Buenos Aires 1991

Anyone who regularly follows this blog will know that I like things to have a symmetry, and I am a completest. So with that in mind, this week I will take a listen to this festival performance from 1991. I have previously covered the Rio concert from a few days previous, and Sabotage have paired that concert with this show from the Rock & Pop festival, Buenos Aires, Argentina. This concert is for the most part the same run through of material, the only difference being that this show is fifteen minutes shorter and is missing a couple of songs from the setlist. I feel that this works in its favor as Prince and the band rush headlong through a setlist that I would otherwise find uninspiring.

21 January, 1991. Buenos Aires, Argentina

I would like to hear a lot more of “Something Funky (This House Comes).”  It’s fun, funky and is an energizing opening for the concert. It is also a good chance for the band to be introduced to the audience as each of their individual talents is highlighted. Prince often used long jams to introduce his bands, especially in later aftershows, and here it is most refreshing to see him us one of his own, upbeat and short songs to achieve the same thing. It doesn’t matter that he is hardly on the mic, Tony M and Rosie Gaines sound strong and enthused, even if the recording is less than pristine.

It is entirely predictable to hear “Let’s Go Crazy” next. It is one of his most well known hits, and not only does it bring the crowd on board, it also maintains the momentum created by the previous “Something Funky (This House Comes). That momentum is temporarily lost for the break down, and the show derails for a moment with this misstep. However “Kiss” restores the balance,  Prince and the band back to the fore as the funk of “Kiss” puts the stamp of authority on the concert, this is now beginning to sound a lot more like a Prince show.

One of the problems I have of shows from this period is the pacing and unevenness of the setlists. “Kiss” was everything you could want from a Prince concert, but again the show hits a brick wall with the “Pink Panther” interlude and Tony M sucking all the energy out of the recording. I like Prince in that he challenges me and my expectations, but sometimes he seems to shoot himself in the foot with these oddities thrown in, and in this case the show almost loses me during these couple of minutes

“Purple Rain” moves this further from a festival show and closer to a Prince concert with its appearance. With the audience joining from the beginning, it has the classic slow build, before Prince cuts through the emotion and music hanging in the air with some highly focused and powerful lead guitar. It stops the song from wallowing in self indulgence, and adds purpose and direction to the opening minutes that threaten to meander. It is his guitar wail that closes out the song, this time coming in a unbridled frenzy that contrasts to the highly structured show, the highlight for me being when the notes comes so fast and furious that they bleed into each other, creating a torrent of noise and raw passion.

“Take Me With U” is a nostalgic opening to what will become a medley of Prince’s upbeat, crowd pleasing songs. The sound isn’t great to be honest, but the song can be heard driving along in the background, still doing what it always does. “Alphabet St.” sounds better on the recording, perhaps because it is sparser, with just Michael B and his drum and Prince’s guitar propelling the song forward. With less clutter, the song is better captured by the recording, however that can’t be said for the rest of the medley. Prince’s rap is fun, but it becomes hard to catch his words as the music speeds up. Likewise, Rosie sounds good, but who knows what exactly what words she is singing as she burns through “It Takes 2.” The chanting can be heard fine, but that isn’t why I listen to bootlegs.  What saves the moment for me through is some very sharp guitar work midsong. Its not intense, or loud, but a fast and intricate sound that highlights the guitar itself as much as the music that is playing.

There is a thinness to “Shake” that is the complete opposite of how I expect it to sound. On record it is full and plumb, here it is malnourished and only a shadow of its former self. I presume the performance itself isn’t to blame and its the recording that is to blame.  Prince himself sounds enthusiastic as he encourages the crowd, and one can only assume that the crowd is fully engaged with the performance.

The concert again slows as Rosie sings “Dr Feelgood” and its hard not to fall in love with her a small bit as she sings. Like a flower in bloom, she opens up as the song progresses, becoming more radiant by the minute. Prince adds some spikiness to the performance with his guitar, but the moment belongs to Rosie as she seizes the microphone and the spotlight.This is the song where I temporarily forget the sound quality as I lose myself in Rosie’s voice.

The piano medley is brief, and again the thinness of the recording is to the fore as the piano sounds tinny and distant. This should be one of the best moments on the bootleg as Prince plays “Venus De Milo,” “Condition Of The Heart,” and “The Question Of U,” but instead it falls in step with what has been previously been heard at the concert.

The fullness returns for “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and the next few minutes are glorious as Prince delivers an inspiring performance. He draws me in with his heartfelt lyrics before the punch of the band hits me at the end of every stanza, making for a memorable rendition that delivers lingers for some minutes afterwards.

There is doubt that the end of the concert is near as “Baby I’m A Star,” struts into view, pimped out and arrogant from the start. Beneath the veneer of cockiness, the song has a youthful and naive energy that makes it the perfect song for this portion of the show. The song does spiral away from the original as the Gamboyz take centre stage and the original song slips further to the fringes as Rosie sings “Respect.” As good as it is, it isn’t quite what I signed up for, and I wait for something familiar from the Prince canon to cling onto.

