written here, and he is far more succinct than me!

Re 82 – reasons the show is important to me, rediscovered with the SBDs

The First Ave show came the night after the main show at the Met Centre so going back to a small club, it has the feel of an aftershow. It is the first Revolution in all its glory, with Dez as a proper Keith Richards lead as the Black Rolling Stones, all pre-Purple Rain. Starting with a raw punk version of Bambi, it then goes into a monster version of All the Critics. While “Let ’em out of his cage” is great, my favourite is before Doc’s solo when Prince and Dez start soloing and Prince yell’s “Wait a minute, Dez” before ripping off a monster solo.

Sometimes audiences make the boot and I had been living with crowd singing at the end of Sexuality for so many years, it took me a minute to adjust to the soundboard. Same with All The Critics – without that kickdrum in your face, the SBD didn’t feel the power of the earlier version…although it sounds much better.

Most important – this is really the closest we will ever get the inspiration for the Purple Rain battle. Before all the controlling issues that came along in 83-84, you can feel the real affection between Morris and Prince (“We used to be friends”) – as trivia, it has the only time in bootleg history where someone gives Prince shit “You wanna borrow my comb?” Also history, as only time live Prince with Morris on drums.

I have fallen in love with my first girlfriend all over again – not looking forward to telling the wife

U4 Vienna 1987

I have been meaning to listen to a Sign O Times main show for a long time now, and this week was going to be the week. Unfortunately, I got side tracked by today’s recording and never quite made it to a main show. This week I am listening to a real oddity from 1987. This recording comes from a charity show played by Madhouse, with a Prince set following. What draws me to it is the songs performed – The Ball and Adore in particular have me intrigued. The set is only short, clocking in just over an hour, and it is an audience recording, asides from that I think it looks good and worthy of a closer listen

29th May (am) 1987, U4 Vienna Austria

Things start off very well, and the landscape for the recording is set. A loud boisterous crowd, a scratchy recording, and then some fantastic music. The venue sounds small, on the recording at least, and we have plenty of audience talk quite clearly and frustratingly on the recording. Housequake starts us off, with just the drum beat for the first minute or so. It’s heightens the sense of anticipation, and I do like just hearing the beat run for some time. Prince teases the start a couple of times, but we never jump right into the song, instead it’s a slow burning groove. It’s played as a jam, rather than what we are accustomed to on record, and that works well for me, especially with the horns adding their weight to it. Later in the song is a highlight with the horns all sort of interesting lines, and it’s probably a blessing that I can’t understand the audience chat so I can listen past it to the music.

Prince 1987bb

 

The most interesting part of the show comes next as the band tackle the unreleased The Ball. It is such a delight to have a live recording of a rarity like this, and what makes it even better is the band jam it out for a good long while. The first few minutes we have a nice steady groove, before Prince sings and engages the audience- primarily having them chant “ball”. Asides from the beautiful groove, the other thing I must mention is the horns which again are the heroes in the song. Princes vocals sound strong, although slightly variable on the recording. The insistent beat carries us through to Shelia E rapping out Holly Rock, which sounds cool even as the tape fades in and out. The crowd feeds off the performance and the chat dies down with lots of singing and clapping.

At first I hardly notice we had segued into something else, until I recognize the bassline of Girls And Boys. This is pretty much all that remains of that song, as the band use the bassline as a step off point to go all sorts of places. Horns come and go, bass drops, guitars spring up, it keeps evolving in weird and wonderful ways. Its stays groovy and funk filled the whole while, and I have to say I am captivated by it. The last few minutes almost has me in a trance, and by this stage I have forgiven it for being an audience recording and I’m just so happy we get to hear it.

Prinec 1987a

Adore is led by a heavy organ sound before the horns lighten the tone and usher in the song I know so well. The tape hiss is very noticeable at this stage, and that’s a shame as the song itself sounds gorgeous. It’s not as smooth as the record, and I like the fact that at one point you can hear Prince call the chord change. I am less happy about the audience chatter that reappears, but some wonderful delicate guitar work on stage makes up for it. Some soulful vocals from Boni Boyer seal the deal, and the song ends at an all-time high.

I Got My Mind Made up is new to me, and I take an instant liking to it, especially the keyboard solo that plays for the first few minutes. Dr Fink is doing his thing, and he’s doing it well. It’s got another one of those steady grooves that this band seems to specialize in, and this gives a solid foundation for everyone to play off. The bass is the next to come out at us, and it adds some bottom to a show that has so far been dominated by horns and keyboard.

If a song is called Guitar Rock Jam, I would expect it to be a guitar rock jam. The first minute is misleading and the band grooves on sans guitar, but then it does appear and Prince plays a snake charmer sounding solo. It picks up from here, and as the band quickens so does the guitar and the flurry of notes. It’s definitely heating up, and Princes fingers are ablaze by midsong. The following few minutes are Prince at his very best on guitar, I forget the rest of the band even exist and listen purely to the guitar. To say it is stellar is an understatement – interstellar would be closer to the mark.

Prince 1987

It’s a comedown to have the gentle start of Purple Rain follow on from this, but I soon warm to its charms. It feels out of place after the loose jams that have come before, but Prince still gives his all to it, and his vocals are delivered in full effect. I can’t shake the feeling of the songs that have come before, and the structure of it feels heavy after listening to them. The guitar solo starts of well, and is shaping up to be more interesting, which makes the fact that the recording ends just as the guitar solo is reaching its heights all the more frustrating.

This recording deserves more coverage than perhaps it already gets. It is flawed in many ways, it’s the quality of the material and the performance that carries the day. The band are loose and stretch out across some very interesting song selections, and this is what marks it as a great one for me. I am prepared to overlook the audience recording when what I can hear from Prince is at this level. You can safely add this one to the list marked “shows I want to hear in soundboard”. As for a main show from 1987, that’ll have to wait for another time.

Thanks again
same time next week
-Hamish

 

Warfield Theatre 1986

I am happy to say I have finished work for the year now, and I am looking forward to three weeks of rest and relaxation. The summer is hot, the beer is cold, and I have more time to listen to some of the longer shows in my collection. Today I am going to take a listen to the longest show in circulation from 1986, a show from the Warfield Theatre, San Francisco. The shows from this year follow a formula, and this one differs in the inclusion of a couple of interesting moments. ♥ or $ is in the show, which is always good to hear, and we have a long version of America, something I am looking forward to hearing very much. Also an appearance of Andre Cymone playing Dance Electric gives this show a buzz, and adding another good reason for me sit down and give it a listen.

23 May, 1986. Warfield Theatre, San Francisco

No surprise at all as the show opens with Around The World In A Day. What I immediately like about it is the noise and passion of the crowd. There is a great roar as Prince is introduced, and some immediate chanting, which helps me create a virtual concert in my mind. However the recording is an OK audience recording, and at first doesn’t sound great on my speakers. I switch to my headphones and it becomes much fuller and I am rewarded right away with the band playing up to their impeccable standards.

Christopher Tracy’s Parade doesn’t have me quite as enthralled. The vocals aren’t as tight as I would like, and some of the momentum of the previous song is lost. I do like the bass I hear later in the song, and Prince engages the audience with some hand waving near the end which sounds like fun. Unfortunately the sound quality drops off a little at this stage too, which leaves me feeling disappointed and underwhelmed at the end of the song.

The drums and bass are the best thing in New Position. The sound is still uneven on the recording, so I don’t get as much out of Prince’s vocals as I would like. The song is still very good though, and any problems I am having are definitely down to the taping rather than the show.

San Fran 86c

I Wonder U also has rather murky sounding vocals.  I do like the vocal play between the singers however, and the song is so short that I don’t really have too much to complain about, or indeed praise.

Prince counts us off, and the band steamroll into Raspberry Beret. With the crowd clapping and singing, it’s easy to overlook the sound quality. This song sounds light and easy every time, and there isn’t anything fancy required to get it across to the crowd. It does have its classic pop sound here, and Prince takes a minute near the end to do a little spiel to the crowd about a girl who is looking fine. There’s not anything more to it, and with a final fanfare we more on.

Alexa De Paris is the best sounding song so far, mostly due to the fact that there are no vocals, and the recording does a far better job capturing the instruments rather than the singers. Prince always has a nice balance to his songs, and in this case I really like how the horns offset the guitars. It’s a nice dynamic, and its small things like this that I notice more and more as I listen to Prince.

The beat of Controversy begins, and as that funky guitar line starts I already know that this is going to be my favourite part of the recording. This feeling is heightened as Prince says “Frisco, tonight you’re mine” The introduction is just brilliant, with Prince telling the audience that tonight they are going to be Uptown, before having them do the Holly Rock chant. I turn the volume right up on this one, and switch back to the speakers, but again I find it much better when I am listening with my head phones. The bass is great right before the breakdown, and what comes next is a highlight, as Prince stops the band as they segue into Controversy and introduces Miko Weaver to the crowd. He has him play just the guitar line, and this is what I have always wanted to hear most, just that great slippery guitar. Prince quietens Miko, and speaks to the crowd, asking about his suit, before Wendy starts her guitar line. Prince calls Miko to join and it’s just heavenly, it’s these spontaneous moments that make live recordings worth listening to. A few more Holly Rock chants and we kick back into Controversy proper.

San Fran 86b

The good times roll on as the band next plays Mutiny. Prince is feeling the funk now, and so am I here at home. I go to turn the volume up again, but I am already at maximum, and there is nothing more I can do but bob my head along like a grinning idiot. The groove is a monster, and Eric Leeds puts his mark all over it. I don’t know if Prince is pulling his funk face, but I certainly am as the song gets better and better. Eric’s breakdown seems to go for an age, the band stop, and just Eric and the chanting of the backing singers is heard. It is hot, oh so HOT. Prince is in fine form, stopping the band and asking Jerome “what you wanna do” and then letting the band loose, cutting him off just as he begins to answer. It’s funny, funky and great to listen to. Prince drops in the chorus of Dream Factory, giving us a little treat, especially 30 years on and we know the full story. Even the outro gets the full treatment, with the band winding down for a good minute with the horn riff. The last ten minutes has been magnificent, and if the show ended right now I would be more than satisfied.

How Much Is That Doggie In The Window seems a strange choice, but it segues beautifully into Lady Cab Driver. It’s a shame we don’t get to hear Lady Cab Driver in all its glory, but this show is already so crammed full that I can’t complain in the slightest.

Automatic doesn’t have the ominous cold sound I normally associate with it. It this context the horns lighten the feel of it, and it’s actually a good fit into the show. The song is kept short, with some horn vamps near the end to round it out.

