I don’t often listen to Purple Rain gigs. I know that’s unusual for a fan of Prince, after all it is the Purple Rain tour, movie and album that made him. But I find the concerts lack the intensity of the early days, the variety of the later days and I always have that nagging feeling that I have heard it all before. Of course a big part of this may be that in 1980’s I played everything Purple Rain over and over at the time, and I have overdosed enough to last me 30 years! For all that, Purple Rain gigs are enjoyable, fun and still sound good today. There are points of the show that I find aren’t as strong as they could be, but that’s a small quibble. So today I am listening to the Christmas show of 26 December 1984
26 December 1984, St Paul
As you might guess from my first paragraph above, I was cynical about this show before I listened to it, however as soon as Prince says “My name is Prince, and I have come to play with you” any such thoughts had vanished. I was immediately transported back to the teenage me, and all those feelings of excitement and anticipation welled up inside of me. This is how to open a show! Prince delivers the opening lines of “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life” solemnly, and the crowd can’t help but react. It should sound corny, hell- it does sound corny, and yet I feel myself getting caught up in it all. I have heard the beat of Lets Go Crazy, and guitar too many times, but here it still sounds energy filled and passionate. With a whoop the band all kick it, and the recording really comes alive. The recording itself is very nice, an excellent soundboard recording, with not too much crowd noise, just enough to give you a feel of being there. The song is not drawn out too much, Prince doesn’t go overboard with the guitar, it follows the same arrangement I have heard throughout the tour, and ends with a flurry of noise and drum rolls.
A long drum roll and keyboard fill leads us into Delirious. This is one song I have never got. It’s pleasant, but feels a little light to my ears. Its better live, I will give it that, and I really enjoy Princes keyboard break in the middle of it, then more groove and I assume dancing. It’s a shame it doesn’t sound this good on the original record. (For the record, 1999 is my favorite album, so not slight intended on it from my end)
Another 1999 songs follows (most of you could recite a Purple Rain set list by heart, I’m sure) with the title track itself, 1999. The guitar seems to be lot louder on this recording, and guess what, I like it. There is the funky guitar rhythm, but also a heavy guitar occasional grinding, for the start at least. The crowd is often heard, and these songs are obviously a crowd pleasing opening for the show. The breakdown is great, with the crowd singing ‘Party’ over some great funky guitar. If I could sample this section, I would play it all day.
Although I am a big fan of the modern arrangement of Little Red Corvette, the version played here is, for me, the definitive version. The long drawn out keyboard introduction, the beautiful keyboard swells drawing me in, the beat ticking away in the background, and just a touch of piano, I can’t help but love it. It’s almost a shame when it ends and the song starts proper. Prince vocals come in just right, just a touch of vulnerability, but not pitying. His delivery is spot on. The guitar also has just enough rawness, without changing the dynamic of the song. The guitar breaks starts with Prince saying “You need a love baby, you need Princes love” before the guitar solo unfolds. It’s all very tidy, and I would happily add this to any Purple Rain playlist.
“Uptown, my home town” Prince tells the crowd between songs. He plays the audience very well, informing them “Be nice to me, because I belong to you” It doesn’t take much to win them over.
The next part of the show has always been my least favorite part of any Purple Rain show, the long instrumental break, with Yankee Doodle Dandy. Maybe it’s a case of “You had to be there” -unfortunately I am not. I can’t see what ever is happening on stage (Although I have seen on other shows), but sonically it’s nothing to write home about. In its defence though, I do like the bird noises. Mercifully, this section isn’t too long on this recording.
The piano set begins with Free. Free is one of those guilty pleasures for me, I know many people think it should of been left off the 1999 album in favor of Moonbeam levels, and I agree the lyrics are simplistic, but it does have a charm about it that I like, especially when played in the piano set like this. There is a crowd pleasing moment when Prince sings “Be glad for what you got, I’m glad to be home”. In only a couple of words he has the audience in the palm of his hand.