The music slips easily into a laid back version of “We Can Funk” that is so low key it practically disappears into the carpet as it sinks lower and lower in the mix. “Thieves In The Temple” stays with the funk, but rises out of the floor as Prince delivers a hard hitting and incisive version that drives the show for the next few minutes, giving an added impetus that will carry us through to the end of the concert.

The show ends with “Jughead,” and “Rock The House,” but it isn’t the anti-climatic finish that it sounds like. The band are in fine form as it becomes an easy jam that carries the crowd for sometime. I am no great fan of either song, but there is no denying the energy of them, and they do serve the purpose of ending the concert with the crowd on their feet and dancing. It may not be the greatest bootleg moment, but it is a good record of what Prince and the band were doing at the time.

This is not one of the great bootlegs. The only reason I took the time to give it a listen is because of its pairing with the Rio recording, making for a nice “South American Festivals” package. The concert has no great faults, but it never once reaches any great heights. The recording is average but not bad, the setlist is OK, the performance fine, each part of the release dong just enough to keep me listening to the end. As a completest I am extremely happy to have this, but as a music fan I could happily pass on it. This is Prince treading water, and the average bootleg does nothing to help that feeling. Its listenable, but there’s not a lot of fun to be found here.

Thanks again
Hamish

North Sea Jazz Festival Night 1

I seem to be listening to a lot of shows from 2010 and 2011 recently, and that will continue for the next few posts as I listen to the North Sea Jazz Festival shows from 2011. I missed a lot of shows from 2010 and 2011, at that time I separated from my wife and in the same month my city was flattened by an earthquake- both events still impact on my life daily. In 2011 listening to Prince and following his tours was far from a priority as I dealt with things on a day by day basis. Calmness has returned to my hometown now, and I finally have some time to go back and catch up with what I missed at that time. I had the shows, I just never got around to listening to them, so now as I pull them out, I find I am listening with a freshness, and new enthusiasm for what I am hearing.

When Prince was at the peak of his powers in the 1980’s it would have been difficult to imagine him ever playing at a festival. He was too singular in his vision, and to see him on a bill with other artists would have been jarring. Of course his tours celebrated his creativity and songs, and with his league of protégés and other projects in many ways his concerts were a mini festival of sorts, a festival of Prince. In recent years he has embraced festivals, in particular 2010 and 2011 in Europe.

These three shows at the North Sea Jazz provide an interesting mix of songs and styles. I do like that each of them has a sizable portion of songs that I could see lifted straight from a mainstream show, with some more interesting songs and moments grafted onto it. Also every night is different from the other, and there is a few rarities in the mix that always keep me interested. This first show is not my favourite of the three, but I do have to start somewhere, so why not the beginning. So let’s wind back to 2011 and take a listen to the first night of the North Sea Jazz Festival.

9 July 2011, Ahoy, Rotterdam

I find the first few minutes of the show slightly usual, and a little confusing. The show starts with a comfortable beat, and the band play a tepid version of Foxy Lady. You would think this would be tailor made for Prince and his guitar histrionics, but he elects not to play, instead only appearing later in the song. Andy Allo handles the vocal duties, she does a serviceable job for a song that doesn’t seem to play to her strengths. The music behind her is insipid, the Hendrix guitar groove is carried by the bass, and an acoustic guitar which doesn’t give it the intensity of the original. I thought Prince could have used this song to make an immediate impression, but it’s all quite low key -that is until mid song when he finally appears, and does indeed lurch into his guitar god mode. The latter part of the song is a definite improvement, Andy dispenses with the singing and Prince plays a guitar solo that you would expect.

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Controversy is much more conventional, although the first minute of the song the Prince calls instructions to the soundman as he gets his set up on stage just right. It’s played as a groove with Prince playing his scratch guitar while chanting “Oh North Sea”. I like that he sounds relaxed, as asides from chanting he takes time to tell the crowd that he has plenty of surprises for the next few nights. It’s obvious that he is having trouble with his sound as he calls again and again that the sound is too bright and brittle. For a perfectionist like Prince I am sure it must be incredibly frustrating, and he does sound a little agitated as he strives for the right sound. Apparently these issues are resolved and he does begin to sing the song. The song sounds good to me, but the sound problems persist for Prince as he asks for the lights to turn down as again he calls for the sound to be adjusted “more bottom” Under normal circumstances I would just like to hear the song, but I do listen with interest as Prince strives to get the sound right. You can feel that he is really working hard on the stage.

The Sexy Dancer/ Le Freak arrangement follows quickly on the heels of Controversy, and this time I aren’t the least bit surprised to hear it. With Shelby and Liv on the vocals, Prince retreats into the band, but this time he steps in after the first verse to play a tidy sounding solo. He is much more in control at this gig, and his guitar playing is focused without being scorching.

(Theme song from) Which Way Is Up is next, and this is quickly becoming a favourite of mine. I can hear Maceo in the mix, and this is another song where the band is the real strength. Morris Hayes plays a solo, which I would like to heap praise upon, if it was only more prominent in the mix. I am questioning Prince playing a song like this so early in the show, but to his credit it is a jazz festival and I would assume the audience would be open to hearing much more than Prince playing the hits.

