Ultimate Live 1995

I feel that a visit to The Ultimate Live Experience is long overdue. I have listened to a number of aftershows from 1995, but the main shows from 1995 have been largely neglected by me. So to right this wrong, today I will take a listen to the first concert of the tour, the first of five nights at the Wembley Arena in London. It is the perfect place to begin, not only is it the first concert of the tour, it is also the longest performance of the tour, clocking in at just over two hours fifteen. A lengthy listen, we get the full gamut of Prince’s oeuvre at the time, drawing from all the genres he was experimenting with as he strove to find a new direction after symbolically killing off “Prince”.

3rd March 1995, Wembley Arena, London

The opening “Endorphinmachine” could be taken as a statement of intent, although nothing else in the setlist comes close to the introductory razor guitar lines and impassioned howls from Prince in this opening number. A vibrant performance, it fails to fully fire as Prince’s sharp guitar is later lost as he solo’s, sounding like a loose rubber band than an inflamed rock guitar. I like the performance far more than the recording in this case, and this song is gains a lot from my nostalgic memory rather than the bootleg itself.

The bootleg takes on a fat sound as Prince and the NPG tackle a cover of  Graham Central Station’s “The Jam.” The funk hangs and drips from the bass lines of Sonny T. and although this song is a staple of the time, to the point of almost being stale, at this first concert of the tour it still has a freshness and the band hang plenty of there own style of funk on the song. The song is further galvanized with the guitar line that Prince brings to the party, an inner steel that provides a strength to the otherwise slippery greasy sound.

The recording picks up the lower end very well, and thus the opening drum rolls of “Shhh” carry an extra depth and the sense of an impending storm. Prince’s opening verse betrays no trace of what is to come, it is the quiet before the storm that blows up in the following few minutes. It is a satin and steel performance, Prince’s vocals glistening with a pop sheen before the guitar muscles it’s way into the song, firstly intertwining with the soundscape Prince is painting, and then forcefully bringing a quiet fury of it’s own into the music, the guitar seemingly taking on a life of it’s own as it pulls down the pillars of the song upon itself it a Samsonesque performance.

The quality of the recording overshadows the performance of “Days Of Wild” that follows. On the bootleg there is some distortion on Prince’s vocals, and although it is slight, it is enough to break the previously woven spell. The song would in normal circumstance be a tour de force of Princes reinvented funk, and the hard nosed performance style of this iteration of the NPG, unfortunately all that is lost as the recording fails to truly capture the all crushing power of the performance. It’s enjoyable enough, but after hearing many other versions in circulation I know that it could be a whole lot better.

“Now” brings a lightness to the concert following the skull crushing “Days Of Wild.” There is a sense of fun to Prince’s performance, the humour of the lyrics reflected in his vocal delivery. The true power behind the throne though is Morris Hayes and Tommy Barbarella, their twin keyboard assault carrying both rhythm and melody in a combination that fills out the other wise thin sound. The coda with Mayte dancing only highlights this further as the keyboard wheezes over the sparse drum beat.

The NPG become a well drilled funk machine for ” Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine,” Prince drawing obvious inspiration from James Brown both in song selection and in the performance he draws from his band. It’s a faultless performance (at least to my ears) and it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, coming after the previous four blockbusters it is instead a mere pop song length of three minutes thirty seconds.

“Johnny” was only played at a handful of shows through out this 1995 tour, and it’s appearance on this bootleg is most welcome. A song that has appeared at countless aftershows, it is refreshing to hear it in this case getting a wider audience at an arena show. The NPG effortless morph from a funk band to a blues band, filling the arena with a purposeful groove that lets Prince do whatever he wants over the top of, in this case having the crowd chant and sing him through the final minute.

It had been barely two weeks since the release of “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” yet the crowd welcome the song with a warm cheer that suggests it had already planted itself in their collection consciousness.  Prince breaks the song up, undermining some of the sweet pop it is normally dusted in, and instead taking it firmly into his realm as he draws an extra level of musicality and an element of fun from it. It stands on its own two feet as a solid performance that fits in well with the surrounding songs of gravitas and unfettered emotion.

There is no gravitas at all about “Pussy Control,” it is raw and unadulterated, Prince saying and playing exactly how he wants as he makes a statement about feminism in a way that only Prince could. There is an innate power in Prince performance, his vocals have panache and the story he spins could be understood even if you didn’t catch every word. On the downside, the recording is a touch on the thin side, Prince sounds well enough, but there is no knock out punch as one might expect from such a song.

I rejoice in hearing “Letitgo,” although in truth the performance isn’t as exciting as the thought of the song itself.  Prince’s pop hooks lure me in, but it is Tommy Barbarella who provides the most nourishing moment with a keyboard solo that is the understated core of the song.

A coolness breezes though the recording with a frictionless performance of “Pink Cashmere.” It’s all silk as Prince provides a scented candles vocal performance to match the luxurious sound of the NPG. In a setlist full of heavy hitters, this comes as the most surprising moment, a delicate rose surrounded by denser and more demanding material.

