Dream Factory

It’s early winter morning here. The sun has yet to rise, and outside my window I can see the sparkle of frost on the lawn by moonlight. All is quiet as I sit here with my cup of tea, except for the sound of the Dream Factory album playing. Nothing moves and all is still as I sit here listening to it alone. Prince made a variety of great music over his career, some was for partying and sharing with others, and some was for private reflective moments. Then there was the music that he didn’t want us to hear at all, the unreleased tracks, the lost albums. It’s entirely appropriate that I sit here now listening to Dream Factory alone, as that is how I have heard it all my life. It wasn’t bumped at the clubs, or all over the radio, we didn’t talk about it at High School, and for most of us we didn’t hear it until much later. It is however one of Princes most important albums, one of his most creative albums, and one of my favorite albums. No, on second thoughts, it IS my favorite album.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Dream factory, and July 18th marks the anniversary of my personal favorite configuration of the album. There are plenty of versions floating around, with the June 3rd 1986 being one of the most popular. My preference for the July 18th configuration comes from the fact that the Pimpsandwich edition has some beautiful covers that complements it wonderfully, and I feel that this tracklisting flows better than the one from June 3rd.

Dream Factory Pimpsandwich

 

Of course Dream Factory was never released, instead being pulled apart and used for Crystal Ball, before that project too was shelved and out of the ruins we got Sign O The Times. Many of the tracks on Dream Factory do appear on Sign O The Times, but it would be a mistake to think of Sign O The Times as being an upgrade of Dream Factory. Dream Factory works much better than Sign O The Times overall, it has a much more cohesive sound, and overall consistent vibe to it. A large part of this could be put down to The Revolution who contribute heavily to Dream Factory, as well as the track listing itself.

Sign O The Times opens with the title song itself, which adds a seriousness and a weight to what follows. Dream Factory opens with the much lighter sounding Visions, and it immediately changes the feel of the album. The Dream Factory is more colourful, more layered, and  having Lisa playing the opening solo piano track announces that this is a much more collaborative effort. Lisa plays as only Lisa can, layered chords as the other hand plays a light floating melody, it has an intimate sound, almost as if one has walked in unannounced on her practicing piano. This feeling of a band effort is reinforced by the following Dream Factory title song, it is bright and has twists and turns that hold your attention, and there is no mistaking the outside influences other band members have brought to the table. The downbeat verses are upstaged by a great chorus where all the band contribute their different sounds. It works, and it rattles around in my head long after it’s finished. Train continues with this sonic assault and cleverness, the music mimicking a train, something that sounds cool rather than corny. Again, the band is the thing, and this time the horns add another element to the mix.

There is a jump in sound and style from Parade to Sign O The Times. In Dream Factory we have the stepping stone between the two, Parade has its fingerprints over several songs, such as Dream Factory and In All My Dreams, while Sign O The Times looms on the horizon with the tracks from that album featured here. We get both sides of the same coin, and the album looks both backward and forwards in its sound and songwriting.

Dream factory tracklist

Dream Factory – Pimpsandwich

Even songs that we are familiar with from Sign O The Times get a new life in this context, and surrounded by these Revolution contributions they sound more together and belonging. Side One and side four are where Dream Factory differs the most from Sign O The Times, but the songs that fill side two and three still have a sense of belonging and place. Dorothy Parker and It both seem to shine a little brighter, and with Sign O The Times buried deeper in the album it loses some of its weight. Strange Relationship gains a fantastic sitar sounding introduction (courtesy of a Fairlight CMI) which elevates it to another level and you can again hear the band influence on Prince adding layers to it, rather than the funk work out that it is at it’s heart.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the album is the run of Sign O The Times, A Place In Heaven, Crystal Ball. On paper they look like a desperate mix, but together on album they are a showcase for the breadth and scope of Princes, and the bands, vision. We have light and dark in equal measure, and each song acts as a counter balance to the other. Crystal Ball is the most ambitious of the trio, it has Prince at his most creative stretching things to the limit, it doesn’t always work but today in the early morning it sounds pretty close to perfect. Its songs like this that show Prince was more than a song and dance man, he was also an artist and a visionary.

Although side 4 opens with The Cross, it could in some quarters be considered the weakest side of the album.  It’s at this stage that the comparisons to Sign O The Times don’t serve Dream factory well. Whereas side four of Sign O The Times featured The Cross, Its Gonna Be A Beautiful Night and closes with the divine Adore, Dream Factory closes with The Cross, Last Heart, Witness 4 The Prosecution, Movie Star and All My Dreams.  The Cross is rightly hailed as a classic, and All My Dreams is a fantastic song that deserves more listens. The intervening songs are all good in their own right, but in such esteemed company they sound thin. They do have their charms, Last Heart with its late night pop sound, Witness 4 The Prosecution ticks all the rock boxes and sounds like something Prince could play in his sleep, and Movie Star is Prince playing with a knowing wink to us all, the lyrics themselves almost too clever for their own good. All My Dreams comes from a different place altogether and is in a league of it’s own. The vocal arrangements are beautifully textured, and Princes lead vocal sounds black and white against the music. It at times sounds like the theme song for a TV show, but it takes on a different tone mid song with some weirdness that adds interest without detracting from the song. Its fitting that the word ‘Dream’ should be in the title as it does have a dream like quality to it, and it summarizes the album nicely with the band contributing , and a piano solo that runs through the middle of the song that bookends the opening song on the album. By the time Prince croons “Don’t ever lose your dreams” a final time it does feel as if we are coming to the end of a journey with him, and in the case of The Revolution that is certainly true.

Dream Factory thunderball

Dream Factory – Thunderball

Dream factory is a natural extension of Parade, you can hear where it follows on from where Parade left off. Much more than that, it is an extension of The Revolution, and not only are they confident and strong with their contributions, Prince is also much more accepting and willing to use what they bring to the mix. The Revolution broke up a couple weeks after this configuration, but this is a fitting memorial to their greatness and how much a part they were of the Prince legend.  1986 is the greatest year of Princes career, we have plenty of evidence of that, and the Dream Factory is the key thread that pulls it all together. To properly understand the relationship between Prince and The Revolution, and the creativity they had together, you only have to listen to this album. This is the greatest thing they ever did together, and the pinnacle of their partnership. One of Princes greatest albums, this would not exist without The Revolution.

“The Revolution will be heard!”

Yokohama 9 September 1986- End of The Revolution

This week I am listening to one of the most important Prince bootlegs in circulation, the final show of the Parade tour that serves as the final performance of Prince and The Revolution. For historical significance alone it is a stand out, and the moment is well served with a performance and recording to match. People often deride audience recordings, but when done well they are a joy to listen to as in this case. The recording is surprisingly good for an audience recording, and the concert, although at Yokohama Stadium, has a small and warm sound – perfect for a moment like this. The recording has plenty to recommend it, and when we factor in the historical context, well then it becomes absolutely essential.

9th September 1986, Yokohama Japan

The couple of minutes of audience noise beforehand is a nice touch in my book, it adds to that sense of anticipation and expectation. There is some chat, a couple of cheers and if you close your eyes you can just about picture yourself there. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s difficult not to read too much into what is happening, and when the announcer introduces the band I hear some melancholy in his voice, or like I say I am projecting my own sense of history onto the moment. Once again Around The World In A Day is a great introduction for the band, with the horns making themselves heard early on, along with the fantastic Brown Mark bumping and buzzing along the bottom. He has a beautiful fat sound to his playing and I am very happy to say it comes over well on the recording.

Parade 1986 1

I can hear Prince and the band well as Christopher Tracey’s Parade begins, although at first the girls’ voices aren’t heard well, they do however come further forward as the song goes, and it’s one of those “moments” when you can hear them singing with Prince. Prince does call “Tokyo!”, which has me scratching my head- I am prepared to give him a pass though, Yokohama is closer to Tokyo than Narita airport, and is only 40 minutes from Tokyo centre. And it is the end of the tour, so we can forgive technicalities.

New Position sounds unbelievably smooth and easy, and is testament to how tight the band were at this stage, there is a lot of new sounds and instruments in the mix, and somehow they weld it all together and make it work. The horns are the what you hear most, but for me there is just enough rhythm guitar in there to get my blood flowing.

There is a particularly psychedelic and alluring sound to I Wonder U, the flute giving it a floating quality that is offset by Wendy’s guitar. The band knit it together wonderfully, and as I said at the Paris show a few weeks ago it doesn’t matter that Prince isn’t there, this band and this music is strong enough to stand on its own without his powerful stage presence.

The next few songs come in a flurry of sound and excitement. Raspberry Beret is first out of the gate, as always it’s a crowd pleasing singalong, although to be fair on this occasion the crowd is fairly muted. On a more positive note I find Brown Marks bass again firmly in my ears and that is never a bad thing. The energy levels are kept high as it only runs for a couple of minutes before an equally quick run though Delirious, complete with a 1,2,3 count off in Japanese. It comes and goes in a blink of an eye before we get a quick snippet of the “oww wee oww” the segues into Controversy.

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Controversy is just fine, my only complaint being the briefness of it, but that is amply compensated when the count of “A,B, A, B ,C” comes and Prince is joined on stage by Shelia E.

This is the first of those magical concert moments that I look for, and as Prince and Shelia vocals playfully dance around each other I am in fanboy heaven. Shelia sounds cool, Wendy and Brown Mark sound even better, and for a long time I just sit back and listen to them respectively. The break down with the vocals is sublime, and the recording is good enough that I can pick out each person’s voice and identify them. Eric Leeds sprinkles his magic dust over the performance with a solo that lives up to the high standards he sets show after show. The funk just gets stronger from here on in, firstly in Wendy’s playing, then in Prince and the bands scat and a capella performance. When the music comes back it’s with all the intensity you might expect and wave after wave of horn blasts and calls of “Ice Cream!” carry me to unexpected heights.

Even though I am funk heaven at this stage, I am more than happy as the sultry sound of Do Me Baby begins. The bass has a great pop to it as the horns add a touch of sass to the intro. All this becomes irrelevant however as Prince sings, and listening to the lyrics and his delivery becomes and experience in itself. As the music rocks back and forth Prince croons and emotes as he has never emoted and crooned before, and I am sold on it. Maybe I feel like this for every live performance of this song, but tonight it smacks me right between the eyes and I am dangerously close to switching off the computer, going into the other room and sweeping my girl off her feet. And at the end of the day there is no higher recommendation of a slow jam song than that, it’s sublime through and through.

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Next up is the trifecta of How Much Is That Doggie In The Window, Automatic and D.M.S.R. I would have liked to hear more of them, asides from How Much Is That Doggie, and it’s a giant tease from Prince to have two killer tracks from 1999 to be relegated to a two-minute medley like this. As you know I like to look on the positive side of things, so I give thanks that they are in the setlist at all.

The ship rights itself as When Doves Cry plays, and the opening keyboard riff still gives me chills even after all these years. It has a clinical delivery as it should, and over the cool electronic music Prince sings dispassionately which only heightens the sense of loneliness I feel when I listen to this song. It’s a cold world indeed, and it’s only in the Princes singing of the chorus do we feel the humanity and hurt. I have covered a few different shows from 1986 now, and I always speak highly of Wendy’s solo during this song. Today is no different, and even though the recording neuters her sound a little I still get a thrill from her playing.

Parade 1986

Little Red Corvette has Prince alone at the piano, and is an emotional highlight. I want to write that it tugs at the heart strings, but I know the following few songs are going to top it in the emotional stakes, so I enjoy I enjoy it for what it is, a nice soft rendition of one of his classic songs.

The band joins in for Do U Lie, and it has a swing and sway to it, it’s got a lovely lilt and sounds like it has come from a completely different concert. I don’t have too long to wallow in it as Prince moves on, but it is another cool moment.

The Ladder is one of the songs I have been waiting to hear, and Prince doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. The Ladder has the obligatory piano, but also a lot more. One of the things that strikes me most is the backing singers, and the way that the horns lift the song to the heavens. For a stadium show its wonderful how Prince makes it feel like he’s singing in the living room, there’s a lively intimacy in the recording and a classy touch by Prince at the end thanking the audience in Japanese.

Prince is alone again for Condition Of The Heart, and at this point it becomes very difficult for me to write objectively as this song has a special place in my heart. Prince delivers a performance that does the song credit and although short it gives me everything I could ever want.

Parade 1986 4

Under The Cherry Moon is breath-taking, and has some wonderful flourishes on the piano that give it that little bit extra. As much as I like Prince’s vocals, I find I tune out as I instead concentrate on the music. The music has a magical quality that is rarely heard, and as he Prince plays piano I sit mesmerized here at home, this is definitely a show for the ages.

The band and the funk returns with Anotherloverholenyohead. This show has been phenomenal thus far, and Anotherloverholenyohead maintains this high standard. It returns us to the heavier sound of the band, and the darker sound as Prince starts his “Another lover” talk midsong. The piano and the horns via for my attention, and for me it’s the piano that nails it, I don’t write about Lisa enough in this blog, but she is a treasure. She sounds magnificent as she plays her piece, and it is distinctly- and uniquely, her. And even better, she gets a good few minutes to play so there is plenty of time for me to lean back and swim in the music flowing from her fingers.

♥ Or $, now I didn’t expect that. Eric puts his mark on this one, but it’s again a complete band performance and I can’t single anyone out for praise, they all sound great singly and as a group.  From here on in the show becomes much more intense and focused, all medleys are dispensed with and we get some proper, heavy funk. Keeping with this direction the band funk up ♥ Or $ before turning their sights on Head.