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I try very hard every week to enjoy Play That Funky Music, but I just can’t. The lyrics aren’t interesting, and the groove always sounds laboured to me. This week’s arrangement is better, in that Prince plays a guitar break for most of the song, and listening to it I find my mind wanders from the main groove. The guitar break is as good as it gets however, as they return to the chorus for a final refrain before the song ends.

There is another odd twist as the band picks up the groove of Controversy again and Prince praises Maceo Parker in a speech to the crowd. This is a great moment, as Maceo lives up to all the hype and plays a scorching solo. The band is stomping and Maceo feeds off the energy and gets better and better as he goes. There is a good reason why Prince chooses to play with people like Maceo and Larry Graham. Not only does he learn from them, he also introduces them to a new audience. But not only that, there is a reason why Maceo is a legend, his playing is fierce and is a great addition to Princes band.

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Amazing how quickly my enthusiasm wanes, the next song is Pass The Peas with Maceo and this time I am less enamoured. Yes, I love Maceo and his playing, the problem for me here is that I have heard Prince and the band play Pass The Peas countless times, and I find very little in it that is new to my ears. Morris Hayes rescues the song somewhat, but not quite enough for me. However there is a drum break and some more organ that sounds pretty cool, before the main groove resumes.

The show loses it momentum next as Andy Allo sings Let’s Get It On. It’s nice enough, but nobody can touch the original. Her voice is beautiful and she is lovely to look at, it’s the choice of song I have trouble with. I can understand why Prince is giving her plenty of shine, and I wait patiently for the song to finish so we can get back to the Prince show proper. Prince does close out the song with some sweet sounding guitar playing, before the next song gets me up and out of my seat.

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I curse as D.M.S.R starts, the keyboards sound incredibly bold, and there is a great mix with plenty of bass and piano high in the mix. This is the Prince I signed up for back in the day, and I am overjoyed to hear D.M.S.R sound just as good as ever. Ida’s bass has a great fatness to it, and I turn the stereo up to ‘neighbour annoying’ levels. The breakdown is my favourite part of the song, normally I’m not a fan of this part of the song -this time Ida has me completely revising my opinions. There is a further sound to listen to as Prince adds some percussion as the guitar and bass squelch along. This one I can feel deep inside of me.  Maceo gives the song some funk credentials as he adds his sound to the mix, and by now I am pretty close to heaven. What I wouldn’t give to be there.

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We go from funk with a capital F to some pure pop with Pop Life. Of his pop songs, this would have to be my favourite.  This arrangement is as we have heard previously from this time period, after a poppy rendition of the first half of the song, the band then pull back and play a jazzy instrumental, with the piano featuring heavily. I love that Prince challenges the audience and widens their range. I know that he has introduced me to many new acts and genres that I would have never otherwise heard. The best thing is that as he changes he pulls us all along for the journey too. I have discovered so much music through him, and if I ever had a chance, this is what I would thank him for most.

Musicology goes down a treat at this show. It’s tighter sounding than the Musicology tour, it’s still a jam, except without some of the excesses of those shows. Maceo is the star of the show, his horn is nice and loud and he gets plenty of time to play. There is another fun moment for me as Prince raps through Prince And The Band. I am never quite sure if I should take he seriously of not, but I always like to hear it.

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My recording is missing a couple of songs at this point, although I do have the full concert on other configurations, but I am not too concerned as what comes next is fantastic.

I was going to write off Love Bizarre as Prince plays a long intro and asks Janelle Monae to join him. Boy, was I ever wrong, and this one is the highlight of the show for me. The sound is better than it has been at any other time in the show and after a lengthy guitar and drum intro the song explodes. Everything brightens and at this stage the show sounds like it has finally turned into a party. Janelle sounds great with Prince and having Maceo in the mix is a real bonus. As Prince calls him, he steps out and really shakes things up. This sounds great here at home, and the song becomes a loose jam. It rolls and rolls, and it holds my interest as it evolves. It does strip back to just guitar, drum and audience singing and this is the great rock n roll moment that I look for in every show. There is the usual Housequake lines thrown in, followed by “jump up and down” but I completely forgive this as Prince plays a few seconds of funky guitar that jumps right out at me.

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I come back to earth as Everyday People begins and Larry Graham joins Prince on stage. I love Larry Graham, I love Everyday People, it’s just that I have heard it played in this way so many times that I am done with it, and I don’t feel the need to ever hear it at a Prince show again. That said, the song here is inoffensive and does keep the energy levels up at the gig.

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I get excited as Prince takes Ida’s bass and prepares for the next song. Only Heaven Knows isn’t familiar to me, but I definitely hear a lot of the song Johnny in it. I am disappointed it’s not a bass heavy song and Prince doesn’t work the bass as much as I was hoping. I do like the line “analogue pimps and digital hoes”, asides from that it’s just a nice groove song. Some heavy keyboards keep me in the groove, and Morris and his organ is again well in the mix. Prince hits the effect pedal and plays a fuzzed up sounding America. Its short, and the moment of the song that captures my attention the most.

