Rock This Joint – Cologne 1998

After dabbling in Eye record releases for the past month, it is time to return to a one of the most influential and well known labels bootlegging Prince concerts and recordings -Sabotage records. Sabotage have a long record of quality bootlegs and is highly regarded in the Prince bootleg community. With a catalog that covers the full scope of Princes career, not every release of a winner, but they are for the most part of a high quality, especially compared to a lot of other labels trading Prince material.

The concert I am listening to today comes from late 1998 and is an after-show from Cologne, Germany. Although it is also released by Dreamline, I have chosen to listen to the Sabotage release, mostly for sentimental reasons. I can’t comment on any similarities or differences between the two, I simply don’t have the time now to listen to the concert twice, but the concert itself is outstanding, and I am sure either would be adequate for those wanting to hear it.

With Larry Graham, Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini, Morris Hayes, Mike Scott, and Candy Dulfer in the band there is plenty of funk fire power, and if this combination of musicians fail to get you moving then I suggest the problem lies with you, rather than the music. The setlist consist of the usual suspects appearing in the late 90s – “Everyday People”, “The Jam”, “One Of Us”, and “Days Of Wild.” One could make a case for familiarity breeds contempt, but the band play with plenty of heart, making the show fresh, even if the music is well-known to all.

28th December 1998 (am), Live Music Hall, Cologne, Germany

I am raving and drooling from the very first moments as the band carve out an insistent groove that “Days Of Wild” rolls across. The song is a powerhouse, here even more so as the band lend their full weight to the groove, pushing the song across a sprawling twenty minutes. The groove is paramount and it takes sometime for “Days Of Wild” to rise out of the tight groove the band is laying down. In fact, the band is so deep down in the groove that the song almost sounds like a jam of “3121” – I half expect any moment for Prince to tell me to take my pick from the Japanese robes and sandals. As “Days Of Wild” emerges from the groove it is both Candy Dulfer and Morris Hayes who add the most to the swirling mix of sounds, they drive the first part of the song before Prince’s guitar briefly cuts through the density of the music later. However, the song ends on a downer as Prince chastises the crowd for smoking and insinuates that they won’t play on until some puts out “them funny cigarettes”. Apart from this it is an outstanding beginning to the bootleg, and one wonders how Prince could possibly top this.

The band pick back up into “Days Of Wild” for a brief coda, before steamrolling the rhythm across an equally forceful “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). It has the same feel and intensity as “Days OF Wild,” only lightened by the horn section playing sharp and incisive, cutting easily through the dark and dense swirl. It is Larry Graham that comes to the fore during this song, and he will stay at the centre of things for the next few songs.

It is a short and sweet “You Can Sing It If You Try” that follows, coming as a deep breath after the crushing intensity of the first numbers. It may be short, but it is perfectly placed in the setlist and allows the crowd to draw a collective breath before the band continue on.

Apparently all is forgiven in regards to the cigarette incident, as the band play a humorous cover of “Ole Smokey.” With Larry Graham on lead vocals it has a depth to it, which is off set by the gleaming horn section giving it some air. It is almost throw away to my ears, but there is just enough going on in the background to keep me listening.

The Larry Graham show continues with “Hair.” Oh boy, this one has me gasping for air as the song opens with some fantastic bass work that is fast, funky, and freaking awesome. The song is full of band contributions, but it is Larry’s bass that holds me enraptured, usually I lose interest without Prince on the microphone, but in this case I am enthralled from the first moment to the last.

I can still barely breath as “Love And Happiness” bounds into view. As Larry Graham leads the crowd through the lyrics, it is the rhythm section that has me squirming and shaking in my chair.  It is incredibly infectious, both uplifting and dance-able at the same moment. I was wondering how they could top the opening “Days Of Wild” – well this could be it. The funk flows effortlessly, it is almost magical the effect the music has on my body as Larry Graham and Prince conjure up a potion that delivers for nigh on nine minutes. It is a swaggering performance that never wavers from the sweaty fervor unleashed by Larry Graham in the opening stanza, an electrifying jolt that moves my body, yet paralyzes my mind in its crushing beauty and immersive electric wonder.

WOW. I still haven’t recovered from “Love And Happiness.”

Give me a minute here.

PHEW!

