Prince followed up his Dance Rally 4 Peace concert at Paisley Park with a much larger concert at Baltimore a week later. The first hour of this concert was live streamed, making for a nice bootleg, and the Confusion/Akashic release rounds out the concert with an audience recording. The concert is much longer than the Paisley park show and features Prince’s new song at the time, “Baltimore”, which was recorded only 10 days previously. This concert is a great example of Princes altruism and the concert itself looks like a great bootleg. Anyone familiar with the design work of The Rev would recognize the cover as his style, and that is usually a good indication of the quality of the show within.
10th may 2015, Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore
It is not Prince that is first heard, rather Hannah introduces the concert with a brief speech welcoming the crowd. As someone who only listens exclusively to bootlegs, I had to smile as she asked the audience to not use recording devices and to turn their phones off. The band don’t start immediately, there is first the small matter of the DAT intro. The intro of “1999” in there is no surprise, but what captures my attention, and I hope others that listen, is the “Million Dollar Show” chorus. It is far from classic Prince but it does provide a hyped up intro to the concert and the lyrics do lay out what Prince is trying to achieve.
“Lets Go Crazy” comes with a crushing weight that almost sinks it. It’s true that you can have too much of a good thing and in this case the ponderous guitar lines fail to elevate the song to anything. The band shadowbox with it, and while it looks threatening enough the truth is it is just a pale imitation of it’s former self. Maybe it would help if the band turned it up to eleven.
Sonically “Take Me With U” is miles above “Let’s Go Crazy” and some levity is added to the gig after the sober opening. There is some backbone added to the song as Prince’s guitar snorts and snarls underneath the lighter keyboard riff. “Raspberry Beret” offers no surprises as it comes hard on its heels, it has the same pop tone and now I have heard this pairing enough that I have overcome my snobbishness with this predictable pair. Crowd pleasing and fun, it is what it is, there will be other occasions later in this show for bootleg purists to celebrate.
The first of those moments come with Prince’s song of the moment “Baltimore”. It presents and interesting dichotomy, Prince presenting a protest song in the Trojan horse of a pop song. It creates a tension within me that I never resolve, I love the pop song and I equally love the lyrics. But when I put the two together it leaves me uneasy, both are diluted by being paired with the other and the song loses its power. It this performance Prince leans on the message, taking time to address the crowd with his plea for peace. It swings back to the message of the lyrics and this marks it out from the album version. A rarely played song, this is the main attraction of the bootleg for collectors.
There is whoops of delight from the crowd for “U Got The Look”, but that energy and excitement doesn’t carry across the recording. Prince and the band tick all the boxes, the song is tight but lacks the element of danger that makes live performances so electrifying. I hate to say it, but I am almost glad as it quickly passes for I know whats coming next.
What comes next is a suite of songs that harks back to Prince’s setlists of the early 2000’s. The plaintive guitar cries out the introduction of “The Question Of U” before Prince settles on “The One”. It is a masterful performance that could have been lifted straight from the ONA tour, Prince’s vocals and guitar painting a mournful wash of sound to carry the heart-rending lyrics. Prince builds the intensity with his guitar, drawing more and more emotion from his instrument in an titanic solo that screams and weeps in equal measure. Muddy Water’s “Electric Man” lyrics make an appearance, drawing calls from the crowd of “plug me in!” that bring the recording alive. Princes guitar meanders at this point, before Prince points it in a new direction and plays out the song with waves of heartbreak coming from his axe. Along with “Baltimore”, this stands as the best moment on the bootleg.
Prince has the audacity to follow this with a sprightly “Controversy” that replaces emotion with fun. The horns add plenty of sass, and the song skips easily along until it becomes bogged down in Prince’s chants. I forgive this though as Marcus amply compensates with a horn solo that flies far above all else that is heard in the song.
Equally horny is “1999”. It is almost Vegas like, the original synth stabs buried under the incessant horns. It’s too polished for my tastes, the charm of the album version lost with the larger band and added pieces.
“Little Red Corvette” is from the same era and also gets a modern update. In this case it works much better as Prince takes it from its mournful opening to a breezy chorus before again lowering the tone with his guitar cry. It’s not as thrilling as the first time I heard this arrangement, but it still stands up to repeated listens.
Prince heads for the heart again with “Nothing Compares 2 U”. It gets a thumbs up from me, the keyboards sounding “Strawberry Fields” like as they sway in the wind behind Prince’s vocals. The song stands on firmer ground as the full band joins, yet is still Prince’s vocals that stand out front. The music is delicate, until Donna unleashes a forceful solo that emphasizes the lyrics. It’s an interesting development and keeps me interested in a song that I have become overly familiar with over the years.
The sampler sets begins with a version of “When Doves Cry” that runs a couple of minutes. It’s longer enough for the crowd to be drawn into singing it, and although not as captivating as it was in the 80s’, it is still a important part of the setlist.
The set accelerates as “Nasty Girl” teases before “Sign O’ The Times” takes centre stage. This seems like a song tailor made for a show such as this, yet Prince doesn’t take too long to dwell on the message of the song, instead letting the crowd chant before he runs through a couple of verses.