I have always liked the slippery guitar sound in Head, in this case it has a sharper sound but nonetheless is still funky as all hell. There is some fun as Prince toys with the crowd, but the whole time it’s that guitar I am listening to, at least until Matt Fink sets things on fire with his synth solo. Electric Man gets an outing, with Prince surprisingly throwing some lyrics from Hot Thing, recorded barely a month previous. As Prince squeals and squirms I wish I could be there to see a performance that sounds electrifying. The guitar sounds ominous as the music rises near the end, and I find myself enjoying this just as much as Princes vocal performance.

Parade 1986 8

Pop Life banishes the darkness of Head in the opening moments as, after a twinkling opening, it bursts out of the speakers at me. For all the melody of it, I find its Brown Mark I listen to most, his bass adds an infectious bounce to the proceedings. Again Eric Leeds flute lends a different sound to the concert and with some beautiful backing vocals, the song stands up to repeated listens.

Prince sings “Do you want to dance with me” as Girls And Boys begins, much to the delight of the audience. Eric has traded his flute for the sax and adds the deep honk that I adore so much. Prince seems to get a second burst of energy around this point and I swear you can hear him singing and performing harder. He gives way to Eric and his solo and it’s about now that I sit up and take notice of Wendy and Lisa’s singing- soft yet beautiful.

The first minute of Life Can Be So Nice seems to come fast, and it’s at the chorus that I catch up and begin to get into it. It’s a game as Prince and the band play the crowded versus before pulling back for the chorus. Bobby Z does his thing, and he sounds great against the rhythm guitar. There seems to be a lot going on in my ears, and I have to listen closely to make sure I don’t miss a thing. The final fade out is my favourite part, not because its ending, but the way the band peels out and I can hear each of them.

Parade 1986 6

I am feeling jaded as 1999 plays, the song sounds fine, but is already dated against the colourful parade of music that Prince has played this evening. I do hear the crowd enjoying it, and there is some singing, so the song certainly has its place in the setlist despite my own personal tastes. It goes out with a bang as the horns and the rest of the band tear through the last minute, and the main show ends on a high.

There is an underwater sound as America starts, and I am my expectations are sky-high in anticipation as there is the dual guitar attack of Wendy and Miko getting all funky for the first few minutes. Prince joins the fray with his vocals and there is a fire to the performance that I feel the recording doesn’t quite capture. Eric is great, and Atlanta is even better as his trumpet scorches through the song as he plays. A lead guitar appears and the song is smoking hot by this stage. It’s almost unfair that Prince has Wendy, Miko and Eric on his team funking up the stage, as the solid bass of Brown Mark keeps us firmly on the dance floor. I was hoping for 20 minutes of this, but realistically the seven minutes we do get is amble, as I am sure those in the building had danced themselves into a frenzy in that time.

Kiss is nicely balanced, and I like that it has a stripped back sound with Prince and Wendy’s guitar taking the lead roles, nothing else bolted on or tampered with.  The lyrics sound a shade downbeat, I kind of like it that way, and the crowd come to the party with their boisterous “Kiss!” The ending is nice, with Prince thanking the crowd and a bare guitar playing for the last few moments that wraps it up in a bow before the next encore.

What comes next is, for me, the emotional and musical highlight of the show, a gut wrenching rendition of Sometimes It Snows In April. The opening with Wendy and Lisa playing is simply stunning, the delicate guitar sound and piano dancing a beautiful dance together, this is a special moment worth listening to again and again. As Prince sings things become even more emotional and his voice has a melancholy tone to it, and I think it is real rather than the performance. The three voices come together for the final lines and it’s hard to not think about the times these three had together. Prince ends the song thanking Wendy and Lisa, and thirty years on it sounds like a full stop.

Parade 1986 3

Purple Rain rises and falls as does the lump in my throat as I listen to it. Its plays as it does every time I hear it, a beautiful song that sounds so big and threatens to overwhelm all that has come before it. The guitars are warm, the piano clean, and Princes vocals heavy with emotion. The guitar solo starts with a quiver and a shake, before it becomes the howl we know so well. Having seen the video, I know how hard Prince was playing, and you can feel that on the recordings, he is pouring everything into to the guitar with a long sustained howl that ends with him throwing it to the floor before strapping on another guitar and giving us more of the same, before that too is thrown to the floor. As the crowd sing their part we do have half a minute of Prince playing the organ, and that is a real treat, it’s not high in the mix, but you can clearly hear it and it gives the song a final push before Prince thanks the crowd and leaves the stage, leaving the keyboards to play us out for the final minute.

As I have said throughout, it is impossible to divorce this recording from the context surrounding it, as great as the show and recording is, the historical significance of the moment looms large over it. I have heard people say that they cry listening to this, and I thought I was too far removed to have such feelings, but I must admit the last 15 minutes listening tonight I did have a tear in my eye. Having heard a fair number of fantastic recordings of The Revolution the last few years I found myself 30 years on listening to this thinking “why?”, they were beyond compare and seemed to still have more to give.
There are many words that spring to mind when considering this recording – essential, historical and emotional are at the front of the list. There is no two ways about it, this recording demands you listen to it. A fitting send off for The Revolution, this bootleg delivers on all counts and is an essential keystone of any collection.

Thanks for reading, I urge you to dig this one out and take a listen, celebrate The Revolution 30 years on, they were every bit as good as you remember.
Take care
Hamish

 

The 1986 Box Set ‘A Year in the Life’

Late last year the beautifully curated 1986 box set appeared online and it has had pride of place at my house ever since. The 20 disc set covers 1986 in all forms, live recordings, studio recordings, out takes and released songs. Some people collect live bootlegs, other unreleased studio tracks, and most people have a happy mixture of both. Personally I love live recordings (hence the blog) but this set has proved irresistible to me, the discs are never far from the stereo, and I am compelled to write about it. As passionate as I am, even for me 20 discs of material is too much for me to discuss in detail, so this week I will be presenting an over view of 1986 in general and how well this set covers this extraordinary year.

 

THE 1986 BOX SET BACK

 

The 1986 Box Set ‘A Year in the Life’

In 1987 I was 15 years old. Everywhere I went I carried Sign O The Times under my arm, not the cassette tape or the CD, but the full vinyl album. It was statement about who I was and what I was about. Obviously I couldn’t play it when I had it with me but I used to love the feeling of it in my hands and I would spend hours poring over the art work and lyrics. I had never seen such a beautiful piece of complete art in my life. It’s only 30 years on that I fully realize that although Sign O The Times was released in 1987, it is actually a product of 1986’s extraordinary body of work. I may have listened to Sign O The Times all through 1987 but it sprung from the fertile ground of 1986.

It was not alone- a great many other creative ghost albums from 1986 have slowly revealed themselves over the years- The Flesh, Dream Factory, Camille, Crystal Ball as well as the genesis of The Black Album. The breadth and scope of 1986 is phenomenal, Prince touches on many different genres and seems to be at the peak of his powers in all fields- performance, song writing, command of the studio, creativity, as well as productivity. The 1986 Box Set brings together all these different strands and presents them in way that I get a better feel for what was happening. I can see clearly how it all ties together, the moves and motivations in what I am listening to. When I see it all laid out I can see that at the heart of it all is a lot of humanity and for me this is key thing to remember as I listen to all this music.

There are several things that immediately spring to mind when I think of 1986. Firstly is the feeling of joyful camaraderie and humour. It’s well that Prince filmed Under The Cherry Moon in France, for its two French words that are at the front of my mind as I first begin to listen to this set, joie de vivre and esprit de corps. There is a joy and playfulness in the music, and in the band’s performances. It won’t last all year, but certainly early on they look like they are having a great time together. Have a look at Wendy’s face as she plays at the Shelia E show, she is strutting and having a great time, definitely one funky lady, as Prince was fond of telling people at the time. You can see that smile fixed upon her face, and the rest of the band is following suit. Again in the Cobo set you can clearly see it, I too feel uplifted as I watch them all play together as a tight unit, especially when standing in line playing Mutiny- the music is flowing easily, and they seem to be close to family. It’s the same all through the first half of 1986, the band is smiling and laughing, and you can hear that in the live recordings in this set. In Prince’s singing it’s there, and you can see it in the live clips. They are a close knit unit, and it seems that Prince has reached the point where he trusts the band, and they have a lot of freedom under his direction. He certainly calls all the shots during the tour, but the band have freedom to jam and play their own thing, Eric Leeds in particular seems to propel the music in new  directions, and who doesn’t love that moment in the shows where he gets to play solo before being cut off by Prince “Eric, shut the fuck up!” My mother used to hate it as I stomped around saying this- I sure was a strange kid when I was younger. Even scripted ‘impromptu’ moments like this as he talks with the band, or the audience, reveal his feelings towards the band, and raise the curtain on a performer that previously seemed a little cold and clinical.

This new humane aspect to Prince’s music for me makes it much more accessible, and long lasting. The thing that first attracts me is the humour, it runs all the way through 1986, firstly with The Revolution-both live and in studio, and then later in the year when he goes it alone. Listening to Data Bank for example, we can hear the good times in the studio, and whether it is scripted or not, there is no denying that it is done in a very light mood. Who doesn’t find it funny as the band plays on ignoring Princes instructions- something which I imagine would never happen in real life. Later in the year, after The Revolution has crumbled and the dark clouds have gathered, Prince still retains his humour, and expresses it in his lyrics. Whatever is going on in his personal life, there is still moments to make you smile. A lot of these songs are on the unreleased CD from the second half of the year, as well as the Black album, and of course Sign O The Times still has plenty to make me smile.

THE1986BOXSETFRONTCOVER #1

The music is infused with a new humanity as well as emotion – both positive and, later in the year, negative. Knowing what we about Princes life at the time, we can see that he is pouring a lot of his personal life into these songs. The final sessions of Parade hint at this, and it becomes much more apparent as the year progresses. Listening to the warm-up show at First Ave we can hear a mixture of all these feelings, Prince’s love songs, a big splash of humour, as well as a dig at former colleagues with Mutiny and of course his symbolic chopping down of the Oak tree and turning it into a wooden leg. He is much more human than the funk machine we know from earlier years, and the smutty imp is replaced by someone I can relate to and warm to. The music has the full gamut of emotions, and no matter what my mood, when I listen to this I can find something I relate to.

In 1986 his love songs become more meaningful, personal, and as a consequence deeper. He is obviously a happy man in love, at least before April of that year. The songs early in the year speak to this love, and later in the year after his world is transformed he still writes plenty of great songs based on love lost. When I connect Princes personal life to his musical life it’s hard not to look at a song like Strange Relationship and connect it to what is happening in his world. Likewise the song Mutiny which I have spoken of previously is heavy connected to what is happening with his other personal and professional relationships. He taps these emotions to great effect, and some of his most powerful music is drawn from this well.

There is a darker undercurrent running beneath all this emotion, humour and music. There is a dynamic tension in 1986, it propels everything in the year and it’s extremely fertile. The shiny pop vehicle that he rides in on in early 1986 is not the same as the one he leaves in. You only have to look at his personal appearance to see the change. Looking crisp and clean at the start of the year in his black and whites and short cropped hair, by the beginning of 1987 he has taking on a more rough and tumble look, his hair grown out, and a more adult look. He has moved away from the timeless Peter Pan and closer to the sort of person I could expect to meet down the street. The contrast in looks is matched in the contrast of styles he produces through the year. Everywhere I look I see tensions between different sounds and movements. We have the conflicts in The Revolution, both personally and musically, then the tension between his Funk work and his Jazz work.There is the discord between his private life and his professional life. All of it gives a tightness and drive. He is moving in several different directions at once, and tension in the band and in his music can be heard. Wendy and Lisa may have railed against being “Just another funk band”, yet they still played on some of the funkiest songs he has put out to date. After the band split it gets darker and funkier as Prince regroups and is free to go where ever he pleases musically. You can hear the darkness descend in songs like Big Tall Wall, it is balanced by lighter moments, but it’s definitely there. Prince is so prolific that the ideas are bouncing off each other and the connections between his personal life and musical life are blurred. He is a driven man, and everything is thrown into the music. The Black Album bookends this set with Parade, and although dark by name and sound, the lyrics create a further tension, demonstrating a healthy sense of humour against the darker music. It’s a conflicted year, with the joy of The Revolution early on and a flowering of the music, before Prince brings it to a crashing end in Yokohama smashing his guitar on stage and signalling the end of the Revolution but not his creative spirit as he continues to deliver some fantastic music later in the year. When I listen to the studio recordings, and I mean really sit down and listen to them carefully, I can hear this tension, the light against the darkness, the deep against the shallow, the band against the individual, the funk against the full spectrum of music. This conflict is what makes this year so interesting, and best of all Prince had the tapes rolling the whole time.

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If humanity and feeling is the most important thing I take from 1986, the second would be productivity, work ethic and the sheer quantity of music Prince recorded and performed in the year. This box set is 20 CDs, plus extras. Full credit to get it down to that, it could easily have been much more. If it was me it would have stretched out to 40, it all feels essential. But these 20 CDs capture the key moments perfectly, if anyone was looking for the essential must listens, this is it. I would love to take any non-believing music fan and sit them down to listen to this, it’s all here. The glorious highs of The Revolution live shows, the unreleased songs that any other artist would kill to release, the released albums, the unreleased albums, an amazing after-show full of rarities and a couple of CD’s of Princes Jazz leanings, all of it essential and all of it of the highest standard. I have been listening to this music for 30 years, and I am still shaking my head that all of this could have been produced in one year. Prince may have sung “You don’t have to watch Dynasty” but he obviously didn’t spend much time watching TV himself, and I am surprised he even found time to sleep. If I could have heard all of this in 1986, it would have blown my tiny teenage mind, it’s probably just as well that a lot of this music has leaked out slowly over the years.