The following  “(Lemme See Your Body) Get Loose!” comes in a hurried frenzy, there is no time to find  your feet of feel your well into the song, everything is up front and in your face from the opening barrage of music and lyrics until the last notes fade from the keyboard. It is breath-taking, and even more so again the backdrop of the previous “Pink Cashmere,” although I find it doesn’t have the same bite and sense of importance as some of the earlier songs. Despite its fast pace, the concert lags at this point, and there is a definite lull as there comes long pause between songs.

Prince pushes the right buttons as he introduces “I Love U In Me” with lacy guitar work, before giving a vocal performance that matches it for delicate intricacy. The song stays with this low lit feel, even as the band add the occasion blow, its all about Prince’s soft vocals and  feather light guitar. This is easily the most tender moment on the bootleg, and even my stone heart softens a little as I listen.

The sound of Vegas is in the air for “Proud Mary,” this is the sound of Prince the showman as he gives a lively performance of the much loved classic. It is a great burst of energy, although I find it rather empty and it doesn’t add a lot to the show. A more prolonged performance may have delivered more nuances, but this is a short sharp shock the quickly burns out.

The oriental introduction of “7” is the only part of the show that pulls directly from Prince and some of his material from 1992. It is grating to see it shoulder to shoulder with his current material, I do appreciate it’s appearance but it does highlight the divide between Prince’s old work and his current state of mind. “7” plays with an easy shuffle, the quality of the bootleg adding to its loose and easy way. For a few minutes it feels as if we are listening to another show entirely as Prince takes us down the wormhole to his former self, a few minutes where the crowd has a chance to celebrate his history as a musical artist.

I was prepared to give all of my love to “Dolphin,” and despite a bright start I find the shrill guitar sound too much for my tastes. My ear isn’t good enough to say what is wrong, but the guitar is too much for the song, and in this case it derails what would otherwise be a warm performance. The sound get worse as the song goes on, the mix is not even and leaves the song unpleasant and a disappointment. There is redemption in the final singing of the chorus and coda that brings it to an end, but over all it leaves me feeling flat.

“Get Wild” spins and revolutions, but there is almost too much going on, despite the best intentions of the band it sounds like a collection of performances that have little cohesion. Listening to each individually is revealing, but never once does it sound like a song with an over arching theme or message. I digest it piece by piece, but I never fully engage with the core of the song that lays tantalizingly out of reach.

The recording changes with “Race,” it immediately sounds distant and the quality is a lot lower than what has been previously heard. As the second song of the encore it displays an extra push towards the finish line, which makes the downgraded sound all the more disappointing. The horn sound does cut through with their polished brightness, and as always the keyboards steam on with a battleship sound that rides over all the rest of the band. The keyboard remains the hero, and in the proceeding “Super Hero” it remains the mainstay. “Super Hero” stays with the upbeat sound, adding an extra sense of adventure as Prince and the band draw on a classic 70’s funk sound for the song. The lively performance makes up for the disappointing “Race” and this portion of the show ends on a high as the NPG swing and funk into the night, the final appearance of “Outta Space” sounding like a futuristic update of The Commodore’s “Machine Gun.”

Prince’s vocals are the best thing about “Billy Jack Bitch,” the rest of the song is lost to the quality of the tape. It’s not recorded badly, its just that the band is barely heard behind Prince’s vocals. With the horn lines sun bleached and distant, the song loses some of it’s incisiveness,and although I enjoy Prince’s lyrics, the song remains just as elusive as some the previous few numbers.

“Eye Hate U” promises much, but actually delivers little. The start flatters to deceive, Prince’s crisp opening verse and first sparkling chorus rapidly disappears from view as the song vanishes with the recording cutting out and “319” emerging as the next song.

After the snippet of “Eye Hate U” I had hoped for more from “319,” but Prince keeps it brief with a one inch punch performance that gives us one verse and one chorus before we head into the  glory of the final song of the bootleg.

“Gold” sounds every inch like the triumphant finale that it is, uplifting, warm, and building to a powerful climax that has Prince striking guitar-god poses while the sound from his instrument gives credence to the pose. The mix is slightly out, but there is no denying the performance, this is Prince emerging from the wideness and reclaiming his spot at the top of the pop pantheon with a spirited rendition that plays to all his strengths, a spiritual vocal delivered paired with a guitar solo delivered from heaven itself. If only the recording could match the moment, instead I mentally remix it as I listen, restoring Princes guitar sound from a shrill whine to a full blooded roar, while mentally beefing up the bands sound. As so often seems to be the way, we have a great performance with a less than average recording.

And so ends the longest concert of this brief tour. The bootleg is in places very good, but mostly it is average, there is only so much you can do with the source material after all. The concert itself though is a knock out. The crowd are muted throughout most of the show, most of this material was unreleased and unfamiliar at the time, but Prince and the NPG give an all encompassing show that takes in all there talents and genre expanding music they were dabbling in at the time. This is one of the classic Prince shows, as he for the first time unveils his new sound and look to a wider audience, and although uncomfortable at the time, it has become one of the highly regarded eras of his career. Much like his One Night Alone Tour, it gives us not what we want, but rather what we need. Not perfect, but highly recommended.