There is time to recover as Prince and the band build slowly into “Oye Como Va.” There is the sense that Prince is preparing to cut loose, but the first minutes he steadily climbs aboard this musical horse from which he will later ride. The guitar whinnies and neighs beneath his hands, while Morris Hayes offers a carrot in the form of some dark, dense organ. However, the song stays at a steady trot, never breaking into a gallop as Prince keeps the music, and his spirited guitar, on a tight rein.

Prince lets the guitar do all his singing though “A Question Of U.” The opening stanza of guitar giving way to a free flowing minute of molten rock spewing forth from Prince’s guitar. This is one of the shortest songs of the performance, but also one of the most guitar heavy.

The funk returns as Larry Graham resumes his place in the lineup  for a performance of his “Groove On.” It is Mike Scott’s guitar that the funk slips and slides across, his guitar almost liquid in sound as it greases the blocks of heavier music moving around him. Prince’s lead guitar is the centre of attention as burns in the light, but Mike is at the heart of the song, key to everything else happening around him. Candy’s late solo made all the more funkier by the grease under her.

This feeling is maintained through the easy “Joy And Pain” that comes seamlessly straight after. Little more than rhythm and chant, it has all I need at this point.

I am immediately reminded of “Everyday People” as Prince sings “Forever In My Life,” and I understand why as the band segue into “Everyday People.” It is a perfect match with the rhythm connecting the two seamlessly. Prince holds Larry Graham in high esteem, and usually defers to him throughout “Everyday People.” In this case Prince is far more prominent, and contributes heartily to the verses and chorus himself. The song becomes a celebration of the everyman, a mood that is brought into sharp focus by the audience joining Prince for chanting and singing in the final half of the song. The “aw aw” chant is irritating on the bootleg but the “everyday” chant is far more pleasant and representative of the the show in general.

You would expect that with this band “Release Yourself,” would be another showcase for Larry Graham, Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini, or maybe even Prince himself. Yet it is Morris Hayes who provides a shimmering tension to the song with his keyboard bleeding through every level of the song. The song is awash with his signature sound as the song sails across his swells and waves of organ, while other times it is his melodic style that catches the sails of the song and propels it forward. The stage may hold some legendary performers but these ten minutes belong solely to Morris Hayes and his titanic talent.

Larry Graham picks up where Morris Hayes left off, with his vocals and bass taking us naturally enough into a deep and all encompassing “The Jam.”  There is a connection to the previous “Release Yourself” with Mr Hayes again prominent early on before the song spins out in all directions as the each band member pulls it in their own direction. There are occasions where “The Jam”  is overly long and unfocused, and while this version is long it never once falters for energy or interest. Prince and the band sound sprightly, and the song skips along at an lively pace.

Prince brings his spirituality into the show late with a reverential cover of “One Of Us.” The religious message of the song seeps out of every pore, and nowhere more so than at the point where Prince’s guitar enters with a guttural choke before its fingers curl around the song, squeezing every drop of holy blood from the music. This is reinforced as Prince is at his evangelistic best late in the song with a homily and spiritual message for all in attendance. It is an inspiring moment, and even on the bootleg one can feel the power of the moment and his words. As a climax to the show it is perfect, and the holy spirit lingers with me for some minutes after the song and concert finishes.

 

It is easy to overlook this bootleg. 1998 is not held in high regard when it comes to Prince concerts, and on the surface this release doesn’t seem to offer much. I must admit, I did have my doubts when I saw the cover art. But as the saying goes – “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” There is actually a great concert hiding behind this facade. The look and sound may not be classic Prince, but the performance is full of enjoyable moments and some wondrous  musicianship. Sabotage usually deliver when it comes to bootlegs, and this is no exception with a fine concert and tidy release complementing each other. After listening to this show I am beginning to see 1998 in a new light, and may have to dig deeper into some other performances of the era.

Thanks for joining me again,
I look forward to doing it all again next week
-Hamish

Rock Over Germany

It’s very rare that I listen to an Act II show. Not that there is anything wrong with them, or that I strongly dislike them. But they do fall between his 1980’s golden period, and his interesting and fascinating symbol era. Today’s show from Germany 1993 is a great show, and it’s unfortunate that I overlook it. The set list is a hotchpotch of songs and styles, but it’s all of a high standard, and a couple of songs in the set list have my mouth watering. And best of all, because I listen to this so little, it is always fresh sounding to me.

