First Show Of 2007

Last week I wrote of the New Years Eve show from 2006/2007, played during Prince’s Las Vegas residency. The second part of that story is the concert Prince played in the early morning of January 1st , a jazz inspired show that features very little of Prince singing, instead being a showcase for Mike Phillips and the rest of the band. Prince purists may not find anything too exciting to it, but Prince loved being part of the band, and even though it is often difficult for me to pinpoint Prince”s contribution I still enjoy the wild ride as the band stretches across a range of styles, especially as the band dig deeper into jazz. Mike Phillips leads the way, and the other performer that really catches my ear is Renato Neto. His performance may not be powerhouse, but there is plenty of finesse to be heard, and his hands dancing across the keyboard has me spellbound at times.

The first half of the show is similar in style to the show from the previous morning, a jazz fragranced romp that serves as an easy introduction for those that don’t normally listen to jazz. The stench of funk arrives in the second half of the concert as the band shows off their flexibility and they are just as adept at funk as they are at jazz. It is a show of long jams, a couple of songs in the first portion perhaps running a few minutes longer than is necessary, but there is no complaints at all as the standard of music is high, and the funk songs later on come thick and fast, keeping the listener guessing what might come next in an anything goes medley.

1st January 2007 (am)  3121 Jazz Cuisine @ Rio Hotel & Casino

“A Night In Tunisia” is well-known, and anyone even vaguely familiar with the original will find nothing new in this rendition. It is Renato Neto who throws down the gauntlet with his early solo, and Mike Phillips rises to the occasion with a dizzingly fast solo that excites while paying homage to the original. Prince is only heard late in the song, his guitar arching slowly across the soundscape, but as with all music my first question is “Is it good?” to which my response would be “yes,” so I am more than satisfied with this first song as an indication of what will follow.

The fifteen minutes opener was merely an appetizer, and the main dish comes with a twenty minute rendition of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” featuring the talents of Greg Boyer. It is the recording itself that shines just as bright as the band on stage, and as I listen I find myself thinking about how good it sounds just as much about the music I am actually hearing. An audience recording, the band sound sharp throughout, clear and bright and no distortion at all. I often get a sinking feeling in my stomach when I see the words audience recording, but in this case it is one of the better ones I have heard. Complimenting the music perfectly, the recording elevates the concert to another level. My only caution is that there is excessive cowbell late in the song, but it is tempered by a furious guitar break by Prince that leaves an impression long after the cowbell has faded.

I am very happy to hear Shelby J say”We going to let it it marinade” at the beginning of “Crazy” , and that is exactly what they do, letting it cook in it own juices for the first minute on the back of Prince’s rhythmic guitar work. The previous half hour of jazz is forgotten as the vocoder arrives, along with a timely chorus of “One Nation Under A Groove” The sonic landscape is transformed as Prince’s guitar rises from an earthy tone into a metallic tower of steel and power. He remains within the confines of the band and the song through, and it is Shelby J who leads us through this uplifting and inspiring performance.

This pop music is put back in the box quickly after as we return to the jazz with a long rendition of “Footprints.” I enjoy it immensely, unfortunately some of the audience near the taper don’t share my love of the music, and there is quite a bit of audience chat to be heard in the first minutes of the song. As the band rise in intensity some of this background noise is drowned out, and the recording definitely sounds better the deeper we get into it. This isn’t the first song you would choose to hear on a bootleg, but it a great representation of this band, and Prince’s genre hopping abilities. The funk that will follow is what we have all come to expect, and it’s somewhat of a shame that more jazz standard covers such as this don’t appear more frequently in Prince’s setlists as it gives the band a chance to demonstrate their grasp of another genre.

The pop returns with Shelby and a sweet performance of “Sweet Thing.” Its effortlessly cool, and before I know it I am singing along with Shelby. I am no match for her vocal power though, and she gives us a perfectly pitched performance here, building from the glittering verses to a luminescent chorus that will brighten the rest of my day. The concert hasn’t reached its peak yet, but with Prince’s final guitar break we are lifted several notches closer.

We stay with the cover versions for a short but fierce version of Bill Wither’s “Who Is He (And What Is He To You?).” With it’s pulsating bass there is a tension in the air and the feeling that the band is just about to cut loose, a sense that at any moment the concert will erupt into something a whole lot funkier.