Take Me With U follows, and although only short it still causes an impact with the crowd. It’s well suited to the piano, and just hearing the few lines whets my appetite to hear much more. Prince only sings a few lines, and then pauses to engage the audience.
Staple of the piano set, How Come You Don’t Call Me, is next. As always it’s the centre piece of the piano. Prince takes a pause mid song to “Stand over here until you make up your mind” before returning to the piano for some very nice falsetto. As per usual there is plenty more Prince Interaction with the crowd and he runs through all the usual phrases we have heard before. Somewhat surprisingly I still enjoy it, and maybe I am just as corny as Prince. There is some fantastic vocal gymnastics by Prince near the end of the song, and these are well worth hearing.
The introduction of Dirty Mind is a definite highpoint for me. I have always been a huge fan of this song. It’s got a great inner energy that gets me every time. Prince’s spoken intro starts like this:
“Maybe she don’t like men with motorcycles,
Maybe she don’t like men with Dirty Minds,
If you got a tambourine shake it,
If you ain’t got a tambourine clap your hands
If you ain’t got hands stomp your feet,
If you ain’t got feet shake your ass.”
The riff sounds fresh, played on the piano by Prince, and I can’t help but feel disappointed when it ends after a minute. Such is the piano set with Prince.
I Wanna Be Your Lover comes next, again it sounds great with just his voice and the piano, and yet again I bitterly disappointed when it ends just a couple of minutes in, but not before Prince demonstrates some great vocals.
The band return, and Do Me Baby is played. I have heard some arrangements with long introductions, however here we just get a few seconds of introduction before Prince starts singing. It’s nice to finally get a fuller version of a song, and even though the previous songs had more energy they were just too short. Do Me Baby gets things back on track again and the concert picks up.
Prince then delivers his spoken word introduction to Temptation. With the song yet to appear on an album, the crowd play along to Princes words, but none of them know yet that they will be hearing more of it in the future.
The spoken introduction leads into Lets Pretend We’re Married. It starts with Prince singing over the top of some very quiet music, before it explodes at the first chorus. Wendy’s guitar sounds great, and I was hoping this song would really get played out in full, but again after a minute we take another change.
International Lover was a real highpoint of the 1999 gigs I have heard. Here it is just a shadow of its former self. Prince sings a few lines, before he goes into his monologue with God. Sure he could have played full versions of these songs, but then of course the show would run for 4 hours. I feel cheated but I understand why it is this way.
Fathers song is one of those sings that I wish had of gotten a real release. It’s played only briefly here, but it’s none the less very enjoyable. Another one of those songs I could happily listen to over and over.
God is obviously one of those songs that means a lot to Prince, and he plays it with all reverence on this recording. The first half is practically beautiful with Prince playing alone at the piano, and I can’t fault it. He does however lose me later in the song when he enters into his “who screamed?” section. I like as much Prince weirdness as the next guy, but I just can’t bring myself to enjoy this long spoken interlude. It goes for quite a while, and its not easy listening.
The Wendy and Lisa introduction to Computer Blue brings me back. The song is rowdy, and harks back to Princes younger days, there is plenty of guitar playing, and noise. The start of the first guitar break suggests we may get more for our money, but he stays faithful to the original. The song segues into the second half and here it gets a nice rhythmic feel to it. Prince plays more, and encourages the crowd to “Wave your hands in the air”. There are a couple of stops and starts, but it’s all excellent and feels very tight.
The song then evolves, naturally enough, to Darling Nikki. The crowd takes great delight in singing along with it, and I must admit, even I know all the words. The music is very good, plenty of nice guitar action, and Dr Fink having his moments. I once read that he say this was his favorite song to play live, and I can see why. He has plenty of time to really do his thing. The fade out is always interesting, with the background music from the album being playing forward so Prince can deliver his message of hope to us all.
