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

Return to First Ave 2007

In 2007 Prince played three shows in a day at his hometown of Minneapolis. I have already taken a listen to the matinee show at Macys and the main show at the Target Center, so to round out the trifecta today I will have a look at the aftershow at First Ave. It’s notable in that it was the first-time Prince had played there in 20 years, and anticipation was at an all-time high with queues snaking around the block with fans desperate to see their hometown hero. The show doesn’t disappoint. There are some uneven moments, but it is beautifully recorded (the bootleg sounds great) and the opening 3121 is so enormous in its heavy funk that any other weaker moments are immediately forgiven. I have listened to this show a couple of times this week, and I can’t wait to tell you about it.

8th July 2007(am) First Avenue, Minneapolis

3121 has a steamroller of a groove that rolls heavily over everything from the first moments.  It’s hard and heavy and reminds me of Days Of Wild on a good day. With an insistent bass and horns early on, it puts me in mind of the performance of Days Of Wild from Belgium in 2002, dark, heavy and feeling like it might roll on for days. 3121 builds with cheers from the crowd before some chopping guitar heralds the arrival of Prince. His vocals emerge from the fog of the music, ghost-like yet full and with a darkness of their own.  It’s as hard as nails, with Prince’s guitar adding plenty of venom later in the song, it too emerging from the morass of music with a piercing whine. The song rolls on for ten minutes, I could happily put it back on repeat and listen to it all day long, the show is worth listening to just for this song lone. It encapsulates all that is great about the aftershow experience and puts me right in the moment.

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We go from dark to light, with a bright and sharp Girls And Boys following immediately after. With plenty of honks from the horns and keyboards it keeps the show moving at a clip, each stab adding to the momentum. Prince himself is sounding great, and I must again point out that this is great sounding recording. It may be an audience recording but it is full and rich sounding, with the crowd audible but not the least bit intrusive.

I Feel 4 U is sprightly, with Shelby adding her infectious energy to the show. She is reasonable restrained, and nicely focused. The song itself is short, and as Shelby begins to call “Put your hands up” things quickly move onto Controversy.

In recently times Controversy has been played with and thrown into crowd pleasing medleys, and I am happy to say that the rendition here is faithful to the original. It may not be the bare funk of the album, the band is bigger and fuller, but the song is the same arrangement, at least until the final minutes as Prince calls for the audience to jump up and down. It’s not my favourite part of the song, but there are plenty more positives I enjoy listening to, especially the frenetic horn solo that adds a sense of urgency to the song. The closing guitar break from Prince is equally fine, it takes a while to get to it but it is well worth the wait.

Things slow for Beggin Woman Blues.  The groove is the steady sound of Satisfied, as Prince sings Beggin Woman Blues. The lyrics are hilarious, and the crowd are quiet as they listen carefully to catch the jokes. The real surprise is Princes vocals, they sound fantastic, especially the first few minutes. There is plenty to enjoy on the keyboard front too, with both Morris Hayes and Renato Neto taking solos before things really cut loose with a wild sax solo from Mike Phillips. Prince brings us back as he returns the song back to its roots with his vocal delivery of Satisfied. Morris Hayes does a great job of filling the sound out behind him, and it highlights Princes vocals further, his high squeals contrasting with Morris Hayes deep organ swirls.

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I can’t say I am overly impressed by Down By The Riverside. It’s a breather, and a chance for me to grab another drink (this is thirsty work).

Gotta Broken Heart Again is a standout moment. It has a stillness to it, with Princes vocals being the back bone of the song. I can’t speak highly enough of his vocals, they are outstanding and listening is a reminder to how much of a pure singer Prince was. He even matches the horns for shrill and intensity as the song reaches its climax, an impressive feat.

Shelby takes on Love Is A Losing Game, a tough job as it is a song that in my mind is indelibly associated with Amy Winehouse. I’m not sold on the performance, although Prince provides several guitar breaks that do elevate it, but not quite enough. The guitar does sound sweet and has a zesty sound to it, on another song it would be a whole lot more.

I enjoy Shelby’s performance of Love Changes a whole lot more. She is soft when she needs to be soft, strong when she needs to be strong, and I think it is a great match for her vocals and personality. Prince adds his input with some more guitar work, and this hits all my sweet spots, they complement each other well and this is further highlighted as Prince sings alongside Shelby. It may not be a lot of peoples’ cup of tea, but for me this is as good as anything else heard on this recording. Princes guitar in the final minutes underlines the performance and seals the deal.

We have all heard Thank You (Falettinme  Be Mice Elf Again) plenty of times, and this rendition contains no surprises. Larry Graham adds his deeper tones to the song, and it does have an energy that is sometimes missing in these performances. Things heat up near the end as Prince stops the band and we get some real rumble out of Larry and his bass.

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This rumble settles into Hair, and with the keyboard playing a retro sound we are cast back to the Seventies. Larry starts out on vocal duties, but he gives way to Shelby who doesn’t do a bad effort of the song herself. It does become a medley with some funky guitar running things into Sing A Simple Song before things quickly change again, this time with Everyday People. Everyday People ends the medley on a high, it is feel good through and through and one can almost hear Larry Graham smiling as he plays and sings.

Alphabet St may start off as expected, but soon enough it is spinning off into all sorts of weird and wonderful places. Greg Boyer is present for a trombone solo, before Larry Grahams bass settle things back into a groove. Shelia E playing percussion is easily the highlight, she is the right person at the right time and her input is timely and welcome.  It’s unfortunate that things come to a sudden end (due to curfew restrictions), but it is a fine way to end the recording, as Prince thanks the crowd as he explains why they are stopping, demonstrating that he is a law-abiding citizen through and through.

I had heard good things about this bootleg, but to be honest I wasn’t expecting much from it. On the surface it seemed to be the same old songs brought out again for the aftershow. I was caught off guard by the funk of 3121, and the appearance of Larry Graham wasn’t what I had come to expect, the show had a lot of energy when Larry arrived on the scene and provided his input. Of the the three shows from this day I would easily rate this as the best of the three. A short, sharp show played with intensity and energy, and I can’t really ask for better than that.

Thanks again
Take care
Hamish

 

Studio 54 MGM 1999

With not many shows played in 1999 there isn’t much to listen to from that time. My collection is thin from 1999 and consequently so is the blog. I intend to right that wrong by taking in a couple of shows from that year. I have already taken in the Mill City festival, and today I will listen to a show from the beginning of the year at Studio 54, MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas. This from a Sabotage release, and also covers another couple of shows, but it is the show from January 2nd that interests me most. An eclectic mix of songs sees some strange bedfellows, I Would Die 4 U bumps up against Get Yo Groove On, and the show is short for a Prince show so I am hoping for something infused with plenty of energy. It looks good on paper, fingers crossed it delivers.