That something a whole lot funkier is “More Bounce To The Ounce” incorporating a range of funk tunes and chants. It doesn’t come all at once though, instead building from the foundation of the previous song and steadily rising into an a storm cloud of a groove. It does cover a lot of ground, Maceo fundamental to all that is going on, and although I have fun picking out the songs that are in the mix I am constantly mindful of Maceo’s contribution and endorsement of this band. I sometimes weary of these funk medleys, but in this case they are so smoothly integrated that it comes as a steady smorgasbord of funk, all of which I greedy eat up. It’s all rounded off by a cocktail of vocoder and Prince guitar licks, all of which leave me lightheaded not quite sure if I want more or just a glass of water.

 

The final song of the show is another funk jam, this time centered around “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” A regular in Prince’s setlists, in this case it is made all the more interesting by the appearance of the vocal group   MO5AIC. They add a different element to the song, and their addition of Janet Jackson “Rythmn Nation” to the chorus adds a sense of fun, as well as neatly tying the song back to some of Prince’s former colleagues. It brings several elements of the night together, the horns switching from jazz to funk and adding firepower to back up Shelby’s vocals that as always stand proud, front and centre. It is very much about the band, and no one performance stands out, in this case it is the band that is the star.

Without being outstanding, this is a nice little bootleg that I can see myself listening to plenty more in future. Its not supercharged Prince, instead its an understated performance of comfortably tunes that would sit easily on any playlist, and it contains something for all seasons. It may be a little too light on Prince for many peoples tastes, but as part of the wider eye records release (6 CDs), it gives us a breather and a chance to sit back and just appreciate the music. My recommendation would be to take a listen on Sunday afternoon, glass of wine in hand.

Until next week,
take care – Hamish

 

 

Las Vegas 31st December 2006

All apologies about missing last week. I had intended to post about a Christmas show but unfortunately I was swept away by Christmas and my summer holiday. Christmas was chaos, but thankfully I have had a few days in the countryside since then with no internet, cell phone, or laptop, and I feel fully restored as I sit here today. I am a week late, so the Christmas concert I was going to write about has become a New Years Eve concert. Prince played several New Years Eve concerts, the most famous being his Paisley Park show of 1987 with an appearance by Miles Davies. Sadly, none of his other New Years Eve concerts live up to the high standard set by that one, and I did struggle to find one that I felt motivated to write about. I have gone with the New Years Eve show in Las Vegas in 2006, from the Eye records 6CD set. It is no by no means an outstanding show, but it does cover some quality material and is a decent enough show. Prince also plays an aftershow in the early morning of January the 1st 2007, a recording I shall cover that in next weeks blog.

The New Years Eve show is unsurprising and contains a fairly typical setlist of the time. Although Prince was mixing up his setlists constantly, we do see the same songs appearing in different combinations, and there is nothing desperately unusual to be heard here. The recording itself is clean, and that is always a big bonus, making even the most mundane of shows a pleasant listen.

31st December, 2006. 3121 @ Rio Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas

Any reservations I may have had about the setlist or recording are swept away by the opening onslaught of “3121.” The bass is well rounded, and Prince gives a forceful performance that is matched by the quality of the recording. I may be too invested in the moment, and for a second I think that this would be one to play to those who remain unconverted to Prince. The flurry of horns that appear out of the mix add to my sense of thrill and excitement, and even though the song runs its full length I still feel disappointed that it ends. Even Prince’s typically dubious opening comment of “There’s no such thing as time – we count down nothing, except the funk” fails to dampen my enthusiasm.

The recording doesn’t let up on this opening funk assault, and “3121” is matched by an equally thrilling “Girls And Boys.” It is the horns that bring the drama to the song, every time they are heard it is with something new and unexpected, while maintaining the funk and momentum.

And then comes the dip. There is no denying that “Satisfied” is a fine song, but I do question it’s position in the setlist here. The initial blast of funk and energy dissipates in an instant as “Satisfied” begins, and the show feels like someone has suddenly jammed the brakes on, sending the concert into a slow-motion slide into a ditch. Maceo does charm me with his contribution, but I am still left wondering if one more uptempo jam would have been better before this languid stroll through a ballad.

“Down By The Riverside” is busy but it’s not Prince, and as such it leaves me just as unsatisfied as “Satisfied.” I wanted an uptempo song, and this certainly is, but it feels out of place and is bereft of the funk that I so desperately crave.

There is very little funk in “Purple Rain,” but at least it is Prince, and the crowd sound happy to have their man back on the mic. The recording is very good indeed at this stage, and “Purple Rain”  has the full majestic sound that we have come to expect. There are no twists, turns, or surprises to be heard, but once again Prince gives an impassioned rendition of his signature song. I usually find a hidden gem in the tail of the guitar solo, but in this case it comes straight as heard on record, there is nothing to complain about there as Prince plays it powerfully and with purpose.

