Prince’s final concert. I had intended to write about this a couple of weeks ago and post it before the first anniversary of his death. I prepared myself to listen to it several times, but in the end I just couldn’t. Even though I have these recordings in my hands for sometime now I have never managed to bring myself around to listening to them. I knew that hearing them I would have to acknowledge that these are his final performances and that he is no longer with us. Twelve months on and I can’t bring myself to do it. Deep inside of me I want to believe that there is more, that somehow this is all a dream, an alternative reality. I have experienced plenty of pain and loss in my life before, yet the passing of Prince has shook me to the core and I haven’t properly dealt with it as yet. I keep pushing the feelings away, turning the music up louder, thinking that I will process it at a later date. Part of that process starts now, as I sit with my headphones on, prepared to listen to his final show. The music of Prince has always been comforting to me and I hope the music will carry me through these days and weeks as the finality of his passing hits me. The next hour and a half I will both mourn and celebrate his music and life as I lose myself in the music.
April 14th 2016 (show 2) Fox Theatre, Atlanta
A heavyweight performance of “When Will We B Paid?” begins the concert. It has a sombre air to it, Prince making the lyrics real to him and the audience with an emotional performance that balances between melancholia and a deep anger. This song was played plenty of times over the years, but none punch as hard as this solo performance that distills 300 years of slavery and mistreatment into a gut wrenching four minute piano performance.
Lyrically “The Max” is completely different. The piano playing stays with the dark tone, a touch more funk in the keys, but it is the colorful lyrics that lift the concert. With plenty of encouragement to be heard from the audience, I am reminded that this is an audience recording. Its not a bad recording, but there is plenty of audience to be heard and I feel that as Prince’s journey is coming to an end so too is mine – the recording dragging me back to the first bootlegs I bought as I reflect on my own history through Prince’s music.
The change to “Black Sweat” is barely perceivable, the funk grows stronger with the piano gaining some intensity. Prince is in full flow at this point, the music and lyrics streaming from the stage to an appreciative audience who lap it all up and respond the best way they know how. Although the music is as sharp as ever, there is a looseness to the performance itself, the music serving as a bridge between the audience and Prince as they celebrate each other.
One of the first B-sides that I gravitated to as a teenager was “Girl”. I don’t know how many times I spun it on my turntable before I eventually dubbed it onto a cassette tape with some other B-sides so I could listen to it on the go. To hear it performed at this concert is a treat to the teenage me who still resides deep inside of me. It may not have the bump and pop of the recorded version, but here Prince lets it percolate in his off kilter piano playing, infusing it with a hint of jazz that appeals to the more mature 40 year old me. It is not the best song of the recording, but it does serve as reminder of all the genres and influences that Prince brought to his music.
I never realized how uplifting “I Would Die 4 U” was until I heard these piano and microphone performances. With the single piano building up with layers of music, it’s hard not to be swept up by Prince’s spiritual message and optimism. After the sober opening, it comes as a blinding light, sweeping away the shadows of the first songs.
“Baby I’m A Star” comes in the same vein, all energy and celebration of life and music. The lyrics may sound egocentric and boastful, but the music is pure joy and energy for all to enjoy. Coupled with “I Would Die 4 U” , these minutes see me sitting back with a huge smile on my face, wrestling with the urge to get up and dance by myself. There is plenty of humour as he indulges in an imaginary dialogue with Dr Fink, all the while puling more and more funk from his piano. This section alone is enough for me to strongly recommend listening to this part of the show.
Although only a few minutes long, “The Ballard of Dorothy Parker” has plenty of time for Prince to bury himself in the piano playing, especially as the song segues in “Four”. There are intricate flourishes as his hands flash across the keys, the notes spinning out quickly across the recording. It is easy enough to sing along with “The Ballard Of Dorothy Parker”, but the best moments of the song are when the piano dominates – like the poster says, it is piano and microphone .
As much as I enjoy “Dark”, at this show it is neither here nor there. There is no single part of the song that stands out, it flows easily enough without grabbing my attention. It is one of the longer songs of the concert and for that it has to be commended as many other songs are truncated. However, it drifts without direction and leaves no memorable impression on me.
“Indifference” is the first song of the concert that has me emotional. Maybe it’s the music, or Princes spoken lyrics. As the song plays out my eyes glaze over and I feel a lump forming in my throat. This feeling is only heightened as the song ends with several audience members calling out “We love you” as Prince begins to play one of my favourite songs “I Love U, But I Don’t Trust U Anymore”. The lyrics are what I appreciate most in the song, but in this case I concentrate on the beautiful piano playing that sweeps and washes across the recording. As emotionally poignant as the lyrics are, the music is the main focus and draws just as many tears as Prince’s vocals.