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Every week I wonder how I am going to find something new to write about Purple Rain, and I know Prince must have the same problem finding a new way to make it interesting for himself too. This time we have Maceo playing over the introduction. I have heard Eric Leeds play a sax intro for Purple Rain, and I have to say I prefer Eric’s efforts to what we hear from Maceo here. I do applaud Prince and Maceo for making the effort to give us something different, but I don’t think Maceo really adds anything interesting here. The verses are perfunctory, and I am waiting to see if Prince can find another level when he reaches the guitar break. The guitar break doesn’t reach the heights I’d hoped for and Prince compensates by his expressions as he plays. The sound is noticeable off through the song here, and it sums up how a lot of the evening has played out.

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If I Was Your Girlfriend, now this is more like it. Its sound is still off, but it does sound a lot bigger. Prince’s vocals do suffer, and I can understand why so many people complained about the sound through this gig. Ida’s bass should be the main component, and yet I can barely make it out, and that’s no fault of the recording, I’m sure.  Cassandra does sound nice on the piano, and this is one of the few positives I can find in what is normally my favourite song.

Tonight’s arrangement of Kiss is keyboard driven, one plays sharp while the other provides a cool squelch.  The song still has its basic sound, but there is a tiredness to the sound of it, and I wonder if this has been a tough show and the band just want to finish. The one part of the song that does seem to work is the coda, as Prince dances in the spotlight. The drum sound is good, and with the instruments stripped back the sound is softened. The show ends with Kiss, and there is no real big finale.

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This show was incredibly uneven. It’s obvious there were sound issues for Prince to contend with throughout, and although I ignored them early on, by the end they were too much for me to overlook. The high points of the show were D.M.S.R and Love Bizarre, and both of these songs benefited from being party jams, and as they both played it was easy to lose myself in the groove rather than pick out various parts of the songs.

Next week I will take a listen to the second show, which I believe is considerably better by all accounts. This one showed glimpses of brilliance, I am pinning my hopes on much more of those moments in the next two shows.

Thanks for reading, have a great week
-HamishNSJF1k

 

 

Coachella

This week’s gig is interesting to me for a number of reasons. Playing a festival is different from a private show and the setlist reflects this. It is aimed at the masses, and the show begins with Morris Day, Jerome and Sheila E joining the band for a few songs of their own. This gives the concert the feel of a revue, and I do like that aspect of it. Prince also throws in a couple of covers, the most talked about of which is a cover of Radiohead’s Creep. The hits he plays are predictable enough, and the inclusion of Shhh and Anotherloverholenyohead more than satisfies me.

Coachella Festival, 26 April 2008

The Bird is a great choice to open the show with. With the pounding beat the crowd is soon clapping along. Before the song starts proper Prince takes his time to address the audience. Then with a horn blast The Bird begins with the singing of Morris. The recording is an audience recording, it’s not perfect, but it is perfectly listenable. Morris sounds a lot older and he seems to have a deeper more serious timbre to his voice. The song is energetic, but the youthful enthusiasm has gone from Morris’s voice. There isn’t too much singing through the song, the latter part of mostly horns and keys before Prince comes back to the microphone and the music moves into Jungle Love.

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Morris sounds much better on Jungle Love, and I enjoy it more than The Bird. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the Bird, but this one is better. The elastic bass has a good deep sound to it which the recording has picked up well. The guitar solo from Prince transports me right back, and I find myself heavy on nostalgia despite myself. There is some chat and interplay between Morris and Jerome, and I can only imagine what is happening on the stage. The “Oh we oh we oh” part isn’t as strong as it could have been, but this is quickly forgotten as Prince enters again on the guitar and I reach to turn up the volume. The crowd does whoop when he finishes but not as loudly as I do here at home.

“la la la la la la” sings Sheila E as the music of Glamorous Life begins. It’s not crisp sounding, but I can hear the percussion thrown into the mix. This one would have sounded great on the day, but for me some sound is lost in the recording. Shelia makes amends by giving a nice vocal performance and I listen carefully to her as the song progresses. The horn runs sound strong against the percussion and it gives the song a fantastic summer sound. Sheila delivers a drum solo, and I love it. It’s very percussive, maybe a percussion solo would have been a more accurate description. I enjoy it much more than her drum solos of the eighties and it’s only an indicator to what’s coming next.

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And what is coming next is some crisp rhythm guitar, then an up-tempo percussion sound and Prince play some heavily Santana infused guitar. And I aren’t really too surprised when I read that it is a medley of Santana songs. Prince has said that he is influenced in his guitar playing by Santana and on this track he gets to indulge himself. It’s not all about Prince and his guitar through, there is plenty of drums from both Shelia and Cora, as well as Renato Neto contributing an up-tempo keyboard run that I find myself nodding along to and enjoying. This is what I love to hear, and this for me is easily the best track on the whole recording. The song never stops moving and changing, and everyone is playing so well, there is plenty to pick apart and listen to. But as always its Princes guitar that I come back to, and his playing is electrifying in both delivery and nature. These four songs have been a great way to kick off the show before we pull back into a more traditional greatest hits show.