3 September, 1993 Flugplatz Lüneburg, Germany

A very rock n roll introduction from the announcer on this one. Its clichéd but exciting as he says “And now…..without further ado…please welcome Prince and the New Power Generation!!” Prince goes on to say “there are no kings on this earth, only Princes” and a very funky My Name is Prince is played by the band. The bass, drums and rhythm guitar lock in very tightly and the guitar especially catches my ear- it’s minimal but funky. There is a sample of I Wanna Be Your Lover which seems to be an odd choice, but utterly works. Princes rapping is good here, he doesn’t try too hard as he does on other recordings, and in this case it serves him better. He raps in his deeper voice, but resists temptation to yell as in some of his rap songs. The power of Michael B comes across very well on this recording, and it’s a joy to listen to him pounding the drums.

The silky guitar line of Sexy MF gets the next song off to good start, and Prince intones easily over it. I don’t love the singing, but the music is brilliant. The sound of that guitar, and then the nice horny chorus. Tommy Barbarella plays his part well, and adds an organic sound to the smooth shiny funk. Levis solo is distracted by Prince speaking to the crowd at the start of it, but he plays out long enough that there is plenty for me to enjoy. The second part of the song after this isn’t as enjoyable for me, Princes rap sounds corny to my ears, but there is a horn solo which I get right into and leaves me with an overall positive impression of the song.

Prince ActIId

I didn’t see The Beautiful Ones coming, but there is absolutely no complaint from me as it begins. The keyboards swells sound just as divine as they always have, and the sound of live horns updates the feel of it. Princes vocals aren’t as good as they are on the album, but really- could anything match that performance? He does sound great here, but the spoken ‘perfect picture’ sounds too contrived and loud on this recording for my personal taste. He makes amends with some screams, and closes the song in the style which I know and love, along with a nice little horn flourish.

Lets Go Crazy’s organ intro is the next thing we hear on the recording, and its nice and full sounding. Prince gives us “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life” before the pounding beat and the band come onboard. Although an excellent recording, the mix here is a little off, and mostly we hear Prince and the beat while the other instruments are somewhere lost in the mix. That changes when Prince begins the guitar solo, and that comes at us front and centre. The solo disappears into a funky rhythm and some encouragement to the audience before the rhythm of Kiss begins.

Prince Act IIb

Kiss begins with the trademark funky guitar, but it’s backed with some heavy sounding bass, and plenty of horns. It’s far from delicate sounding, and it’s the bass gets me shaking. With the horns there is a Vegas sound to it, and they give it a lot of push and fullness. Prince vocals are stronger than I expect on this song, and in fact his vocals have been very strong so far in the show. This is quite a likable version of kiss, I can’t say it’s particularly faithful to the original, but it’s a lot of fun. For all the sounds and going ons, its still the horns that I come back to, they are that good. The song ends with plenty of call and response with the crowd.

There is a segue into Irresistible Bitch, which I can’t speak highly enough of. Like the previous song, this one is heavy on the horns, but still lacks a little of the heaviness that I have heard on other tours. But its still one of his funkiest and its inclusion is a definite highlight. It’s with great regret that it only lasts a couple of minutes, but all is forgiven when the next song starts.

The familiar riff of Always In My Hair has me out of my seat. This is two gems right next to each other, and is another stand out for me. Prince’s guitar is crisp and clean, and I am much relieved when he strikes up the first solo. Its anything you could want or imagine, and I’m pleased to see a show so heavy on dance and props still has time for a classic Prince guitar moment. He doesn’t stretch the solo or the song out too long, and the song moves naturally enough to him jamming solo on his guitar. And this is where things really go up a notch. The playing is playful, sometimes light, sometimes heavy but always it sounds a lot of fun. It gets faster and faster, and ends with me shaking my head. Brilliant.

Prince Act II

Things take a pop turn next when the band strike up Raspberry Beret. A feel good song, if ever there was one, this one lives up to its reputation. Without being able to see the ActII stage and costumes, this sounds like its straight out of 1985. Prince ends it after a single verse and chorus, but once again I am not too disappointed when I hear what is next.