2nd January 1999, Studio 54, MGM Grand Hotel Las Vegas

We ease into the show with an easy Push It Up. It takes some time to make itself known, but that’s no problem at all as I enjoy it right from the start. With a steady beat and the band chanting “push it up” the funk is slowly added by the slightest of guitar. With Prince intoning “The funk keep on rolling” he, in a couple of words, sums up the exact mood of the song, it does indeed roll. The song stays with a low roll and even as Prince sings the chorus it doesn’t rise to anything more, it stays low in the groove all the way. Things do become more lively with the introduction of Jam Of The Year, with the groove still locked down it’s the lyrics that raise the excitement levels and some added keys is certainly a plus.

Talkin Loud And Sayin Nothin has the band changing gears and cutting into their work, with Larry Graham doing his best to get things going. Hand waving, and some funky music has me feeling it, although Prince does pull things back a couple of times and breaking the flow. Mike Scott delivers a quick solo as the party begins in earnest with an action packed keyboard solo following close after. Its funky and something I would normally expect later in the gig, nevertheless it gets things moving early on and sounds great.

Rosie Gaines singing Carwash is perfectly in keeping with what has come before and it is seamless in setting the party vibe already set. It follows right on the heels of Talkin Loud And Saying Nothin, almost as a medley- the groove never stopping. It may sound dated, but it is of its time and is very 1999.

Likewise Let’s Work comes after, without pause or let up. It does lack some crispness, whether it be the recording or the performance I don’t know. After years of listening to Prince bootlegs I know that it does lack the fire and passion that was present in the performances of the song in the early eighties.

Delirious also harks back to the early days and it fares better at this show than the previous Let’s Work. It still has a brightness and a bounce that carries the day, and the best moment is the brief piano solo that appears midsong bringing a smile to my face. Rock N Roll Is Alive (And Lives In Minneapolis) is played as an instrumental coda, leaving the song finishing on an energized high.

 

There are plenty of great live versions of Purple Rain in circulation, this is not one of them. It has a dreariness about it, and sounds uninspired throughout. Even the guitar solo that is usually uplifting is instead laborious and for the first time in my life I find myself counting the minutes until it ends.

The gentle swells of Little Red Corvette restores my faith. With the guitar delicately emphasizing the rise and fall of the keyboard it has a gentleness to it that washes against me. It is a somewhat unusual arrangement, after an extended introduction Prince sings the opening verse and chorus before Mike Scott takes the solo and the song suddenly ends. Even in this truncated form it is still a classy few minutes and worth it just for those opening minutes alone.

I Would Die 4 U sees the crowd cheering and gleefully singing along. The next few minutes the songs come thick and fast, and this is a fine introduction that gets the crowd involved. It’s only played very short, and as such has a brightness to it that keeps things moving as Prince quickly introduces the band with Get Yo Groove On before the segue into I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man.

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I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man has a pounding beat as Prince toys with some guitar playing. A minute of teasing and the song kicks into the familiar riff as Prince sings. Of course it’s all about the guitar, and it isn’t long before Prince dispenses with the singing and heads straight for the guitar solo. The solo isn’t as long as I want, and it slows to some interesting guitar noodling which shimmers and swirls before occasionally flickering into life.

The intensity levels drop as Rosie Gaines takes the microphone for Redemption Song. It’s not a bad rendition, it’s just that it is not Prince. I try to get something out of it but it never sweeps me up. The song goes by without me feeling engaged or actively listening, it serves well as a backdrop without any demand.

Rosie stays on the microphone for Ain’t No Way, and this time I am much more engaged. Her voice with the keyboards underneath, gives it a soulful nostalgic sound and I wallow in the song for several minutes, enjoying all of it. With a full warm sound this is better than the previous Redemption Song and I find myself falling for Rosie all over again.

It’s no surprise that Prince and Rosie next take on Nothing Compares 2 U, and this lifts the show to another level as they belt it out for maximum effect. The organ solo is the heart of the song and gives it an emotional base. It is obviously hitting the right buttons with the audience as they actively sing through the song and give plenty of warm appreciation at the end of the song.

I forget that Come On was less than a year old at this stage, and at this performance Prince plays it in full, with plenty of loops and beats keeping it hopping. The singing comes across well on the recording, and it does have its own charm. I may not like it when Doug E Fresh does his thing, but I do enjoy hearing the crowd sing and chant along with him.

I was curious to hear 1999: The New Master live, until it actually started. It’s a mess, with beat boxing from Doug E. Fresh, and lots of rapping and crowd participation. Some people may like it, for me it’s not really what I want to hear from a Prince show. It does run for ten minutes which can make for hard listening, and I must admit late in the song I stopped paying attention as I wasn’t enjoying it in the slightest.

The loop of Gett Up has me perking up, but we stay with Doug E Fresh for the first minute before Prince hits the main riff and things get started. It’s not the greatest version, but there is no denying the ear-worm of a hook, and the guitar has me listening intently for the couple of minutes the song plays. The final couple of minutes it switches to Gett Off(housestyle), something I wouldn’t normally like but this evening I find myself liking it despite myself, and even Rosie’s scat raises a smile.

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The final Release Yourself is where Larry Graham and Rosie Gaines shine. The song is such that it is a natural fit for them, and with Larry’s bass rumbling underneath there is another chance for Rosie to sing. The song is yet another finale jam that runs for some time as an upbeat instrumental with plenty of organ and bass. When the singing does begin its as with the key players each taking a part, although Rosie is easily the strongest. Despite this, Larry is recorded best on the recording, a shame as Rosie is going for it near the end even though she is quieter on the recording. It is the finale and there is no surprise as it ends with a flourish.

I was overly optimistic when I set out to listen to this show. I knew 1999 wasn’t a great year for shows, yet I thought some of the songs would offer more. There was some good songs and moments in the show, but they weren’t strong enough to make up for the not so good songs. A run of shows like this and I would quickly lose interest in listening to bootlegs, luckily I know there are plenty more good shows from other years without having to dip into shows like this. An interesting enough experience, but no something I would want to do again any time soon.

Thanks again
Hamish

 

 

Nighttown 1998

In retrospect I was perhaps a little harsh on last week’s show I listened to. It was a perfectly serviceable show from 1998, and it certainly had its merits, even if I didn’t fully appreciate it. Part of the problem of being a Prince fan and listening to these bootlegs is that I am constantly judging him, not against other artists, but against his own high standards. Even if I consider a show to be ‘average’, it’s still far beyond what others were doing at the time, and especially so with the aftershows. There is no other artist out there playing aftershows and these jams just for the love of the music such as Prince does. I would take an average Prince aftershow over any other musicians show any day. Today’s recording has my heart a flutter already as The War is on the setlist. I still remember the day that the cassette mysterious appeared in the mail, and although I consider the late 90’s to be bit of a dry spell, The War is a definite highlight in my book. I know its appeared at other shows and recordings, but I don’t recall hearing it before, so this will be a good chance to sit back and recapture some of that magic. So I’m all set, let’s give it a spin.