I have mixed feelings about “Lolita.” Sometimes it’s just on the wrong side of pop for me, the sweetness of the song leaving me cold. However, the balance of this recording is much better, and the stabs of the keyboard give the song much more impetus and drive. Prince’s final coda is far more aggressive and strong than on record, and overall I find this a rewarding moment on the recording.

The final minutes of “Lolita” lay the heavier foundation for “Black Sweat.” With it’s heavier groove and darker keyboards lines it would have been a good match for the opening “3121,” and coming after “Lolita” it brings some shade and contrast to the concert. Prince draws it out nicely, letting the music build naturally into yet another very good performance on this recording.

It is “Kiss” that follows, and it feels light against the darker “Black Sweat.” It does get a bonus point for it’s familiarity, but its not the best song on the recording, and even as I sing along I find I am not as fully engaged as I was with some of the earlier songs.

“Shhh” has me fully engaged. Its not a perfect recording or performance, but that matters little as the music envelops me and for the next five minutes I am transported into Prince’s world. It’s a strange,beautiful, violent sea that Prince paints with his guitar, every note carrying a mood and tone that builds the song into a storm of a finish. It’s sickeningly good, and as it finishes I feel I should turn off the recording and sit in contemplation the next few minutes and reflect on what I have just experienced.

I don’t, and the next song that follows quickly on is “Musicology.” It brings the concert back into the here and now, the music a statement of what Prince wanted to achieve at that time.  The waves of horns is contemporary, but the Prince comment of “not bad for a girl” is a throw back to an earlier time. The song is relativity short and gives way to a fun rendition of “Prince And The Band” It is Maceo who elevates the song above a mere run through, and his final solo is a genuine music moment that makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

With Maceo to the forefront there is very little surprise to “Pass The Peas.” As much as I like it, again I find it detracts from the Prince concert, and coupled with the previous two songs, there is the general sense that the show is meandering without delivering us Prince at the eye of the storm. It is Renato Neto who provides the most electrifying moment, his keyboard solo a lightening rod for all the preceding funk and energy.

Renato Neto is also my unlikely hero for “Joy In Repetition.” His opening gives new colour to the familiar opening strains, and the song has an extra depth from the start. Prince and the rest of the band live up to expectation, but it is this opening minute that sets the scene for all that will follow, and Renato Neto deserves all the credit he gets for his contribution. Even the Twins vocals can’t break the spell that is cast, and the magic is woven to the last, with Prince’s final guitar solo both beguiling and blustery.

There is another enchanting moment with a tender rendition of “Gotta Broken Heart Again.” The keyboards are fragile, and Prince almost broken as he sings. It’s an unique performance, but it doesn’t live up to it’s potential, if not for it’s rarity value I wouldn’t rate it at all. The audience chatter certainly doesn’t improve on my opinion, and overall I am left feeling deflated by it’s appearance.

I am much more onboard for “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” It is loud and proud, the nuance of the Sign O The Times version sacrificed in the name of funk and a live performance that is strident and bold. The recording is unbalanced, but that doesn’t alter my enjoyment of the song, and as uneven as it is I would still recommend it to most fans.

“Cream” keeps with this bold outlook, and it too is much stronger than what is heard on record. It comes at a quick pace, some of it’s sheen of coolness gone in a windswept performance. Prince’s guitar solo emphasizes this point with its brief fury, a flash that is quickly reined in by Prince before it blow torches the rest of the song into the past. “Cream” is often too creamy for me, but I warm to this bold new vision and as it finishes I make a note to return to it at a later date.

There is a natural fit with “U Got The Look.” This time Prince does let his guitar off the leash, and we are rewarded as the sparks begin to fly later in the song. It doesn’t offer up any surprises, but it is a cocky performance that carries the energy of the show.

It is Shelby J who tackles Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You).” She is no Aretha Franklin, or even Rosie Gaines, but she is undoubtedly a powerful singer, and she has never sounded better than she does here. Her performance is breathtaking, Prince’s powerful guitar break still managing to sound limp next to the awesome power of Shelby’s vocals. Normally my interest wanes when Prince isn’t on the microphone, in this case I am enthralled by Sheby J and I am more than happy as we stay with her for the next song.