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The slowed down “Don’t worry I won’t hurt you” signals the beginning of 1999 and the more conventional beginning of the show. This time the horns work on the track, and Prince gives the song more room to breathe and enjoy, rather than the rush to the “party” outro we sometimes get. For the first time on the recording we hear Shelby J and Liv Warfield. Neither contribute greatly to the track, but they both have their own voices and I recognize them in an instant. With the larger band and the horns, the song drifts from its 1999 electro funk sound a little, especially near the end, but I can hear Prince’s guitar nice and clear in the mix, and this ties it all back to where it began.

I Feel For You is sung by the girls, I like it but I feel it needs less, not more. The song sounded better in the nice clean 80’s sound. The horns are bright, but a shade too brassy for my tastes, and then the girls sing it together, giving it a much fuller sound. It’s kept short and Prince tells the crowd “we gotta go back” and the pulsing Controversy begins.

Again the girls sing with Prince and it’s far from the stripped back electro sound of the 80’s. Princes scratch guitar is there, but it backed by the horn sound and the extra voices. For all that though, I do enjoy it a lot, especially we Prince does his “people call me rude” section midsong. Of course it is with the “clap your, stomp your feet” chant, but today I give it a pass, I find my head is nodding throughout the entire song and the horns sound good before the guitar takes over for another electrifying solo. Prince is definitely hot at this time, and the playing sounds effortless. Naturally enough Prince asks “who knows about the Quake” which leads to more jumping up and down before the song winds down in a series of “oooohhhhss” It’s very good, but not quite great.

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Prince pulls at our heartstrings with the keyboard swell intro of Little Red Corvette. The synth swells for a few minutes, while a gentle piano plays. It’s my favourite part of the song, Prince doesn’t let it last too long, he starts singing soon enough, but it’s great while it lasts. The crowd immediately appreciate his singing, there is a large cheer as he begins. He does refrain too much from singing in the song, he lets the crowd sing a lot, and in places just stands back as the hand clapping continues. When he does play guitar it is very strong sounding indeed. It’s almost too much for such a layered song, but I forget this complaint as he begins to play. Let the guitar dominate I say, especially when it sounds as powerful as this. There are moments when it conjures up the sound of a mid-70’s Funkadelic song, the way he plays it here I could easily hear such a sound on the “Standing On The verge Of Getting It On” album. The guitar has the best sound on the song, everything else sounds weak in comparison and this is highlighted when Prince sings again after the solo. He sounds far away and pale next to the strength of the guitar sound.

When Musicology follows it is a complete change from what we have just heard. It’s all horns, and the calls of Shelby. The party feel returns to the show, and there is a lot of interaction between Prince and the audience. Some of it works on the recording, I like it when the band pull back and the song moves along to the clap of the crowd. And I always like it when Prince interjects Prince And The Band. This one isn’t amazing, never the less I am smiling throughout. I prefer it to the rest of Musicology and I am a tad disappointed as it winds down to an end.

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Cream benefits from the horns and the muscular guitar. The song has an extra push to it, and it sounds like an older brother of the original album cut. Prince too sounds more powerful here, he is giving more for the crowd and that is coming out in the recording. His guitar break is a little disjointed, and the tone is slightly weird, both compared to the original and in the context of the rest of the show. The horns come back and give it a little more up near the end, and the second guitar break from Prince is much more cleaner sounding and more enjoyable. The song finishes on a high as we segue into U Got The Look.

Prince’s guitar is sounding much better as he plays U Got The look, the strong clear tone has returned and it propels the song along well. And despite the guitar having a stronger sound, the solos aren’t too overwhelming as I feared they may be, all in all everything is very well balanced- something that doesn’t always happen with this song. I have heard this song a lot, but this one doesn’t out stay its welcome.

Shhh sounds awesome right from the start. The guitar and drum rolls that open it are very loud and full sounding, and it’s got a powerful feel about it that takes me right back to that era. Prince’s voice isn’t too focused, he sounds a little casual in his delivery. It does retain a smoky late night feel, and has just a touch of grime on it. After the first verse it does become a showcase for Princes guitar playing. As with every song on this recording it is great, and despite the quality of the recording the guitar playing is shining through on every song. CC Dunham on the drums does a fine job, she is no Michael B, but she is strong. Prince’s long howling notes on the guitar has me really feeling the song, and I feel the passion that first made me a fan all those years ago. The song ends, and I have the urge to immediately go back and play it again. And again. And again.

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The rock sound is once again at the fore when Anotherloverholenyohead plays. There is plenty of guitar, and it’s loud and works well in tandem with the heavy bass and drum. This is a cracking version of the classic. I normally love the original sound of it, but in this setlist the heavy rock sound works very well. There is the Rock Lobster interlude, which is just an excuse for Prince to let loose on the guitar for a while. Whereas in Shhh he was playing within the song, and fleshing out the emotion, here he is playing for the hell of it, and sounding great along the way. I preferred the style of the previous song, but I still enjoyed this immensely.