San Fran 86d

I like the horns playing the intro of D.M.S.R and there is a fantastic scream just before Prince speaks the opening words. The song is shaping up to be another funky jam, but things become even better than I could possible imagine as Prince rather simple says “Ladies and Gentlemen, Andre Cymone”  as the beginning of The Dance Electric begins. I don’t know what I love more, the song it’s self, or the fact that Andre is playing it in the middle of this wonderful show. The song surpasses its novelty value, and I can’t express enough how good it sounds hear. There is some flaming hot guitar sound, and the bass matches its intensity. To be honest the band plays this to the hilt, and everyone holds the groove so tightly as the guitar is let loose. Its eye watering good, and as soon as it finishes I hit the repeat button, several times.

After the intensity of The Dance Electric, Under The Cherry Moon is a nice contrast, and also a sign of how far Prince had come in his sound in just a few years. He is clearly at the top of his game here, to have the confidence to present a song like this straight after the funkfest we have had so far, and I applaud and admire him for that. The song works well as a break in the furiosity of the show, and a chance for us to collect our breath. It’s also a chance for someone near the taper to find their seat, all beautifully recorded for prosperity (seat 7 for those that are interested).

The guitar whine that introduces Anotherloverholenyohead has me perked up, and Prince doesn’t disappoint at all, his vocals are perfect and I get the same feeling that I get every time I hear it on record. The intensity is back in the show, and I feel the song as much as I hear it. I love Eric Leeds and Atlantic Bliss for their contribution, and just as much I find myself listening to and enjoying the keyboard of Lisa. I am not sure if I am imagining it or not, but she seems to get longer to play, and I lap it up here at home. There is a false ending that throws me, Lisa plays a keyboard run that I expect the song to end with, but then she picks up again for another minute of playing as the chant continues “You need another lover, like you need a hole in the head”
San Fran 86

What follows is a kicking beat that I can’t quite place, even as Prince tells us it’s a blast from the past. He puts me out of my misery as Soft & Wet is heard, and I am very happy to have it the setlist. This setlist is light on pop songs, and this and Raspberry Beret carry the load in that respect. Dr Finks solo is mind-blowingly good, only half a minute it comes out of nowhere and floors me. I wait until my partner leaves the room and then I sing along for the last minute, it’s just too catchy to resist.

You wait all day for a pop song, and then two come along at once. I Wanna Be Your Lover is ever youthful, and still sounds like a sunny day. I have long since forgotten about the quality of the recording, I am just enjoying these songs and this show too much. The bass and keys hit the groove in the latter part of the song, and I find this just as enjoyable as the opening couple of minutes, and in addition there is the realization of what song will follow- oh boy, I can’t wait.

The horns signal the beginning of Head, but something is missing. There doesn’t seem to be the nastiness and dirty sound to it that I expect. I may have spoken too soon, Lisa’s vocals add the sound I am looking for, and paired with Dr Fink they nail that old school sound I am looking for. For the second time today Dr Fink delivers the goods, and I love that sound he gets out of his keyboard. The song progresses through to its “head, till you burn it” stage and Prince works the microphone like a pro with plenty of croons and squeals. Some of this good work is undone as Prince introduces the wooden leg, luckily I can’t see it and I just keep on listening to that slippery guitar sound underneath. Things get worse as I hear the word “oaktree”, but again the music is still strong and keeps things balanced. Things get very interesting as I hear Prince say “I wish Morris was here to see this, would he be mad or what” as he chops the oak tree down. I had never noticed that before, and I find it very interesting to hear.

San Fran 86e

There is an interlude as the keyboard play and Prince address the crowd, before a very cool sounding Pop Life follows. The keys sound laid back, and Princes delivery is equally relaxed sounding. The song still has its pop, and I enjoy hearing the girl’s voices singing with Prince. Eric’s flute solo is very good, and the sharp sound goes well with the song. The bass isn’t as strong as I have heard on other recordings, but the song doesn’t seem any worse for it.

Another favourite of mine next with Girls & Boys, I don’t know what it is about this song, but I think it’s the quirky keyboard sound with the deep sax of Eric rubbing up against each other. I could enthuse about every member of the band here, but there is only one star, and that’s Eric. His signature sound drives the song, and I could easily listen to him play all day. Prince gives him space to play, before come back strongly with his own vocals near the end of the songs. Yet I again, I find I can’t help but sing along – I guess I really am a fan.

Life Can Be So Nice comes as a rush after Girls & Boys winds down. I can’t catch Prince’s vocals very well, and neither can I pick out some of the other band members. Things sound better in the chorus, the band pulls back and the recording sounds better, it’s only during the verses that the recording can’t match all the sounds that are there to be heard.

It’s untalked about in the fan community, but I find that Purple Rain is the odd man out at Prince shows, and especially in a show such as this. There is no other song like it in the Prince canon, and its sound is completely different from anything else we have heard at this show. I find it strange that the most well known song of Prince’s, indeed his signature song, is also the most unrepresentative of his sound. For all that, it is a song that I still enjoy, even after hearing it thousands of times live, and the version played here is pretty darn good. There is a long intro with Prince playing soft lead, and although the beat sounds weak and thin on the recording, his guitar playing makes up for it. There is plenty of time for the crowd to get their “ooh, oohs” in before Prince begins to sing at the four minute mark. Again, any issues with the recording are forgiven, as Prince delivers a sublime vocal performance. In particular when he sings “I know, I know, I know times are changing” I can feel the weight and emotion in his voice, and I am sold on it. The guitar break picks up right where his vocals left off, and there is flurry of guitar work in the middle that captures my imagination. By the time the song ends with the cascading keyboards I am more than satisfied, and I can’t believe how much this show has given us already.

There is no time to dwell on that thought as the driving beat of America comes right in over top, and some furious guitar work from Prince opens the song. This show just keeps giving and giving, the first salvo from Prince is great, before he hits the main riff and Eric and the band come and drive the beat home. I have used the word intensity many times already, but it’s entirely appropriately, the band is playing everything with intensity, and this one is no exception.  I shake my head at how good this all is, we have Atlanta Bliss in the mix, and some fiery guitar work from Prince. The band gets into the groove, and there a few stops and starts from Prince as he puts them through their paces. He throws in some funky chants as they jam on it, before a drum solo appears in the mix. It does peter out at this stage and comes to a rather limp finish.

Whole Lotta Shakin’ is short and light, and doesn’t fire my enthusiasm. What I did enjoy though is when the song abruptly stops and Prince demands of Wendy “Wendy, what’s so funny?” The crowd begin to bark and Prince picks up on it and calls for a beat to be put to it – I like the casual way he calls Bobby Z “Bob”. I hadn’t expected to hear him call on the band in such a friendly manner. The band briefly jams and it turns into Holly Rock. This gets a much fuller treatment than Whole Lotta Shakin’ and they play it for a good four minutes. The bass work is tight, and Prince has the crowd barking along all through the song.

Love Bizarre starts very suddenly with Prince calling “A,B,C”. We can’t see what is happening on stage, but it is eliciting plenty of cheers and shouts from the crowd. Eric Leeds is to the fore, and his playing is on point throughout. The best part for me though is when Prince starts the chant “whose house? Wendy’s house” and Wendy obliges with some great guitar work. Prince stops the band, and as the crowd cheers Wendy calls “Yeah, wasn’t that great!” Prince starts to talk, and at first I think he is going to diss Wendy, instead he praises her to the sky. It fantastic to hear him speak so highly of her, and I agree with everything he says.

San Fran 86a

It’s a tepid sounding Kiss that follows, but I think we can blame the recording for that. The actual song is an extended version and has the classic long ending with plenty of funky guitar and groove. Wendy lives up to all the praise Prince has just given her, and along with Brown Mark there sound holds it down for the latter portion of the song. There is plenty of horns and the rest of the band, but its Wendy and Brown Mark holding it all down.

♥ or $ closes the show, and it’s a great demonstration of how good this band is. Every member of the band can be heard clearly dong their part, and without being individually showcased you can still hear the valuable contribution each member is making. I love the sound of the horns in the mix of this one, they are all scrambling over each other to be heard, and it gives it a little more energy. The song comes to a sudden halt and the show ends with applause and more barking from the crowd.

With the recent appearance of the (unofficial) 1986 boxset, these concerts have been at the front of my mind. The amazing part for me is, not only did Prince play these amazing shows, but he also recorded and lay down a fantastic catalogue of songs all in a single calendar year. It’s an unmatched achievement, and listening to these shows in that broader context is mind-blowing. This show, although not the greatest recording, is just as fantastic as anything else from this era. The warm-up show is always my favourite, but this one matches it in many ways. The setlist is great, and there is plenty of interesting bits as Prince acknowledges his past with the appearance of Andre, and also in his telling comments about Morris. Musically brilliant, historically interesting, and contextually essential, I have gushed about this show, and for good reason. Every show from 1986 is a must listen, and this is one of them.

Thanks to everyone who has been in touch this year, your words and comments keep me motivated
Same time next week -Hamish

 

The Ritz 1981

After listening to recordings from more modern times recently, I have today decided today to dig back all the way to 1981. I like these early shows- no Purple Rain, no dancers, no sampler sets- just the music. The word that always comes to mind is ‘raw’ and although it’s almost a cliché, it is entirely true. Prince is raw, both musically and visually, and I can connect to the younger him on stage. I will be watching a show from 1981, and there isn’t too many shows circulating on video from this time, it’s certainly not like nowadays when there seems to be a camera at every show. I love this show, but it’s been sometime since I last saw it, so I look forward to reacquainting myself with it.

Ritz 81

22 March, 1981, The Ritz, New York

The first thing I hear is the bass snap of Do It All Night and the simmering synth riff. Prince appears bathed in dry ice, and I already love this show. It’s got such a classic feel to it, it’s hard not to be swept along on a high. Prince’s vocals are nice and pure, and the bass in particular sounds great. The whole recording is very clean, it really is a treat to listen to. The band certainly looks like they are ready to rock, however the song doesn’t require it and they are nicely restrained. There is a cool moment in the show when Prince calls Andre and Dez to walk and the three of them pull a nice little move off together. Prince is a little quiet, that is by no means a criticism as his vocals are so crisp.

Ritz 81a

The rock part of the gig starts next as Dez throws himself energetically into Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad. There are a few squeals from the crowd as Prince sings his lines, but it’s at the chorus that the song really takes off. Both Andre and Dez put a lot of energy into it, and I feel it elevates the song considerably. There is also a nice moment as Prince and Dez strike their classic guitar gods pose. I can just about sing Princes guitar break note for note as I have heard it so many times, and it gets my heart pumping now just as much as it did 30 years ago. It has been a good while since I last heard this song, and I had forgotten how much enjoyment I get out of it. Prince’s second guitar break is more interesting, he is backed by the keyboards, and they ably match him. The song isn’t as long as I have sometimes heard, and it leaves me wanting more as Prince brings it to a close.

Ritz 81b

“We’re going to do something for the rude people” has me wondering what he is going to play next, and I am pleasantly surprised as Prince croons his way through Gotta Broken Heart Again. Not only is his singing gentle on the ear, but there is also some delicate piano and guitar play which has me paying close attention. The song doesn’t contain anything in the way of surprise, and that is a surprise in itself and Prince keeps it simple. He does indulge in some vocal play at the end of the song before it comes to a close with that piano again. This song is great, and I’m doing it a disservice by not writing more about it.