“Love Changes” features more Prince on guitar duties, but it is again Shelby J that I enjoy the most. She dominates the soundscape with her scorching vocals sweeping back and forth across the song with heat and intensity that is unparalleled elsewhere on the recording. It is rare for me to say this, but these two songs with Shelby’s vocals, and Princes guitar work, are easily the highlight of the concert for me, there is nothing else on the recording that comes close to this raw untamed power that creates a firestorm of passion and emotion.

The last five minutes of the concert see’s Prince playing a quickfire medley of funk tunes. He elects not to sing “Play That Funky Music” instead providing the funky guitar lines that morph easily enough into a truncated “Love Rollercoaster” Nothing is giving long enough to marinate, “What Have You Done For Me lately” is equally brief before the concert ends with “Partyman” There isn’t much to these final songs, it is only Prince’s funky guitar that is worth hearing, and the real climax of the show was the previous Shelby J songs. However, it’s not a disappointing end, Prince is going out with a funky blast and the crowd is no doubt dancing their feet off. “It’s Alright” ends this medley, it’s lyrics neatly summing up exactly what these last five minutes have been about.

I was enthusiast in my praise for several of the songs on this recording, however I can’t deny it is just a standard performance of a fairly mundane setlist. It can’t be considered a classic, but there are enough moments there to make it a worth a listen. There are better recordings of better Las Vegas shows circulating, and this is a younger sibling to those stronger recordings. However, it should not be forgotten, and I thoroughly recommend listening to Shelby J’s performance at this concert, she certainly delivered the most memorable moment. Next week I will take a listen to hopefully one of those better Las Vegas concerts, the early morning show from January 1st, recorded just hours after this concert. I don’t remember much about the recording, so it will be with fresh ears that I take a listen.

Until then, happy New Year,
look after each other
-Hamish

3121 Las Vegas 1st night

I have for too long skimmed over the 3121 performances in Las Vegas. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that there is such an array of concerts and styles circulating from this period, it is hard to know where to begin. It doesn’t help that my catalog system for these shows is in disarray, mostly because some releases throw together a bunch of unconnected shows from this run, leaving my carefully laid dating system in ruins. Anyway, that is neither here nor there, what is important is today I will finally come back to these recordings, and what better place to begin than the first concert of the series.

There are several bootlegs of this concert in circulation, I have decided to listen to the 4daFunk release, purely because I find myself drawn to the art work. The Pure Funk release is more complete (it has the entire opening song) but I find I listen to this one much more. As for the concert itself, there is very little surprises to be found, it is a straight forward performance that lives little room for spontaneity or long improvised jams, instead Prince chooses to romp through his setlist in uninspiring rush. There are moments I cherish, but overall this is a standard show, and there is little to distinguish it from other shows at the time.

11th November (am) 2006  3121@Rio Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas

The first minutes of “Spirituality” (Controversy) are missing, and although I have said the setlist is uninspiring, I do find this opening song coming at me in a breathless rush that raises hopes that this may deliver more than I remember. There may not be fire, but there is definitely a spark to this opening number.

The promise made by “Spirituality” comes good with “Johnny B. Goode”, Prince’s guitar bursting into flame at the appropriate moments, engulfing the recording in fierce fire that even a jaded guitar guy like myself can appreciate. It isn’t as freewheeling as we hear in aftershows, but it does get my pulse racing and Prince tears it up. Prince’s final shout of “Thank you, and good night” is entirely appropriate, as it does indeed sound like a final hit out before the close of a show.

I like the pop of “Lolita,” but I have found that as time has gone on it has lost its initial charm. The song is still young at this show, but ten years on it has reached middle age, and it has not aged well. It’s not helped by recording drop outs, and as much as I try to find something positive in the song, it does sound like Prince is on autopilot.

The following “Black Sweat” is also lifeless, something of a surprise for me as this is one song that usually delivers a defibrillator size jolt to concerts. In this case it is dead on arrival, and although the recording is very good at this point, the performance remains flat.

“So many hits, so little time,” sets alarm bells ringing for me and I am rewarded with a standard rendition of “Kiss.” This is Prince by the numbers, there is zero variation or inspiring moments, and the song remains insipid despite my hopes for something, anything, to happen. Still, a great song is a great song, and “Kiss” sounds fine on the recording, I enjoy it much more when I put aside my expectations and just go with the flow.