1998 Prince

12th August 1998 (am) Nighttown, Rotterdam

A whoop, a cheer, the crowd clapping a beat and chanting start this one, and they quickly fade out as the guitar is heard playing a subtle, delicate, and yet funky, riff. Its par for the course that these recordings contain some audience chit chat, although thankfully in this case it isn’t too intrusive. The riff isn’t too strong, but it is a real earworm of a hook, and I can hear the band and the audience playing around it for some time. It is a slow burning, slow building take of Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing, and the band do play various parts on top of the foundation that has been set, without ever exploding out of the blocks. I wait for things to cut loose and get wild, but that moment never comes, instead Prince and the band are happy to play as long as it takes with their slow build. The release does finally come with some funk infused keyboards, and a loud cheer as Prince begins to sing. Its music to dance to as much as listen to, and I wistfully dream I was there as the keyboards battle it out in my headphones. This feeling is made stronger by the chanting and singing as the band, and the party, begins to heat up. Things burst into flames as Prince has firstly Mike Scott and then Morris Hayes play solos, both bring an intensity to the performance that has me wanting more. I laugh as Prince admonishes the sound guy with “Was that feedback, who’s adding that to the mix, who thinks that is necessary?”. He has a point, and it’s well delivered.

Let’s Work throws me right back to the 1980’s, in both its freshness and its clean funk sound. Mr Hayes adds his warmth to it, but asides from that it’s the bass sound of the original that I cling onto. It bumps and funks along, with plenty of fat swells around the chorus. We don’t get too comfortable with this nostalgic trip, however the three minutes we get is  plenty, and it’s guaranteed to bring a smile to most people’s faces.

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I am not so enamoured by Delirious, yet again I can’t deny it’s a nod to his past, as well as being just downright fun to listen to at a show like this. The thing I like most about hearing this tonight is Morris Hayes, his fat sound adds a more serious weight to the song, and I do feel for it more as his organ pushes the sound forward. Things take a turn towards the rock sound as a lead guitar appears and we have a coda of Rock N Roll Is Alive. They are strange bedfellows, but as always it works, and I feel much better for hearing this new sharpness added to the sound.

As we move to That’ll Work Prince takes a few moments to thank the crowd for attending the concerts, before the music begins to sing, literally, with a wonderful cameo from Marva King. Larry Graham makes an appearance at this stage, as the crowd chant him in, it’s surprisingly funky and enjoyable as the crowd chant over the music for some time like this. Larry has his thumb working overtime, and encourage by the crowd he serves up a fantastically fat sounding solo.

The sound of his bass carries us easily to the next song, which is logically enough Hair. The deepness of his bass is amply matched by the deepness of his vocals, and my head moves gently to the sound of it as he sings. I can’t tell you who is doing what on stage, but I do know that there is some fine keyboard sounds matching Larry, and the addition of Jerry Martini on the saxophone changes the sound of the band again. There is time for everyone to play, and it’s not only Larry front and centre. The guitar and organ both shine in their respective moments, and there is the feeling that this is very much a band performance rather than one or two people dominating.

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Things slow down next as the blues takes hold in the form of Sex Machine. Its low and slow, with plenty of guitar work from Prince to wallow in. He plays very tightly and restrained, and I do enjoy hearing another style of his playing. The blues sound that he stakes out is kept with by both Morris Hayes on the organ, and Larry Graham on the bass. They play in the same manner, and keep us firmly rooted. The sax work of Jerry Martini adds a brightness to proceedings, but Prince buries us in the blues when he returns for a stronger, heavier guitar break. It’s still smoky and bluesy and even when the notes come in a flurry it still sounds dark and tightly in the groove.

The moment I have been waiting for arrives, and at first I fail to recognize it. It starts with a simple bass loop, and for me it sounds a lot like the start of Miles Davis So What. There is no mistaking The War as the keyboards begin to emerge from the background and Prince intones his “One, two”.  This song interests me in so many ways, and it is very Prince sounding in lyrical content. In many ways it points to the direction he will take with the Rainbow Children in a few years’ time both with the music and the different slant on lyric writing. The lyrics have a weirdness to them which only makes me listen more carefully, and even if the music doesn’t always have me fully engaged, Prince and his lyrics certainly do. The sax of Jerry Martini again lifts us, but it’s against the backdrop of the darker swirling sound, wah-wah guitar, and Princes spoken manifesto.  Mike Scott soars with his guitar break and things loosen briefly and we come out of the darkness. Any hopes for a 26 minute, or even 45-minute version, are dashed as Prince wraps it up at 10 minutes, ending with an appropriate macabre laugh.

1998 Prince (3)

We end on a high with a furious take on the Santana medley. Although the recording isn’t great, Prince tears it up at this stage, and his guitar rips through the songs. I would have loved to see his face as he plays, he certainly sounds like he is playing with great abandonment and plenty of joy. The guitar sings in places, howls in others, and is undoubtedly the star of the show for the last ten minutes. Even as the song ebbs and flows, the intensity is maintained throughout by Prince and his playing, and I don’t tire of it for a single moment – it is essential listening throughout. The final stabs shoot out at me, and end the show on a high that would be hard to top if they continued to play.

This show is redemption for the show I listened to last week. Last week I bemoaned the lack of intensity and fire, this show recorded a week earlier has plenty of both and delivers on all fronts. Hearing The War live was undeniably a real treat, and the highlight for me, but there was plenty more to this show to recommend it. Larry sounded great, as did Jerry Martini, Marva King and the irrepressible Morris Hayes. It would be unfair to compare this to Prince shows from other eras, but on its own it stands as a worthy listen.

Thanks for reading, have a great week
-Hamish

 

19th August 1998- Copenhagen

It’s very easy for me to overlook certain years, such as 1998. Why would I pick something from 1998 when there is so many gems from the 1980’s and early 1990’s to choose from. 1998 hardly seems like the most exciting year of Prince’s career, yet recently I have been thinking about these shows and finding there is interesting moments that I have an urge to hear. Today I am listening to an aftershow from 1998 where Violet The Organ Grinder is played. That’s enough of a hook to lure me in, and I am further intrigued by some of the other songs played as well. Perhaps not my favourite band of all time, but there are enough key players there for me to have my hopes up for another great aftershow.

19th August, 1998(am) Vega Mussikens Hus, Copenhagen

I am liking it already as Prince lays the ground work with some mellow organ as a guitar and bass flicker in the background. It is just a warm up, yet I find it an easy way into the recording before we start proper.

The warm positive feelings stay with us as the band begin to jam from the start. The instrumental is smooth and cool, and has a groove that is effortless in its cool. There is a very intimate feel as the band is introduced and a sense that we are building to something greater with the yell of  “and we got the man, we got the man!” as an introduction to Prince. The groove is locked tight with the bass, guitar and organ playing as one, in a way that only Prince and his band do. It grooves and rolls and is a fine introduction for the evening.

Prince, Larry 1998

Johnny is fantastic, a laid back jam that is almost trance-like. The guitar and organ play around each other in a delightful groove that is dripping. The lead guitar breaks things up without over playing and we stay with the summer vibe of it all. Prince sings, and the mood stays exactly the same, his vocals staying with the laid back sound. There’s only a verse and a chorus, but it hardly matters when the groove is this delicious. We have twelve minutes to wallow in this sound, and to be honest I could have easily eaten up another twelve minutes’ worth of the same. There’s even a sax solo near the end to liven things up which is a nice exclamation mark on the whole song.