Next is the surprise (at the time) in the recording- a cover of Radiohead’s Creep. Prince doesn’t do vulnerable, he is either ‘Cocky’ or ‘Victim of love’ and here he comes off a little disingenuous playing the part of the loser. His vocals don’t capture the emotion of the original, and although I admire him for doing a cover of this, I can’t quite buy into it. But all is forgiven when he reaches a more frantic tone in his voice, and we get some guitar noise from him. It’s hard to take him seriously as he sings “I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo” but he knows how to let the music speak for him, and the guitar says more than his vocals. The most enjoyable and emotional parts of the song are when there is just the music and his guitar playing. Normally I like a good balance of guitar tracks and funk tracks through a show, but this one is very guitar focussed, and I am surprised at just how much I am enjoying it. The latter part of the song is all guitar, and it’s far removed from the Radiohead original. It’s a cover version I could never have guessed at, and worth hearing just for novelty value if nothing else.

Angel is a cover of a Sarah McLachlan song, and Prince is conspicuous in his absence from the song. He may well be on stage, but on the recording all I can hear is Shelby J on the lead vocals, ably supported by the NPG. There is no doubting that Shelby can sing, and sing well, but this song is well within her range and it doesn’t do too much that excites me. Renato Neto provides a piano break, but it’s hardly pulse raising. The latter portion of the song is where the girls really showcase their singing, they are all of fine voice, but it’s Prince that I want to hear.

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I am relieved when Prince comes to the microphone to introduce the next song, 7. I don’t listen to 7 very often, but I always enjoy live performances of it. This one is par for the course, but the standout for me is when he talks to the audience about togetherness and ushering in a new golden age and then gets them chanting “war, no more’. Sure it’s simplistic, but it works.

The song moves very naturally into a cover of the Beatles Come Together. I shouldn’t be too surprised, I have heard it a few times like this before. The girls are the dominant force in the song, and Prince is a passenger, only talking to the crowd between verses, before once again giving us a very solid guitar solo. He draws it out for a bit, before indulging in a bit of ‘stage craft’. He gets the audience to clap their hands “there ain’t no wrong way” then has them singing along “come together, yeah”. It sounds simple, but it works for the crowd, and they are behind him all the way. The band pull out, leaving the crowd clapping and chanting “come together, yeah”. Easy as that, that is how you work a crowd. The song gets the full treatment, the band comes back in, and there is another guitar break and a finale to bring the show to a close.

It’s no surprise at all to hear Purple Rain as the encore. There is very little in the way of intro, after the first few chords have sounded Prince begins to sing immediately. This is a fairly standard rendition of the beloved song, Prince doesn’t inject too much emotional emphasis in it, and the only feature about it that I find interesting is the guitar break later in the song. The audience do jump on board early with a steady hand clap but it’s the guitar break where I finally sit up and engage with the song. The first half of the break is as I have heard often enough before, but after the “One, two, three” reprise it becomes more loose and enjoyable to my ears. He doesn’t over play it, and it is pulled in soon enough to bring the song to an end.

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Prince addresses the audience again “They tell me I gotta go, but we can’t leave” I wonder what could follow, but it’s soon revealed as I hear the keyboard swell of Let’s Go Crazy begin. It is of as you might expect from this band, there is a lot of horns in it, and plenty of swing. Prince’s guitar playing hits the groove early on, and he stays there. There is more singing and chanting from the crowd, interspersed with rowdy guitar breaks from Prince. I was expecting this to go on for some time, so I am very surprised when Prince brings it to a close with his trademark guitar howl, and I sit back, equally surprised at how much I enjoyed it all.

I must admit, although this one piqued my interest, I didn’t really have high hopes for what I perceived to be a greatest hits package. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this recording, I actually listened to it four or five times over a couple of days. The recording isn’t fantastic, and the show didn’t always hold my interest, but what I did like, I liked immensely. This isn’t a classic vocal performance, but that’s not important when the guitar playing is as good as it is here. The Santana medley was worth listening to alone. All in all, a lot of fun to listen to here on a cold winter night.

Take care
see you next week
Hamish

 

 

Mill City Festival, 1999

1999 is an odd year in the world of Prince. No tour this year, just a steady stream of one-off shows and appearances. Prince was well off my radar at this stage, I had grown weary of his output, and found it lacked the excitement and creativity that I previously enjoyed. But looking at my recordings I see that I do need to have a dig and look at something from this era. I have chosen a recording of his appearance at the Mill City festival. The set list looks slightly interesting, and with Larry Graham in the band the stage is now set for the next change in his life and music.

Mill City Festival 6 September, 1999 Minneapolis

The lone notes of Princes guitar begin the recording. His tone is unmistakable, and there is a nice minute of just his playing alone. The beat begins as the guitar whines its final note, and I am immediately enthused as Sign Of the Time starts. The sound of his guitar playing at the beginning really adds a lot to it, and my excitement. In fact his playing through the whole song is great- nice and fiery. It’s a nice contrast to Princes vocal, which is suitably detached. This song works great live, and I am surprised it doesn’t get played more often. As the title track of one of his most critically recognized albums I feel it should get a little more love. For all the great lyrics in this song, and the fantastic beat, it really is the guitar that dominates in this live version, especially later in the song, before it finishes very sharply. This was a great start to the recording.