A lot of songs come in pairs through this concert. “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” came as one two punch from the 1999 album, and now Prince repeats the trick with “Sign O’Times” and “Hot Thing” coming together from the Sign O’ The Times album. “Hot Thing” is particularly rewarding, Prince adds plenty to the mix and a scratchy, itchy, keyboard break gives it just enough grit to gain traction with even the most jaded listener.
The bootleg changes at this point as we switch from the soundboard recording to an audience recording. Its not too much of a jump, the audience recording has Prince’s vocals sounding slightly far, but the music is well recorded with obviously more bass present. “I Would Die 4 U” is the first song heard like this, and it is a bright start with the keyboard riff and drum shimmer sounding close to the recorded version.
“I wanna play some more but I run out hits” has Prince playing with the crowd before Doug E. Fresh joins him for a run through of “Kiss”. I don’t have an opinion on Doug E. Fresh, although I would rather have heard a version of “Kiss” without him. He raps his way over the guitar and keyboard hook, without the Princes normal vocals it becomes something different, and less enjoyable. That changes as Prince comes to the mic mid-song, unfortunately by this time I have already run out of patience and am thinking of the next song.
Prince plays instrumental snippets of a few of his songs (“Darling Nikki”, “Pop Life”, “If I Was Your Girlfriend”) before he settles on the enduring “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore”. This song has a remarkable shelf life and is one of the few songs that have traveled with Prince for the bulk of his career. From its first appearances in the early 80s’ through to his final Piano and Microphone shows of 2016, “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” has appeared on a number of tours and shows. This version here doesn’t add anything new to that catalogue of great recordings but it is comforting to see a familiar friend in the setlist.
Comfort is the name of the game for the next couple of songs as Prince cuts to his work in the piano set with firstly “Diamonds And Pearls” and then “The Beautiful Ones”. “Diamonds and Pearls” is little more than a ramp up to “The Beautiful Ones” which still stands as one of his greatest ballads. It is evidently much loved by the audience, they are audibly singing with Prince, adding to the intimate feel of the song rather than detracting from it.
The following “Do Me, Baby” out does it as far as raw emotion and participation. It catches me just right, and I feel heart strings being pulled as Prince plays and sings. On the foundation of the audiences vocals Prince pulls the song higher and higher, eventually climaxing in a couple of screams before the piano trickles away the final emotions.
There is plenty of time to digest “Forever In My Life”. It has a deliciously long instrumental opening that ushers in the singing of “When Will We B Paid?”. It should be a ‘moment’, but it doesn’t live up to expectation. The audience do chant, but the main vocals aren’t as forceful as I would have liked, the emotion of the song replaced with a cheap call and response. The song doesn’t have enough time to appear through the mist and Prince rushes to an unsatisfying sing-a-long.
There is a cameo appearance of “Alphabet St.” before Judith Hill provides a rendition of her song “As Trains Go By”. It sounds timeless, yet undemanding, with the horns and band providing the main impetus. It swings easy enough, but my feeling is it isn’t really going for, instead revolving in circles around the horn lines.
It is Estelle that sings the first verse of “Purple Rain’ and although she sings beautifully, the songs sounds mechanical and distant. That changes as Prince comes onboard, the song lifting immensely on the back of his vocals. I’m a little jaded when it comes to “Purple rain”, yet I do appreciate what it brings to the concert and a student of classic rock I always appreciate the guitar break that punctuates the song. In this case it is cut short to make way for a Prince speech, but the sentiment he expresses is spot on and the song serves his message well. The final “ooohhh ooohh ooohhh” are worth the wait and the release of emotion and tension is palpable.
The bass line of “Cool” is excellent, although sadly a little lacking on the recording. There is plenty going on through the song, especially as they begin to sing “Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough”, but the bootleg doesn’t do it justice, it is very two dimensional sounding and it is down to my imagination to round out the sound and bring the bass further forward. This is a good performance in search of a good recording to match it.
Hopes are high as the bass jam begins, although I am soon disappointed by the thin recording that leaves Prince’s bass sounding like a rubber band. It is short lived, “Mountains” coming quickly after with the recording still sounding two dimensional. “Mountains” is another song that has plenty of layers to unpick, although there is very little to be be unpicked here as this is a beige version of a song that should be technicolor.
All my thoughts in regards to the quality of the recording are put to one side as Prince and the band tear through and incendiary “The Dance Electric”. The band are cold killers throughout as they play without mercy, the fire of Prince’s guitar empathizing the point as he plays a murderous solo. There is no escape as they nail the groove to the floor, giving Prince the freedom to play with furious anger. This is a great way to finish the show, there is no place to go from here and it is only fitting that it is the final song of the night.
Although it couldn’t be considered a classic bootleg, I still found this concert enjoyable enough. The highlight for me was the performance of “Baltimore”, a light pop song that carries a heavier message. Understandably, the first half of the show was much more enjoyable, purely down to be a soundboard recording, but the second half of the recording was serviceable and didn’t detract too much from the enjoyment. It is a fairly typical 3rdeyegirl set, but they do what they do well and the bootleg is lively. Combined with the message that Prince is getting across, this bootleg nicely captures Prince’s position in 2015 both musically and politically.