Live bootlegs are the thing for me, and the ones presented here are among the very best from Princes career. Sure, there are better recorded bootlegs from other interesting periods of his career, but most people would agree that the ones in this set are among the most essential. The show from the 3rd March I have written about before, it may not be the best, but it most certainly is my favourite. The old Prince is fused with the new, and he delivers a show that touches on everything I love about him, his showmanship, he ability to play a mixture of instruments well, his great vocals, and most of all his song writing skills, it all starts and ends in the songs themselves. Then there is the beloved Cobo show, I don’t think I have ever met a Prince fan who didn’t own a copy of this and cherished it. It is indeed ‘untouchable’. The next live shows each capture a moment of the evolution of the band and Prince, the Stockholm show shows them at their peak, the Le New Morning show captures what we would consider the start of Prince’s after shows (despite its dubious recording quality) and then a beautiful soundboard of the Paris concert where It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night was recorded live for Sign O The Times. Each one of these shows is worthy of its inclusion, and I rate them all very highly. Don’t be put off by the sound of the Le New Morning after show, the amazing set list more than makes up for it – what I wouldn’t give for a set list like that nowadays. Finally to top it all off we have the final show of The Revolution. An interesting historical document, the fact it is their final show makes its inclusion a must. Prince smashing his guitar brings the end to an era and the live shows in this set.

The unreleased music and albums in this set throws up a great mix of style and flavours. Prince is experimenting here and pushing himself. The things I first gravitate to are the jazzy flavoured CDs, The Flesh shows Prince dipping his toe in the water before immersing himself more fully with Madhouse later in the year. I rate both highly and for me Junk Music is the must listen track, if you haven’t heard it I suggest you skip straight to it now. The two CDs of unreleased tracks throws up all sorts of interesting tracks, and is a real grab bag of sounds and styles. It’s a lolly scramble with many flavours and colours to try, and again I have to remind myself that this is all coming from one guy in one year. These are trumped for me by the unreleased albums presented here- The Dream Factory, Crystal Ball, Camille, The Black album (later released). Each of them has a distinct flavour and sound. The Dream Factory to my ears is the most cohesive as well as sounding the most like a band effort. It’s the album I listen to most of the four and in some ways it’s a disappointment that it didn’t get released at the time. I can understand why the record company was reluctant to release it in this flood of material, just as I can understand Princes frustration in producing all this great material and being unable to release it. Crystal Ball has an unsettled sound to it, and I feel it reflects well the state of play in late 1986. It has an unease about it and a darkness. Camille is a somewhat artificial creation, more a fan made creation than an actual album, it nevertheless is a lot of fun, and I give it a lot of play in my car. The Black album is the dark funk album of the four, but as I mentioned earlier, Prince’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek with his lyrical content. Who knows what the world would have made of it in 1986, by the time it was released times had moved on, but it’s still a great party album.

The box set opens with the final Parade sessions, and at the other end we have Sign O The Times which is a nice exclamation mark at the end of it all. It’s self a hotchpotch of everything that has come before, it encapsulates everything that has happened in 1986 and neatly sums up the year in its four sides. Love songs, live tracks, sex songs, spiritual songs, psychedelic songs, funk songs as well as some good old fashioned rock, Prince picks something of everything he has done through the year and throws it in. No need to tell you I have heard it thousands of times, yet it’s still an essential addition to this boxset.

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The final thing that marks 1986 as an outstanding year, is not just the quantity of the music, but the quality. Sure there is a lot of songs there, and honestly every one of them is worthy of its place. Prince was untouchable, and everything he tried in 1986 came off for him. He experimented with a range of styles, and mixed them into his own sound producing something unique. In 1986 he did this over and over, I could pick any song from this year and hold it up as an example. His jazz moments get a lot of praise, and then again we can’t forget he also produced the funky Black album to boot. Listening to all this albums and songs now, anyone of them would hold its place on a released album. Prince did a lot in these 52 weeks, and he did it oh so well. The band influence can be heard early on, and later in the year he is still taking on other influences as he works alone. In 1986 I knew Prince was good, I just didn’t realize how good until a few years later as these songs came to light.

Prince plays many different styles over the span of the box set, and for me the two that are of the highest standard and both worth mentioning are the Jazz stylings, and the hard funk. Again, they feed back into the dynamic tension that drives 1986, and the unsettling nature of hearing one man produce both at such a high quality in a small period of time. Parade may have had hints of Jazz, but it’s The Flesh where Prince first begins to flesh it out (excuse the pun). The Parade sessions end in January and then in the same month Prince records this collection of Jazz flavoured songs. You could argue that it’s not really a jazz album, but the intent is there, as is the sound, helped notably by Eric Leeds. I have to constantly remind myself that these are the essentially the same group of people that recorded Anotherloverholeinyohead just a few weeks previous. Prince gets a chance to do it all again later, with his Madhouse configuration later in the year. Here he strips it back to just him and Eric Leeds, and this time it’s no studio experiment, this time he is recording for release. Looking at it now it seems a mad idea, but when you look at the body of work from 1986 in makes perfect sense. Of course he want to record a jazz album and put it out, this is Prince we’re talking about. I am not a fan of everything on the album, but I am full of admiration for the fact it is done, and it does stand on its own as an album.

This being 1986 there is an opposite to this, and that would be The Black album. It’s easy to point at similarities too, the Black album is conceived as an album that focuses on one style and aspect of Princes music, and of course it does feature 2 Nigs United 4 West Compton which works as a jazz fusion funk jam. Elsewhere though, the colours are drained out and this is a lean mean funk album. The lyrics as noted earlier are fun and light, even if the music is hard edged. Again, I aren’t a fan of everything on the album, but it does hold true to his vision, and like everything else in the year it’s done to a high standard.

There is no doubt in my mind that 1986 is the peak of Princes productivity and creativity, and as such the 1986 boxset is absolutely essential. If I was to introduce a newbie to Prince, this would be the place to start. It reveals him not as a pop star or performer, but as a true artist. True, he is playing the game in his live shows, but it’s in the studio where he is pushing boundaries and himself. When I listen to this set, I don’t hear pop songs, I hear art, art that will last long after Princes star has faded. There will be those in future who won’t have grown with his music as I have, nor seen him live, and its box sets like this that will remain as testament to his genius and vision. There is more to it than this however, for me the music here is not just about Prince, it is deeply personal to me, and I carry a variety of associations with it. It represents not just a milestone in Princes life, but also a series of milestones from my own as it has sound-tracked my life for the last 30 years. 1986- A Year In The Life has actually lasted me a life time. Good times and bad, I have had this music with me all the way through my journey, providing comfort and uplifting moments when I needed it. I may have carried Sign O The Times with me all through 1987, but this collection of music from 1986 I have carried with me for all my life.

-Hamish

For more on this extraordinary collection visit: 1986boxset.blogspot.com

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Kansas City-Welcome to 1999

1999 is to me Princes best album. Many would disagree and say Sign O The Times, but for me 1982 and the 1999 album is where Prince finally delivered on his potential and recorded the first master piece of his career. 1999 is the album that cemented my fandom, and it’s still much loved by me today. So it’s somewhat of a surprise that I don’t hold the 1999 tour in such high esteem, and although I listen to the 1999 album a lot, the tour itself is often over looked by me. This is for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the 1999 concerts don’t concentrate on the 1999 album as much as I would like. Only about half the album is played, and it’s not until well into the shows do we first get a song off 1999. The 1999 songs miss that cold electric feel in the live setting, and there is more warmth to them. Secondly Prince firmly has his eye on reaching a larger audience. There is nothing wrong with that, but I feel the band has a little less fire and freedom then they do on earlier tours. There is no wild guitar breaks, and Prince has toned down his look, as well as doing away with some of his racier songs such as Head.  The shows are now streamlined, and a lot more predictable. On the plus side, the 1999 shows clearly sign post what is coming next with Purple Rain, and there is a newer professionalism evident that is required to reach the next level. Also the piano set makes its first appearance at these shows, and although short, set the standard for the future. An exciting transitional period, it’s worth hearing these shows as they capture Prince just as he is reaching a wider audience.

1999-7

19 March, 1983 Kansas City, Missouri

The first thing heard on this recording is the “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you” voice from the beginning of 1999. However it’s not 1999 that opens the but instead the electrifying guitar riff of Controversy. It may seem strange, but one of the things I notice is the reaction of the crowd is different from previous tours. The response is loud, but not wild, and there is more of a sound of expectation rather than wild abandonment. The recording is an audience recording, and it has aged well. The music sounds strong and bold, and Princes vocals are clear and easily understood. He calls to the crowd “welcome to 1999” as the band plays a polished version of Controversy. All Princes bands are well rehearsed, but here there seems to be an extra sharpness. They are very lean and polished sounding. The song is very tight, and even Dezs backing vocals are right on the money. It’s not a 1999 song, but it is a good opening song for the show. I really like the guitar sound through the song, and it gains extra emphasis in this tight arrangement. The song isn’t over played and doesn’t get played out quite as much as I would like.

Sticking with songs from the Controversy album the band play an equally tight version of Lets Work. This elicits a more wild reaction from the crowd and there are many squeals to be heard. This song also seems to have a very strong sound to it, and it pumps through my speakers nicely. Prince’s vocals are out front and strong and he is well matched by the synth. I normally hear the bass much more when listening to recordings of this song, however here it seems to be lower in the mix. As per Controversy the song is kept short, and Prince doesn’t jam on it in anyway at all. It’s got a good party sound to it, and Prince can be heard winning over the audience and working them well.

Third song in and we get the trademark slow song. Do Me Baby has a long intro and it quickly quietens the audience. Prince has changed since the Controversy tour and he doesn’t over work the song as he did on that tour. He is far more restrained in his vocals, yet they are still great and very strong, just he doesn’t pour as much emotion into them. Perhaps being a longer tour, or playing in larger arenas, he holds it in and just sings it straight down the line. The song itself is great, and I do enjoy it immensely. I love the long opening sequence before he sings, and as always his vocals performance and screams hold my attention. Performances like this are timeless.

Finally we get a 1999 song as the synths play the synth horn-line of D.M.S.R. The bass and the drums lock into step and it’s hard not to smile listening to it. It’s a little quicker than the album, I’m not sure if it’s due to the live performance or the tape recording. I can hear the audience clapping along, and that’s normally a good sign. The whole middle section is present complete with sirens and female shrieks, before some very funky rhythm guitar plays. Prince encourages the “White folks clap on the two and four”, acknowledging the changing colour of his audience. I could have happily listened to this song much longer (I was clapping on the two and four) but it ends in a wave of shimmering synths before things quieten again and there is another change of pace.

1999-4

Next Lisa plays a lovely interlude. There is more shimmering synths that come in waves adding layer upon layer of sound. It’s a good couple of minutes and I am happy to hear Lisa showing some of her talent.

The sound of the piano marks the return of Prince and he takes a solo turn at the piano. He warms himself and us up with an instrumental arrangement of For You. It serves as a nice introduction to his piano playing and is a sweet couple of minutes. It’s a good chance for Prince to showcase another one of his talents to the crowd, and they do show their appreciation with applause.

Still Waiting has him singing, but its slight and his vocals are soft sounding. I get a lot of enjoyment from the song, but I am mostly listening to the piano and Princes vocals don’t make much of an impression on me.

How Come You Don’t Me Anymore is much stronger, both in his piano playing and his singing. He can be heard playing the keys much harder, and his vocals are sung with more gusto. This song is still a regular in the piano set to this day, and listening here I can see why it’s made such an impression all these years. The vocals are playful, and tell a story most can relate to, while the piano has a lilt and swing to it that is irresistible. It also contains some great screams near the end, as well as a hint of Princes smutty humour as he asks “Don’t you want to play with my tootsie roll?”

1999-1

What follows next is my personal highlight of the show as they play Lady Cab Driver. They manage to capture the dry sound it has on the album, and the bass and synths are excellent. Prince has a detached sound to his voice, and for the first time I really feel like it’s a 1999 show. Prince also has a brief but fine moment with his guitar near the end of the song. The only let down is it’s nowhere near as long as it is on the album, and as an abridged version it sounds far more like a pop song. I do like it though, so I play it twice in a row.

The ‘pop hit’ follows next as Prince and the band play and upbeat and sharp version of Little Red Corvette. It’s almost perfunctory in it’s delivery and it’s not the highlight you may expect. I would have thought Prince could do more with it, but he shuts it down right after the guitar solo, we are denied even hearing the album version.  I feel cheated as even the introduction keyboards are very short before Prince begins singing. The song does sound OK, but as it ends it seems like a wasted opportunity.

The sound of a woman moaning heralds the return of the Prince I know and love as the band swings into a raucous version of Dirty Mind. For the first and only time in the evening we hear Prince and the band play in a style I am used to from previous tours. There is a lot more energy in the song, Prince is singing his dirty lyrics, and the whole song has an exuberant feel to it. It also gets the jam treatment, which I like. There is a long bridge with plenty of keyboards, before a rough sounding guitar is heard underneath. The song comes to an end in a cascade of keyboard and guitar and I couldn’t be happier.