Another Sign Of The Times song follows, as the steady drum beat of I Could Never Take The Place OF Your Man begins. Prince takes his time to thank the city and festival, and then brings out Larry Graham to the stage. He tells us that he has a few surprises lined up later, and then comments on the crowd. It’s a good minute and a half before he starts playing on his guitar, then after a brief moment the band jumps in and the song starts proper. What I enjoy about this one, is I can hear the organ very well, and it helps fill out what is a somewhat thin recording. Prince seems to understand what the main attraction of the song is, and after a brief verse he jumps straight to the guitar break. It’s sounding good, but nothing great or off the wall here. I enjoy it much more when the band fall silent and Prince draws out a longer more mournful guitar break. He never returns to the song and it ends with him playing guitar like this.

There is a small break again between songs as Prince delivers a spiritual message. It’s well intentioned, and leads us appropriately enough into The Christ. Although I don’t like the fact that Prince is trying to rewrite his history, I do respect his beliefs and admire that he is prepared to stand by his convictions. However, this song will always be ‘The Cross’ to me. It seems that it would be impossible to play a version of this that I wouldn’t like, but here it comes close. Larry Graham sings the second verse, and although I love his voice – love, love – here it sounds out of place to me. Prince’s vocals sound a little messed up when he returns for the next verse. I am not sure I can blame the quality of the recording for this, it sounds like he is ad-libbing at the mic, buts it’s not very clear, and sounds a little amateurish. He does serve up another guitar break, but again it’s nothing spectacular, and is a little truncated.

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“Thank you very much hometown” Prince says, before the keyboard intro of Lets Go Crazy begins. The guitar sound here is fairly neutered, and the song has lost of the power it had during the Purple Rain era. This is a pretty standard run through of the song, it has a couple of verses cut, and even the guitar breaks fail to lift it to anything special. I thought it might have picked up when Prince played his last guitar howl, but even this is a damp squib.

She’s Always in My Hair is a deadset classic, and its appearance next raises my interest considerably. Both the guitar and the keys via for my attention, before Prince closes the deal with “Can I play my guitar?” The guitar break is everything I could ask for, and although not stratospheric, it’s exactly what I need. The song seems to be very short, only the first verse and chorus are played before the guitar break, and the song ends immediately after the guitar solo. Short and sweet as they say, I could have done with a little more for this one.

Keeping with the rock theme the next song played is U Got The Look. It has a nice energy and simmers along nicely. The set list so far has been crowd pleasing, and heavy on guitar songs from his most popular albums. U Got The Look has a very clean sound to it. Sure, there is some nice throaty guitar, but it still sounds well polished throughout. I was wondering if they would do something different with it, but it’s very much as heard on the album. Its enjoyable, but nothing to write home about, or indeed to write a blog about.

I was wondering where Prince was going next, as over a steady beat he addresses the crowd, and especially the ladies in the audience. It all becomes clear when he says “Ladies, do you know how to kiss?” There is a brief moment of sampler and scratching before the very familiar guitar line of Kiss begins. There is some sampling and horns in the song, but they fail to add anything to it, and if anything they detract from, the minimalist charm of it. There is an interesting moment when the band stop and just Prince and the crowd sing. OK, so interesting might be an overstatement, but it is a nice variation in the song that wasn’t really doing much for me.

The scream at the beginning of Gett Off has me reaching for my phone to check my messages (I have the scream as my ringtone), but it’s the real deal and the recording takes a more interesting turn. The song takes a long time to begin and is much more of a jam. There is a lot of interaction between Prince and the crowd. There is a few sounds and sample thrown into the mix, and keeps me listening trying to catch them all. Princes vocal delivery is very laid back, and smooth sounding. He sings rather than speaks the lyrics, and it’s very enjoyable. There is a low-key guitar break, before some funky chanting “Come And Dance With Me” This is very cool, and funky, before things heat up. There is an upswing in tempo and the band begins singing I Like Funky Music. The beat has a Latin feel to it, and Prince introduces Maceo Parker to the crowd. Maceo delivers immediately and delivers a fast and funky sax solo. Prince begins to sing “I like funky music” and I have to agree, I do too! The song continues in this vein for sometime, and I enjoy every second of it. From here on it’s very much a funk jam, with Prince directing the band and Maceo, there is a few minutes of stabs, funky rhythms and percussion breaks.

Things stay on the same track as the band slip into Talking Loud and Saying Nothing. Here the horns really come to the fore. I was just thinking how good they were sounding, when Prince calls them out, and they do a fantastic break. I am not a horn guy, but this is very good, and I enjoy it immensely. Prince is again directing things and the band is tight right through. I can hear some calls, and I am sure if I could see it he would be directing things with his hands and movements.

Without pause we get Let’s Work, and it’s nice and horny -with horns that is. They pump it up a lot, and its one of Princes songs that I find works well with real horns playing over it. Prince’s vocal is sounding good as ever, and it has a bit of pop to it. This song got me moving, it was sounding great. I was expecting it to go for longer, but just as it was beginning to really groove the band transition into Delirious.

Delirious also gains from having live horns played over it. Not a favorite of mine, I find this recording quite refreshing with the horns playing on it. There is even a horn solo, which I presume is Maceo, and that too is awesome. Delirious is always a slight song, and here it slips by very quick, but well worth the listen. There is an instrumental section that plays it out, featuring some guitar work- but it’s neither here nor there and doesn’t add anything.