“Shhh” has the opening I want, but it isn’t anywhere near as powerful as I would like, and its not until the music pulls back that I find I can begin to enjoy it. Like the preceding “Kiss,” it is far more enjoyable when I put asides any preconceptions and just enjoy what I am hearing. In this case it is a cleanly recorded, cleanly played, rendition of a classic from his catalog. I may wish it to be an electrifying and muscular performance, but this is Prince playing it straight and the lean rendition we get is anorexic compared to the original. It is what it is, and in the car or playing in the background it would be great, but listening close with headphones it makes me wish for some of the other performances I have heard over the years.

“Musicology” suffers further in this flat performance, there is no guitar solo to inject passion or to shock the listener into an emotional response, and its light funk is lost in the easy mix and sound. I can’t quite put my finger on what is missing, but it never quite feels like the party that Prince wants it to be. There is an brief section in the middle where I think I may have misjudged it, but the second half droops again and leaves me feeling deflated.

I find that “Cream” is an easy listen, but there is nothing there to raise it above anything else heard in the evening. The band sound much stronger though, and I am beginning to warm to the gig again at this stage.

The guitar again cuts through this smooth funk, and heralds in the arrival of “U Got The Look.” It is by the numbers, the guitar may kick and start in Princes hands, but it never breaks free into the rampant guitar storm that I half hope for. The stomp keeps the concert moving however, and it does lead us tidily into the following moment.

It is pleasing to hear Prince take his time with “Joy In Repetition.” At first I feel I am immune to its charms, yet sure enough I am singing with Prince word for word as the song builds. It is the sort of song and performance that one can easily inhale, and exhale at your leisure. I dwell on the song as long as I can, reveling in its intoxicating and heady sound, and although it isn’t the first performance I would reach for, the song is still strong enough that it works its black magic on me despite its straight performance.

There is a low-key, percussive opening to “17 Days,” which to my ears doesn’t serve it well. There is further disappointment when I hear that it isn’t Prince on vocal duties, rather it is the Twinz that warble their way through the song. To add insult to injury, they butcher some of the lyrics, and to be honest I would rather not hear the song at all than hear it like this. “17 Days” in the setlist should have been the highlight, instead it is the nadir.

Things improve considerably with “7.” Prince pushes it out to twelve minutes, and in this time he gives himself space to speak to the crowd, ad-lib lyrics, and makes the song a much stronger statement than the previous moments. It’s not a bold statement, but it is music with a stronger backbone, and it finally feels like Prince is connecting with the music and the crowd. That is until the final minutes when he crosses the line into preaching. Several members in the audience can be heard complaining about it, and I am temporarily taken out of the moment by it.

A rocked up version “Anotherloverholenyohead,” oh yes, now we’re talking. For the first time I feel like letting out a whoop as I feel my body moving involuntarily to the music. The Twinz may be a touch too high in the mix for me, but there is plenty of grunt and muscle in Princes guitar that keeps me firmly focused. The climax comes with the predictable, but worthy, segue into an impassioned “Rock Lobster.” The guitar is enraged as it fury spews forth, a powerful anger that has me forgiving the previous hour. The guitar rages on after the music stops, briefly touching on “The Cross” before the band reengage for one final assault and drive to the finish.

A change of direction next, but a welcome one, as Prince eases into a groove laden “If I Your Girlfriend” As enjoyable as it is, there is still an undercurrent of funk that is missing. The band play with precision, but little of the soul I have come to expect, and as much as I find my head bobbing to the song, its not quite the knock out punch we have come to expect.

The radio friendly sheen of “Pink Cashmere” works surprisingly well at this moment, I sit enraptured as Prince works the lyrics and the crowd to his will. On the recording sides of things there is a loud snap that is, well, just too loud. It detracts from Mike Phillips solo, something that again raises the disappointment feeling within me as I always look forward to his contributions. I never recover from this feeling and even as the song stretches to ten minutes, I can’t recapture that feeling and warm glow from early on.

I am back on board for a compelling rendition of “Fury.” It comes and goes in a flash, but it does draw a line in the sand. For some reason the guitar driven songs at this concert seem to have a lot more energy to them than the funk jams, surprising given that Prince is normally so good at presenting both in an enthusiastic and impressive package. The final minute has a real bite to it, and I can only wonder how this concert could have played out if all the songs had have been played with such intensity.

It’s not necessary to have five minutes of audience noise between encores on the bootleg, but  4daFunk have put it there anyway, for the completists I guess. “Purple Rain” is entirely predictable at this point of the concert, and as you might expect it sounds just as it always has since 1984. I could almost sing the guitar solo note for note by now, and especially here as Prince adds not one bit of improvisation or unpredictability to his playing. He is going through the motions, and in this case it sounds as if he is just as tired of the song as some of the hard core fan community.