“Fasten your seatbelts” and the seductive sounds of International Lover begins. Another professional performance follows as it played almost note perfect to what’s heard on album. The stand out moments for me is as the music fades and quietens Prince delivers up some great vocal work and especially some excellent shrieks. There is plenty of crowd noise as Prince goes through his stage show and it’s obviously going over very well with the audience. The recording is very clean here, and I love that I can hear every instrument and sound so clearly. Amazing sound for a 30 year old audience recording.

1999-3

The song fades and instantly the synth riff of 1999 sounds. It’s got a good driving sound to it, and I like it that it’s the synth that is driving it, rather than the pounding drum beat we hear on later tours. Prince’s vocals aren’t as clear as the other singers, but the music is the hero here, and that is perfect. The synth trumps everything, and at times it’s almost too much for me. Things become more balanced later in the song as the guitar sound becomes more prominent, as well as Princes vocals becoming clearer. It’s no surprise at all that this is the party song of the evening and it closes on a high note with Prince and the crowd singing together. There is one final refrain before a glorious keyboard riff and the howl of a guitar wraps it up. The final crescendo is magnificent as Prince shreds the guitar over a wall of keyboards.

My earlier assessment of the 1999 shows was perhaps overly harsh. I can’t deny, I greatly enjoyed listening to this show. There was some flashes of greatness from Prince, and I can’t deny the band was so tight and well-rehearsed that they were flawless. My only problem was it was too professional, too dry. I liked the looseness or Dirty Mind, and again the final couple of minutes of 1999, but for the most part it was following a pretty tight script. Still, an interesting listen to the evolution of Prince, and a big step towards Purple Rain and world domination.

Take care
-Hamish

 

 

Making of Rain-Minnesota Dance Theatre benefit show

I am very intimidated about writing about this recording. Some shows are so legendry, so much part of the Prince mythos, that they are almost untouchable. This is very much one of those shows. Recorded between the albums 1999 and Purple Rain, it captures the genesis of what will follow in the coming years. It is legendary on so many different levels, and offers something for everyone. First of all, its Wendy Melvoins debut with the band- that in itself is a key marker for the storm that will follow in the next few years. Next, there is six new songs introduced, and three of them recorded for the basic tacks on Purple Rain (I would Die 4 U, Baby, I’m a Star, and Purple Rain itself). Again, a mouth-watering proposition for any fan. And one of the songs played here is the unreleased fan favourite Electric Intercourse. The most famous song that Prince never released? Perhaps, but I aren’t going to pass judgment on that. I can barely bring myself to write about this show, least I do it an injustice. I am not one for hype or hyperbole, but this show more than lives up to every expectation heaped upon it.

Minnesota Dance Theatre benefit show, August 3rd 1983

The opening keyboard of Lets Go Crazy is the first thing heard on this recording. The crowd cheers, but there isn’t the frenzied anticipation we see in later years. As a new song I am sure most of the crowd are unsure of what to expect next. Prince quickly shows them as he finishes his after world speech and goes into the now familiar riff of Lets Go Crazy. The vocals on the recording are a little fuzzy, but the song is already being played very tight, like all Prince bands there is many hours of rehearsal to back them up. Despite hearing this song hundreds of times, it sounds fresh to me here- perhaps as its fresh to the band themselves, and they certainly look like they are having a lot of fun playing it. Prince still has his 1999 look about him in terms of clothing and hairstyle, and he plays with a big grin on his face. I find myself smiling with him and I love it when he plays alongside Wendy and there is some nice interaction between them. Wendy makes an immediate impression, and she more than holds her own on this song. At times she does look a little stiff, but overall she kills it on the guitar and already has good onstage chemistry with Prince. It’s a great opening song, in fact it was so good I went back and played it twice.

Prince 8.83

The audience is much more familiar with the next song, When You Were Mine. I was going to write that this is another favourite of mine from this recording, but then I realized that I love all the songs on this one. It’s a good rocking version here, but Princes guitar is a little more buried in the mix, it sounds much noisier, and it’s not as clean as other versions. It’s a short song, but here it’s even shorter, as when the music stops and I expect Prince to do his unaccompanied singing before a reprise, the mood changes and he instead starts playing a slower song on his guitar. I have to give a shout out here to Dr Fink, his robotic handclaps are very entertaining.

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That song is of course a cover of Joni Mitchells A Case Of You, and what we have here is outstanding. Prince delivers a knock out in this one. His singing is beautiful and his guitar playing compliments his vocals fantastically well. The only other instrument is a keyboard filling the background, but I am totally entranced by Prince and his delivery. It’s only a minute and a half, but it’s one of my favourite minutes of his whole career. This one is otherworldly in its beauty. Although the lyrics aren’t Princes, he delivers them with total conviction, he more than does justice to Joni’s words. In particular the opening lines he sings are obviously heartfelt

Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those ones that isn’t afraid

Prince 8.83b

Things change completely as Prince introduces the next song “This song is called Computer Blue” As much as I love this song, I find it jarring coming in right after A Case Of You. But soon all is forgiven as Prince and the band play a rollicking version. A lot of the audience looks pretty stunned at this stage of the gig, and who could blame them. For all his history of guitar work and rock sensibilities he hadn’t played a song quite like this before. It’s not just the guitar I am referencing here, the overall tone of the music is darker and heavy, from the drum beat to the keyboards. All of it has a foreboding sound. The band is pushed right back on the stage, and Prince stands the edge of the stage pulling all the guitar licks and tricks he knows. Like the last song, it’s all about Prince, and he holds the centre of attention all song. The keyboards are strong, and aren’t drowned by the guitar as you might expect. Wendy goes to her knees when Prince wails on his guitar for a bit, before the fantastic segue into the second half of the song, and another chance for Prince to get busy on the guitar. The lead is played as we have all heard before, but here once again its sounding fresh, and Prince is very much playing the hell out of it with great relish. The last guitar break in particular has some real venom in it, and has a nice heavy, almost industrial sound to it. The song ends with a big smile from Prince as he throws his guitar pick to the crowd.

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Another about face next, as Princes puts down the guitar and we hear the quirky pop of Delirious. Plenty of dancing and handclapping from Prince soon has the crowd-back on board. Although I have no great love for the song, it does seem like a very fun song to play. Freed from guitar duty, Prince does interact a little more with crowd, moving back and forth across the stage and holding the microphone for the crowd to sing. The response is inaudible most of the time, mostly because the band are very loud, and at times it seems that Prince himself is almost yelling over the top of the band. That’s one thing I like about the gig, it does have that great live sound, where everything is a little louder, and little nosier, and overall a little more ‘rock n roll’. Prince does pick up the guitar near the end of the song, he is playing the main lead line, but it’s more raw, and just on the right side of loose.

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What follows is one of the most famous unreleased songs in the Prince canon – Electric Intercourse. Lead by Prince at the piano, this song was desperately unlucky to not be on the Purple Rain sound track. For many years I thought this song was over rated, but now I am firmly in the camp that considers it a great lost gem. The keyboard and piano in this one sound great, and Prince uses plenty of shrieks and screams throughout to emphasis his emotion. Between verses there is some very nice piano lines, while the band holds it all together in the background. Even Princes corny spoken word (Don’t you want to make love?) fails to take the shine off this. It’s very much a highlight, and worth listening to if you have a chance.

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Nasty Prince is back in full effect when Automatic begins next. As with the other songs on this night, it’s not as clean and smooth as it sounds on the album. Some of the robotic coldness is gone, but it’s more than made up for with the intensity of the bands playing. Prince puts a lot into this one, and the crowd responds in kind. He gets them all waving their hands mid song, and there is plenty of shouts and screams as he strokes his microphone stand. Prince doesn’t play guitar on this, but there is some great playing from Brown Mark and Wendy. As far as the band go, I think this is the song where they are at their best. Admittedly every song played tonight is top drawer- with some recorded as a basis for use on Purple Rain, but in this one I feel we get to see a little more of each band member, and as far as I can see they are all giving maximum effort and enjoying playing. Prince does lie on the floor for a minute to talk some smut. It’s pretty cool, but I just wish I could hear him a little better. The next part of the song is a long groove, and Prince engages in a few dance moves with the rest of the band. There is no let-up in the intensity though, and overall it’s a riveting performance.

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There is quite a long pause next, with the stage in darkness, before Prince introduces “This is I would Die 4 U” The distinctively drum machine immediately begins, and already I can tell that I am going to like this one a lot. Prince spits out the lyrics rapid fire, slowing down during the chorus and releasing a single note on his guitar. I realize that this song is actually pretty minimal but it’s the drum machine that’s filling all the space and giving it that immediate energy. The guitar break by Prince is a highlight for me, not what he plays, but the tone of his guitar. It’s nice and strong, and I think that’s the best way to describe it- strong. The song goes by in flash, so I had to listen to it a few times, twice because I enjoyed it so much, and once because I hadn’t written anything about it the first two times.

Prince 8.83f

Baby I’m a Star has a nice long intro before Prince throws some tambourines’ and it begins proper. This is another recording that was used for Purple Rain, so as you might imagine a lot of this sounds as it does on record. Part of the fun in listening to this one is trying to work out what he has used on the final record, and what has he changed or overdubbed. I’m impressed by the passion demonstrated by Prince on every song on this recording. Here we find him covered in sweat, putting all his energy into the singing, especially when he goes to the floor and unleashes a series of excellent screams. Back on his feet he calls “Doctor” and Fink plays the quirky sound we know and love so much. I was half expecting the song to go on way past this point, but it wraps up very quickly after this.

Prince 8.83m

The familiar strains of Little Red Corvette elicit a few squeals of delight from the crowd. Lisa is beautifully lit from behind, and every time I see this and hear her play fall in love with her a little bit more. In near darkness Prince sings the opening verse before the lights come up for the chorus. I thought the crowd would be more animated, but they are fairly subdued throughout the performance of this. Prince delivers a very raw performance of this, no choreography or tricks, he just delivers it straight down the line with fantastic backing from the band. It’s a more raw performance I would to see more, a sweaty band playing hard and delivering the song straight out. Wendy steps up to the mark and plays the solo, and I am struck by how young she was at this time, and how good she was and not the least bit intimidated. The solo again has a heavy tone to it, not her playing but the sound of her guitar. The song ends simply enough with a “Thank you, good night” from Prince.

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There is a break in proceeding next as Prince is publicly thanked and presented with a flower. Tucking one into his breast pocket he takes the mic as Wendy begins to play the public debut of what will become his signature song – Purple Rain. The fact that this recording was used as the basic track for the finished song tells you how well it’s played here. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this song is the same as the album however, there is a suitably drawn out and beautiful start to the song, as Wendy plays the opening chords over and over while Prince indulges in some nice lead guitar. Foreshadowing future live performances on this tour, it’s a good few minutes before Prince begins to sing. And sing he does, the vocals here are magnificent, it’s hard to believe that this was the public debut of the song, he sings so strongly and confidently. It’s interesting to note the expressions of the audience at the time, some of them look noticeably bored as Prince plays his new, distinctly unfunky, song. There is an extra verse sung that doesn’t make it into the final song, and when you hear it you can understand why it didn’t make the final cut. It doesn’t quite scan as well as the other verses and the song is much more cohesive without it. There is a moment in the next verse when someone from the band or audience lets out a “whooo!” which can be heard on the final album version. I’m not sure if it’s an audience member, but I kind of hope it is, that would be cool. Prince plays the impassioned solo, with plenty of suitable face pulling thrown in for good measure. The audience look muted throughout, and there is no arm waving for this new song. Only a couple of girls with hands in the air near the front seem to be feeling it at all. It’s a stunning performance of what is now a classic, and I would think this recording is worth having just for the historic value of this moment alone.

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There is again another long break before the next song, but the reason why is apparent when Prince begins DMSR in his old school leg warmers, bikini briefs, long coat, hat and mirrored glasses. Wendy shows another side to her playing on this one, and her funky rhythm holds it down throughout. The song has an effortless groove to it, and Prince is nice and funky on the microphone. This is the party song of the evening (and perhaps of every evening), and Prince and the audience seem to be having a great time. Prince is constantly moving throughout the song, with lots of dancing and audience participation. As you might expect, this is the song that they stretch out, and Prince shows of how well drilled the band really is. The song ends with Prince saying goodnight, introducing the band one by one, before they kick back into the song-this time it’s all groove and Dr Fink gives a cool little piano solo. Prince clowns around a little on the mic, calling for horns as the keyboards play what would normally be a horn line. There is another false ending, and then, as per his modus operandi, he calls them back in on the beat. This happens a couple of times, and Prince engages in some very energetic footwork. Another nice touch is when he calls for just Wendy and Brown Mark, and they have just half a minute just grooving on it. The song ends rather abruptly, it stops and then without a word Prince and the band walk off stage.

Prince 8.83k

Nothing I write here can do this show justice. Everything here is a 10/10. The songs played at this stage touch on his past, his future and gives us pointers to his influences, as well as what gems still lie in the vault. The band is as tight as they have ever been, and young Wendy is a star right from the first notes she plays. The blueprint for the next few years is laid out, and it’s fascinating to see it all unfold here right before our eyes. I watched this one with my mouth open for the whole 70 minutes, and I still shake my head when I think that such a historic show has been captured for us to enjoy. Amazing.