I wrote about Broken when I covered his 81 show at Sams Minneapolis, and here it once again appears. Its rockabilly style feels a little out of place, but in retrospect it’s nothing like the stylistic jumps later in his career. I like Princes vocals, his singing at this time is a nice falsetto, it’s just the music in this song is so slight it leaves me feeling hollow.

Ritz 81f

Bobby Z gets to play a nice long intro to When You Were Mine, before Prince comes in with his guitar. The song isn’t as strong as I like, there is certainly much stronger versions floating around. It’s played well though, and I can’t fault it in any way. Prince looks incredibly young, and it’s hard to believe he’s lived the experiences he is singing about. The break down is normally longer than what we hear on this recording, and after a quick line Prince jumps back into the song. It’s all very fine, but I get the feeling that something needs turning up to 11 to make the song jump.

Ritz 81d

Gotta Stop Messing About sounds good, so I am surprised to see how static the audience is. Andre’s bass is the star for me through this song, he has a nice pop going in my left ear. Dez and Andre both contribute backing vocals to Prince and it does add a more manly sound to the song, although the synth squiggle undoes some of that. Prince does bounce and bob, and yet the song never really ignites and comes to an end leaving me wishing it was something more.

I hear a funky guitar play and the rhythmic pattern of Sexy Dancer played on the cymbals and my spirits lift. The main elements of the song are Princes guitar and his vocals, and that’s no bad thing at all. There is a keyboard solo, but I find myself still listening to Princes guitar as it plays. The song becomes a dance after about half way, plenty of bass, guitars and a nice easy chant rolling over and over. There is a brief guitar break from Prince that becomes more and more and we get a good couple of minutes of him playing rhythm guitar centre stage. I was about to dismiss the rest of the band, but Dr Fink plays a really cool solo, complete with bobbing head and jerking motions. I love ya Doc!

Ritz 81h

I don’t recall the last time I listened to Sister. Some days I love it, and some days I dismiss it as a throw away piece. I like seeing the performance here, but truthfully I could probably live without it. It’s hard to be critical of something that’s so brief, so it’s with pleasure we move to the next song.

I Want To Be Your Lover is a slab of pure pop, and it’s hard for me to reconcile between the look of Dirty Mind era Prince, and the pop sound of the song. In later years he would joke with the lyric “Ain’t got no money (now that’s a lie)” but I have to say looking at him here, he definitely looks like he’s got no money. As good as his vocals sound, for this song it’s the rhythm guitar of Dez that I focus on. Not just the chorus, but also the verses his guitar sound is fantastic. I don’t think I had noticed it earlier, but now it’s all I can hear. As befitting a pop song it finishes after three minutes and we move onto something much darker, and funkier.

Ritz 81g

There is no better sound than that of Prince and the band grooving on the intro of Head. That opening synth stab and the delicious sound of the guitars before Prince intones his opening lines, all of it is great for me. I would love this even if it was a bad performance, but then again how often does that happen? This one is great, and right at the start there is a fantastic shot of a very young Lisa Coleman singing her lines, the show is worth seeing just for that alone. Another highlight is seeing Dr Fink doing what he does best, and I swear one day I am going to learn how to dance like that. Prince looks somewhat like Mick Jagger as he leads the crowd into singing “head”, and there is plenty of strutting and prancing. The band hit their straps at this point, and all of them look like they are feeling the groove as the play. Andre in particular puts on a great show. For many years the highlight of this song has been the second half as Prince engages in his guitar noise and showmanship. Seeing it as well as hearing it is a bonus, and even though I have heard it a lot I still find myself watching transfixed as Prince plays. The last few minutes are epic as Prince plays lead, rhythm and masturbates with his guitar. I can’t help but think of the word ‘raw’ again. And ‘awesome’

Ritz 81i

Things take another change as Still Waiting is the next song played. Dr Fink again is a star with his piano playing carrying the song early on. Prince is once again at his crooning best, I may not catch all the words but I catch his meaning. The song has a gentle elegance to it during the chorus and the lights come up slightly as the music rises. Prince steps out from behind the microphone stand and engages with the audience with his looks and vocal performance, and I find myself warming to him much more here. Prince shows more of his star power as later in the song he sings under a single spotlight and we hear some of his great falsetto. Prince directs the band to finish the song and with a final vocal flourish it ends.

Ritz 81j

The show does go for longer, but sadly the video footage ends here, and so must my blog entry.

It’s very hard for me to write objectively about any show from this time period. I am a life long fan of Prince, and I listen to all sorts of shows, but some years are better to me than others. Give me anything from 1981, 1986 or 1995 and I am about as happy as I can be. This isn’t the best from this time, but seeing it does give it some extra merit. There are only a few shows documented on video from this time, so I do treat this one with reverence. A good show, and a nice video, it’s got plenty going for it, it’s just a shame it wasn’t the whole show or a more impassioned performance. A worthy addition to the collection and worth watching a couple of times a year.

Have a great week,
See you next week for another great recording ‘off the record’
-Hamish

Ritz 81k

 

Making of Rain-Minnesota Dance Theatre benefit show

I am very intimidated about writing about this recording. Some shows are so legendry, so much part of the Prince mythos, that they are almost untouchable. This is very much one of those shows. Recorded between the albums 1999 and Purple Rain, it captures the genesis of what will follow in the coming years. It is legendary on so many different levels, and offers something for everyone. First of all, its Wendy Melvoins debut with the band- that in itself is a key marker for the storm that will follow in the next few years. Next, there is six new songs introduced, and three of them recorded for the basic tacks on Purple Rain (I would Die 4 U, Baby, I’m a Star, and Purple Rain itself). Again, a mouth-watering proposition for any fan. And one of the songs played here is the unreleased fan favourite Electric Intercourse. The most famous song that Prince never released? Perhaps, but I aren’t going to pass judgment on that. I can barely bring myself to write about this show, least I do it an injustice. I am not one for hype or hyperbole, but this show more than lives up to every expectation heaped upon it.

Minnesota Dance Theatre benefit show, August 3rd 1983

The opening keyboard of Lets Go Crazy is the first thing heard on this recording. The crowd cheers, but there isn’t the frenzied anticipation we see in later years. As a new song I am sure most of the crowd are unsure of what to expect next. Prince quickly shows them as he finishes his after world speech and goes into the now familiar riff of Lets Go Crazy. The vocals on the recording are a little fuzzy, but the song is already being played very tight, like all Prince bands there is many hours of rehearsal to back them up. Despite hearing this song hundreds of times, it sounds fresh to me here- perhaps as its fresh to the band themselves, and they certainly look like they are having a lot of fun playing it. Prince still has his 1999 look about him in terms of clothing and hairstyle, and he plays with a big grin on his face. I find myself smiling with him and I love it when he plays alongside Wendy and there is some nice interaction between them. Wendy makes an immediate impression, and she more than holds her own on this song. At times she does look a little stiff, but overall she kills it on the guitar and already has good onstage chemistry with Prince. It’s a great opening song, in fact it was so good I went back and played it twice.

Prince 8.83

The audience is much more familiar with the next song, When You Were Mine. I was going to write that this is another favourite of mine from this recording, but then I realized that I love all the songs on this one. It’s a good rocking version here, but Princes guitar is a little more buried in the mix, it sounds much noisier, and it’s not as clean as other versions. It’s a short song, but here it’s even shorter, as when the music stops and I expect Prince to do his unaccompanied singing before a reprise, the mood changes and he instead starts playing a slower song on his guitar. I have to give a shout out here to Dr Fink, his robotic handclaps are very entertaining.

Prince 8.83a

That song is of course a cover of Joni Mitchells A Case Of You, and what we have here is outstanding. Prince delivers a knock out in this one. His singing is beautiful and his guitar playing compliments his vocals fantastically well. The only other instrument is a keyboard filling the background, but I am totally entranced by Prince and his delivery. It’s only a minute and a half, but it’s one of my favourite minutes of his whole career. This one is otherworldly in its beauty. Although the lyrics aren’t Princes, he delivers them with total conviction, he more than does justice to Joni’s words. In particular the opening lines he sings are obviously heartfelt

Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those ones that isn’t afraid

Prince 8.83b

Things change completely as Prince introduces the next song “This song is called Computer Blue” As much as I love this song, I find it jarring coming in right after A Case Of You. But soon all is forgiven as Prince and the band play a rollicking version. A lot of the audience looks pretty stunned at this stage of the gig, and who could blame them. For all his history of guitar work and rock sensibilities he hadn’t played a song quite like this before. It’s not just the guitar I am referencing here, the overall tone of the music is darker and heavy, from the drum beat to the keyboards. All of it has a foreboding sound. The band is pushed right back on the stage, and Prince stands the edge of the stage pulling all the guitar licks and tricks he knows. Like the last song, it’s all about Prince, and he holds the centre of attention all song. The keyboards are strong, and aren’t drowned by the guitar as you might expect. Wendy goes to her knees when Prince wails on his guitar for a bit, before the fantastic segue into the second half of the song, and another chance for Prince to get busy on the guitar. The lead is played as we have all heard before, but here once again its sounding fresh, and Prince is very much playing the hell out of it with great relish. The last guitar break in particular has some real venom in it, and has a nice heavy, almost industrial sound to it. The song ends with a big smile from Prince as he throws his guitar pick to the crowd.

Prince 8.83c

Another about face next, as Princes puts down the guitar and we hear the quirky pop of Delirious. Plenty of dancing and handclapping from Prince soon has the crowd-back on board. Although I have no great love for the song, it does seem like a very fun song to play. Freed from guitar duty, Prince does interact a little more with crowd, moving back and forth across the stage and holding the microphone for the crowd to sing. The response is inaudible most of the time, mostly because the band are very loud, and at times it seems that Prince himself is almost yelling over the top of the band. That’s one thing I like about the gig, it does have that great live sound, where everything is a little louder, and little nosier, and overall a little more ‘rock n roll’. Prince does pick up the guitar near the end of the song, he is playing the main lead line, but it’s more raw, and just on the right side of loose.

Prince 8.83l

What follows is one of the most famous unreleased songs in the Prince canon – Electric Intercourse. Lead by Prince at the piano, this song was desperately unlucky to not be on the Purple Rain sound track. For many years I thought this song was over rated, but now I am firmly in the camp that considers it a great lost gem. The keyboard and piano in this one sound great, and Prince uses plenty of shrieks and screams throughout to emphasis his emotion. Between verses there is some very nice piano lines, while the band holds it all together in the background. Even Princes corny spoken word (Don’t you want to make love?) fails to take the shine off this. It’s very much a highlight, and worth listening to if you have a chance.