Next there is a short pause why Prince engages the crowd. There’s a bit of “You don’t love me… You love Larry Graham, but you don’t love me”. The crowd responds as you might expect, and then after half a minute of this there is another break.

The beat then resumes, and Prince tells the crowd that his new single “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold” is on sale next month. No surprise as he next begins to talk of record companies and being free. He then sings a smooth version of Everyday Is A Winding Road. Its nice enough sounding, but its not very distinctive until the chorus, then it picks up a lot. There is some nice organ in the background, and Prince is singing nice and strong. Actually the whole song gets stronger and stronger as it goes on, and after Prince acknowledges that it was written by Sheryl Crow the band move into a long groove with it. Well, not too long, it finishes up just a minute after this, but it is enjoyable as it lasts.

The seductive beat of Love Thy Will be Done draws me in slowly but surely. Prince delivers a spiritual message for a couple of minutes over the beat, but this time it seems to work well. Then when he does begin to sing over the same beat, its not Love Thy Will Be Done, but Do Unto Others. It has a nice groove to it, and my head is quickly bobbing. There are plenty of organs and Prince sings with Larry Graham.

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I am really feeling it, and then it gets even better as Prince sings Sometimes I feel Like A Motherless Child. It’s very much a favorite of mine from the period, and Prince delivers it with plenty of heart and passion on the recording. His singing sounds like he is really putting himself into it. There is then a trombone solo, which doesn’t derail the song at all, in fact it brings a lot of color to it. The band then return to singing Do Unto Others, while Prince busies himself on the guitar. There are plenty of squeals and wailing, all the while that steady beats keeps plugging away underneath. There is a false ending, but just as I think its done Prince comes back onboard with his guitar, and there is another couple of minutes of him blasting out another solo. He is definitely warmed up by this stage, and the whole thing sounds great. The song ends quickly after, but it’s already made an impression on me- I will definitely be coming back to this one.

Prince begins Prettyman by telling the crowd that he wrote it for Morris Day, but it was so funky he decided to keep it for himself. He then goes on to do a spoken intro, speaking the lyrics until the band get on board after a minute. It is indeed funky, and Maceo is all over this one. After Princes intro I can totally imagine Morris singing this one, but Prince is equally adept at delivering such lyrics. There is a lot of character as he sings, and the lyrics are hilarious. Things get very funky when Prince calls for Maceo to blow his horn. As you might expect, he more than delivers. All in all it’s the funkiest song of the show.

The band jump straight into Purple Rain after this, and initially it’s a little jarring after the funkfest we have just heard. But there is a nice long intro which gives me plenty of time to calm down and sit back to enjoy it. And it is very enjoyable. Not one of the great versions, but Prince gives the song plenty of room to breath, and during the introduction he introduces his new guitar, Hibibi, and then treats us to a minute of nice guitar noodling before we get to the meat of the song. There is some nice low-key horns playing in the song, and it adds a little bit of sharpness, and stops it becoming just like any other version. There are also some nice lyric changes from Prince, nothing too much, but again it keeps me listening. When Prince unleashes Habibi on us for the guitar finale its well worth the wait. He plays the standard solo, but the guitar has a fantastic tone to it, and even though I have heard it plenty, this one still manages to excite me. The reprise has more of the saxophone – I am assuming its Maceo, and it takes the song to another level. By the fade out I am pretty happy that this one is more interesting than a lot of versions of Purple Rain out there.

I had forgotten about the song Come On, until it came on. I enjoy the live versions of this one far more than what’s on record, so even though this isn’t great it’s still an improvement. It gets the full funk treatment here, a nice long intro, with calls for hand clapping hand waving. There isn’t too much that can be said about this recording, aside from the fact that I like it. I could well imagine this going on for a good 10-15 minutes, but it finishes surprisingly quickly after just 5 minutes. With the long intro it didn’t leave much of the rest the song for me to enjoy.

A pounding beat and “oh way oh” starts us into Baby I’m A Star. It’s not quite how I remember it from the Purple Rain days. There are lots of horns which is good, but they do swamp the song that I know. But the song is a Trojan horse and after a minute it’s over and we are into 1999.

1999 gets the Vegas treatment. The horns are again to the fore, and the song is treated as a fun sing-along. There is very little in the way of verses and chorus, just a lot of yelling and chanting with the crowd. It’s all very shiny and light, and somewhat showy, but I find that I don’t enjoy it too much. I can see that he is going for the party vibe but, as is the case with many of these gigs, it doesn’t translate well to the recording. There really is no substitute for being there.

The set ends with Prince being presented with a key to the city. At least I think that is what happening, it’s not overly clear. After this there is a Larry Graham set, with Prince guesting. I am not going to write about that here- or this post will take days to read.

I am not sure what to make of this recording. It has a good set list, but overall comes across as a little weak. I enjoyed it overall, but Prince seems a little unsure of what he is at this time. Coming off the slave era, and moving towards the legacy era, this is a time where he doesn’t really seem to have an agenda to push, musically at least. For all that, this recording is solid, it was a good diversion on a Sunday afternoon.

Thanks again
Hamish