Prince 8.83i

Everything I write about in future will pale in comparison to this, but I will be back next week with another one.

Take care
Hamish

 

Rehearsal for First Avenue Benefit Concert ’83

After claiming that I rarely listen to rehearsals, I find myself listening to another one today. Listening to the rehearsal for the 1984 Birthday show piqued my curiosity, so I pulled a rehearsal of another famous show- the 1983 benefit for the Minnesota Dance Theatre, at First Ave I will be listening to that show next week, but I thought I would take a look at the rehearsal first to round out the full picture.

Rehearsal for First Avenue Benefit Concert 1983

The rehearsal begins with Princes spoken word intro of Lets Go Crazy. The most striking thing about it is how deep his voice is as he speaks it, it’s not the voice I am used to from Purple Rain. He sounds very relaxed, and he does have fun with it as he says “there’s something else.. that’s right, something”. The second thing that hits me is when he says “so when you call up that nigger in Beverley Hills”. It seems a little out of character now, but I guess it is of its time. The rest of the song sounds light after the deep voice of the intro, even with the heavy sounding bass and guitar, the keyboards have a very bright sound that seems to permeate through the song. There is plenty of guitar in the song, but there is so much of everything else that it never really comes to the fore as you may expect. The final solo and howl is a little damp, and I have to remind myself that this isn’t a live situation, it is a rehearsal. And as such the song seems to stop dead, only a silence greets the final note.

Prince 1984 (2)

When You Were Mine sounds excellent in this situation. I warm to the song right away as the keys and guitar come in.  The playing is tight, and you can hear Prince give instruction to the sound guy. There is an innate energy in the song, even without the audience it shines. The ladies voices are very strong in my right ear, and I was going to comment more on it, but half way through Prince calls for sound adjustments, and they do disappear back into the mix. Another part of the song I enjoy early on is when Prince talks to the sound guy, and then the band play on for half a minute with no vocals. It’s got a good stripped down sound that I like. The ever reliable Doctor plays an enthusiastic solo, before the song comes to a sudden halt.

Prince’s delicate guitar playing draws me into A Case Of U, and I am in love almost right away. As the keys move easy beneath his guitar he sings beautifully. Even in rehearsal there is the touch of emotion that is needed to carry this song off. The lyrics match up great with his playing, and there is a fantastic little guitar run as the song nears the end. I would have a lot more to say about this song, but the final version played live at the show is so phenomenal, that even as good as this is, I know that there is better to come.

The introduction of Computer Blue is without the girl’s spoken piece, but that isn’t a big deal as the music is extremely cold and strong sounding. The keyboards provide some good runs, but it really is the guitar and bass on this track that makes it what it is. I had to listen to it twice, as I was so enraptured with the guitar sound the first time I missed everything else that was going on. One of the great thing about listening to Prince and his music, there is so much to listen to that I can always find new things every time I listen to a song. Prince’s vocals stray from what we know, especially as he sings “where is my baby” in a variety of styles, before ending with a throaty shriek. The change midsong is, as always, killer, and I never seem to tire of it. Here I can hear the keyboards much better than I remember, and they provide a nice layer of fills in my left ear. All the while Prince continues with his guitar break. It is par for the course, and somewhat quieter than I am used to. However just as I was thinking that he comes on with the second half of his guitar break which is much more improvised and freer, and I am happy to hear more of this from him. The song finishes with a great roll and howl that belies the fact it is a rehearsal.

Wendy Purple Era

Delirious is a complete 180 from what we have just heard and it takes me half a minute to adjust to the sudden pop bounce. The guitar vanishes at the start, and as one might expect there is a lot of light keyboards playing. Later I do hear a rhythm guitar but it is very low in the mix. I am normally dismissive of Delirious, but tonight I enjoy it a lot. It does have a lot of nostalgic value for me, and this arrangement is a lot of fun, with lots of crazy keyboard solos, and a rockabilly guitar all vying for attention later in the song. The song ends in a keyboard crescendo as Prince instructs Lisa to turn the keyboard effects up, and she in turn replies that her keyboard is dead. Then as the music simmers Prince sets his piano sound, playing as the sound comes to his liking.

It took me a long time to come around to Electric Intercourse, but its performances like this one that won me over. The bass in the right speaker is pitched just right, and Princes vocals are on point from the first line to the last. I think part of the attraction of this song is that it has never been overplayed, it still has a freshness to it, and this recording in particular catches that feeling. In fact it’s so fresh that at one point Wendy misses her cue, only to be chastised by Prince with a loud “Wake up Wendy!” The keyboard solo has a sweetness to it, and although it’s short I still give it a lot of appreciation. As the song progresses I find myself listening to Prince more and more carefully, and the way his vocal arrangement works with the girls, he definitely knows how he wants it to sound, and what is required.

We are back into more familiar territory next as Automatic begins. It has a dense sound to it, and feels somewhat like a sledge hammer following the delicate Electric Intercourse. It is a joy to listen to the synthesizers play off against each other, and it’s another one of Princes songs where he very much creates a mood with the sound of his music. The song sticks fairly close to the original, there is one stage where the keyboards get all weird and wonderful, before pulling out and Prince plays a staggered guitar break. Right after this it takes on a dance feel, and despite still having a dark sound I find myself beginning to move.

Prince 2007

Again there is a great contrast in the track list as Prince flips the mood with I Would Die 4 U. The song has a fresh and energetic sound, especially coming off Automatic. I like Princes vocals, but he does sound removed, almost as if his voice is coming from another room. It’s not that his vocals are low in the mix, just the effect on his voice. The song goes past at a fair clip, and it’s a real sweetener.

Baby I’m A Star suffers a little at the start as the tape has that ominous chewing sound that I grew up with. However it does recover by the times Princes vocals start, and it’s not a big deal. As with the previous song Prince does have the sound of being in an empty room. I like the sound of it, but it does feel as if he is coming from a distance. The rest of the band are fairly anonymous through the song, its Prince I am listening to, and the keyboard coming from the left speaker. Although unreleased at this stage, the band sound like they have the song well and truly down, and they play note perfect throughout. The Doctors solo is very enjoyable, and even though it’s as I have heard plenty of times, it’s still infused with a joyous sound.

Things once again slow down with Little Red Corvette. By this stage the band had played it many times, and it seems that they could play it in their sleep. It’s so spot on note perfect, I love it for its perfectionism. The introduction is kept short, and Prince sings the song in an upbeat voice, foregoing emotion for efficiency. Hitting the first verse he does ask for more echo, but the song never lets up, in fact the whole song seems to fly by, the guitar solo is upon us before I know it, and then the whole song wraps up a line later, with Prince dead panning “Thank you, good night”

The guitar opening of Purple Rain is what we hear next, and it differs from we know so well in that  it doesn’t have a flat drum beat. The beat has an echo on it, which gives it a double kick all the way through. I find it distracting, but I do enjoy the rest of the song. Prince sounds cold at the beginning, but he asks for more echo on the voice, and this gives him a much warmer sound as the song moves forward. I do also enjoy the extra verse that didn’t make the final cut, I can understand why it was cut though, as thematically it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the song. The song meanders after that verse, but things get back on track as Prince gets to “Purple Rain, Purple Rain” and then the epic sounding guitar solo. The solo is as expected, although for the first minute Princes guitar sounds thin, but this is rectified, and he takes on a bolder sound as the solo progresses. It’s an interesting solo, Prince is still playing with it, so apart from the opening, and the rest of it is new and interesting to hear.

DMSR has another ad-lib start as Prince kicks it off with “Holland, London, Paris, France” before some funky bass ups the ante. The bass playing hasn’t garnered much comment from me up until this point, but now I find I am paying close attention as Brown Mark rumbles along. Again when we reach the chorus Prince reverts to calling sitting names, this time throwing New York into the mix as well. There is a rhythm break for the guitar, but its low in the mix and I don’t hear it as well as I would like to. The song catches me off guard with a false ending, before it comes back in and there is a cool little piano solo. Prince calls “Give me some horns” and the keyboards provide a nice sounding line. With another call of “Telephone” we get a quirky keyboard run and Prince taking a mock call. The song is a showcase for the band, and Prince gives them several calls and leads to follow, and they respond well. There is another piano solo, with Prince chanting “Planet Rock, we don’t stop” as well as singing lines from George Clintons Loopzilla. Just as Prince calls break time I think its all over, but there is a couple more reprises. This is one of my favorite songs on the recording, the groove is excellent and it sounds like a lot of fun is being had.

Prince 1984

I cringe when I see the next track listed as ‘Band Tuning’. These are just the sort of things a dislike about rehearsals- minutes of the band tuning up and getting there sound right while very little happens musically. There is not much for me at this stage of the recording, so I am quietly happy when the tune up is over and we move to the next musical portion of the recording.

Things get back to the music next as the band play a laid back Africa Talks To You. Its a nice groove, and there are some enjoyable keyboard played over the top of the groove. Prince ad-libs a bit too, which is fun. I especially like it when he calls out “You gotta purify yourself in lake Minnetonka. You can also hear him asking for Wendy’s guitar to be ready “that’s why we bought it for her”. The song does meander towards the end, before it peters out into some tom foolery.

Next is ten minutes of the band fooling around and generally having fun. Its primarily led by Dr Fink, who does a variety of voices as he sings a medley of tunes and plays a light organ.  I Could Have Danced All Night has me smiling, as he sings briefly with great gusto, before moving to Catch A Falling Star. There is all sorts of snippets played including Our House, and the James Bond theme. There is also a Popeye impersonation that is actually pretty good. Its really great to hear the band feeding off each other and being completely at ease. I don’t feel I ever have to listen to this track again, but it was fun to listen to once. The track ends appropriately enough with a Dolphin singing Stevie Nicks ‘Stand Back’. If you have heard it you will know exactly what I mean.

Things become business like again as Prince says “All right, lets go” and the organ of Lets Go Crazy begins again. This time it starts closer to what I am used to, but then Prince quickly takes it in a different tack with the final couple of lines of the intro, before the band begin right on cue. After the looseness of the previous few tracks its some what surprising how quickly they tighten up, they are right on the money for the rest of this track. Princes guitar is very faint as he solos, I can only just hear him. Even the latter solo is faint, and the rest of the band easily drown him out in the final crescendo.

After listening to this rehearsal and the one the other week, I think I should more time to rehearsals. I prefer this rehearsal to the last one, and I thought the last one was excellent. This one had the band playing the songs in a very fresh sounding way, and yet they were very tight as a unit. And also you could hear how much they were enjoying being a band and being together. If you only hear one rehearsal in your life, this would be the one I would choose. But then again I do have another couple of excellent propositions…

Next week I will be listening to one of the greats, the benefit for the Minnesota Dance Theatre.

Have a great week
Hamish

1984 Birthday show

Sometime ago I rather rashly stated that the 2002 Copenhagen recording was the greatest of all Prince Bootlegs. I have been forced to swallow my words many times since then as I listen to my collection and some of the gems contained therein. There are quite a few recordings that could lay claim to being ‘the greatest’ and today’s show I would guess to be atop of many peoples lists. The 1984 birthday show is something very special. It oozes quality at every level, a brilliant sparkling soundboard recording that sounds better than the recording on many of his albums, the quality of the performance itself, and of course those unforgettable songs played to the hilt just as Prince was to ascend to his greatest heights. Yes, this one well and truly lives up to the hype, and I’m itching to take another listen to it today.

7 June, 1984, First Avenue, Minneapolis

prince-1984-birthday

The recording starts with the PA sound, and it serves as a nice soft opening. It gives a better feel for what it would have been like to be there, and we don’t have a hard jump straight into a song. There is a classic spoken intro of an announcer saying ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Prince, and the Revolution’, and then we are off into it. 17 Days sounds just as good here as I have ever heard it. The recording is so sharp, to my ears it sounds even better than it did on vinyl. The first thing that strikes me is the bass. It’s got an elastic feel to it, and it’s a beautiful big groove that comes out of the speakers at me. It’s almost like riding a wave, it’s so full and washing over me. The second thing that I really notice is Princes vocals. His singing is so clean sounding, it’s hard to believe it’s in a live setting. Generally I try not to gush about what I am listening to, but in this case it’s very hard not just to sit back and listen to it and be a fan. It’s oh so good. Brown Mark just grooves along underneath, and there is some nice moments when I hear Wendy playing with him on the groove. By the time the song finishes I am wondering how they could have relegated something so good to a B side.

Our Destiny starts slowly. I am not immediately won over as Prince starts singing, but when that chorus hits me I am fully converted. The keyboards are the hero of this particular song, whether it be the twinkling sound under the verses, or the muscular stabs driving the choruses. Prince’s vocals are a little more casual for this one, and some of his character shines through. Also worth mentioning is the drums in this song. Not the obvious beat of the bass drum, but instead the rather glorious sounds played on the cymbals. They seem to add just the right feel at just the right moment, and serve nicely as punctuation to Princes vocals.

The band are obviously very well-rehearsed as they move easily into Roadhouse Garden. Like the previous song it is an unreleased classic.  There is an excellent crisp guitar picking away, and it gives a sharp sound while Prince and the girls sing some nice full vocals. Listening to it now I realize there isn’t really too much to the song, the keyboards are barely heard at all, there is a solid bass line, but most of the interest is coming from the guitar sound and the girls singing. Prince tells the audience “you going to have to excuse us, we just jamming’ and it does very much sound like one of the jams that the band plays endlessly at rehearsal. It does have a good feel to it, and at no point does one member of the band get the spotlight, it’s very much a band thing.