“Let’s Go Crazy” rounds out the concert in an upbeat finish. It’s joyless, and rather sums up the evenings performance. It all sounds very nice, but is shallow and leaves me wishing for something more substantial. It is very short, and whips the crowd up one last time before Prince calls for their love.

Ok, so I didn’t love this concert. On the plus side, it did sound good, and had a couple of my favourites in the setlist. What it was missing  was a sense of urgency. The songs meandered, even when they were short, and there was a lack of depth to the performance. I was hoping something of interest would be thrown up in the melee, but it was just a standard run through of his radio friendly hits. No doubt I will return to this recording in future, like I said earlier, it would be OK in the background, or in the car, but as for an intensive listening experience, I would happily pass on it. Like Prince says, all that glitters ain’t gold.

Thanks for joining me again,
I will have a rummage through the cupboards and see if I can pull out a treat for next week.
-Hamish

3121 Las Vegas – Tutu

I finally got around to watching Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead” film on the weekend and while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea I found I enjoyed it a lot. The show I listen to this week neatly dovetails into this, as it opens with a lengthy ‘Tutu’. Tutu maybe only five minutes on Miles Davis’s album, yet here the band do it more than justice with a seventeen-minute version that has plenty of time to breathe. The 3121 album saw Prince take a six-month residency at Las Vegas rather than touring the world, which is disappointing from my perspective as I personally loved 3121 and would have liked to see it reach a wider concert audience. To my ears it was stronger and fuller than Musicology, and could have gone even further than it did with a full tour riding on the back of the momentum created by Musicology. The Vegas shows do however offer a variety of listening experiences and this show from early morning 31 December is interesting not only for the Tutu that starts things off, but also an outstanding instrumental of Te Amo Corazón. With these two pieces in place the show is looking very appealing indeed, and although I am no great fan of Eye records I do appreciate having this release to listen to.

31 December (am) 2006. 3121 Jazz Cuisine at Rio Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas

As I mentioned above the show does begin with the lengthy Tutu, and although there is some audience chat early on it does settle down to an excellent sounding audience recording. Beginning with the Mike Phillips Jazz Trio, the opening minutes feature some easy piano playing and a bass. There is there slightest of crackles as the bass plays, but it’s nothing worth worrying about as later other players are added to the mix and the bass sound slides to the background. As the horns play any thoughts of the quality of recording slip from my mind as they begin to weave their magic. From a slow start the horns build up in intensity as does the song with the steady pace of the bass and drums locked in while the horns swirl and eddy in an excited flight. The second half of the song is given over to some clean guitar playing, and its every bit as good as the horns that come before it. Then to top it all off the piano comes back with a final flourish before a final down swing ends the song.  All in all, an excellent start to the show and the recording.

3121-4

 

Shelby comes to the microphone to belt out Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You). With the band swelling and rolling beneath her, Shelby rides the wave and brings it home with a soulful rendition that does the song justice. I am listening to these shows first and foremost for Prince, so cover versions sung by his backing singers isn’t normally something I gravitate towards. However, I do find I enjoy this immensely, as I do the next song, and for the next few minutes I don’t mind at all that I can’t hear Prince.

I Never Loved A Man was good, the following cover of Mother Finest – Love Changes is even better with Shelby playing her part well with the added bonus of a couple of very Prince sounding solos in the song. The band has covered a lot of ground since the opening Tutu, and here they are rocking out with Shelby’s voice leading from the front. Prince’s solos are noteworthy and a highlight of the song, he is sounding strong and in complete control as he plays his solos, they aren’t fast but they are very bold.

3121-3

Maceo is to the front for his excellent Shake Everything You’ve Got that does indeed have me shaking everything I got. I ignore the audience chatter that is audible mid-song, and instead wallow in the sound of Maceo’s horn and the fat sound of Greg Boyer’s trombone. There is a richness to the sound, and again I can’t stress enough how good this all sounds for an audience recording, despite what I have just said about the audience chat. Some clean guitar and drums play off each other in a mesmerizing few minutes that lures me into a false sense of security before the band all come in with a renewed enthusiasm that carries the guitar solo and the song through the next few minutes before we quieten to keyboards and the eventual conclusion.

Only two Prince songs are played at the show, the first being this an instrumental Te Amo Corazón. It starts of seductive and low with Prince playing a very melodic guitar. The opening minutes of Princes guitar set the stage for what will follow, with the horns picking up where he left off with some playing in a similar vein. The band take their turns to shine in the song, and Renato Neto is well and truly in his element with a piano solo that carries the mood and feel of the song. The song is a delight to listen to, and before I know it has passed by as light as a breeze on a summers day.