Prince 8.83d

Nasty Prince is back in full effect when Automatic begins next. As with the other songs on this night, it’s not as clean and smooth as it sounds on the album. Some of the robotic coldness is gone, but it’s more than made up for with the intensity of the bands playing. Prince puts a lot into this one, and the crowd responds in kind. He gets them all waving their hands mid song, and there is plenty of shouts and screams as he strokes his microphone stand. Prince doesn’t play guitar on this, but there is some great playing from Brown Mark and Wendy. As far as the band go, I think this is the song where they are at their best. Admittedly every song played tonight is top drawer- with some recorded as a basis for use on Purple Rain, but in this one I feel we get to see a little more of each band member, and as far as I can see they are all giving maximum effort and enjoying playing. Prince does lie on the floor for a minute to talk some smut. It’s pretty cool, but I just wish I could hear him a little better. The next part of the song is a long groove, and Prince engages in a few dance moves with the rest of the band. There is no let-up in the intensity though, and overall it’s a riveting performance.

Prince 8.83g

There is quite a long pause next, with the stage in darkness, before Prince introduces “This is I would Die 4 U” The distinctively drum machine immediately begins, and already I can tell that I am going to like this one a lot. Prince spits out the lyrics rapid fire, slowing down during the chorus and releasing a single note on his guitar. I realize that this song is actually pretty minimal but it’s the drum machine that’s filling all the space and giving it that immediate energy. The guitar break by Prince is a highlight for me, not what he plays, but the tone of his guitar. It’s nice and strong, and I think that’s the best way to describe it- strong. The song goes by in flash, so I had to listen to it a few times, twice because I enjoyed it so much, and once because I hadn’t written anything about it the first two times.

Prince 8.83f

Baby I’m a Star has a nice long intro before Prince throws some tambourines’ and it begins proper. This is another recording that was used for Purple Rain, so as you might imagine a lot of this sounds as it does on record. Part of the fun in listening to this one is trying to work out what he has used on the final record, and what has he changed or overdubbed. I’m impressed by the passion demonstrated by Prince on every song on this recording. Here we find him covered in sweat, putting all his energy into the singing, especially when he goes to the floor and unleashes a series of excellent screams. Back on his feet he calls “Doctor” and Fink plays the quirky sound we know and love so much. I was half expecting the song to go on way past this point, but it wraps up very quickly after this.

Prince 8.83m

The familiar strains of Little Red Corvette elicit a few squeals of delight from the crowd. Lisa is beautifully lit from behind, and every time I see this and hear her play fall in love with her a little bit more. In near darkness Prince sings the opening verse before the lights come up for the chorus. I thought the crowd would be more animated, but they are fairly subdued throughout the performance of this. Prince delivers a very raw performance of this, no choreography or tricks, he just delivers it straight down the line with fantastic backing from the band. It’s a more raw performance I would to see more, a sweaty band playing hard and delivering the song straight out. Wendy steps up to the mark and plays the solo, and I am struck by how young she was at this time, and how good she was and not the least bit intimidated. The solo again has a heavy tone to it, not her playing but the sound of her guitar. The song ends simply enough with a “Thank you, good night” from Prince.

Prince 8.83h

There is a break in proceeding next as Prince is publicly thanked and presented with a flower. Tucking one into his breast pocket he takes the mic as Wendy begins to play the public debut of what will become his signature song – Purple Rain. The fact that this recording was used as the basic track for the finished song tells you how well it’s played here. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this song is the same as the album however, there is a suitably drawn out and beautiful start to the song, as Wendy plays the opening chords over and over while Prince indulges in some nice lead guitar. Foreshadowing future live performances on this tour, it’s a good few minutes before Prince begins to sing. And sing he does, the vocals here are magnificent, it’s hard to believe that this was the public debut of the song, he sings so strongly and confidently. It’s interesting to note the expressions of the audience at the time, some of them look noticeably bored as Prince plays his new, distinctly unfunky, song. There is an extra verse sung that doesn’t make it into the final song, and when you hear it you can understand why it didn’t make the final cut. It doesn’t quite scan as well as the other verses and the song is much more cohesive without it. There is a moment in the next verse when someone from the band or audience lets out a “whooo!” which can be heard on the final album version. I’m not sure if it’s an audience member, but I kind of hope it is, that would be cool. Prince plays the impassioned solo, with plenty of suitable face pulling thrown in for good measure. The audience look muted throughout, and there is no arm waving for this new song. Only a couple of girls with hands in the air near the front seem to be feeling it at all. It’s a stunning performance of what is now a classic, and I would think this recording is worth having just for the historic value of this moment alone.

Prince 8.83j

There is again another long break before the next song, but the reason why is apparent when Prince begins DMSR in his old school leg warmers, bikini briefs, long coat, hat and mirrored glasses. Wendy shows another side to her playing on this one, and her funky rhythm holds it down throughout. The song has an effortless groove to it, and Prince is nice and funky on the microphone. This is the party song of the evening (and perhaps of every evening), and Prince and the audience seem to be having a great time. Prince is constantly moving throughout the song, with lots of dancing and audience participation. As you might expect, this is the song that they stretch out, and Prince shows of how well drilled the band really is. The song ends with Prince saying goodnight, introducing the band one by one, before they kick back into the song-this time it’s all groove and Dr Fink gives a cool little piano solo. Prince clowns around a little on the mic, calling for horns as the keyboards play what would normally be a horn line. There is another false ending, and then, as per his modus operandi, he calls them back in on the beat. This happens a couple of times, and Prince engages in some very energetic footwork. Another nice touch is when he calls for just Wendy and Brown Mark, and they have just half a minute just grooving on it. The song ends rather abruptly, it stops and then without a word Prince and the band walk off stage.

Prince 8.83k

Nothing I write here can do this show justice. Everything here is a 10/10. The songs played at this stage touch on his past, his future and gives us pointers to his influences, as well as what gems still lie in the vault. The band is as tight as they have ever been, and young Wendy is a star right from the first notes she plays. The blueprint for the next few years is laid out, and it’s fascinating to see it all unfold here right before our eyes. I watched this one with my mouth open for the whole 70 minutes, and I still shake my head when I think that such a historic show has been captured for us to enjoy. Amazing.

Prince 8.83i

Everything I write about in future will pale in comparison to this, but I will be back next week with another one.

Take care
Hamish

 

Rehearsal for First Avenue Benefit Concert ’83

After claiming that I rarely listen to rehearsals, I find myself listening to another one today. Listening to the rehearsal for the 1984 Birthday show piqued my curiosity, so I pulled a rehearsal of another famous show- the 1983 benefit for the Minnesota Dance Theatre, at First Ave I will be listening to that show next week, but I thought I would take a look at the rehearsal first to round out the full picture.

Rehearsal for First Avenue Benefit Concert 1983

The rehearsal begins with Princes spoken word intro of Lets Go Crazy. The most striking thing about it is how deep his voice is as he speaks it, it’s not the voice I am used to from Purple Rain. He sounds very relaxed, and he does have fun with it as he says “there’s something else.. that’s right, something”. The second thing that hits me is when he says “so when you call up that nigger in Beverley Hills”. It seems a little out of character now, but I guess it is of its time. The rest of the song sounds light after the deep voice of the intro, even with the heavy sounding bass and guitar, the keyboards have a very bright sound that seems to permeate through the song. There is plenty of guitar in the song, but there is so much of everything else that it never really comes to the fore as you may expect. The final solo and howl is a little damp, and I have to remind myself that this isn’t a live situation, it is a rehearsal. And as such the song seems to stop dead, only a silence greets the final note.

Prince 1984 (2)

When You Were Mine sounds excellent in this situation. I warm to the song right away as the keys and guitar come in.  The playing is tight, and you can hear Prince give instruction to the sound guy. There is an innate energy in the song, even without the audience it shines. The ladies voices are very strong in my right ear, and I was going to comment more on it, but half way through Prince calls for sound adjustments, and they do disappear back into the mix. Another part of the song I enjoy early on is when Prince talks to the sound guy, and then the band play on for half a minute with no vocals. It’s got a good stripped down sound that I like. The ever reliable Doctor plays an enthusiastic solo, before the song comes to a sudden halt.

Prince’s delicate guitar playing draws me into A Case Of U, and I am in love almost right away. As the keys move easy beneath his guitar he sings beautifully. Even in rehearsal there is the touch of emotion that is needed to carry this song off. The lyrics match up great with his playing, and there is a fantastic little guitar run as the song nears the end. I would have a lot more to say about this song, but the final version played live at the show is so phenomenal, that even as good as this is, I know that there is better to come.

The introduction of Computer Blue is without the girl’s spoken piece, but that isn’t a big deal as the music is extremely cold and strong sounding. The keyboards provide some good runs, but it really is the guitar and bass on this track that makes it what it is. I had to listen to it twice, as I was so enraptured with the guitar sound the first time I missed everything else that was going on. One of the great thing about listening to Prince and his music, there is so much to listen to that I can always find new things every time I listen to a song. Prince’s vocals stray from what we know, especially as he sings “where is my baby” in a variety of styles, before ending with a throaty shriek. The change midsong is, as always, killer, and I never seem to tire of it. Here I can hear the keyboards much better than I remember, and they provide a nice layer of fills in my left ear. All the while Prince continues with his guitar break. It is par for the course, and somewhat quieter than I am used to. However just as I was thinking that he comes on with the second half of his guitar break which is much more improvised and freer, and I am happy to hear more of this from him. The song finishes with a great roll and howl that belies the fact it is a rehearsal.

Wendy Purple Era

Delirious is a complete 180 from what we have just heard and it takes me half a minute to adjust to the sudden pop bounce. The guitar vanishes at the start, and as one might expect there is a lot of light keyboards playing. Later I do hear a rhythm guitar but it is very low in the mix. I am normally dismissive of Delirious, but tonight I enjoy it a lot. It does have a lot of nostalgic value for me, and this arrangement is a lot of fun, with lots of crazy keyboard solos, and a rockabilly guitar all vying for attention later in the song. The song ends in a keyboard crescendo as Prince instructs Lisa to turn the keyboard effects up, and she in turn replies that her keyboard is dead. Then as the music simmers Prince sets his piano sound, playing as the sound comes to his liking.

It took me a long time to come around to Electric Intercourse, but its performances like this one that won me over. The bass in the right speaker is pitched just right, and Princes vocals are on point from the first line to the last. I think part of the attraction of this song is that it has never been overplayed, it still has a freshness to it, and this recording in particular catches that feeling. In fact it’s so fresh that at one point Wendy misses her cue, only to be chastised by Prince with a loud “Wake up Wendy!” The keyboard solo has a sweetness to it, and although it’s short I still give it a lot of appreciation. As the song progresses I find myself listening to Prince more and more carefully, and the way his vocal arrangement works with the girls, he definitely knows how he wants it to sound, and what is required.