The transition to Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa is every bit as smooth as you might expect, and for the first time this evening we can hear Larry Graham. What captures my attention though is the saxophone again, Tony Morris is adding a lot to this show, and it lifts it from the slow heavy groove to something brighter and it demands closer listening. The other instrument that features prominently in this song is the heavy swirling sound of Morris Hayes on the organ. The song becomes a very quiet sing along with just the faintest hint of keys and guitar as the crowd carry the song for a couple of minutes. I do like this part of the song just as much as anything else we have heard thus far, and the band work themselves steadily back to the groove for a finish in a way that sounds pretty cool to me.

larry Prince 1998

The Jam fails to fire my enthusiasm at first, there doesn’t seem to be anything new in there for me. Of course I always enjoy Mr Hayes contribution, and tonight it’s when Mike Scott comes to the party with a guitar solo that has me sitting up and taking notice. It’s short, and for the half minute it plays he has all my attention. Likewise, the sax solo has a touch of fire that has me interested, although it too is short and sweet. Mentally I tune out as Larry plays, no offense to Larry, but I have heard him for many years now and tonight he doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

The following jam is of more interest to me, and has a few different things in the mix. The steady groove is still firmly in place, and sounds almost shuffling at times. As the music moves up and down we have Prince singing Push It Up before the song becomes an all-inclusive singalong. Usually these don’t sound great on recordings, tonight I am feeling in the moment and happily listen to it and try to imagine what it was like to be there. Come On, and Acknowledge Me are also in the jam in various forms, and the whole thing works as an evolving, tumbling jam.

P 98

The change to Gett Off is subtle, and I almost miss it. The lyrics suddenly come at me, and although the music is a soft jam there is no mistaking the words and Princes delivery. The organ swells behind him, and we are a million miles from the Diamonds and Pearls version. The key hook is absent, instead we have Mr Hayes filling the spaces with his heaving organ. The hook finally appears, but only just as we swing into a jazzy Violet The Organ Grinder.

It is jazzy sounding, with Prince scatting against a jazzy toned guitar. Some noodling by Mr Hayes adds to this feel, and when Prince does sing Violet The Organ Grinder it’s with a croon that completely throws me. That’s not to say I don’t like, I love it, it’s just not what I expected right now, which is exactly why I love listening to these shows and I never tire of listening to Prince and his bands. Prince playfully returns to his scat for the last couple of minutes of the song, but returns to singing just as the scat was coming dangerously close to out staying its welcome.

After a lengthy break the music and funk returns with a long jam. It’s much faster than before but not as heavy sounding. The instruments play quick and light and it does sound quite different from earlier jams, especially with a choppy guitar sound. There is the obligatory “I like funky music” chant, yet it’s all about the music and is a mostly instrumental jam. I am surprised to hear the lead guitar sound fire up, and Prince does give us a brief solo before the song becomes Release Yourself with a chant and singing to match. Although it goes for some time, it doesn’t reach any great heights, and it’s only a brief burst of guitar that sparks a flicker of interest in me. The rest of the jam is fine, but compared to the rest of the show it is a comedown.

P 1998

The show ends at this point and I am left to gather my thoughts. The show encapsulates everything I dislike and like about this period. There are some great moments and overall you can’t really fault the show and yet at the same time there is something missing, a fire, a passion or an excitement. I get the feeling that Prince is comfortable and playing well within himself. I do like the song choices and the different arrangements keep me interested, it’s just enough to keep me coming back for more. For me this is an enjoyable ‘middle of the road’ show that is well recorded, I would happily listen to it without ever feeling the need to recommend it to anyone.

Thanks for reading, next week I’ll take in another show from 1998 that is worth a closer look at

-Hamish

 

 

Le Bataclan 1999

Sadly this week Cynthia Robinson, formerly of Sly and the Family Stone, passed away. Sly is a certifiable genius, but to get where he wanted to go he needed a great band. And just as Prince had the Revolution to help him achieve greatness, Sly had his band Sly and the Family Stone featuring Cynthia Robinson on trumpet. Cynthia also played in Graham Central Station, and naturally enough played with Larry Graham and Prince late in the 1990’s. 1998/1999 isn’t something I delve into too often, there is plenty of material coming from Prince, but I feel that he is regrouping and finding his way for the next step in his evolution. He does indulge himself by playing with some of his heroes, and this brings us to where we are today, a gig from Le Bataclan Paris, with Prince playing with Larry Graham, Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini, all former members of Sly and the Family Stone as well as Graham Central Station. As a rule, shows from this era generally don’t fill me with excitement, there isn’t much happening in Prince world in 1999, however I can’t deny that the set list looks inviting, and I know Prince greatly enjoys playing with Larry Graham. Having Cynthia Robinson playing is something I look forward to hearing and a fitting way to remember her wonderful life.Cynthia Robinson

17 November 1999, Le Bataclan, Paris

Things get off to a great start with a brief drum solo from Prince. The quality of the recording is surprisingly good, and Prince’s playing sounds light and playful. I know many people, myself included, like to hear him on various instruments and I always crave more whenever I hear him play drums, bass, keyboard or whatever. The drum solo is only a cameo and after a minute he picks up his guitar for a series of runs as the crowd chant “Let’s go” – a la Let’s Go Crazy. After this light-hearted introduction the funk comes on thick with the band vamping on Doing It To Death. Prince knows how to funk, and his guitar sound is all over this one. Again the band is still feeling their way into the show, and the groove only runs for a couple of minutes, but Prince has signalled his intentions, this is going to be one funky gig.

My summation proves correct as the horn section begins to play and Prince starts singing Bustin’ Loose. Initially it’s Prince and the horns that we hear most, the rest of the band have their moment later in the song as Prince leads us through a series of tempo changes as the song both speeds up and slows down. Kathy J plays a solo, and its leads rather nicely into another change as things slow again and Prince chants and sings. The whole song is saturated in funk, Princes vocals, the horns, the rhythm section, it’s all locked on the groove. As the song plays through I can almost feel the walls shaking and the sweat of the show.

Things sound promising as Prince calls for the keyboards to be turned up, and the guitar to be “turned way up.”  The introduction of Larry Graham gives us The Jam. Larry does a great spoken introduction, and the song sounds sharp right from the beginning. Perhaps I have listened to too many poor recordings of this song, this one seems to sparkle in comparison. Normally I am effusive in my praise of Morris Hayes, but I can’t hear his performance on this one, and its Mike Scott’s guitar break that kicks things off in great style for me. The NPG horns sound equally good, although I start to tune out later as Kip Blackshire sings, and Kirk Johnson plays a drum solo. The party mood is restored to my house as Larry plays and the crowd begin to chant and sing.

Rave 99b

Everyday People sounds much funkier too, with some of pop sparkle initially replaced with a deeper groove and funk. Sure, it’s still sounds like pure sunshine as Larry sings, but the intro has a groove to it, and I do like that Larry does his best to reclaim it from the Toyota advertising. The horns are turned up mid song,  before a trombone solo takes us off into a new direction. My mouth opens as there is a fantastic bass solo that pops along, before a choppy guitar furthers the sound in this direction. It’s all tied together by some great guitar and bass work, and there is a tightness to this band’s playing that I hadn’t expected. They looked like a random selection of players, but upon hearing them I can definitely see that they are a well drilled band.