Prince takes time to chat to the audience next, and I like it when he takes a moment to tell them “you’ll came in here expecting to drive Princes red corvette, that’s not going to work. We just going to play a few numbers, some of them you’ll gonna know, most of them you won’t” Then follows one of my favourite moments of the show, Prince says “Wendy wants to live forever. Maybe she will” and the band rip into a storming version of All Day, All Night.  The bass line is heavy and right in my face, and the whole band ride on it and it’s got a feeling as if they are playing as one, as a single entity. Every aspect is so tight and interwoven, it is an absolute joy to listen to. I could quite happily just listen to an instrumental of this, I feel like getting up and dancing as the introduction plays on. Prince comes with the first verse, and he is sounding excellent, as he is throughout the show. I love the way the groove lets up just a little at the end of the chorus so the guitar and music can take a few little steps up. Bobby Z gets a moment, and plays some hard electronic sounding drum rolls, which add to the overall pulsating feel of the song. If fact the whole song feels like it galloping a long, and when it suddenly ends it’s like a sharp intake of breathe.

Prince birthday 1984 c

Things slow down next as Prince plays a gentler sounding Free. After the dense sounding All Day, All Night, it’s very sparse sound, and it serves the song well. Princes vocals are back to being the main focus, and he delivers beautifully. I thought the Free sounded light on the 1999 album, but here it is much stronger sounding. A lot of the corniness is stripped away, and it no longer has the over the top finish as heard on 1999. All in all I much prefer this arrangement, and I am glad we get to hear it. Prince ups the ante with his singing near the end, before the song closes with the solo piano again. This is not the best song on the recording, but it is a very pleasant surprise.

The drums take a few bars to find a steady beat for the next song as a funky sounding rhythm guitar begins to play. As good as it sounds, it is a little misleading as the song takes a sudden turn. Prince dedicates it to Shelia E, and the music takes on the smooth sound of Noon Rendezvous. Again, this is another song never released by Prince, and that’s a shame as it does have a very alluring sound to it. The guitar is playing just enough to draw me in, and the rest of the band create a smooth velvet sound. There is a guitar solo, but it’s in no way disruptive to the gentle groove, and it’s well tucked up inside the song. The second lead guitar break is slightly louder, and Prince is playing more of what I might expect from this time. The girls enter with the soft refrain of “sitting in this cafe, waiting for my baby”, but it’s not as drawn out as we hear in rehearsals, and the song ends soon after.

Things are much heavier almost right away, as a hard drum beat begins, and some rock lead guitar. It’s quite loose sounding, but after half a minute the band come on board and things immediately tighten up as they play Erotic City. Although not as bass driven as it sounds on record, it is still very strong sounding. Some of the sparseness of the record is sacrificed, but what we get instead is a lot more guitar, and a lot stronger vocals from Prince. It also sounds faster to my ears, and doesn’t sound as dirty and funky. It’s a fair trade-off, but only just. With the intonation of “all the critics love me” we get plenty more guitar of Prince, and I can hear Wendy step up the funky guitar she is playing. The band is heavily in the groove by this point and Prince becomes a lot wilder sounding on the guitar, but always returning to the All The Critics Love U riff. The keyboards also get stronger as the song progresses, and as time goes on it becomes denser and louder. It increases in intensity until it eventually comes to an end at the eight minute mark.

Birthday 1984

Something In The Water (Does Not Compute) has a great dark beginning. The cold keyboard initially starts before a brooding guitar riff from Prince. He asks the crowd “alright if I just play for a minute” as he then proceeds to do just that. It’s atmospheric in sound, and suitably slow and mournful. When Prince begins to sing he captures the lonely feel of the song perfectly, especially with his “does not compute, does not compute” There is even a moment when he sings “what’s the hang-up, bitch” which adds a hint of desperation and feeling to the song. The song is without the drum machine rhythm heard on record, but that barely matters as Prince is sounding so emotional, yet the music is cold and detached, much like the woman the protagonist in the song is singing to. Later in the song Prince lets his guitar do his talking. It’s not right in front in the mix, but it does sound very good, and worth listening carefully to. This song is played right out and every minute of it is worth listening to.

Birthday 1984 b

When Doves Cry is the standout track on this recording for me. Right from the first moment it has a clean sound, and the drum line is so familiar. Dr Fink plays the lead line a couple of times, before Prince comes to the microphone. At first he blows the first line, he mumbles “how can you…” before he catches himself and quickly covers with “come on, have you heard this before?”  It’s very fast and smooth, and a great recovery. He then asks the crowd to get on board, before calling for Dr Fink to play the lead line gain. He then implores the crowd further to “get down” before calling for the lead line once more before singing the first chorus. The longer intro actually works well, and I like hearing him talk to the crowd like this. Once the song starts, I notice that Wendy and Lisa are very strong on the vocals, they are much more prominent than heard on record. It’s not bad, just different. Wendy gets her moment to shine on guitar, and its good sounding, but perhaps not as clean sounding as everything else. The best is yet to come, as the band play on, Dr Fink plays a cool solo, and then there comes a great scratch guitar. I’m not sure if its Prince or Wendy, but it’s my favourite part of the song. It plays on and on, and I never tire of it. The band sing “Don’t cry” over and over as that beautiful guitar line just loops again and again. I don’t know how long it goes for, but it feels like forever, and it encapsulates the Prince sound I first knew and loved.  And just on a side note, my girlfriend told me she thought this part was boring and repetitive -looks like I might be single again soon! This last half is a song unto itself and the recording is excellent just based on this alone.

Birthday 1984 a

Of course there is the obligatory Happy Birthday sung by the audience, before the band turn up the funk levels with Irresistible Bitch. It’s not as dark as I have heard elsewhere, but it’s still a nice version. The band are playing incredibly tightly, and it’s the guitar that mostly holds my attention. It’s so crisp sounding, and the song revolves around the guitar riff. There is a keyboard solo that sounds good to my ears, but it’s a little low in the mix, I would have of liked to hear it much more. Near the end Prince stops and starts the band several times, and as always they are right on the button.

Prince birthday 1984d

Possessed is equally funky, but with a dash of pop thrown in the mix. After a Vegas sounding opening the band open up a rapid groove, again the rhythm is king here, the only melody coming from a simple keyboard line. Prince’s vocals aren’t quite as clear as they had been earlier in the show, he is a little more in the mix, but that’s not a negative at all, and the second verse I can understand his lyrics much better, so it maybe my problem more than his. There some further interesting keyboard jamming later, again it’s a too quiet for my taste and I have to listen carefully to appreciate all of it. Prince does a scat about ‘big ole soul sisters’  and its very tightly in the rhythm, so I give him a pass despite the corniness. I think that the band are going to play this one as a long funky jam, so I am very surprised when it stops suddenly and Prince tells the crowd that they got to go.

There has been a lot of talk about this soundboard recording since it first surfaced, and I can fully understand why. This show is mindbogglingly good, and deserves all the praise heaped upon it. If someone was to tell me that this was the best recording, I would have very little argument with them. This one is excellent in every way, and a must listen for any sort of fan.

Thanks again for reading
See you next week
Hamish

 

 

Noon rendezvous rehearsal

I am rare to listen to rehearsals. I admit that they are great, and show off another side of Prince and his talent. But they don’t have the same intensity as a live show, and that’s what I enjoy most. However, without that intensity we do get some very cool arrangements of the songs, often being drawn out and just letting the band do what they do best -play! Today’s rehearsal is from May/June before the birthday show of 1984. There are a few rehearsals from this period, and I think this one exists in several variations, but this is my favourite and the one I play most.

noon-rendezvous

Noon Rendezvous Rehearsal May/June 1984

As I mentioned above, there is a couple of variations of this rehearsal circulating, the major difference being the sequence of tracks. I am listening to the FBG release, which opens with I’ve Gotta Shake This Feeling Baby (Purple Rain), and I have to say that right from the start it grabs me and any reservations I have about listening to a rehearsal are immediately laid to rest.  Over the familiar beat of Purple Rain, Prince lays down some very raw, yet beautiful guitar work. There is very little in the way of lyrics, just Prince singing “I’ve gotta shake this feeling baby” over the top of the Purple Rain music we know so well. He does ask for a longer echo at the start, but I can’t hear where it is applied. The rest of the band are a solid base on which Prince lays his guitar work. Some of the phrases and melodies he plays are familiar, and some are new to me. The best parts are for me when he reins in the guitar and plays it tightly in the song. The quality of the recording is very good, and all the other instruments can be heard clearly, especially the piano, which I enjoy. I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy this, and what a complete surprise it is to me. I was planning to sit down one evening to write this blog post, but truth be told I played this several days in a row, dumb struck, jaw on the floor, before I finally was able to find the words. It’s a great listen, imagine the second half of the Purple Rain song doubled in length, and that pretty much what we have here.

The treats keep coming as without pause the band play an electrifying version of Noon Rendezvous. Although the music does have a gentle sound to it, what is attention grabbing is once again the raw guitar sound of Prince in the mix. The lead guitar isn’t over powering, but it does give it a rock edge. The guitar does pull out and Princes singing is light and ethereal, and blends in well with the overall feeling of the song. It is an intoxicating song, and before I know it Princes guitar sound is back in the mix as we get a brilliant lead break. For the longest time I couldn’t understand the fuss over this song, but in recent years it has really grown on me. I always loved the version on the 1984 birthday show, but I can’t quite decide if that one or this is my favourite. On any given day it may well be the one I am listening to here. As the song continues on and Prince is “sitting in this cafe, waiting for my baby” I am in heaven. And even better, this goes on and on, there is no audience, no time constraints and it feels the band is playing on and just enjoying the gentle groove. It’s just brilliant, and oh, did I mention it goes for almost 20 minutes?!

Prince 1984 (2)

There is then what I more associate with rehearsals, checking to get the sound right, some tinkling and crashing of instruments and the like, before a steady beat is taken up, the piano plays and then we settle into Free. Free consists of just a drum beat, a piano, and Prince and the girls singing. I find the drum a little plodding, but I do like Princes vocal performance on this one. He sings around the melody, and plays with it. And the girls sound excellent, and once again it only highlights how great Prince, Wendy and Lisa sounded together. The song doesn’t get played on as much as the previous two songs, and it remains reasonably faithful to what is on record, sans the big finish.

Things take a serious turn next as we hear the strong drum pattern of Erotic City, and some equally erotic sounding guitar from Prince. I wonder what kind of heavy arrangement he is going to play, the vocals begin and it reverts to it familiar sound. I rate this song just as highly as the first two songs on the recording, it’s fantastic. After sticking with the song for the first couple of verses, Prince then unleashes his guitar, as well as a line from All The Critic Love U. The guitar has a howling whining tone at this point, and it gives the song a harder, darker edge. The guitar becomes more intense as the song progresses, and Prince is really working it in the latter part of the song. As brilliant as it is, it’s almost relief when it finishes, it was so intense. Yet another highlight in a recording full of highlights.

Prince 1984

I am used to hearing guitar heavy arrangements of Something In The Water of late, but this one offers another dimension. Sure, it’s full of guitar as he has recently played it, but here he is backed by the Revolution, and they give it a cold remote feeling behind Princes guitar playing. Prince’s voice is in fine form, and although he doesn’t scream, he does at one point give a nice long howl. As the song gets to the refrain of ‘must be something in the water you drink’ the guitar again comes to the fore. I know Prince is a good guitarist, but even after being a fan for 30 years I still find myself shaking my head as I listen to some of these recordings. He plays some much, it’s everywhere, and he plays on and on. Even today I still think of him as a song and dance man and listening to his guitar playing is always a headbuster. I didn’t think this rehearsal could get any better but as the song moves past the 12 minute mark I realize that I underestimated this recording by a long way.

When Doves Cry begins very faithfully to what we know so well. After the main hook is played a couple of times, Prince is straight into singing the verses and chorus. Even though it is played as per record, it does have a harder sound to it. Obviously it’s not as polished, but I do love the sound of it here, it is a much stronger band sound. Later in the song we do hear Wendy’s rhythm guitar, which I always enjoy immensely. And my smile becomes even broader as Wendy launches into her guitar solo, it’s impossible not to enjoy her and her playing. After Dr Fink plays his equally cool solo, and Prince gives a fairly impassioned scream, he’s not holding anything back for this rehearsal. The rest of the song is pure groove, and for a few minutes I forget to write as I sit enraptured by the music.

Prince 1984c

A couple of James Brownesque grunts and ‘huh’ and the band play the equally James inspired Irresistible Bitch. For the first time on the recording I find it lacking the intensity of earlier. This is a great song live, but here it’s missing that sharpness and quickness. There is a Dr Fink solo, which has all the qualities you would expect from such a thing, and it’s at this point that I find my interest in the song reinvigorated somewhat. I am very impressed at how well drilled the band are, and how well they respond to Princes call. But I’m not really surprised as I know how much Prince rehearses his bands, and the Revolution are one of the greatest bands he has put together. I thought that this song would have been ripe for the long jam, but it’s played very straight, and Prince ends it sharply after a few stops and starts with the band.

As far as rehearsals go, this one has forced me to reassess my feelings about listening to them. This is far from a rock rehearsal, yet there is plenty of Princes guitar on all the tracks. If anything, it only served to highlight what a well-balanced and versatile band The Revolution were. They have plenty of funk, but rock when they have to. As I said in the beginning, I am rare to listen to rehearsals, but if I was going to take a listen this would be one of my first choices.