We are back into more familiar territory next as Automatic begins. It has a dense sound to it, and feels somewhat like a sledge hammer following the delicate Electric Intercourse. It is a joy to listen to the synthesizers play off against each other, and it’s another one of Princes songs where he very much creates a mood with the sound of his music. The song sticks fairly close to the original, there is one stage where the keyboards get all weird and wonderful, before pulling out and Prince plays a staggered guitar break. Right after this it takes on a dance feel, and despite still having a dark sound I find myself beginning to move.

Prince 2007

Again there is a great contrast in the track list as Prince flips the mood with I Would Die 4 U. The song has a fresh and energetic sound, especially coming off Automatic. I like Princes vocals, but he does sound removed, almost as if his voice is coming from another room. It’s not that his vocals are low in the mix, just the effect on his voice. The song goes past at a fair clip, and it’s a real sweetener.

Baby I’m A Star suffers a little at the start as the tape has that ominous chewing sound that I grew up with. However it does recover by the times Princes vocals start, and it’s not a big deal. As with the previous song Prince does have the sound of being in an empty room. I like the sound of it, but it does feel as if he is coming from a distance. The rest of the band are fairly anonymous through the song, its Prince I am listening to, and the keyboard coming from the left speaker. Although unreleased at this stage, the band sound like they have the song well and truly down, and they play note perfect throughout. The Doctors solo is very enjoyable, and even though it’s as I have heard plenty of times, it’s still infused with a joyous sound.

Things once again slow down with Little Red Corvette. By this stage the band had played it many times, and it seems that they could play it in their sleep. It’s so spot on note perfect, I love it for its perfectionism. The introduction is kept short, and Prince sings the song in an upbeat voice, foregoing emotion for efficiency. Hitting the first verse he does ask for more echo, but the song never lets up, in fact the whole song seems to fly by, the guitar solo is upon us before I know it, and then the whole song wraps up a line later, with Prince dead panning “Thank you, good night”

The guitar opening of Purple Rain is what we hear next, and it differs from we know so well in that  it doesn’t have a flat drum beat. The beat has an echo on it, which gives it a double kick all the way through. I find it distracting, but I do enjoy the rest of the song. Prince sounds cold at the beginning, but he asks for more echo on the voice, and this gives him a much warmer sound as the song moves forward. I do also enjoy the extra verse that didn’t make the final cut, I can understand why it was cut though, as thematically it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the song. The song meanders after that verse, but things get back on track as Prince gets to “Purple Rain, Purple Rain” and then the epic sounding guitar solo. The solo is as expected, although for the first minute Princes guitar sounds thin, but this is rectified, and he takes on a bolder sound as the solo progresses. It’s an interesting solo, Prince is still playing with it, so apart from the opening, and the rest of it is new and interesting to hear.

DMSR has another ad-lib start as Prince kicks it off with “Holland, London, Paris, France” before some funky bass ups the ante. The bass playing hasn’t garnered much comment from me up until this point, but now I find I am paying close attention as Brown Mark rumbles along. Again when we reach the chorus Prince reverts to calling sitting names, this time throwing New York into the mix as well. There is a rhythm break for the guitar, but its low in the mix and I don’t hear it as well as I would like to. The song catches me off guard with a false ending, before it comes back in and there is a cool little piano solo. Prince calls “Give me some horns” and the keyboards provide a nice sounding line. With another call of “Telephone” we get a quirky keyboard run and Prince taking a mock call. The song is a showcase for the band, and Prince gives them several calls and leads to follow, and they respond well. There is another piano solo, with Prince chanting “Planet Rock, we don’t stop” as well as singing lines from George Clintons Loopzilla. Just as Prince calls break time I think its all over, but there is a couple more reprises. This is one of my favorite songs on the recording, the groove is excellent and it sounds like a lot of fun is being had.

Prince 1984

I cringe when I see the next track listed as ‘Band Tuning’. These are just the sort of things a dislike about rehearsals- minutes of the band tuning up and getting there sound right while very little happens musically. There is not much for me at this stage of the recording, so I am quietly happy when the tune up is over and we move to the next musical portion of the recording.

Things get back to the music next as the band play a laid back Africa Talks To You. Its a nice groove, and there are some enjoyable keyboard played over the top of the groove. Prince ad-libs a bit too, which is fun. I especially like it when he calls out “You gotta purify yourself in lake Minnetonka. You can also hear him asking for Wendy’s guitar to be ready “that’s why we bought it for her”. The song does meander towards the end, before it peters out into some tom foolery.

Next is ten minutes of the band fooling around and generally having fun. Its primarily led by Dr Fink, who does a variety of voices as he sings a medley of tunes and plays a light organ.  I Could Have Danced All Night has me smiling, as he sings briefly with great gusto, before moving to Catch A Falling Star. There is all sorts of snippets played including Our House, and the James Bond theme. There is also a Popeye impersonation that is actually pretty good. Its really great to hear the band feeding off each other and being completely at ease. I don’t feel I ever have to listen to this track again, but it was fun to listen to once. The track ends appropriately enough with a Dolphin singing Stevie Nicks ‘Stand Back’. If you have heard it you will know exactly what I mean.

Things become business like again as Prince says “All right, lets go” and the organ of Lets Go Crazy begins again. This time it starts closer to what I am used to, but then Prince quickly takes it in a different tack with the final couple of lines of the intro, before the band begin right on cue. After the looseness of the previous few tracks its some what surprising how quickly they tighten up, they are right on the money for the rest of this track. Princes guitar is very faint as he solos, I can only just hear him. Even the latter solo is faint, and the rest of the band easily drown him out in the final crescendo.

After listening to this rehearsal and the one the other week, I think I should more time to rehearsals. I prefer this rehearsal to the last one, and I thought the last one was excellent. This one had the band playing the songs in a very fresh sounding way, and yet they were very tight as a unit. And also you could hear how much they were enjoying being a band and being together. If you only hear one rehearsal in your life, this would be the one I would choose. But then again I do have another couple of excellent propositions…

Next week I will be listening to one of the greats, the benefit for the Minnesota Dance Theatre.

Have a great week
Hamish

1984 Birthday show

Sometime ago I rather rashly stated that the 2002 Copenhagen recording was the greatest of all Prince Bootlegs. I have been forced to swallow my words many times since then as I listen to my collection and some of the gems contained therein. There are quite a few recordings that could lay claim to being ‘the greatest’ and today’s show I would guess to be atop of many peoples lists. The 1984 birthday show is something very special. It oozes quality at every level, a brilliant sparkling soundboard recording that sounds better than the recording on many of his albums, the quality of the performance itself, and of course those unforgettable songs played to the hilt just as Prince was to ascend to his greatest heights. Yes, this one well and truly lives up to the hype, and I’m itching to take another listen to it today.

7 June, 1984, First Avenue, Minneapolis

prince-1984-birthday

The recording starts with the PA sound, and it serves as a nice soft opening. It gives a better feel for what it would have been like to be there, and we don’t have a hard jump straight into a song. There is a classic spoken intro of an announcer saying ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Prince, and the Revolution’, and then we are off into it. 17 Days sounds just as good here as I have ever heard it. The recording is so sharp, to my ears it sounds even better than it did on vinyl. The first thing that strikes me is the bass. It’s got an elastic feel to it, and it’s a beautiful big groove that comes out of the speakers at me. It’s almost like riding a wave, it’s so full and washing over me. The second thing that I really notice is Princes vocals. His singing is so clean sounding, it’s hard to believe it’s in a live setting. Generally I try not to gush about what I am listening to, but in this case it’s very hard not just to sit back and listen to it and be a fan. It’s oh so good. Brown Mark just grooves along underneath, and there is some nice moments when I hear Wendy playing with him on the groove. By the time the song finishes I am wondering how they could have relegated something so good to a B side.

Our Destiny starts slowly. I am not immediately won over as Prince starts singing, but when that chorus hits me I am fully converted. The keyboards are the hero of this particular song, whether it be the twinkling sound under the verses, or the muscular stabs driving the choruses. Prince’s vocals are a little more casual for this one, and some of his character shines through. Also worth mentioning is the drums in this song. Not the obvious beat of the bass drum, but instead the rather glorious sounds played on the cymbals. They seem to add just the right feel at just the right moment, and serve nicely as punctuation to Princes vocals.

The band are obviously very well-rehearsed as they move easily into Roadhouse Garden. Like the previous song it is an unreleased classic.  There is an excellent crisp guitar picking away, and it gives a sharp sound while Prince and the girls sing some nice full vocals. Listening to it now I realize there isn’t really too much to the song, the keyboards are barely heard at all, there is a solid bass line, but most of the interest is coming from the guitar sound and the girls singing. Prince tells the audience “you going to have to excuse us, we just jamming’ and it does very much sound like one of the jams that the band plays endlessly at rehearsal. It does have a good feel to it, and at no point does one member of the band get the spotlight, it’s very much a band thing.

Prince takes time to chat to the audience next, and I like it when he takes a moment to tell them “you’ll came in here expecting to drive Princes red corvette, that’s not going to work. We just going to play a few numbers, some of them you’ll gonna know, most of them you won’t” Then follows one of my favourite moments of the show, Prince says “Wendy wants to live forever. Maybe she will” and the band rip into a storming version of All Day, All Night.  The bass line is heavy and right in my face, and the whole band ride on it and it’s got a feeling as if they are playing as one, as a single entity. Every aspect is so tight and interwoven, it is an absolute joy to listen to. I could quite happily just listen to an instrumental of this, I feel like getting up and dancing as the introduction plays on. Prince comes with the first verse, and he is sounding excellent, as he is throughout the show. I love the way the groove lets up just a little at the end of the chorus so the guitar and music can take a few little steps up. Bobby Z gets a moment, and plays some hard electronic sounding drum rolls, which add to the overall pulsating feel of the song. If fact the whole song feels like it galloping a long, and when it suddenly ends it’s like a sharp intake of breathe.

Prince birthday 1984 c

Things slow down next as Prince plays a gentler sounding Free. After the dense sounding All Day, All Night, it’s very sparse sound, and it serves the song well. Princes vocals are back to being the main focus, and he delivers beautifully. I thought the Free sounded light on the 1999 album, but here it is much stronger sounding. A lot of the corniness is stripped away, and it no longer has the over the top finish as heard on 1999. All in all I much prefer this arrangement, and I am glad we get to hear it. Prince ups the ante with his singing near the end, before the song closes with the solo piano again. This is not the best song on the recording, but it is a very pleasant surprise.

The drums take a few bars to find a steady beat for the next song as a funky sounding rhythm guitar begins to play. As good as it sounds, it is a little misleading as the song takes a sudden turn. Prince dedicates it to Shelia E, and the music takes on the smooth sound of Noon Rendezvous. Again, this is another song never released by Prince, and that’s a shame as it does have a very alluring sound to it. The guitar is playing just enough to draw me in, and the rest of the band create a smooth velvet sound. There is a guitar solo, but it’s in no way disruptive to the gentle groove, and it’s well tucked up inside the song. The second lead guitar break is slightly louder, and Prince is playing more of what I might expect from this time. The girls enter with the soft refrain of “sitting in this cafe, waiting for my baby”, but it’s not as drawn out as we hear in rehearsals, and the song ends soon after.