3121

Shelby returns, as does the cover versions, as the steady rumble of Crazy begins. Its enjoyable enough, it’s hard to dislike this song, and the band do a fine rendition of it. Shelby does her thing, but it’s the guitar solo of Prince that has my ears pricking up, its guttural and primeval which adds some bite to the song. The rest of the song is as you might expect, although you can still hear Prince’s guitar chugging underneath threatening to bust out at any moment, which makes it all the more disappointing when he sticks with only one brief moment before the song ends.

Some proper Prince funk makes a welcome return with Get On The Boat, and Maceo sets things off in fine style with a burst on his horn. Along with Greg Boyer, it’s the sound of the horn section that nails down the song early on, while the band do their funky best in the background. This is a fantastic way to end the show, and the band is at their best throughout, mostly lead by the horn assault, although Prince adds some guitar flavour late in the song. Like everything at this show it’s over before I know it, and I am left with a smile on my face as the recording ends.

3121-5

This recording is short – barely 70 minutes (although it is part of a massive Eye Records six CD set), yet it is one of the most enjoyable shows I have heard for a while. There is plenty of funk and jazz in the mix, and the band play to their strengths with a short sharp show. Some may quibble about the lack of Prince songs played, but that is irrelevant with a performance as polished as this, and things are even better when we take into consideration the quality of the audience recording. 3121 is a great album, and while this recording only has a couple of songs from that album, it is a nice document of the era.

Thanks for reading,
Same time next week
-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.

rave-prince-3

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.

rave-prince-2

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

 

 

House Of Blues 2004

The House of Blues show from early 2004 is an average recording of a great show. The sound may not be the best, but as compensation we have a show packed with interesting moments, one of the highlights being the opening ten minutes of Sign O The Times. The rest of the show lives up to the opening salvo, which makes it all the more disappointing that it is recorded in bad quality. As always I am a devoted fan, and I am prepared to listen to any quality to hear Prince doing this type of show. Its recorded just six weeks before the musicology tour, and you can hear that Prince is ready to go with the band well prepared and enjoying a couple of one off shows before the tour begins.

1st February 2004 (am), House Of Blues, Las Vegas

There are no surprises with this recording, right from the start you know what you are in for, with a scratchy distorted sound from the first moment. The band is playing Sign O The Times, somewhere behind the noise of the recording I can hear the band is sounding good, but it is hard work to listen to, and even at this early stage I am questioning my dedication to the cause, this will be one tough listen. Sign O The Times is played mostly as an instrumental, the beats and rhythms play for a good five minutes before any singing is heard. The sax attack of Candy Dulfer and Maceo Parker are in the house, they help break the cold electronic sound of the song early on, before Prince starts singing. It’s impossible to comment too much on Prince’s singing, the recording breaks up badly, but things become more settled as the crowd begins to chant and Prince sings the later verses. The best sounding part of the song is the keyboard near the end, the recording doesn’t distort so much and as Renato Neto plays the piano it finally becomes more listenable.

Prince 2004

Although The Question Of U suffers the same problems I stick with it for Princes guitar playing, and we are rewarded with a solo that has plenty of vitality to it, and lifts the recording.  The second half of the guitar break is where the real treasures lie, as the music eases back further so does Princes playing and he segues into The One as his guitar cries. It’s always a song I look for, I find the lyrics and guitar playing to be an emotional match, and as per usual Prince plays an emotive rendition. He closes out the song with the as expected wail on the guitar, and it’s a great way to bring it to an end.

I am very happy to hear Let’s Work next, even if it is accompanied by more distortion on the recording. This is definitely one for hardcore fans, even I am struggling with the quality. Prince sounds bright on Let’s Work, there is an extra bounce in his vocal, and he does add some liveliness to the show.

U Got The Look has the added bonus of the horns playing, and when Prince does begin to play his guitar it’s in a brighter sharper way that fits nicely with the horns. The riff is heavily distorted, so I find myself listening between the riff, and what can be heard is Prince and the band playing a funky version of a song that shines in this new rendition.

prince 2004c

The horns stay the centre of attention as Life O’ The Party begins. The song lives up to it’s title and the party can be heard starting, led by Prince on stage. He injects a lot of himself into the song, and the overall effect is uplifting. Likewise, Greg Boyers solo on the trombone is full of life, it hard not to smile as I listen to him play, he makes it seem like such fun. The song heats up at this point, and the rest of the song goes by in a blur, even here at home I feel I am part of the party.