The Cross has a nice raw sound here, especially Princes vocals with have a fantastic live sound- as you would fully expect. The first couple of verses I listen carefully to Princes voice, but once his guitar takes over its unstoppable. It’s got a great garage sound to it, but no garage band has played a solo as good as the one Prince plays on this track. His vocals become very impassioned as the song goes on, and the last verse he is singing half way between a sing and a scream. It’s not as long as I want, but I add it to my list of highlights from the show so far.

Sign O The Times also gets added to that list, as its unmistakable beat begins. Princes vocals have a great sound to them again, it’s strong and raw. The guitar is something I haven’t heard before, the solo is cleaner than I expect and goes in a couple of different directions. Prince then throws in an adlib with “Lets get married, have a baby, we can call him Michael B, if he’s a boy” and Michael B obliges with some great rolls before Prince gives us more excellent guitar work. This whole section of the show has been fantastic, and it doesn’t let up as the band begins to play Purple Rain.

Purple Rain begins with plenty of keyboards and a nice firm drum- just the way I like it. There is a nice organ swelling, and the piano is in the mix as well. Prince adds a heavenly guitar line, and I am salivating where I sit. We are only a minute in and already this is a great one. The heavier crunching guitar plays, and again its just right. It doesn’t overwhelm and slowly adds to the feeling. Prince takes a break from the guitar and we get a classic “owww” from the man. He then sings the verses and his voice and this recording are both top shelf. He is loud, clean and crisp, and so is he recording. I usually tire of Purple Rain but this one has me listening all the way through. Prince begins his guitar break midway through his last few lines, and as it begins proper he calls “Live for Love”. Maybe I avoid live main shows too much to concentrate on after shows, but this is one main show that has my full attention, and I can’t speak highly enough of this Purple Rain. I don’t quite get to the point of singing along, but a dare say after a few drinks I certainly would have. The last notes fade, and I sit back pretty satisfied.

Prince ActIIe

There is the sound of thunder next and I immediately know what’s coming next- or so I thought! Prince intones the opening lines of Thunder, but the song never starts, instead we get a cool little rendition of Nothing Compares 2 U. It’s an instrumental, but in everyway I love it. It’s a nice change in pace, and a nice reminder of what else Prince has in his bag of classic songs. It only goes for half a minute, but that’s just perfect.

I am knocked sideways next as the band begin to play And God Created Woman, not because of its inclusion in the set list, but the fact it sounds so good. I had forgotten about this song, and that’s a great shame, as in this show its sounds brilliant. Again, it’s another shortened instrumental, but just the taste of it leaves my dying to hear more. The horns play all over it, and sound great. I would have loved to hear Prince on it, but just hearing this small piece has me thinking I should pull the album version out next. There is then just a snatch of Diamonds and Pearls played instrumentally before we return to the main show proper.

The recording resumes with Prince playing the piano. Always a favorite part of the show for me, this one begins with the beautiful Venus De Milo. Of course its part of a longer medley so we only get another small taste, but it’s a nice start to the piano set.

Next Prince begins to play I Love U In Me. Despite the corny lyrics it still manages to sound very good here, mostly due to its stripped back sound and some nice piano work from Prince. He also personalizes the lyrics at one stage, which is always a nice touch. His vocals are deep and smooth and it’s a good match to his piano playing.

The band joins in for the next song as we move onto Strollin. Its nice easy feel is enhanced with the horn section adding a bit of sunshine to it. The drums are too much for my taste, but it no way detracts from the song. Just on the chorus they are a touch loud for me. The rest of the song glides by very easy.

Scandalous is another highlight. Prince’s voice leads the whole song, and the rest of the band sound well in the background. It’s a good performance, and more enjoyable after the run of shorter songs we have just heard. The horns play another excellent break, and it’s clear how much they added to his sound at this time. Hard to believe in another couple of years they would be gone from his sound. The song is either Prince voice, or the horns at this stage, and both play hard to out do each other. It’s not as smooth as you might think but it’s still another great part in what is proving to be a classic show

Prince Act IIc

Prince introduces the next song with a couple of lines from Girls and Boys before he says the old cliché “I’m gonna stay over here until you make up your mind”. Sure it’s old and corny, but it still gets a cheer from the crowd. Girls and Boys starts again, and it’s slightly slower, and heavy on horns. It lacks some of the sassiness of the original, but still has a funky feel. Prince sings with plenty of passion in his voice, and this helps inject some energy into it. It does become one for the crowd, as the horns play over Prince encourages the crowd with some call and response and ‘clap your hands’. After this it’s the horns all the way until the finish line.

