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.