I do enjoy the beginning of “Little Red Corvette”, but it is the song it is paired with, “Dirty Mind”, that I really get a kick out of hearing. With its youthful exuberance I am transported back in time, when everything felt so free and easy. Prince’s lyrics maybe pleading for more from his girl, but the music tells a different a story, a story of hope and the possibility that anything might happen. The song comes full circle as Prince returns to “Little Red Corvette” but nothing can beat the previous few minutes.
There next comes another emotional heavyweight with “Nothing Compares 2 U”. This weight of emotion is undone by the quality of the recording, for which my tear stained handkerchief is thankful. It is another classy performance, yet as I listen to Prince play and sing I can’t help but think how much stronger it sounded (and how much more emotional) with Shelby J. Without the strong female vocals to bounce off, a lot of Princes vocals seem to disappear into the darkness of the arena without finding an emotional base to land upon.
Although I am no great fan of “Cream”, it certainly brings a smile to my face. Prince toys with it, playing a stop start version that has the audience singing heartily along (after some encouragement from Prince himself). Prince tells the audience to sing it to themselves in the mirror when they get home, yet this version is all about togetherness and being in the moment as Prince and the crowd come together for a fun filled performance that sounds just as good here at home as it was no doubt on the night.
The easy swing of “Black Muse” follows. Dedicated to the ladies, it has me nodding my head with the beat from the start. This performance highlights the ‘pop’ aspect of the song, and provides a pleasant diversion from some of the other heavy weights surrounding it.
There is very little surprise with “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” in the setlist, and in this case the familiarity of the song works against it. Most of these songs are new to the piano setting and gain from the stripped back arrangement. “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore?” has always been a solo piano number and as such there is nothing new here at all. Prince is in a playful mood, the audience responding with plenty of laughter and singing along to the very end, making this an enjoyable listen without being essential.
The encores get off to a strong start with a gentle “Waiting In Vain” / “If I Was Your Girlfriend”. “Waiting In Vain” is the more dominant of the two, and the music begins and ends with this song. It is a gentle performance, the music moves easily without drawing emotion. It is the longest song of the night, yet it moves at its own pace and never out stays its welcome. I was expecting a lot more from “If I Was Your Girlfriend” but I more than happy with what I hear.
Again emotion creeps into the recording as Prince plays “Sometimes It Snows In April”. It’s not over wrought, most of the emotion I hear is what I bring to the moment rather than the performance itself. Listening carefully, it is surprisingly light, and Prince keeps it upbeat. The music may draw from melancholia, but Prince’s sad words are delivered in an bright manner that undoes some of the emotion. It is easy to listen to, the song that I thought would be hardest to hear tonight is instead a beautiful moment that brightens the room.
“Purple Rain” has a majestic opening and for the first few minutes I listen intently, completely forgetting that I am supposed to write about it. The piano introduction has a grandeur to it which is unmatched elsewhere in the song. The arrangement from here on in is an interesting one, Prince reaches the chorus, where he gains a strong audience singalong, before moving on “The Beautiful Ones”. “The Beautiful Ones” aches as Prince teases out the first verse and chorus. It never reaches the climax it promises, just as it seems he will take it to the epic finale it deserves he returns to “Purple Rain”, picking it up easily where he left off. It’s short-lived, another verse and chorus before “Diamonds and Pearls” makes an appearance. It’s not particularly noteworthy, barely half a minute, but it does elicit an cheer from the crowd. Prince again picks up the strands of “Purple Rain” as he returns for the climax of the song and the performance. The final minutes of the music are lost to my conscious self the thought plays over and over in my mind “this is the last time, this is the last time”. “Purple Rain” can run on and on,there are concerts where it flows like a unending river, but here it doesn’t and its over before I am aware of it. The cold reality hits me.This is the last time.
Reflecting back over this recording my thoughts are many. I can’t untie this bootleg from the rest of Prince’s life and career. There are fleeting moments when I consider the bootleg dispassionately, its good and I want to hear it again. But mostly it tugs at my heart, my emotion. It draws tears to my eyes, and brings a lump to my throat. This recording will always come with the caveat – this is the final one. My collection of Prince concerts ends at April 14th 2016. This is the last time.