Lakeland 1980 – Rick James Tour

Whats better than a soundboard from 1981? A soundboard from 1980! I have just taken my first listen to the new Eye Records release I’m Just A Freak and I have to say, I am most impressed. Not so much the release itself, but the music contained within. The music is fresh and exciting, and listening to it gives me the exact same feelings I had when I first started listening to Prince bootlegs thirty years ago, I am reborn as a fan as I am baptized by the music as if for the first time. So, lets rewind the clock and kneel at the alter of this recording, and in particular pay respect to the first concert of the set, 8th March 1980 at Lakeland, Florida.

8th March 1980, Lakeland, Florida

The “Boogie Intro” has me agape from the very first moment. It is a rambunctious ball of all that Prince does, a four minute blast that encapsulates all his sounds and genres. From the opening groove underpinned with the brute strength of Prince’s guitar riff, to the fantastically electric wonder of Dr Finks synth solo, we are immediately transported into Princes world. I shouldn’t read too much into this opening number, but already I can hear funk, rock, and hints of the Minneapolis sound that will come in later years. It is an engaging opening that never wavers from its unflinching servitude to the groove, no matter what euphoric sounds Prince pulls from his guitar, the dance floor is firmly in mind.

On top of the cyclone of an intro, “Soft And Wet” plays as per its title, it is both soft and wet in comparison. Its only halfway through the song that the first musical punch is thrown, and the second half is a feisty drunk in comparison to the first sober minute. It does sound gorgeous in this quality though, and it only suffers in comparison to the earlier song.

The concert takes the phrase hot and heavy, and makes come alive in the music they are playing. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” bleeds a warmth through the recording, and Prince and Dez bring a heavier sound with their twin guitar onslaught. Its not about a wall of noise however, they play with a sparkling finesse that provides wings for the song to soar above such earthly sounds. If not grounded by Bobby Z’s insistent drive the song would threaten to disappear in its own swirl of smoke and mirrors, instead Bob is the captain who keeps it moored as he underpins Prince’s flight of fancy.

Prince stakes out his genre hopping style as he tackles a ballad, in this case “Still Waiting.” He plays it with a breezy style, there is space throughout the song and Prince feels no need to over complicate it with sound. It is a thoughtful performance and has a wistfulness to it that lies just beyond my ability to articulate. Its an immersive experience, the schmaltzy synths  a canvas for Prince to paint his vocals across.

After the color and sophistication of some of this earlier material, “Bambi” sounds positively caveman like. It plays as a battering ram, Prince clubbing us early with his muscular guitar riffs, but for me the real joy comes later in the song when he shakes of these rock cliches and plays his solos with his own unique electric fury. There is the feeling that I have heard it all before, but the unhinged final minutes awakens the fan inside me and I am caught up in this wave of untamed big guitar sheen.

The band introductions are timely, especially as “Sexy Dancer” is the moment when we can hear Andre and his bass in all it’s glory. With it’s nagging hook it is all about the dance floor, and even if I can’t see it I can certainly feel it in the low end. A coherent amalgamation of all the band’s talents, I am particularly taken by the synth solo that is sumptuous, yet lies entirely within the groove, always remaining slave to the beat. Andre’s bass solo goes one better, and leaves me full of regret that it isn’t longer, but the final guitar solo on the song cleanses me of any such thoughts and makes a strident statement across what had been a disco song.

There is a clutter about “Just As Long As We’re Together” and initially I aren’t drawn to it in the same way as I am with some of the other numbers. Prince is forceful though, and already he and the band are good enough to win me over with their evolving styles and hybrid sound. The bass and guitar battle to hold my attention, and I am the real winner as both are relentless in their drive for a petulant funk sound. Andre is thrilling in the bass lines he creates, I expect this of Prince with guitar, but Andre’s finesse and blistering skills is a revelation to me – this exactly why I collect bootlegs so passionately.

 

The show finishes with a strutting version of “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” From the first riff ringing out in the darkness it is a moment to stand up and celebrate the pure pop sound that lies at the heart of Prince’s music. Infectious and uplifting, there is nothing more to wish for, this concert may only be eight songs, but it holds everything you could want from Prince. The pop sound may reignite the audience, but Prince pulls the rug from under them as the final half of the song becomes an extended jam that touches on the bases all ready covered by Prince. He touches on the first base of pop, before sliding into the second base of funk. From here it is a helter skelter sprint for third base and his strong rock sound. The home run comes as all these are amalgamated in one glorious sound that can only be described as “Prince.” The music acts as a time machine, and this final jam has me right back in 1980, I am with Prince and the band every step of the way as they bring the concert to a close.

These Rick James concerts by Prince are short, but that matters not one bit as he crams every sound and genre he can into a short sharp set list. Each song comes as a jolt as he continues to change direction, but always the music is focused and  delivers a powerful experience. Eye records has done us all a favor with this release, these concerts are part of Princes legacy and an important part of his story that the estate are not telling, He was about the live performance as much as the studio, and this raw unfiltered Prince deserves every piece of coverage he gets. This will be on my player for a long, long time to come, and with every listen I remember just how electrifying Prince was in the 1980’s.

I’m going to give it another listen now,
See you next week
-Hamish