Things are much heavier almost right away, as a hard drum beat begins, and some rock lead guitar. It’s quite loose sounding, but after half a minute the band come on board and things immediately tighten up as they play Erotic City. Although not as bass driven as it sounds on record, it is still very strong sounding. Some of the sparseness of the record is sacrificed, but what we get instead is a lot more guitar, and a lot stronger vocals from Prince. It also sounds faster to my ears, and doesn’t sound as dirty and funky. It’s a fair trade-off, but only just. With the intonation of “all the critics love me” we get plenty more guitar of Prince, and I can hear Wendy step up the funky guitar she is playing. The band is heavily in the groove by this point and Prince becomes a lot wilder sounding on the guitar, but always returning to the All The Critics Love U riff. The keyboards also get stronger as the song progresses, and as time goes on it becomes denser and louder. It increases in intensity until it eventually comes to an end at the eight minute mark.

Birthday 1984

Something In The Water (Does Not Compute) has a great dark beginning. The cold keyboard initially starts before a brooding guitar riff from Prince. He asks the crowd “alright if I just play for a minute” as he then proceeds to do just that. It’s atmospheric in sound, and suitably slow and mournful. When Prince begins to sing he captures the lonely feel of the song perfectly, especially with his “does not compute, does not compute” There is even a moment when he sings “what’s the hang-up, bitch” which adds a hint of desperation and feeling to the song. The song is without the drum machine rhythm heard on record, but that barely matters as Prince is sounding so emotional, yet the music is cold and detached, much like the woman the protagonist in the song is singing to. Later in the song Prince lets his guitar do his talking. It’s not right in front in the mix, but it does sound very good, and worth listening carefully to. This song is played right out and every minute of it is worth listening to.

Birthday 1984 b

When Doves Cry is the standout track on this recording for me. Right from the first moment it has a clean sound, and the drum line is so familiar. Dr Fink plays the lead line a couple of times, before Prince comes to the microphone. At first he blows the first line, he mumbles “how can you…” before he catches himself and quickly covers with “come on, have you heard this before?”  It’s very fast and smooth, and a great recovery. He then asks the crowd to get on board, before calling for Dr Fink to play the lead line gain. He then implores the crowd further to “get down” before calling for the lead line once more before singing the first chorus. The longer intro actually works well, and I like hearing him talk to the crowd like this. Once the song starts, I notice that Wendy and Lisa are very strong on the vocals, they are much more prominent than heard on record. It’s not bad, just different. Wendy gets her moment to shine on guitar, and its good sounding, but perhaps not as clean sounding as everything else. The best is yet to come, as the band play on, Dr Fink plays a cool solo, and then there comes a great scratch guitar. I’m not sure if its Prince or Wendy, but it’s my favourite part of the song. It plays on and on, and I never tire of it. The band sing “Don’t cry” over and over as that beautiful guitar line just loops again and again. I don’t know how long it goes for, but it feels like forever, and it encapsulates the Prince sound I first knew and loved.  And just on a side note, my girlfriend told me she thought this part was boring and repetitive -looks like I might be single again soon! This last half is a song unto itself and the recording is excellent just based on this alone.

Birthday 1984 a

Of course there is the obligatory Happy Birthday sung by the audience, before the band turn up the funk levels with Irresistible Bitch. It’s not as dark as I have heard elsewhere, but it’s still a nice version. The band are playing incredibly tightly, and it’s the guitar that mostly holds my attention. It’s so crisp sounding, and the song revolves around the guitar riff. There is a keyboard solo that sounds good to my ears, but it’s a little low in the mix, I would have of liked to hear it much more. Near the end Prince stops and starts the band several times, and as always they are right on the button.

Prince birthday 1984d

Possessed is equally funky, but with a dash of pop thrown in the mix. After a Vegas sounding opening the band open up a rapid groove, again the rhythm is king here, the only melody coming from a simple keyboard line. Prince’s vocals aren’t quite as clear as they had been earlier in the show, he is a little more in the mix, but that’s not a negative at all, and the second verse I can understand his lyrics much better, so it maybe my problem more than his. There some further interesting keyboard jamming later, again it’s a too quiet for my taste and I have to listen carefully to appreciate all of it. Prince does a scat about ‘big ole soul sisters’  and its very tightly in the rhythm, so I give him a pass despite the corniness. I think that the band are going to play this one as a long funky jam, so I am very surprised when it stops suddenly and Prince tells the crowd that they got to go.

There has been a lot of talk about this soundboard recording since it first surfaced, and I can fully understand why. This show is mindbogglingly good, and deserves all the praise heaped upon it. If someone was to tell me that this was the best recording, I would have very little argument with them. This one is excellent in every way, and a must listen for any sort of fan.

Thanks again for reading
See you next week
Hamish

 

 

Noon rendezvous rehearsal

I am rare to listen to rehearsals. I admit that they are great, and show off another side of Prince and his talent. But they don’t have the same intensity as a live show, and that’s what I enjoy most. However, without that intensity we do get some very cool arrangements of the songs, often being drawn out and just letting the band do what they do best -play! Today’s rehearsal is from May/June before the birthday show of 1984. There are a few rehearsals from this period, and I think this one exists in several variations, but this is my favourite and the one I play most.

noon-rendezvous

Noon Rendezvous Rehearsal May/June 1984

As I mentioned above, there is a couple of variations of this rehearsal circulating, the major difference being the sequence of tracks. I am listening to the FBG release, which opens with I’ve Gotta Shake This Feeling Baby (Purple Rain), and I have to say that right from the start it grabs me and any reservations I have about listening to a rehearsal are immediately laid to rest.  Over the familiar beat of Purple Rain, Prince lays down some very raw, yet beautiful guitar work. There is very little in the way of lyrics, just Prince singing “I’ve gotta shake this feeling baby” over the top of the Purple Rain music we know so well. He does ask for a longer echo at the start, but I can’t hear where it is applied. The rest of the band are a solid base on which Prince lays his guitar work. Some of the phrases and melodies he plays are familiar, and some are new to me. The best parts are for me when he reins in the guitar and plays it tightly in the song. The quality of the recording is very good, and all the other instruments can be heard clearly, especially the piano, which I enjoy. I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy this, and what a complete surprise it is to me. I was planning to sit down one evening to write this blog post, but truth be told I played this several days in a row, dumb struck, jaw on the floor, before I finally was able to find the words. It’s a great listen, imagine the second half of the Purple Rain song doubled in length, and that pretty much what we have here.

The treats keep coming as without pause the band play an electrifying version of Noon Rendezvous. Although the music does have a gentle sound to it, what is attention grabbing is once again the raw guitar sound of Prince in the mix. The lead guitar isn’t over powering, but it does give it a rock edge. The guitar does pull out and Princes singing is light and ethereal, and blends in well with the overall feeling of the song. It is an intoxicating song, and before I know it Princes guitar sound is back in the mix as we get a brilliant lead break. For the longest time I couldn’t understand the fuss over this song, but in recent years it has really grown on me. I always loved the version on the 1984 birthday show, but I can’t quite decide if that one or this is my favourite. On any given day it may well be the one I am listening to here. As the song continues on and Prince is “sitting in this cafe, waiting for my baby” I am in heaven. And even better, this goes on and on, there is no audience, no time constraints and it feels the band is playing on and just enjoying the gentle groove. It’s just brilliant, and oh, did I mention it goes for almost 20 minutes?!

Prince 1984 (2)

There is then what I more associate with rehearsals, checking to get the sound right, some tinkling and crashing of instruments and the like, before a steady beat is taken up, the piano plays and then we settle into Free. Free consists of just a drum beat, a piano, and Prince and the girls singing. I find the drum a little plodding, but I do like Princes vocal performance on this one. He sings around the melody, and plays with it. And the girls sound excellent, and once again it only highlights how great Prince, Wendy and Lisa sounded together. The song doesn’t get played on as much as the previous two songs, and it remains reasonably faithful to what is on record, sans the big finish.

Things take a serious turn next as we hear the strong drum pattern of Erotic City, and some equally erotic sounding guitar from Prince. I wonder what kind of heavy arrangement he is going to play, the vocals begin and it reverts to it familiar sound. I rate this song just as highly as the first two songs on the recording, it’s fantastic. After sticking with the song for the first couple of verses, Prince then unleashes his guitar, as well as a line from All The Critic Love U. The guitar has a howling whining tone at this point, and it gives the song a harder, darker edge. The guitar becomes more intense as the song progresses, and Prince is really working it in the latter part of the song. As brilliant as it is, it’s almost relief when it finishes, it was so intense. Yet another highlight in a recording full of highlights.

Prince 1984

I am used to hearing guitar heavy arrangements of Something In The Water of late, but this one offers another dimension. Sure, it’s full of guitar as he has recently played it, but here he is backed by the Revolution, and they give it a cold remote feeling behind Princes guitar playing. Prince’s voice is in fine form, and although he doesn’t scream, he does at one point give a nice long howl. As the song gets to the refrain of ‘must be something in the water you drink’ the guitar again comes to the fore. I know Prince is a good guitarist, but even after being a fan for 30 years I still find myself shaking my head as I listen to some of these recordings. He plays some much, it’s everywhere, and he plays on and on. Even today I still think of him as a song and dance man and listening to his guitar playing is always a headbuster. I didn’t think this rehearsal could get any better but as the song moves past the 12 minute mark I realize that I underestimated this recording by a long way.

When Doves Cry begins very faithfully to what we know so well. After the main hook is played a couple of times, Prince is straight into singing the verses and chorus. Even though it is played as per record, it does have a harder sound to it. Obviously it’s not as polished, but I do love the sound of it here, it is a much stronger band sound. Later in the song we do hear Wendy’s rhythm guitar, which I always enjoy immensely. And my smile becomes even broader as Wendy launches into her guitar solo, it’s impossible not to enjoy her and her playing. After Dr Fink plays his equally cool solo, and Prince gives a fairly impassioned scream, he’s not holding anything back for this rehearsal. The rest of the song is pure groove, and for a few minutes I forget to write as I sit enraptured by the music.

Prince 1984c

A couple of James Brownesque grunts and ‘huh’ and the band play the equally James inspired Irresistible Bitch. For the first time on the recording I find it lacking the intensity of earlier. This is a great song live, but here it’s missing that sharpness and quickness. There is a Dr Fink solo, which has all the qualities you would expect from such a thing, and it’s at this point that I find my interest in the song reinvigorated somewhat. I am very impressed at how well drilled the band are, and how well they respond to Princes call. But I’m not really surprised as I know how much Prince rehearses his bands, and the Revolution are one of the greatest bands he has put together. I thought that this song would have been ripe for the long jam, but it’s played very straight, and Prince ends it sharply after a few stops and starts with the band.