So that’s a rehearsal for the birthday show, I guess next week I better listen to the birthday show to see how it all plays out.

Take care
Hamish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parade Tour in Sweden

Was there ever a bad show on the Parade tour? Maybe, but this one certainly isn’t it. Today I return to one of my favorite tours- The Parade tour, and take a listen to a recording from the Swedish concert. This is a fairly well known recording, it is available in video and audio, and one that I know many people enjoy – myself included. My two go to shows from this tour are the warm up show at First Ave, and the Cobo birthday show, but this one is a close third place behind those two. So, let’s sit back and enjoy what we have here.

22 August, 1986, Johanneshov, Sweden

The classic “Please welcome Prince and The Revolution” begins the show, while the band plays the beginning of Around The World In a Day in darkness. There is plenty to enjoy in the music at the beginning, lots of different instruments to pick out and enjoy, and these senses are heightened by the fact the band are playing behind a curtain. I do like this song a lot, and don’t really know what to expect from a live version, and the first thing that really grabs me is the wonderful sound of Princes voice. It has a well rounded and warm sound to it, and contrasts nicely to some of the instrumentation in the back ground. The rest of the band joins and the song starts proper, but after a minute of some great bass work and fanfares from the band we move into Christopher Tracey’s Parade.

Prince Parade

There is some guitar work in the left at the start of the Christopher Tracey’s Parade that seems a little out of place, but overall the sound and the texture of the song is just wonderful. I especially like the keyboards playing after the first verse. Lisa is playing some great stuff as well as providing backing vocals to Prince. The second half of the song the band moves up a gear and Prince takes his first break at the organ. He doesn’t play anything mind-blowing, but the organ adds more warmth and fullness before we move without pause to the next song.

New Position sounds very full and colorful here in comparison to what we hear on album. The horns play some nice wiggly lines, and the rest of the band fill out the song much more. In particular I can hear the guitar much more on this number. The song ends naturally enough with a flourish from the horns before the tempo changes.

I Wonder U is quite a change from what we have just heard, and the atmosphere of the recording changes with it. Here it’s again the keyboards I enjoy most, although the singing from Wendy is fine enough, it’s not a showstopper. Atlanta Bliss on the trumpet though, now that is a nice touch. He plays a break that sounds shaky but is actually very good. Already it’s my favorite moment of the first ten minutes of the show.

Prince asks if we are ready to rock and roll before the horns introduce Raspberry Beret with a flourish. Prince uses the song to encourage the audience to clap their hands and to sing. He himself sings most of it, which has me a little surprised as I expected he would leave it mostly to the crowd. The song sounds good enough, but I find that with verses cut out it does lack the charm of the story telling original. Again Prince teases us with just a brief moment on the organ, before the song transitions into the next part of the show.

Prince Parade 3

Prince does some cool sounding vocals at the start of Delirious, and then the band joins in and we go racing off. The vocals at the start are well worth the few seconds they get, I can imagine him doing more with it like this, especially when he stretches his voice out. The rest of the song is a fun dance along number, with plenty of time devoted to Prince and his back up dancers.

The funkometer goes up to ten next as the classic opening riff of Controversy begins. Always my favorite part of the Parade gigs, this is where the show starts for me. The song starts with plenty of funky guitar but the keyboard and horns also come in heavy and it’s a great funk sound. It could have derailed when Prince goes into his cigarette smoking routine, but things are saved when the next song starts.

Prince owns Love Bizarre in these live performances. The sound is funk yet still there is plenty of pop in there. The band and Prince deliver it all with such intensity, not just the music but also the performance. Wendy and Lisa sound great on the backing vocals, and the guitar playing is just as good too. There is a keyboard groove that keeps me moving, and I think groove is the perfect word to describe this song. The guitar and keyboard are relentless, and the horns add just a splash of color. Eric does get a solo moment, and he sounds as good as ever. Prince does encourage the crowd with “who’s house, Wendy’s house” and I want to sing along here at home. At one point the band drop out leaving just bass and drums, and I don’t need to reiterate, it’s so funky. ‘Stop on the one’ has Prince in band leader mode, but he doesn’t play up on it too much, content to just sit back and let the band play. The song ends with Prince on the drum riser, and I wonder how he can top that.

Prince Parade 1

Again the tempo drops, and Prince delivers a slow burning classic rendition of Do Me Baby. As always his vocal delivery is top shelf, but on this recording it’s the backing vocals that I notice most. They are right behind him on the chorus and it’s perfectly complimentary. Prince Wendy and Lisa really do sound wonderful together, I can’t deny. This is one of the better versions I have heard, Princes vocals are very clean sounding on the recording, and I can hear every note and inflection in his voice. The horns playing give the song and extra push near the end, and add to the seductive nature of the song. When I started writing about this show I didn’t expect Do Me Baby to be one of the highlights, but it is. The end of the song is breathtaking, and I don’t say that lightly, as Prince pulls the band back and sings as the crowd clap along. His lyrics sound excellent, and he throws in some appropriate screams and yells. He finishes up with the crowd singing with him. If the show ended right here I would be happy.

I still haven’t worked out why How Much Is That Doggie is in the set list, but I easily forgive them when the brief instrumental of Lady Cab Driver is played. Its only seconds long but its enough to remind me how much I love that song. The band move easily onto Automatic, which is no bad thing as it also is a favorite of mine from the 1999 album. Its not as dark as it sounds on album, on this recording its much more of a dance song, especially with all the horns thrown in, and Prince plays up this aspect for all its worth, with plenty of dancing throughout.

We stay with 1999 with a short but cool version of DMSR tacked on to the end. Again, it’s a medley version, with plenty of horns, so we don’t get to enjoy the fullness of it, but I know that as soon as I finish writing this I will be pulling out the 1999 album.

The simple keyboard riff of When Doves Cry is enough to get the crowd screaming. It’s played true to the album here, if anything it’s got an even more stripped down sound, the beat that Prince sings over is very sparse sounding. Part of the beauty of this song is the sound of Prince voice out alone in front of the music, and it is definitely true in this case. Its very melancholy sounding, and even when the bass enters that feeling remains with me. But the best part is definitely Wendy’s solo. The guitar tone is brilliant, and it’s got the sound of a lone instrument. The beat is still barren with just the occasional bass sound as she plays, and it’s a great rock moment. The full band enters soon after this point and the horns are finally heard, and sound oddly out of place on this recording, even thought I have enjoyed them plenty on other occasions. The coda has the horns playing while Prince plays at the organ, and I warm to them at this stage, it could well be another song but the sound is fantastic.

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This show gets better and better, I can’t believe how much I have gushed over it already, but still it keeps delivering. Next we have Prince alone at the piano, and instead of starting straight in on a song we have a couple of minutes of him improvising. Even if he is just warming up it sounds great, and I could happily listen to it for much longer. He does start to play Under The Cherry Moon, and I am even happier. Just the sound of his vocals and the piano are perfect and it seals the deal for me- this show is one of the greats. Prince and the piano are backed very well by some other keyboard work, but its never intrusive and Prince still has plenty of time to play his piano parts.

My favorite song from the Parade album is Anotherloverholenyohead, and to hear now with this band on this tour, well it doesn’t get much better. Lisa and Prince sound great, I was expecting to be writing about Eric Leeds, but it’s the girl’s voices that get my attention first. Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss do get their moment later in the song, and as you might expect they live up to their billing. Everybody seems to chime in for their part on this song, and Prince introduces Lisa as we get a long break of her piano playing. There is some great chords, and some fast delicate playing as well, and I can’t speak of it highly enough. In a show packed full of highlights this is yet another one.

Prince Parade 5

17 Days is another song that we need to hear more of. The bass line on this recording is nice and strong, and the full band makes for a much fuller sound than we hear on record. Like everything it’s a compromise, we lose some of the morose feeling of the original, but there are so much more great things to listen on here. The horns take over as Prince engages with audience, and throws bundles of flowers to the fans. The groove gets deeper and darker as the song goes along, and Prince gives us some organ play which fills out the sound a lot.

Prince Parade 6

“I hate rock n roll, who wants some head?” and the nasty part of the show begins. Head has a nice intro, moving from bare rhythm guitar to dirty horn stabs. Head is dirty by name and dirty by nature. I can hear the guitar lines on this one very well, and they lay a nice layer over which the horns and keyboard stabs play. Any show that has Head in it usually has me writing that it was a highlight. I am reluctant to say that, with a show packed with highlights, but it is the moment when I most wanted to put down my laptop and enjoy the music. Dr Finks solo sounds great, it’s a little different sounding than I am used to but still has me listening intently. The song breaks down to a nice long jam, and Prince calls for Bobby Z who lays down a nice snare beat. I was waiting for Prince to take his time and dance for much longer but instead he returns to the organ for another break before he starts dancing again. Head gets the full treatment, its drawn right out, lots of audience interplay and Prince playing band leader. He breaks into his electric man routine as he lies on the floor, which would be great if I hadn’t of seen it so much already. But as he calls for Booby to hit him with the snare I’m back on board. The band is on fire and of the whole show this is the performance I enjoy most from them. There is a little bit of everything. Prince even picks up a guitar to deliver some suitable dirty guitar to the proceedings, then walks off the stage as he finishes his guitar break and the band play us out in darkness.

Prince Parade 7

The tone is lightened again as the band strike up Pop Life. Live it sounds just as joyous as it does on record, and it starts off with Prince singing “Life it ain’t too funky, life it ain’t too funky” The rest of the song follows as heard on record, the main difference is that Princes vocals sound much stronger, and the keyboard riff is more to the fore. It does have a great live sound, Prince vocals are a little ragged, but it still has that pop. It also nice to hear Eric Leeds playing the flute solo live, a nice little touch that I didn’t expect. There aren’t any surprises musically or performance wise in the song, it does exactly what you would expect from the title. Prince does try for an audience sing along before the end, but it doesn’t really go anywhere and the song ends at this point.

Girls and Boys sounds funky, but lacks the deep funky sound I associate it with. But I am in no criticizing it, I enjoy this performance a lot. As with the last song, it seems to gain an extra emphasis from the raggedness in Princes voice. He’s never rough sounding, but it does sound a little more throaty than earlier in the show. The best part for me is near the end when Prince lays down his spoken part. It sounds so strong and funky and for me it’s a great way to end the song.

The band keep up the pace with a quick segue into Life Can Be So Nice. There is plenty sound on this, but its kind of hard to pick out all the instrumentation, the mix is such that at a couple of points there is too much sound to digest. I love it for this, it’s an ambitious live song, and once again I find myself in awe of The Revolution. The second half of the song is where the groove really goes, and as is so often it has that sound that The Revolution might just play on like this for days. However the song does fade to a halt with The Revolution singing the main refrain over and over.

1999 sounds so good, it feels that this band could sleep walk through it and it would still sound great. There is just a touch of horns in it, rather than the full on horn treatment it receives in later years, and it still has that synthesized 1999 sound. With all the band members and dancers from the Parade era revolution I wonder how far they will push the party time coda, but it’s played straight and doesn’t out stay its welcome.

Prince Parade 8

There is a break for perhaps a minute after this. A chance for us to collect our breath before Mountains begins. Mountains sounds great right from the start, there is nice deep organ sound that can be heard underneath at the start of the song before Prince starts singing. The song doesn’t deviate too far from the original, but it’s great to hear it live. Especially Wendy’s guitar seems to sound more funky and raw live, an over all more organic sound. If I had any complaint about this song, it would be that it seemed to go by in a flash, but every moment was a joy.

The arrangement of Kiss on this recording is also very cool. The main riff is played on the keyboard, and the guitar only has a very low key presence through the song. The horns start the solo, and they sound sharp, before Wendy plays her solo, and the guitar comes to the fore for the rest of the song. As much as I love Wendy, I would have to say it was the first half of the song I preferred more, the sound of the keyboard playing the main riff was very cool to my ears. That said, the last 30 seconds with just the bare sound of Wendy’s and Mikos guitar has me reconsidering my words. They both have different sounds, but at the end of this one they sound great together. Its 30 seconds that I could listen to for hours.

Prince Parade 9

A single spot light on Wendy playing guitar takes us into Purple Rain. The introduction is very short, Wendy plays the opening chords only once before Prince starts singing immediately. I have heard plenty of drawn out introductions, so this on is actually a nice change. Prince doesn’t push his vocals too hard, and the keyboards sound way too loud compared to everything else – at least in the first verse, but again it’s not a bad thing. Another thing I notice about the mix, the girl’s voices are very loud and clear. It’s a good thing, I can easily hear how well they work together. There are no surprises in the guitar solo, but I had a good few minutes playing air guitar along with it, so it’s just as enjoyable as any other I have heard. He does play it for all he can, so we do get a nice long rendition. There seems to be very little crowd singing along with it, but this maybe a reflection on the recording, rather than the audience at the concert. There is a good 5-6 minutes of guitar to close out the show, and it’s nice to see him with his guitar again in a show that seems to have a touch of everything.

I love Parade shows. This one doesn’t offer up too much when you see the set list, the set list is average, but the show is anything but. The performances are what make this one so good, both musically and visually. Its well worth listening to if you want a reminder of just how great The Revolution were, they were all outstanding. This one is a great document of the Parade tour, and is essential for any collection.