The next thing we hear is the intro music to around The World In A Day, which has be slightly confused at first, but it quickly gives way to some drumming from Michael B before the first chords of 7 are played on a guitar. 7 sounds fresh, and the crowd are strangely quiet as it begins. The first minute of so it has very much an Arabic feel to it, in fact its not really recognizable, which might account for the lack of audience response. Things change when Prince sings the first few lines and the music then begins as we know on album. The song is played as heard on record, although Prince does call to the crowd from time to time. It’s a come down after some of he songs we have heard in the last 40 minutes, but the crowd seem to like it well enough. The last minute of the song Prince reminds us that there are no Kings on earth only Princes as the band play out the last section.

The encore starts with Prince yelling “Whats up y’all?” He then presents Mayte who addresses the crowd in German – sorry no translation available! There is then a helter skelter rendition of 1999. The drums are a monster, and this one sounds like a train, it comes so fast and powerful. The band fly through it, Prince sings the first verse and chorus before the party continues with the last part and the crowd singing ‘party’. It’s a disservice to a classic song, but at the same time it is a party moment. And by this stage there is very much the feeling that we are accelerating to the finish line.

Prince ACt IIa

This is enhanced as the band without pause play Baby I’m A Star. To be honest I didn’t expect to like it, but I did despite myself. Especially I found the horns quite vibrant, but I didn’t get too long to enjoy it as its part of a longer medley.

The next song in the medley was rather surprising America. It’s not played the way I remember it to be back in the day, but it’s so good to hear it in the set list. Its not as tight as the original, the band are a little more loose and it does have a bit more swing. The horn in this is usually a highlight, but sadly it very much misses having Eric Leeds on it. A good concert moment, but we aren’t back in 1986, and that band casts a long shadow over this song.

DMSR gets thrown into the mix next. As with the last song it’s not as tight as I am used to. It doesn’t get played long enough for me to really complain about it, and the medley keeps moving quickly along.

Gett Off is the song I know and love in name in only. It’s stuffed full of horns here, and a funky keyboard. Prince sings the lyrics, but without the screams, classic beat and lead line it’s just a pasty imitation. But to be fair I do like as part of this feel good party medley. Prince does scat near the midsection, with the crowd failing to keep up with him. I would like to see this part of the show, as it does sound like a lot of fun. Just the songs flash by a tad fast for me to really enjoy. Prince displays his humor when he tells the crowd he can’t sing any more, maybe he should lip-sync. He quickly banishes that idea with a “fuck that shit!”

As a long time fan of Pope, I am very happy to hear a live performance of it. It’s slowed down, which gives us more of a chance to listen to Princes rap. His delivery is uneven, but as with most things on this recording it doesn’t diminish the enjoyment at all. After a couple of verses and chorus the band takes over with some very funky instrumental work. Some funky guitar and piano has the whole thing moving along nicely, before the horns enter and play Beautiful night. I wasn’t sure how much we were going to get, but its instrumental jam section of Beautiful Night, and Prince has some brief interplay with the audience. It very much reminds me of what we hear on the new years gig from 1987, this time without Miles Davis of course. After a couple of minutes Princes ends the song with a simple “What’s my name……confusion!”

After a minutes break the heavy crunch of guitar brings the audience back to life. Prince speaks the opening few lines of Peach, and then after that it’s all on as the guitar comes to the fore and the band joins the fun. I love the guitar sound on this recording, unfortunately I feel Prince is trying too hard with his vocals to match it. They do sound somewhat forced and a little ragged. All is forgiven however when he steps back and lets his guitar do his talking. The momentum is lost when he engages in call and response with the audience, and then some vocal adlibs. But the guitar is the thing and Prince soon returns to the solo before the song winds up. Of course it’s a false ending and there is several more minutes of heavy guitar action following this. It all sounds great, but nothing strikes me as spectacular or noteworthy.

A very well balanced recording, this one was well worth listening to. Some people have commented that it is their favorite, and I can understand why. Although not my favorite period, there was plenty here for me to enjoy, and I am confident it would stand up to repeated listenings. Not a top 10, but an excellent recording nevertheless.

Take care
Hamish