I have to admit, I don’t know Eye’magettin’ very well (Sorry, I refuse to type in Princebonics). I enjoy it immensely on this recording, with lots of bass and crowd interaction. The rest of the band take a back seat for this one, it’s most definitely about Larry and his bass playing, and the man certainly does live up to his reputation. The song twists and turns a couple of times, and it keeps me guessing with what might come next. This is the early highlight of the show for me, and I hope there’s more like this later on. The sheering guitar sound at the end puts an exclamation mark on it, and I nod in appreciation.Rave 99a

We stay with Larry Graham, and after Prince fights some feedback, it’s the crowd themselves that begins to sing Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again) The band plays and the crowd instinctively sing along for sometime as Prince gets the sound right on stage. There are evidently problems with feedback, as well as Morris Hayes organ being absent/low in the mix. Things immediately improve, and it’s quite noticeable as I hear the organ properly for the first time.  The delivery of the song is almost casual, you can hear the familiarity of the song both with the band and the audience. There is some nice back and forth with the crowd, and it’s very much an ensemble piece, with every member playing their part, including some tight horn work.

Prince takes his time next with a speech to the crowd. His sentiments are well placed, and admire him using his position to say something. It does distract me from the music, so I find myself waiting until it’s over and we can get back the show.

I am rewarded with an uplifting rendition of Purple House. This has been played plenty of times over the years, yet this one sounds a lot better than a lot of other bootlegs I have heard. There is a nice fat organ sound behind Prince as he plays early on, and then later in the song Larry’s bass underpins it while he lets fly on his guitar. His solo is strong and loud, he plays cleanly during the verses, but the guitar is very rock sounding for his solos. There may be better renditions of Purple House out there, but for now this is one of my favourites. Prince stays with the guitar for a further minute after the song finishes and delivers a minute of fantastic guitar shredding. I thought he sounded good during Purple House, but this cameo of a performance is more than its equal, and a nice addendum to the song.

Kiss has a very long introduction, with Prince singing a bass line as the drum begins. It’s not immediately recognizable as Kiss, and Prince takes some time to get some dancers up as the organ and guitar groove. A further surprise as there is a long bass intro while the band work up a head of steam. Finally there is a release as Mike Scott hits the guitar riff, and the song emerges from the jam. The rest of the song is almost a disappointment after the build up we had, and it follows a fairly standard script from here on in.

The following song is Gett Off, and it’s a shadow of itself former self, a lot of the power of the original is gone, and apart from that electrifying guitar riff, it sounds a much more relaxed groove. I would dismiss it, but guitar riff and accompanying solo is just too good, and I can’t turn away even for a second. The last half of the song is buried under Princes guitar sound, and a highlight is as he holds a quivering note for sometime before plunging into more guitar pyrotechnics.

Rave 99

I almost laugh as Gett Off (Housestyle) begins. It is night and day compared to the guitar sound we have just heard, and there is plenty of horn all over it before Mike Scott plays a feather light solo that gains in power as it goes on. There is a fun sound to it all, and it’s hard not to smile as I listen to it, even though under normal circumstances the thought of Gett Off (Housestyle) would make me cringe.

A couple of horn blasts signal the beginning of Talkin’ Loud And Saying Nothing. In a clever symmetry the show is ending as it began with some James Brown and Graham Central Station. Prince can be heard on the microphone, but for me this song is all about the band and their strength in playing together. Typically for this part of a show things become a jam, and Prince throws a couple of songs into the mix as well as giving individual band members a chance to play.

The bass of Larry plays us right into Release Yourself, which skips along at a good pace. There are the horns propelling us forward, as well as the organ of Morris Hayes and some quick guitar licks that underpin the whole thing. The standouts for me are Larry’s bass early on, and a tambourine break that seemly appears out of nowhere. There is a lot going on, and instruments and sounds seem to be coming from every direction – there is no mistaking that this is last song and the band is throwing everything into it. It’s a frenetic end to the show, and I almost feel tired by the time it’s over. A final word from Prince reminding people to be careful and to love God and it finally comes to a close.

This is the second of the three Bataclan shows that I will be listening to, and although completely different from the others, it’s still just as every bit enjoyable. Prince and Larry are undoubtedly the key attraction here, but the rest of the band prove their worth and it’s a complete performance in my view. On paper 1999 may appear a weak year for Prince shows, yet this one shows us otherwise. A fun show at a fantastic venue, with some of Princes (and mine) funk heroes, this one I can safety recommend to all.

Rest in peace Cynthia, thanks for the music.

-Hamish

 

 

 

 

 

 

R U Gonna Go My Way

The best thing about writing this blog is rediscovering recordings I had completely overlooked and under-appreciated in the past. This recording from an after show in 1998 is just such a recording. I am sure I listened to it when I first got it, but since then I don’t think I have played it at all, until I was reading an online forum where people were discussing Prince predicting 9/11.  Towards the end of this show he did sing about Bin Laden, and bombs, but he far from predicts any actual events. I was very curious when I read this, so I took this one out for a listen. I was further surprised and happy to hear that Lenny Kravitz plays with Prince here, and the show itself is great. I don’t know why it is, but the Dutch always seem to get great after show gigs. Plenty of guests, and covers make this a special show.

24 December 1998, Tivoli, Utrecht

I have read that Lenny Kravitz plays drums on the first three tracks, my ears aren’t good enough to tell if that’s true or not, but it does have that sort of vibe to it. It is confirmed at the end of the song when Prince can be heard saying “You know who that is on the drums?” The first song of the evening is Cissy Strut. It is a classic start to such a show, the band build a groove up and then Candy begins to play all over it with her sax. It doesn’t grab me by my collar and shake me around, rather it lures me in slowly. Candy plays as you might expect, and although I enjoy it my interest level jumps up several notches when I hear Prince and his guitar play. He plays in a rather high tone here, it’s got a real whine to it. Again it’s good without grabbing me at any stage. The tone is set now for the rest of the song, and Morris Hayes follows with a swirling organ solo. No surprises here, and as yet the gig has failed to ignite. There is the feeling that the band is just warming up, and the real fireworks are still to come.

The band then begin to play Superstition, and its shaping up to be funky. However after some funky keys Prince calls “wait a minute, we didn’t write that” and the band proceed to play another cover.

Chameleon is a cover of a Herbie Hancock song, and is led by the horns, and a funky bass line. Its reasonably loose sounding, and it’s a good song to groove along to here at home. There is nothing in the way of vocals, it’s mostly the sax and I can hear and the heavy keys. There is an organ running underneath, which fills the sound nicely and stops it becoming unbalanced. I enjoy Morris Hayes organ break the most, it snakes in and out and is excellent. This is followed by some enthusiastic chanting by the crowd of ‘Go Lenny, Go Lenny” but to be honest he fails to do much.