Thanks again
Hamish

Purple Rain Atlanta

The Purple Rain tour is very well documented in the bootleg world. There were several very good shows I could have chosen, but I plumbed for one I have a DVD of. The Purple Rain shows are standard from show to show, they didn’t deviate too much from a set formula, and listening to them is sometimes a little repetitive. I especially tend to lose interest in the mid portion of the show when there is a lull in the proceedings. However I love watching the shows, the Purple Rain tour looked great- the costumes, the dancing, there was something exciting and exhilarating about the whole thing. It really was an event, not just another gig. So with that in mind, today I will be watching a show from Atlanta 1985, Prince playing his most successful album to an adoring audience.

January 4 1985, Omni Atlanta

I don’t mind admitting that even after 30 years I still feel a thrill of excitement when Prince says in darkness “Hello Atlanta, my name is Prince, and I’ve come to play with you.” The organ swells that we know so well, and the spoken intro of Lets Go Crazy gets screams of anticipation from the crowd, and when the single spot light hits Wendy for the main rift there is a further scream before the stage lights up and the show begins in an explosion of light, noise and flowers raining down. I have seen it I don’t know how many times, and I still get a kick and a rush from it. The song does not do much more than what we hear on record, there is no piano break in the middle, or drawn out solos, but it does lack any intensity or punch. And to my mind there is no greater sight in concert than seeing Prince playing the guitar lead here, leaning back, face contorted with the music, and his pink stole blowing in the wind over his shoulder. This will always be the Prince I reference when people ask me about being a fan. The song ends much as we have heard plenty of times before, Prince wailing on his guitar. He doesn’t solo too long or hard, but it’s still a perfect opener to the show.

Atlanta 1985

There is plenty of noise from the band next as they stall while Prince hands of his guitar and removes some clothes. Things suddenly take a pop turn as with a shout from Prince of “one two” the band strike up Delirious. I often dismiss Delirious as its not my cup of tea, but even my ice cold heart enjoys it here, its a lot of fun to watch Prince prancing and dancing around the stage. The music doesn’t do much for me, but the visuals more than carry it. As an up-tempo fun number it does it job and keeps the show moving a fast pace.

1999 next and its performed as we see it on the video clip. Prince dons his shiny purple trench coat and we really are back to the 1999 era. The vocals from the rest of the band aren’t great, but I’m going to blame the sound recording rather than them personally. Now days Prince often races through this one near the end of the shows, so it’s a joy here to hear it given the full treatment. And the vocals from the rest of the band do improve as it goes, and by the end of it I have nothing negative to say. It sounds better here than it did on the 1999 tour, and it has a little more energy to it. The band seem to enjoy playing it, and again its great to see them dancing and interacting together. Perhaps the last minute is my favorite, after the “mommy, why does everybody have a bomb” Prince plays a nice guitar break, them ramps its up as the song ends in a crescendo of sound, light and smoke.

Atlanta 1985 3

The other big hit from the 1999 album follows close behind, with the warm swells of Little Red Corvette beginning as the sound and fun of the last song fade. There is the sweet piano refrain played, which I know I have said before I love. Wendy does of course hand out flowers to the crowd before encouraging them to clap their hands. It’s contrived, and yet I find it very endearing. Prince begins to sing bathed in red light, and it’s obvious that this show couldn’t fail, everything seems to have a touch of class to it. Princes vocals are getting better and better with each song, and on Little Red Corvette when he sings “oowwwww owwww owwww” it’s a great concert moment for me. He does his dance while the guitar solo plays, and while I do enjoy it, I find that it distracts my attention from Wendy. One thing I will comment on about this show, is that Prince and Wendy are the centre of everything. The other band members don’t get the moments that Wendy gets, and she does have plenty of interplay with Prince. Sure, a large part of that is the fact she is the guitarist, but I would have liked to see Brown Mark and Prince more often, or perhaps Lisa given more time. Little Red Corvette ends with a sudden handclap, and the rolling drums from the start of Take Me With U Begins.

Prince is right in his element for this one. Right from the start of Take Me With U, he stomps back and forth across the stage, guitar to the fore. I can hear Princes vocals very well, but unfortunately the girl’s vocals are lost in the mix. I can hear them, but not loud and clear like I would want. However, all that is made irrelevant as after a quick verse and chorus everything just becomes a big beat and groove for Prince to play guitar god over. And play he does, the next minute is guitar playing Prince at his very best. There is no sweet delicate playing here, it comes at us fast and furious, and plenty of rock poses thrown in to boot. I should be cynical and point out how clichéd it all is, but in truth I lap up every single moment of this. I love this arrangement, and this performance. The only problem is it ends way too short for my liking.

Usually I skip right over the Yankee Doodle Dandle section when listening to Purple Rain shows. It doesn’t do anything for me musically and I find it annoying. I have never properly understood what is happening on stage at this time, and even watching the DVD I’m not sure what’s going on. Mercifully it is quite short, but in future I think I will go back to my normal ways and skip right past it.

The next section starts with Prince sitting at the keyboard, and I am much more comfortable again. I do enjoy watching him play the piano, it’s hard to believe it’s the same man who floored us with his impassioned guitar playing just a minute ago. The piano set begins with some very soft and delicate paying from Prince, and I enjoy this just as much as any song he plays. He does settle down and begin to play Free. Free works a lot better live than it is on record. It’s not as over the top and the piano playing is much better without being drowned in the other distractions.

Prince leaves the piano next and delivers up Do Me Baby. This performance is very nice, he has all his moves and vocal styling’s down, and comes across very smooth. It’s not the greatest sounding version I have heard, the instruments are too loud and Prince is fighting against them to be heard. But the showmanship more than makes up for it, this is to be seen as well as heard. It’s very short on this recording, I was expecting more from it. Not the greatest I have heard, but still a vital part of the show.

Atlanta 1985 7

How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore has Prince back at the piano, and initially its his piano playing that excites me the most. He does interact with the crowd to get them clapping along, but it’s the vocals and piano playing that are the most important things here. There is showmanship, but its all in his vocals and the looks at the crowd. That changes however when he does the whole “I’m gonna stand over here until you make up your mind” The crowd shriek and yell in delight, but I have heard it too many times by now to get excited. The song progresses to the point where Prince really plays with his vocals and demonstrates just how good a singer he really is. Like everything its just a few moments, but its enough. This guy really can do everything.

Things pick up when Prince starts with a spoken intro to Lets Pretend We’re Married. We now know that the spoken intro would later become the song Temptation, but at the time it was new to our ears. Prince teases us with the vocals, some piano playing and at one stage throwing off his jacket. Finally the teasing ends and Prince kicks into the song. His piano playing is very expressive and it’s a nice full sound he generates from the piano. The song played as we know it is only very short, it’s all about the tease at the start. There is a good energy to it, and Prince delights me, and the crowd, by leaping off his stool and playing standing up.

Father’s Song gets only a minute, but it’s my favorite moment at the piano, and of the whole show. In almost complete darkness Prince plays the refrain, and it’s filled with a melancholia that stays with me long after the performance. Sometimes the shortest moments are the best moments.

Atlanta 1985 4

The lights come back up a little as Prince begins to play God alone at the piano. With smoke swirling at his feet it does have a heavenly appearance. This is tempered somewhat by his vocals early on being fuzzy on the recording. After the first few lines this does improve, and I can better sit back and enjoy the song. The song does sound good, and Prince delivers some great screams near the end of the song. He loses me shortly after with his conversation with the audience being played out on stage and the bath sequence. Listening to the show, this part goes for too long, and even watching it I find myself just wishing it would end. Yes, it was cool the first time I saw the bath sequence, but now I just want it to end so we can get back to the music.

The purple part of the concert starts next as Lisa asks Wendy “is the water warm enough”. The next seven songs are all off the Purple Rain album and it’s quite a performance. First Prince rises from the stage to play Computer Blue. The song starts with plenty of keyboards. I usually associate this song with guitars, but the keys are nice and strong and form a nice thick sound for the guitars to play against. Prince starts off singing and playing well, and he gets louder and louder from there. His solos aren’t spectacular- they are as you hear on the album, but once again it’s the performance of the song that has t be seen. Firstly Wendy gives Prince simulated fellatio while he solos, then later in the song Prince puts down his guitar and dances. He dancing isn’t delicate, but he does capture the mood of the song. And visually its looks quite striking, especially when he dances next to the rest of the band.

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In a seedy red light Prince next sings Darling Nikki. An audience favorite, I am sure most of them just want a chance to sing the x-rated lyrics. There is several opportunities’ for the audience to sing various lines, asides from that the arrangement is as heard on record. The fun part comes later in the song when the good Dr plays his solo and the band all look like they are having a good time. I also appreciate the end of the song when the backwards music we hear on album is played forward and we hear Princes ‘hidden message’

The Beautiful Ones is, well, beautiful. Up high and in softy blue and red light Princes plays piano and sings the emotional high point of the Purple Rain album (asides from the Purple Rain song itself) Princes piano playing is good, buts its the other keyboards dong all the work, and Dr Fink and Lisa fill out the sound with plenty of swells and swirls. Prince leaves his piano for some delicate dancing, and to concentrate on his vocals. This is his best vocal delivery of the night, there is no distracting talking to the crowd, no guitar playing, its all pure vocal delivery. He looks suitable moved and drops to his knees to deliver some passionate screams and whoops. He eventually rolls on to his back for a final howl before the keyboards play us out with a couple more swells.

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Doves Cry gets the full treatment next. There is a brilliant long intro, with just the bare beat and the piano lead line played over it. It builds plenty of anticipation in the crowd, and for me here at home. The lead line on the piano is the key element in this song for me, and even through I have been listening to it for most of my life it’s still something I enjoy immensely. Prince begins his lines, but has almost too quiet, and I don’t get the strong vibe as I hear on the record. The lyrics of Doves Cry are amongst the best he has written, and it’s a shame I can’t hear them better on this. I used to think that the bass line would detract from the song, but it’s actually quite funky to hear the song with a bit more bottom end in the mix. Prince introduces Wendy to play the guitar solo, and I must admit that I fall in love a little. She plays so well, and she looks dead cool while she is doing it. The final section of the song features a lot of dancing from Prince. He doesn’t always look cool, but I have to admire his efforts to entertain us.

There is then a very long pause as the crowd chant for more. Finally the band return and the next song is I Would Die 4 U. It has a lightness and pop sound to it and is enjoyable right from the start. Wendy’s vocals sound good next to Prince, and there is a nice moment when they share the microphone before Prince engages in some enthusiastic dancing. There is some very funky guitar playing later from Wendy while Prince sings a long with the crowd. It is reminiscent of the 12 inch version, and that is absolutely fine by me. However after only a few minutes it segues into Baby I’m A Star.

Baby I’m a Star is an absolute joy to watch. Musically it’s awesome, and having the extra players on stage means there is so much to take in. Early on its Eddie M who I enjoy the most, his saxophone playing gives the music an edge. Prince also takes the opportunity with the extended line up to indulge in some James Brown style dancing, and band leadership. As is par for the course there are plenty of stops and starts form the band. After such a choreographed show it’s wonderful to see the band playing here, and there is the feeling that anything might happen musically. Baby I’m A star as we know it disappears and the funky jam takes over. Its Eddie who really steals the show on this one, he is just killing it on the sax. There is a funny moment when Prince begins to take the band off, before stopping to the calls of the crowd. It’s staged, but has me smiling. Prince gives us a little of everything, he sings, he dances, and he takes the piano for a while too, always keeping the groove and the beat going.

Atlanta 1985 1

Finally the last song begins, in what I’m sure was the high point for everyone there. I have heard many arrangements and performances of Purple Rain over the years, some are great, and some not so great. But for me the definitive version will always be the one played on the Purple rain tour, starting with the beautiful chords played by Wendy. Here is no different, the song begins with Wendy alone playing the soft chords I have heard a thousand times before, and I’m not tired of it one bit. She does get a few minutes along to play and I feel the song slowly drawing me in. The appearance by Prince is understated, and he adds his lead lines into the song. Playing the Horner he plays his delicate pieces, not hurrying at all, but slowly building the song up. I think this is my favorite style of his playing, when he’s softly playing lead guitar. He keeps it fairly short and begins singing early on. At first his vocals are a little lost in the echo, but it soon sorts itself out after a few lines. He is singing here in his vulnerable voice, rather than the triumphant tone we sometimes hear in Purple Rain. After only the first verse and some softer guitar he leaves the stage and returns with the cloud guitar. He immediately plays a more hard rock and anthemic sounding solo before singing the next part of the song. I can’t speak highly enough of his vocal performance, it’s not the notes he hits or the strength of his voice, it’s the emotional delivery and personality in his voice. Normally I would be writing about his guitar playing, but in this case it’s the vocals that have made the bigger impression on me. Prince does finally get to the guitar solo, but he doesn’t seem to pull anything special out for it. It’s played straight, and it’s only much later that he begins to let off some fireworks on the fret board. I have certainly heard other solos that have left me opened mouthed, but not this one. Despite that, my girlfriend tells me I did watch the TV transfixed while he was playing, so he must have had some sort of magic in there. He clambers to a high point to deliver one final blast before the keyboard twinkling ends the show.

Writing today’s entry was definitely a labor of love. The show was an excellent record of Prince at the peak of his powers, and despite the material and performance being very familiar to me I still loved all of it. There was a reason that Prince became a global superstar, and this is it. If you ever needed to see him during his purple period, this would be the place to start. Its not perfect, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

thanks for reading

-Hamish