The Beautiful Ones gets it more full introduction here, with Prince saying “the beautiful ones, you always seem to lose”. The lapping keyboards are sublime, both live and on record, and it’s hard not to be seduced by one of Princes greatest songs. His singing is as per album, but the spoken parts sound more mature and passionate, live this rivals the album version. Prince really racks up the intensity near the end, as always it’s the high-point of this song in every performance. His delivery is just as good as I have ever heard it, and even I feel emotionally drained by the end of the song.
Things stay on the purple vibe with Doves Cry coming quickly after. For me the definitive version of this is from his birthday gig early in the year, so anything else will always pale in comparison. That said, this is pretty good. I especially like the long drawn out beginning, with the drum beat and repetitive keyboard riff. Prince sounds a little subdued when he sings, but maybe that suits the lyrics better. I have always loved these lyrics, so it’s always something I am going to listen to carefully. When Wendy comes in for her lead break the guitar begins very loud and bold, but seems to fade a little later. Maybe the recording, or maybe some gremlins in the mixing desk, I don’t know, but it doesn’t detract too much from the song. The song ends, leaving me wanting more, but luckily it’s a false ending, and the song returns with some great sounding bass. But even when it finishes a couple of minutes later I am still greedy for more.
I Would Die 4 U sounds simple to me, and yet it seems to work. I often dismiss it as being too light, yet I can’t deny it’s an utterly enjoyable song. I have always loved the 12 inch single, I only wish we could have had something like that played out here. The song however is played as per the album, and although it sounds great, it does end after a few minutes.
The band finally gets a chance to breathe and stretch out on Baby I’m A Star. The Purple Rain gigs always feel very structured and uptight, and it’s only on this song that the band really get a chance to show what they are capable of. The song has a great tempo to it, and Prince sounds very enthusiastic when he sings. The horn of Eric Leeds makes a welcome early entry, and it adds a great tone to the song. I would have liked to hear him on I Would Die 4 U as well, but this is Princes show, not mine. The song is played as per the album for the first 5 minutes, but then after a pause Prince says “I’m not done yet” and the band are all in, slightly heavier and funkier. Prince stops and starts them several times, a la James Brown, and the band is just as sharp as you might expect. The horns come to the fore after this, and Eric’s playing is very hot and fast, I can’t speak highly enough of it. The rhythm guitar also seems to get a little louder now, and it sounds nice and chunky. A couple more breaks, then Prince breaks it right down for some “woof, woof” before the band jumps in again, and even the piano can be heard over it all playing. Things are really swinging now, and it really is a long jam.
What makes this gig a little more special than some others on this tour is the song that comes next, Another Lonely Christmas. It’s an appropriate song given the date, and the arrangement here is spot on. It’s not as full and crowded as I expect, Prince has gone for a more gentle tone, and it sounds great. Considering this is the first, and only time, it has been performed live this is an amazing performance. The band totally nails it, and it sounds perfect. There is a very gentle guitar break, I presume its Prince, and the tone is sharp and clean. It’s very nice indeed. The song is in complete contrast with what preceded it, but it does pave the way for what comes next.
Purple Rain gets the full treatment here. As per other Purple Rain shows the introduction is a full five minutes before Prince even sings. He does play some very nice lead guitar in the intro, before the louder cloud guitar can be heard. This was always the emotional highpoint of any Purple Rain show, and here is no exception. The song is played full, which I enjoy, I am a little tired of the abridged versions we hear nowadays. The guitar at the end seems to go on forever, and yet I don’t find myself getting too tired of it, he has a nice balance to his playing and its always enjoyable. There isn’t too much more that can be said about his most famous song,as it’s something we have all heard 100’s of times.
As I said earlier, I am no big fan of Purple Rain shows. However I can’t deny that they have great songs, performed by Prince at time when he was on top of the world. And this is reflected in the recordings, every night Prince went out and put his best show on the stage. I find the set lists and playing quite constrictive, and it’s only near the end that the band gets to play a little looser. Despite that, Purple Rain shows are very good. This recording was thoroughly enjoyable, despite my negativity, and I rate it highly.
Thanks for reading,
Next time we go back to the early Eighties to watch a Controversy show.