Prince 1998d

Lenny is replaced by Kirk Johnson on the drums next, and the band plays Asswoop. It’s again a jam, with everyone taking a turn to solo. We once again get Candy Dulfer first, before Mike Scott takes a turn to play. His guitar sounds very sharp and has a high tone to it. He only plays for a minute, and I have a whole new appreciation for him. I already appreciate Morris Hayes, and his solo that follows is an excellent one. It’s a synth solo, and sounds nice and spacey to me. He gets plenty of time to play too, and it gives him a chance to warm to the task. What follows next is a nice moment as Hans Dulfer plays a break, before Prince introduces Candy Dulfer again to play. Her playing has gone up a notch since the opening couple of songs, and she is very expressive on this one.

My interest in the recording remains high as Prince calls “Y’all want some Larry Graham?” and they begin to groove on The Undertaker. It’s got a great heavy groove to it with Larry and his bass, and the funk levels go up when Mike Scott plays a funky rhythm break while the crowd chants “Go Larry, go Larry” It really does sound like a fun night. Mike sticks on his funky loop for the rest of the song while some interesting sounding keyboards and effects are played over the top. With a call of “B flat” the music changes and suddenly lightens. Then begins to play Joy and Pain and the crowd joins in effortlessly. They fall silent as again the keyboard goes all spacey, but I love it. This song is a head bobber all the way through, and it’s impossible not to feel it as well as hear it. It pauses like it may finish, but the groove picks up again, and over the same groove Prince begins to sing I Know You Got Soul. There is a brief pause for the piano, before the organ kicks it all off again, and Prince gets the crowd clapping along. These types of songs are impossible to write about, they need to be heard and felt, and words just don’t do them justice. Prince gives Larry Graham plenty of shine as he sings Groove On, and follows it with some of the bass playing he is renowned for. Indescribable, how I would have loved to have been there. Prince stops the band on a dime, and they pick up straight into Hair.

The bass is right in my face straight out of the gate. Larry plays fast and funky and with a shout of “turn his mic up!” from Prince he begins to sing Hair. I have heard this a few times from Prince, this one is more enjoyable in that it’s played with more conviction and enthusiasm. It has certainly sounded better and cleaner, yet I like this one for its passion. Larry is in fine voice, and Morris Hayes organ underneath is great. There is an energy level to it that was missing earlier in the show, and for me the show goes from good to great at this point.

Prince 1998b

The show doesn’t let up as they next play Al Greens Love and Happiness. Larry sings, and the song bounces along nicely. The audience get a chance to sing along, and they are very vocal indeed. The bounce continues as the keyboards and horns play off each other. I think that is probably my favourite song played at the show, it’s got a timeless sound to it, and it’s something I will come back to again and again. It has Mike Scott playing a guitar solo encouraged by Larry Graham, before a heavy groove carries us through to the end.

I was surprised when I heard what came next, I should have expected it, yet when I heard Prince playing Are You Gonna Go My Way on the piano I was caught completely off guard. This is just the sort of thing I love, a well-known song played in a completely different way. The main guitar riff is played on a piano,and Lenny Kravitz joins the band again to sing his song. Its sounds tight, and Lenny doesn’t sound as loose and wild as he does on the original recording. He sings in a classic rock style, but underneath the band is really swinging. The guitar solo is replaced by an excellent sax solo by Candy, and its every bit as good as the original guitar solo. The organ really drives it home later in the song as an appreciative crowd claps along to the end. A great rock n roll moment in the gig.

Prince follows this by calling to Larry to “give us The Jam”. There is a feeling of anticipation as the music builds before The Jam begins. It is as we have heard plenty of time over these years- Prince calling to each band member as they take their turn to solo. There is plenty of keyboard sounds all over it, but its Mike Scott’s playing that I like the most. Larry Graham too is well worth the listen. At times I do feel I have heard this all before, but nevertheless it’s still a lot of fun.

After a good few minutes of cheers and clapping from the crowd the music resumes with an organ solo from Morris Hayes. It’s short and serves well as an introduction for what comes next. It’s listed as an organ solo, but a solo organ would be more descriptive. The notes draw out before the drums join and we start the next part of the show.

Mad receives a rousing cheer from the crowd as it is played. I really didn’t expect to hear this one, but I am very pleased to hear it get an airing. The star of this for me is the guitar, it’s not right in front, but it does play some very funky riffs. The song itself isn’t quite as I remember from the recording, it’s a lot busier. Prince sings his lines in a far more relaxed manner, and the song sounds much lighter and more fun than it does on the original. I feel a little ripped off when it suddenly stops and the band segue into an instrumental of I Want To Take You Higher.

I Want To Take You Higher is incredibly laid back, and short. It’s very much got a summer feel to it, and the crowd can be heard merrily clapping along to it.

Prince 1998a

There is another quick change and the mood and tempo shifts as Prince sings the “oooh oooh oh” of Days Of Wild. The bass builds behind him as the crowd joins him in the chant. This song is always killer, and here is no different. It opens with the chanting as the sax begins to play. The ominous sound of the bass builds, but it is undercut by a lighter sounding guitar, and when the organ joins it too has a lighter touch to it. The band sound good, and I am left disappointed when Prince wraps it up after all that build up and no more.

With this band, it’s no surprise that Days Of Wild becomes Thank You (falettinme be mice elf again). You can still hear the bass and swirling organ of Days of Wild, but Prince enthusiastically sings Sly’s song. Prince throws in a few random lyrics, and I barely notice as I nod my head and let the music carry me. The song slows near the end as the main refrain is sung, and it ends soon after.

Forever In My Life? I never saw that coming. It’s played with the full band, and like a few of the other songs here it has a good swing to it. The crowd sing along with Prince and it has a very relaxed feeling to the whole show. This is fun to hear, but is far from my favourite rendition of this song. It’s only a minute and a half, and a nice lead into Everyday People.

Everyday People is just as loved by the crowd and I can again hear them singing throughout. The first half of the song is as you might expect, with plenty of Larry, and the crowd. The second half the guitar can be heard strumming as the organ and horns increase in intensity. I prefer this part of the song as it becomes looser, yet the groove tightens. The horns play some nice stabs, while the guitar and piano play in and out.

With a call of “Bring it down, just the drums” Prince begins to play some rhythm guitar which drives the groove home just right. It loops over and over and I could listen to it all night long. The organ comes on board, and then pulls out again as the guitar continues on and on. The track is listed as ‘Guitar Jam’ and that is exactly what we get- its rhythm guitar overload, and is just fabulous. Other pieces come and go, but the guitar is constant, and a joy to listen to. It was a real shame when it finally came to an end.

There is another break next, and then after much noise from the crowd Prince returns with a proper Rock God guitar break. Playing alone he pulls a few tricks out of his guitar playing bag as he solos for a couple of minutes. Without a song, or emotional centre I find it aimless and empty, there is a feeling that it’s just playing for the sake of playing. It is however to be admired and I do enjoy it for his skills.