We do get a couple of minutes of Soul Man next, which is crowd pleasing, but not heavy on Prince. Chance Howard takes the lead vocals, he sounds fine and is a good match for the song. As much I enjoy him, he’s no Prince, and I am happier when the song finishes and the opening of Kiss sounds out.

This is one funky version of Kiss, and for the first time the recording becomes almost listenable.  The guitars are sharp, the horns dazzling, and the keyboard is doing all it can to rival them, it’s great to digest all of it, and Prince himself gives a vocal performance to match. This is easily the best moment of the show so far.

It’s hard to dislike Take Me With U, and Prince plays it with some sincerity. The audience respond well, they can be heard making noise all through it, the only negative being again the reappearance of distortion on the recording. Prince is frisky and good-natured in his delivery, and there is a lot of joy in the song.

We get a long funk workout with the Everlasting Now, there is plenty of time for everyone to contribute and give it some sparkle. Princes guitar solo leads the way, and against a backdrop of horn swells he plays economically, before Candy comes to the party with a hot solo of her own. The song continues in this vein, Prince calls for Renato to solo, then the rest of the band, before getting the crowd involved too.

Prince 2004b

Shake Everything You’ve Got sees Maceo become the focal point. He is worth listening to, with all the years of experience you know he’s not going to let you down. The other horns all get a part to play too, it’s hard to single any one of them out, they all sound good to my ear. There is plenty of time to lose yourself in the music, they play for ten minutes, with all the horns having a part to play, along with Renato Neto. Although Prince isn’t to the fore, this is still worth the time to listen to, and the band are well in the groove.

Maceo is still the main attraction as Down By The Riverside begins. His playing is quick and lively, and I can hear him working hard on the recording. The rest of the band is in the back ground as he leads from the front with yet another excellent break.

Prince ends with a “Thank you -goodnight” but soon enough he returns for another show stopper, a luscious sounding The Beautiful Ones. The intro has an ethereal synth sound, as a piano plays for some time. The recording is certainly bad, yet the beauty of this performance still shines through. Asides from the keyboards, we also have a sax playing early on, adding its shine to the song. Prince doesn’t actually sing until well past the four-minute mark, and by that time the scene is truly set, the music has laid out exquisite carpet for him to sing over. He sounds quiet, yet his voice is note perfect, and on any other recording I would be gushing about this version. However it is what it is, even with a perfect performance the recording drags it down, his final howls lost in a wave of distortion and buzz.

Prince continues to tug at the heartstrings with a warm rendition of Nothing Compares 2 U. The crowd sing the chorus appreciatively, although it’s Candy Dulfer that steals the limelight, and the show, with a blistering sax solo that has me nodding my head in acknowledgement. It’s hard to follow such a performance and after a quick chorus Prince wraps it up, but not before I am once again reminded of how good Candy is.

Prince 2004 a

Seeing America listed on the setlist was another reason that I chose this recording, and I’m not disappointed in the slightest as Prince begins the chant as the band hit the deep groove. It’s hard to make out the sound, being a heavier song the distortion again raises it’s ugly head, but I do catch Maceo setting the stage on fire with his playing, and there is definitely some funk in the house as they play. The bulk of the song is a long drawn out groove that is not served well by the recording, for long periods it very hard to work out what is happening as the beat continues.

Purple Rain sounds better, being quieter there is less distortion, and the balance of the instruments is again restored. There is an intro played on guitar that is achingly beautiful before Prince sings his opening lines, and for me the highlight of the song is right here. Most of the vocals are lost on the grubbiness of the recording, although thankfully it briefly improves during the guitar solo. It’s hard to say the recording is going out on a high when you can hardly make out most of the song, and I actually feel relieved as it finishes.

I made a big mistake choosing to listen to this show. I never wanted this to be a blog complaining about recordings, I wanted to celebrate the music and performances of Prince, however this recording was so bad it completely detracted from the show I was listening to. I let myself be fooled by an inviting looking track list and venue, and forgot the most important thing, it’s all about the listening experience, not just what was played but how it sounds. Being hard-headed, even once I realized my mistake, I continued with the blog post – it’s a lesson learnt the hard way. This isn’t even a show for the hardcore fan, be content to read the set list on the vault, and know that it was a probably a good show if you were there.

Thanks for sticking with me through this one,
Next week onwards and upwards!
-Hamish