As far as rehearsals go, this one has forced me to reassess my feelings about listening to them. This is far from a rock rehearsal, yet there is plenty of Princes guitar on all the tracks. If anything, it only served to highlight what a well-balanced and versatile band The Revolution were. They have plenty of funk, but rock when they have to. As I said in the beginning, I am rare to listen to rehearsals, but if I was going to take a listen this would be one of my first choices.

So that’s a rehearsal for the birthday show, I guess next week I better listen to the birthday show to see how it all plays out.

Take care
Hamish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Years Eve 1987 with Miles Davis

As far as Prince bootlegs go, 1987 is a stellar year.  Starting with the Sign O The Times warm up show at First Ave, through the tour itself, the excellent after shows of Le New Morning, Park café and Fineline café, there is a good variety of shows available and some of them are of outstanding quality. The year of 1987 is capped off with one more legendry boot, the New Year’s Paisley Park show, where the iconic Miles Davis joins Prince and the band onstage. Prince had experimented with jazz the previous two years, and one feels that having Miles on stage with him meant a lot to him and his art.  Miles doesn’t feature through the whole show, and the show itself isn’t as jazz infused as some of the other shows that year, but it’s still great to see his interaction with Prince and the band onstage. The show is an interesting mix, there is some standard renditions as we had heard throughout the tour, but things get more interesting near the end as the band indulge in a long jam that incorporates all sorts of songs.  The recording is missing the first few songs which is unfortunate, but what we do get more than makes up for it.

31 December, 1987, Paisley Park.

 

1987 New Year Prince 8

I have been a little hard on Shelia E and her drum solos in previous posts, but this show jumps in just as she is beginning one of her solos, and to be fair it is very good. Maybe it’s because I can see her playing, and the passion and efforts she puts into it.  We hear the very end of Jack U Off as the recording cuts in, and I assume it’s played very much as the Fineline Café gig I previously wrote about. The drum break starts off slow, it almost has a sound check quality to it as she works her away around the kit. But then it does pick up pace as it goes along, and I especially love the sound the snare has on it. Just as the drum solo reaches its peak the sound of Hot Thing cuts in, but I think this is just an error, and it it quickly stops as Shelia continues. There is a very passionate moment as she crashes away on the cymbals, forgoing sticks just to smash away with her hands. I love seeing that sort of thing, and it is the peak as the band rejoin for another quick refrain of Jack U Off lead by Eric Leeds. The song comes to a conclusion rather fittingly with the band gathered around the drum riser as Shelia drums the end.

1987 New Year Prince

Immediately after we do get Hot Thing. If you have seen the Sign O The Times movie then this one contains no surprises for you, as it is very faithful to what we have heard throughout the Sign O The Times tour. Prince engages in plenty of dancing, and even rips off Cats dress as seen in the Sign O The Times movie. The band is sounding tight, there is not a loose moment in the whole song. I can’t get excited about it, its much as I have heard before,  but the onstage fun with Cat and Prince is worthwhile and does brighten it up.

1987 New Year Prince 1

The bass line of If I Was Your Girlfriend sounds fantastic as it begins. This song is a masterpiece, and like all the best Prince performances he draws it out, milking every second. The intro with the drum beat, hypnotic bass and organ goes for a good few minutes, and I could listen to it all night long. Prince sings it looking very casual with one hand in the pocket, but his delivery is sublime. There is a nice sound to it, a little echo which lends it the lonely sound. Prince is full of character as he speaks the lines midsong about going to the movies etc, but he returns to his excellent singing voice without skipping a beat. Again, as per Sign Of The Time movie, he picks out Cat midsong and lures her away. With the main focus removed I find my self enjoying Eric and Dr Finks playing, until it pulls back to the bare beat and the song finishes.

1987 New Year Prince 2

The organ refrain that begins Let’s Go Crazy is one that I always associate with this tour. As one keyboard holds a long sustained note, the other plays a sound that rocks back and forth. Its something I have heard between other songs about this time, and its something I like. Prince then picks up his guitar and we get a traditional sounding Lets Go Crazy. The first half of it fails to connect with me, but Prince ditches the usual song about half way and begins a long guitar break. This also starts leaving me cold, but the second part of the break is certainly a lot better and he plays some wild sounding licks. I don’t enjoy the “go go go” chants with the crowd, its a little tired and the audience doesn’t seem to respond very well to them either. Perhaps Prince realises this, because he shakes his head, and says “No no” before the band pick up again and Prince gives us the classic ending to Lets Go Crazy, head thrown back and guitar howling.

1987 New Year Prince 3

Another Purple Rain era song follows with When Doves Cry. This one I find very satisfying, there is plenty of horn early on, before the stripped back verses. The keyboard is a little quiet for my tastes, but this is compensated by another great vocal delivery by Prince. I wouldn’t have guessed that the horns could add much to this, but they do slot in nicely to the song. There is a lot of dancing by Prince and the others later in the song, its an abridged version played here, we get a verse and a chorus, followed by a minute or so of dancing before it finishes up. Short and sweet as they say, but still very worthwhile.

1987 New Year Prince 4

Purple Rain itself gets a very full on treatment at this show, there is plenty of Dr Fink playing before Prince walks on stage with the cloud guitar, playing the melody of Auld Lang Syne. Its a great moment, and the sound of it played on Princes guitar sits very well on the keyboards of Purple rain. Prince says “one more” then plays it again on the guitar as the crowd wave their arms. Another call of “one more” and he gives it to us a third time, and every time is very good, and really worth hearing. Even as he plays it a forth time I am not tired of it, he improvises a little, and its the type of Prince playing that I like to see more off.The call of “Bring it down” and we strip back to the keyboards and drums softly playing. At this stage a technician hands Prince a rope to release balloons over the crowd, but there is a malfunction and it doesn’t come off. For years I only had an audio recording of this, and I didn’t know what was going on, especially when Prince says “Matthew, come get your rope”. But after seeing it, I understand much better. Prince then attempts to sing Auld Lang Syne but its nowhere near as good as his guitar playing of it, mostly because its apparent that he doesn’t know the words beyond the first couple of lines, fading to “la la la” after this. The crowd doesn’t save him, and when Prince sings again “Should old acquaintances be forgot” he ruefully smiles and say “(I) know that part”. There is then a few moments as the music progresses Prince goes to one side to release the balloons and there is a beautiful solo played by Miko. I always associate Miko with a slippery dirty funky sound, but this guitar break was a revelation to me, its just great. Its not a fast rock solo, just a sharp sounding crisp break. Prince takes command soon after this and we finally get the verses and choruses of Purple Rain, complete with Princes crunching guitar. The rest of his guitar solo is standard for Purple Rain, but it is very enjoyable indeed, even for someone like myself who has heard Purple Rain hundreds of times.

1999 seems strangely out of place. Its sounds clean, but there isn’t any fire in it. Prince keeps it very short, there is the opening verse, a chorus and then have the ‘party” chanting outro. The horns riff keeps it sharp, but apart from that there isn’t much for me.

1987 New Year Prince 5

We return to the rocking back and forth sound of the keyboards as the stage goes dark. This is played out for a minute, and as I said before I really like it as it sets the tone for what comes next. The beat of U Got The Look and the rhythm guitar sound as Prince takes a minute to ham it up with the crowd. He has his guitar but as he sings he doesn’t initially play it, so we just have as less strong rhythm guitar which negates some of the rockiness that I sometimes tire of in this song. After a couple of verse chorus he does begin to play in a loud crunching way as he climbs atop the piano. Its a very showman moment as the dancers go through their routines as Prince plays rock god over them all. And so the song ends in this manner, with Prince waving over the band, and a “thank you, good night”

1987 New Year Prince 6

There is a break about now, as the band leave the stage. Its a good few minutes they are gone, and knowing what is coming I can understand why.  What comes next is extraordinary, and I am not sure that writing about it can ever do it justice. They return to the stage for a 30 minute rendition of Its Gonna Be A Beautiful Night, with Miles Davis, and incorporating everything except the kitchen sink. Anyway I shall do my best to give a brief outline. The song begins as we heard on the Sign O The Times tour, and after the first part there is some fun dancing with Prince, before he takes to the drum stool as Shelia E delivers her rap. Her delivery is fast and accurate and I love watching the band dancing as she sings. Prince too is sounding good, and its fantastic to see him on the drums for an extended period. Soon after Cat dances everyone to the ground Prince steps down from the drums and its time for the keys to have a solo. The whole performance has a lot of joy to it, Prince sings to the crowd about his brand new dance, and Eric Leeds plays a little of Six before it quietens as Miles Davis enters and begins to play. How to describe this moment? To see Miles stalking across the stage and playing next to Miko is fantastic and I am a total fanboy throughout the whole time he is playing. Its not what he is playing, its just the sound of his horn and seeing him play with that band. Prince scats against his playing for a little, but I preferred just to hear Miles play alone for some more. As Miles continues Prince throws some cues to the band and they play around him. Miles steps back into the shadows as the snare comes down hard and Prince cues the band into the next section. He directs the band through several different dances and refrains before he speaks to the crowd  “someone tell me I ain’t got the funkiest band in show business, we will take on all comers” Finally we hear Boni and she blows her way through Chain Of Fools, and sounding powerful all the way.  The band is absolutely seamless and I have to agree with Princes sentiments about his band.  Boni gives way to any excellent solo by Eric Leeds before Prince indulges in some grooves on the organ. The band really hit their stride at this point, Eric is killing it on sax while the band keep the groove going. Prince stops the band to tell the crowd “we the best” before he cues them in again and they hit a faster groove. Prince does very little playing at this stage, he is in total control as band leader and runs the band through their paces and dancing around the stage. There is several stops and starts, and the band move effortlessly through several different grooves. My mouth is open the whole time, its mind blowing to watch, this band is unstoppable. Prince has me laughing when he tells the audience they are going to be jamming 20 more minutes “..on the same song!” He then proceeds to be true to his word as the band continue on and on. Prince has me laughing again when he say “you’ll expect an awful lot for $200.” Perhaps my favourite part of the jam is what comes next, Prince takes a couple of minutes playing at the piano. Just the sharp sound of the piano over the heavy groove, its the contrast that makes it all sound so good. The last five minutes Prince throws in everything you could imagine, there is lyrics and horn lines from all sorts thrown into the mix, and it all works until we return the Beautiful night riff that started all of this. With a final call of “Confusion” Prince brings the show and this brilliant jam to an end.

1987 New Year Prince 7

What a great way to end the year 1987. This recording is a favourite among prince fans, and I have to go with the general consensus on this one, it’s very much a must have. The band is on top of their game, coming off a fantastic year, and this show is the icing on the cake. The fact that Miles is there gives it just a little more shine, and I feel it means a lot to Prince having him there. This is one that I will come back to again and again. If anyone every doubted Princes genius just check this one out.