Prince1998

The guitar playing in the Santana medley that comes next is what I really love, and is far more enjoyable. I always enjoy the Santana medley, I like how Morris Hayes gets to add his sound to the mix, as well as the fun of Princes soloing. This one in particular has a nice feel to it, I think being in a smaller venue adds to the enjoyment as well as the live sound of it. I can’t pinpoint what I like most in the mix for this one, to be honest I just liked all of it, and just sat back and soaked it all in. The rumble in the second part of the song as Candy plays is a nice touch, and it’s always good to have her as a counterpoint against all the guitar work in this song. Things ease off later in the song, and it gives it just enough room to breathe.

The steady beat and guitar line of The Question Of U follows, and it sounds crisp and sharp. Prince doesn’t sing, instead his guitar does all his talking for him. The crowd oblige by clapping out the rhythm as he plays. The solo is pretty standard for The Question Of U, that is great, but there isn’t any surprises of twists and turns.

The next twist comes as the squeal of Gett Off is heard before the guitar plays the main refrain. For a while nothing seems to be happening as the main beat plays with occasional guitar riffs interspersed, but then the crowd begin to chant and the main lead line is played with the full band and Prince begins to sing. The crowd sing the chorus for him, and he only sings one verse and plays the guitar line again before taking a solo.

The sound strips back again as Prince takes up the opening riff of When You Were Mine. It sounds like pure pop joy, and is very easy to listen to. After some of the long jams here it’s almost throw away, and yet its well-crafted pop is more than welcome here. Instead of the final guitar break we have Candy playing her sax again, and it’s a lot of fun to hear her on this song.

The next song begins with Prince telling the crowd he has to go home “to America, get ready for the bomb’, before he begins to sing “Osama bin Laden getting ready to bomb”. He sings this several times, of course he has no idea how things will pay out in the future, but it is interesting to hear that he is aware of what is already happening in the world. He sings this several times for the first few minutes of the song- telling the crowd “that’s the new groove” He even sings “Osama bin Laden gettin ready to bomb, 2001”. He is of course dropping the song title That’ll Work (2001), rather than predicting the future. The most of the song is call and response with the crowd and a steady groove that has another funky guitar line. The song ends with the wail of a siren, and the show ends at this point.

Prince 1998c

I really should pay more attention to some of the recordings I have. It’s a shame that I haven’t played this one more over the years, it was full of pleasant surprises. I enjoyed Lenny Kravitz far more here than I did at the Rave 2000 show, he fitted in much better with what was going on at this show. I also found Larry Graham enjoyable here, and appreciated what he bought to the table. All in all a very fun show, and another one I will leave out for a while so I can give it a few more spins.

Have a good week, see you next time
Hamish

 

 

Mill City Festival, 1999

1999 is an odd year in the world of Prince. No tour this year, just a steady stream of one-off shows and appearances. Prince was well off my radar at this stage, I had grown weary of his output, and found it lacked the excitement and creativity that I previously enjoyed. But looking at my recordings I see that I do need to have a dig and look at something from this era. I have chosen a recording of his appearance at the Mill City festival. The set list looks slightly interesting, and with Larry Graham in the band the stage is now set for the next change in his life and music.

Mill City Festival 6 September, 1999 Minneapolis

The lone notes of Princes guitar begin the recording. His tone is unmistakable, and there is a nice minute of just his playing alone. The beat begins as the guitar whines its final note, and I am immediately enthused as Sign Of the Time starts. The sound of his guitar playing at the beginning really adds a lot to it, and my excitement. In fact his playing through the whole song is great- nice and fiery. It’s a nice contrast to Princes vocal, which is suitably detached. This song works great live, and I am surprised it doesn’t get played more often. As the title track of one of his most critically recognized albums I feel it should get a little more love. For all the great lyrics in this song, and the fantastic beat, it really is the guitar that dominates in this live version, especially later in the song, before it finishes very sharply. This was a great start to the recording.

Another Sign Of The Times song follows, as the steady drum beat of I Could Never Take The Place OF Your Man begins. Prince takes his time to thank the city and festival, and then brings out Larry Graham to the stage. He tells us that he has a few surprises lined up later, and then comments on the crowd. It’s a good minute and a half before he starts playing on his guitar, then after a brief moment the band jumps in and the song starts proper. What I enjoy about this one, is I can hear the organ very well, and it helps fill out what is a somewhat thin recording. Prince seems to understand what the main attraction of the song is, and after a brief verse he jumps straight to the guitar break. It’s sounding good, but nothing great or off the wall here. I enjoy it much more when the band fall silent and Prince draws out a longer more mournful guitar break. He never returns to the song and it ends with him playing guitar like this.

There is a small break again between songs as Prince delivers a spiritual message. It’s well intentioned, and leads us appropriately enough into The Christ. Although I don’t like the fact that Prince is trying to rewrite his history, I do respect his beliefs and admire that he is prepared to stand by his convictions. However, this song will always be ‘The Cross’ to me. It seems that it would be impossible to play a version of this that I wouldn’t like, but here it comes close. Larry Graham sings the second verse, and although I love his voice – love, love – here it sounds out of place to me. Prince’s vocals sound a little messed up when he returns for the next verse. I am not sure I can blame the quality of the recording for this, it sounds like he is ad-libbing at the mic, buts it’s not very clear, and sounds a little amateurish. He does serve up another guitar break, but again it’s nothing spectacular, and is a little truncated.

Millcity1999

“Thank you very much hometown” Prince says, before the keyboard intro of Lets Go Crazy begins. The guitar sound here is fairly neutered, and the song has lost of the power it had during the Purple Rain era. This is a pretty standard run through of the song, it has a couple of verses cut, and even the guitar breaks fail to lift it to anything special. I thought it might have picked up when Prince played his last guitar howl, but even this is a damp squib.

She’s Always in My Hair is a deadset classic, and its appearance next raises my interest considerably. Both the guitar and the keys via for my attention, before Prince closes the deal with “Can I play my guitar?” The guitar break is everything I could ask for, and although not stratospheric, it’s exactly what I need. The song seems to be very short, only the first verse and chorus are played before the guitar break, and the song ends immediately after the guitar solo. Short and sweet as they say, I could have done with a little more for this one.

Keeping with the rock theme the next song played is U Got The Look. It has a nice energy and simmers along nicely. The set list so far has been crowd pleasing, and heavy on guitar songs from his most popular albums. U Got The Look has a very clean sound to it. Sure, there is some nice throaty guitar, but it still sounds well polished throughout. I was wondering if they would do something different with it, but it’s very much as heard on the album. Its enjoyable, but nothing to write home about, or indeed to write a blog about.

I was wondering where Prince was going next, as over a steady beat he addresses the crowd, and especially the ladies in the audience. It all becomes clear when he says “Ladies, do you know how to kiss?” There is a brief moment of sampler and scratching before the very familiar guitar line of Kiss begins. There is some sampling and horns in the song, but they fail to add anything to it, and if anything they detract from, the minimalist charm of it. There is an interesting moment when the band stop and just Prince and the crowd sing. OK, so interesting might be an overstatement, but it is a nice variation in the song that wasn’t really doing much for me.

The scream at the beginning of Gett Off has me reaching for my phone to check my messages (I have the scream as my ringtone), but it’s the real deal and the recording takes a more interesting turn. The song takes a long time to begin and is much more of a jam. There is a lot of interaction between Prince and the crowd. There is a few sounds and sample thrown into the mix, and keeps me listening trying to catch them all. Princes vocal delivery is very laid back, and smooth sounding. He sings rather than speaks the lyrics, and it’s very enjoyable. There is a low-key guitar break, before some funky chanting “Come And Dance With Me” This is very cool, and funky, before things heat up. There is an upswing in tempo and the band begins singing I Like Funky Music. The beat has a Latin feel to it, and Prince introduces Maceo Parker to the crowd. Maceo delivers immediately and delivers a fast and funky sax solo. Prince begins to sing “I like funky music” and I have to agree, I do too! The song continues in this vein for sometime, and I enjoy every second of it. From here on it’s very much a funk jam, with Prince directing the band and Maceo, there is a few minutes of stabs, funky rhythms and percussion breaks.

Things stay on the same track as the band slip into Talking Loud and Saying Nothing. Here the horns really come to the fore. I was just thinking how good they were sounding, when Prince calls them out, and they do a fantastic break. I am not a horn guy, but this is very good, and I enjoy it immensely. Prince is again directing things and the band is tight right through. I can hear some calls, and I am sure if I could see it he would be directing things with his hands and movements.

Without pause we get Let’s Work, and it’s nice and horny -with horns that is. They pump it up a lot, and its one of Princes songs that I find works well with real horns playing over it. Prince’s vocal is sounding good as ever, and it has a bit of pop to it. This song got me moving, it was sounding great. I was expecting it to go for longer, but just as it was beginning to really groove the band transition into Delirious.

Delirious also gains from having live horns played over it. Not a favorite of mine, I find this recording quite refreshing with the horns playing on it. There is even a horn solo, which I presume is Maceo, and that too is awesome. Delirious is always a slight song, and here it slips by very quick, but well worth the listen. There is an instrumental section that plays it out, featuring some guitar work- but it’s neither here nor there and doesn’t add anything.

Next there is a short pause why Prince engages the crowd. There’s a bit of “You don’t love me… You love Larry Graham, but you don’t love me”. The crowd responds as you might expect, and then after half a minute of this there is another break.

The beat then resumes, and Prince tells the crowd that his new single “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold” is on sale next month. No surprise as he next begins to talk of record companies and being free. He then sings a smooth version of Everyday Is A Winding Road. Its nice enough sounding, but its not very distinctive until the chorus, then it picks up a lot. There is some nice organ in the background, and Prince is singing nice and strong. Actually the whole song gets stronger and stronger as it goes on, and after Prince acknowledges that it was written by Sheryl Crow the band move into a long groove with it. Well, not too long, it finishes up just a minute after this, but it is enjoyable as it lasts.

The seductive beat of Love Thy Will be Done draws me in slowly but surely. Prince delivers a spiritual message for a couple of minutes over the beat, but this time it seems to work well. Then when he does begin to sing over the same beat, its not Love Thy Will Be Done, but Do Unto Others. It has a nice groove to it, and my head is quickly bobbing. There are plenty of organs and Prince sings with Larry Graham.

Millcity1999a

I am really feeling it, and then it gets even better as Prince sings Sometimes I feel Like A Motherless Child. It’s very much a favorite of mine from the period, and Prince delivers it with plenty of heart and passion on the recording. His singing sounds like he is really putting himself into it. There is then a trombone solo, which doesn’t derail the song at all, in fact it brings a lot of color to it. The band then return to singing Do Unto Others, while Prince busies himself on the guitar. There are plenty of squeals and wailing, all the while that steady beats keeps plugging away underneath. There is a false ending, but just as I think its done Prince comes back onboard with his guitar, and there is another couple of minutes of him blasting out another solo. He is definitely warmed up by this stage, and the whole thing sounds great. The song ends quickly after, but it’s already made an impression on me- I will definitely be coming back to this one.

Prince begins Prettyman by telling the crowd that he wrote it for Morris Day, but it was so funky he decided to keep it for himself. He then goes on to do a spoken intro, speaking the lyrics until the band get on board after a minute. It is indeed funky, and Maceo is all over this one. After Princes intro I can totally imagine Morris singing this one, but Prince is equally adept at delivering such lyrics. There is a lot of character as he sings, and the lyrics are hilarious. Things get very funky when Prince calls for Maceo to blow his horn. As you might expect, he more than delivers. All in all it’s the funkiest song of the show.

The band jump straight into Purple Rain after this, and initially it’s a little jarring after the funkfest we have just heard. But there is a nice long intro which gives me plenty of time to calm down and sit back to enjoy it. And it is very enjoyable. Not one of the great versions, but Prince gives the song plenty of room to breath, and during the introduction he introduces his new guitar, Hibibi, and then treats us to a minute of nice guitar noodling before we get to the meat of the song. There is some nice low-key horns playing in the song, and it adds a little bit of sharpness, and stops it becoming just like any other version. There are also some nice lyric changes from Prince, nothing too much, but again it keeps me listening. When Prince unleashes Habibi on us for the guitar finale its well worth the wait. He plays the standard solo, but the guitar has a fantastic tone to it, and even though I have heard it plenty, this one still manages to excite me. The reprise has more of the saxophone – I am assuming its Maceo, and it takes the song to another level. By the fade out I am pretty happy that this one is more interesting than a lot of versions of Purple Rain out there.

I had forgotten about the song Come On, until it came on. I enjoy the live versions of this one far more than what’s on record, so even though this isn’t great it’s still an improvement. It gets the full funk treatment here, a nice long intro, with calls for hand clapping hand waving. There isn’t too much that can be said about this recording, aside from the fact that I like it. I could well imagine this going on for a good 10-15 minutes, but it finishes surprisingly quickly after just 5 minutes. With the long intro it didn’t leave much of the rest the song for me to enjoy.

A pounding beat and “oh way oh” starts us into Baby I’m A Star. It’s not quite how I remember it from the Purple Rain days. There are lots of horns which is good, but they do swamp the song that I know. But the song is a Trojan horse and after a minute it’s over and we are into 1999.

1999 gets the Vegas treatment. The horns are again to the fore, and the song is treated as a fun sing-along. There is very little in the way of verses and chorus, just a lot of yelling and chanting with the crowd. It’s all very shiny and light, and somewhat showy, but I find that I don’t enjoy it too much. I can see that he is going for the party vibe but, as is the case with many of these gigs, it doesn’t translate well to the recording. There really is no substitute for being there.

The set ends with Prince being presented with a key to the city. At least I think that is what happening, it’s not overly clear. After this there is a Larry Graham set, with Prince guesting. I am not going to write about that here- or this post will take days to read.

I am not sure what to make of this recording. It has a good set list, but overall comes across as a little weak. I enjoyed it overall, but Prince seems a little unsure of what he is at this time. Coming off the slave era, and moving towards the legacy era, this is a time where he doesn’t really seem to have an agenda to push, musically at least. For all that, this recording is solid, it was a good diversion on a Sunday afternoon.

Thanks again
Hamish