Take care

Hamish

 

 

 

 

 

 

Park Café Aftershow, Munich

Its days like this that make me the Prince fan that I am. Just when I think I have heard all that is good and great, a surprise recording surfaces that leaves me shaking my head at both the brilliance of Prince and quality of recording. The Park Cafe aftershow has been in high rotation at my place since it surfaced, and I am amazed that such a recording exists. After 28 years, for it to appear is like finding a lost treasure. The quality of the recording is high, and there is a couple of special things for us to enjoy and appreciate. Firstly it’s a Prince aftershow tacked onto the end of a Madhouse performance. That sound and style permeates through the show, and Prince gives us some of his more experimental and jazzy sounds. Also, his father makes an appearance, playing piano on one of the tracks. Although I am not blown away by his performance, I do acknowledge that to have a recording of Prince and his father playing together live is pretty cool. The recording starts with a few songs from the  Madhouse set. Normally I would skip over them when writing to concentrate on the Prince songs, but I will take the time to write about them today, as I think they are an important part of the recording.

21 May, 1987, Park Cafe, Munich

The first thing we hear on the recording is a crisp drum roll, before the piano and sax start on a nice circular motif, and we get an excellent sounding Two. I am immediately struck by the clarity of the recording, maybe I have been listening to too many audience recordings of late. It does sound good indeed, and I especially notice that I can hear the vibration and buzz of the cymbals in particular. After the initial circular loop of early in the song, Eric Leeds becomes more expressive. As much as I enjoy his playing in Princes shows, here I find even more to enjoy in his playing. He feels a little lighter and doesn’t seem to push as hard as he does on the Prince songs. There is a nice break midsong, where it is just him alone, and the crowd is noticeably appreciative. He does play well here, and after the band come back in behind Dr Fink plays and equally impressive and electric sounding keyboard solo. It’s a nice contrast to the piano we hear through the song, and I actually liked the synthy solo better than any other keyboard work I hear in the song. The songs ends soon after to a soft applause from the audience.

Prince1987

Three follows, as you might have guessed. It has a much more traditional sound to it, and is again lead by Eric Leeds playing some smoky sounding sax. The rest of the band don’t do too much behind him, they just lay a platform for his more relaxed noodling’s. It very much has a summer’s day feel to it, and I am transported away. But in the larger scheme of things, it is just a touch too traditional sounding for my tastes, and I do find myself drifting away by the end.

In A Sentimental Mood is very well named indeed, it is accurately described in the title. It’s all Eric Leeds, and the sound of his horn does sound suitably sentimental. I am impressed at his ability to convey sentimentality in his playing, even if I am not feeling that way inclined myself. It’s only a couple of minutes, but well worth the listen.

Sixteen is probably my favourite Madhouse song played on the night. I love the saxophone refrain, it conjures up all sorts of images of adventures past. There is something fun in the sound of it, and as much as I love Eric’s playing on it, I feel Dr Fink just edges him with another cool synth solo. The organic sound of the horn plays off great against the electric futuristic sound of Dr Finks keyboard.  The main refrain returns before Eric plays some crazy buzzing lines that really make me hot. Not to be outdone Dr Fink also plays some wild sounding passages, and the effect is dizzying. I am disappointed when like all good things it comes to an end.

A Conversation is the title of the next song, and at this point I am in heaven. The song begins with a soft drum roll, and then the drummer playing a light cymbal run. The sound is very familiar to me, it very much has the sound of the drum opening on the Small Club gig a year later. The drum sound on this recording has that classic familiar sound from these years. I become further interested when I hear the sound of a guitar. I presume now that it is Prince playing. His playing is very slight, just a few notes here and there. It’s Eric Leeds who starts it proper, with a couple of minutes of him playing alone over the sparse music. It has a very cool atmosphere to it, you can hear the music slowly build, a chord every now and then from the keyboard, slowly adding more and more layers. The bass has a simple yet alluring loop going underneath, and it gives Eric and the other players a good platform to play over. Most of Eric’s playing is sharp and steady, but occasionally he lets forth a blast that keeps me guessing. At the seven minute mark the much stronger guitar sound of Prince enters. His playing has an electric quality to it, and the closest thing I can compare it to would be the opening song of the Small Club gig. His guitar has the same tone and sharpness to it, but is more relaxed and held in check here. He doesn’t get too extravagant with his playing, and it heightens the tight feel of the song. Prince finishes his playing and some more synth sounds are played. As with the guitar, it’s not fast or furious, it’s quick and tight. The song moves up a notch from here, the drum takes on a more urgent pounding beat as the horn and piano start a groove, before the guitar again comes to the fore. This time the guitar is stronger and more insistent- the playing is quicker, louder and cold. After a time the guitar eases up as the sax hits a nice refrain, which sounds more like a hook you would expect to hear in a more traditional song. Prince’s voice is heard for the first time at this stage, as he calls for sax solo. The music is intense at this stage, but after the sax solo the sound pulls back and Princes introduces Atlanta Bliss for a trumpet solo. The jam has already taken several twists and turns but there is more to come as I hear the sound of a heavy funk guitar. It doesn’t last long, and I think it been put on the back burner, but soon after I hear it again, and it continues for much longer as the song wind downs. The song ends with a steady beat on the drums and a minute of funky guitar with more horn. The song finally stops and I want to walk outside, raise my arms and say “Oh GOD YES!!”  The 20 minutes of this song had everything I love, lots of changes in direction, a little experimental, a little jazzy. If this was all we got I would be a happy man, but there is so much more to come.

Prince1987a

It takes me a second to register where I have heard the horn riff from, as the next song starts. There is a dog bark sample which we know well, but it distracts me for a minute. Prince plays some Stevie Wonder sounding keyboards and I click that it is Strange Relationship. I thought the last song was great, but this one, although different in style, is its equal. The keyboards have an innate funky sound to them and really bounce. The horns and guitar are very well placed in the mix, and add colour without ever being out front. Strange Relationship is brilliant on record, but live it’s a monster. Prince curses as he says “I bet you wish this was a fuckin movie” and after so long of listening to the modern clean Prince it sounds like strong profanity indeed, The song becomes a jam as it reaches the “yeah, yeah” section, and there is a cool moment when Prince manages to drop the word ‘Leviticus” into the song. Now that is genius! A few moments after there is a very brief drum break, with a few quick rolls, before we go into more “yeah, yeahs” as the funky keys continue with Prince saying all kinds of crazy talk. He calls Levi for a half a minute, before he puts a snare on it, and there is some subtle funky guitar lines playing. It’s very much a typical Prince jam, with a few turn arounds, a false ending or two, and a long groove. The song continues with Prince and the band sing faster and faster until we speed into the next song.

Another long jam, this is also suitably called Groove In F (an argument). There is some tight bass and guitar work in the introduction before a horn loop begins. This beat is humming along quite quickly, its up-tempo all the way. The horn is replaced by the keyboard. It’s not over playing, just some long notes. I have already said that several things at this show were very typical Prince, and this definitely falls into that territory. It sounds like many of the rehearsal jams I have heard Prince and his band play. A nice quick beat and a horn refrain, with the keys filling out the other spaces. It’s different from the jams he plays live, where every player playing a solo, like I said it’s much more like the rehearsal jams we hear. There is a cool choppy sound I hear, but I can’t decide if it’s the bass or a keyboard, I need to hear it a few more time to decide- but that’s not going to be too taxing for me. There is a rhythm guitar running underneath, but the main sound of the song is the horns and the keyboard. The end catches me off guard, as it just suddenly stops and there is plenty of cheers from the crowd.

Prince1987c

There is then a longish break, with lots of calls for more, before the hand clapping settles into a steady rhythm. There is the sound of a drum playing along quietly, but I can’t decide if it’s onstage very quietly, of someone in the crowd is banging something. Eventually the crowd becomes more vocal, and it’s obvious we are about to get more. Prince is on the microphone, he apologizes to the crowd “Sorry I had to leave, it was too funky in here” There is some gentle patter, then the downbeat keyboard of Dorothy Parker takes us into the next part of the show. Princes singing is up-sounding here, and quite bright against the darker music. It works well for me, I do like it a lot. The horns also sound bright on the song, there is a very quick piano solo, which gets drawn out into a second section. It’s all very sharp, but short. Even with the sound of extra pieces thrown in, it still finishes at four minutes.

I fail to recognize Just My Imagination when it starts. It’s heavy on synth and piano, and has a great sound to it. The synth plays strongly, while a piano improvises over the top. It’s not what I expected when I first saw the song listed, but it exceeds my expectations. I love it as the band play on and on in this way. It’s almost disappointing when Prince begins to sing, as he sings it’s still the piano I am listening for. His singing is fine and delicate, but almost too delicate for the heavier keyboard and piano, and I tend to drift away from listening to his melody too much. The recording is very good, I notice here as his voice interacts with the backing vocals, I can pick them out from each other well. There is a fantastic horn solo right after Prince finishes the verses. As the music swells underneath it adds a nice sharp counter point to it. Eric Leeds is a great foil to Prince, and he is on top of his game at this show. The song fades out with another chorus refrain, before a heavy guitar comes to the front.

Prince calls Blues In G, and that is exactly what he delivers. It’s a sharper guitar than we normally get when he plays the blues. It’s playing a much higher and stronger sound, yet I can still hear the piano banging away underneath. Things take an interesting turn when Prince calls “ehhh!, substitution” and a very different piano sound is heard. It’s his father playing, and his style is sharply different from anything else we have heard this evening. While the bass walks along nicely, he keeps the piano banging and sings several verses. He does call for Little Steven, and we get a guitar solo. There is some interplay between the guitar and piano, but it doesn’t greatly excite me. The song goes on for another minute, but it never really connects with me. I rate this song very high for novelty value- featuring both John L Nelson and Little Steven, but musically it didn’t do anything for me. I hate to say it, but this is the weakest part of the recording.

Prince1987b

“What we gonna do now Prince?” Levi asks Prince.  “Whatever it is, it got to be funky” is the reply, as the familiar intro of Housequake begins. The horns are somewhat subdued on the song, and it is played straight. It does have a fun feel to it, but there isn’t anything new in it for me to listen to. I do enjoy the band interaction, the sound of the interplay between Prince and his singers is joyful to listen to. I don’t know what more I could want for it, it is a classic song, no doubt, but I always want a little more from it when I hear it live. After some of the jams we had earlier in the show, it’s surprising that this is so short, and Prince doesn’t play with it at all. It comes to an abrupt end with Prince closing the show with a simple “Thank you, bye bye”

It’s impossible for me to write about this show objectively. I have been playing it a lot, I love the fact that it’s a new leak, that it’s got novelty value, that it’s got some great jams and of course I love the fact that it is a soundboard. It will be sometime before I can look back and see how it fits in the wider Prince canon, until then it’s going to be constantly on my stereo. Is it one of the greats? -take a listen and decide for yourself.

The last couple of weeks have been very good to us fans, so much to listen to recently. I feel reinvigorated, and have plenty more to write about.

Thanks for joining us on this journey
Hamish