Thanks for reading (if you made it this far),
See you again next week
-Hamish

Camden Palace 1988

The Palace in Hollywood wasn’t the only “Palace”  aftershow that Prince played in 1988. Earlier in the year he played a late night show at the Camden Palace in London, just one month before the famous small club gig that we all know and love. This concert is well known, in a large part due to the proshot footage that was later aired on “Prince: Musial Portrait” and “Omnibus: Prince Rogers Nelson,” both which provide a rare proshot glimpse into aftershows of the era. The concert itself is notable for three things. Firstly this proshot footage that hints that the full show remains on video tape somewhere in the vault. A tasty morsel of what could be an appetizing prospect should this whole show ever see the light of day. Then there is the guest appearance of Mica Paris, who Prince spots in the crowd and hands the microphone to for a guest spot. It is a glorious spontaneous moment that perfectly encapsulates the pure love of music and feeling that anything might happen at the show. Lastly, the show gains further luster from the guest appearance of Ronnie Wood, and immediately after  Mavis Staples. Although neither guest is heard on the bootleg (which sadly cuts out before they come to the stage), it still adds to the mythology of the show, and Sabotage have tried their best to give us a taste of what is missing by appending 20 seconds of Ronnie Woods appearance onto the end of the bootleg. It is a pointless exercise, but does serve to remind us of what we are missing from the recording. What we are left with though is a a fierce performance that touches on historic as Prince lavishes a hot and sweaty, yet utterly cool, performance on one of the most famous venues in London.

26th July (am), 1988. The Camden palace, London

It a special gift to Cat that introduces us to the bootleg as Prince gives a unique performance of “Happy Birthday” in her honor. It is a playful rendition as he flirts with different characters in his voice, and gives a gentle ad-lip with only heightens the lighthearted feel to the song. It is far from essential listening, but it does has its own simplistic charm.

“Forever In My Life,” is sonically far more serious, although the recording is less than ideal with its tape hiss just loud enough to catch my attention. The music that the band is cooking up is full of different flavors as Prince takes it from a campfire sing- a-long start to a song steeped in gospel and history, filtering it through a lens that colors it both with blues and funk while settling in neither camp. The guitar runs that appear midsong become the most fascinating feature as they carry the rhythm and the emotion of the song long after Prince has given up singing. Coupled with the popping bass sound, the song becomes the type of jam that contains far more rhythmic ideas than melodic ones, something for the feet rather than the ears.

The recording does no favours for the following “Strange Relationship.’ All the pieces are in place for a grand rendition, Prince’s guitar coupled with Eric Leeds horn sound as if they are prepared to inflict some serious damage upon the dance floor, but the recording remains willfully thin, all the more frustrating given that what we can hear is full of shadows and echos, a highly contrasting collage of sounds for the listener to luxuriate in. Prince’s guitar does whine and cut through the recording, but it never wails and howls as it would on a more full blooded recording, making this a neutered version of what we know would be a testosterone fueled performance.

“Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” is undoubtedly the high point of the show for a number of reasons. The introduction gives no hint of what is to come, the tape hiss stealing some of the intricacy from the performance, leaving only the bold strokes for us to hear. However, it settles down after this with the music elevated above mere trivialities. The vocals don’t fare so well, but as we approach the chorus the sound lifts as the sun bursts through the clouds of the recording. It is Dr Fink who first breaks this initial spell with his glistening and chiming solo. It does play to the divinity sound the rest of the band are weaving, with Eric Leeds following in a similar suit there is the feel that the band are indeed taking it higher. Prince’s guitar solo is different from the small club gig, in this case it is far more nuanced in the opening minutes, and Prince draws a slow build from his instrument, not so much playing rushing to hurricane force finish, but rather playing with the eddies and wind gusts before he finally blows us away with the gale force crescendo that follows. There is much more to come though, and as he spots Mica Paris in the audience he casually hands her the microphone for an impromptu performance that musically is just as rewarding as all that has come before. She grounds the song with strong roots, while Prince creates something otherworldly onstage Mica brings a humanity to the song that we can all relate to. This performance alone has me salivating at the prospect of a full proshot ever appearing.

I find the appearance of “Colonial Bogey March” and “Under The Cherry Moon” to be nothing more but a diversion, although “Under The Cherry Moon” offers a fresh take on a familiar song with the keyboard squelching and heaving in a psychedelic way that would sit happily at home in any late 1960’s commune.

“Six” brings further interest, as Eric Leeds brings his horns and Jazz sensibilities to what would otherwise be a pop rock concert. The opening horn refrain signals what will follow, and the song throws down a challenge from here on in as Eric wiggles and squiggles across the beat for the next few minutes in a manner that suggests the wider palette that Prince was drawing from at the time. Its a far from the furious guitar rock we heard earlier in the show, and even when Prince’s guitar is heard it remains subservient to the mood of the piece, remaining busy without ever coming into full focus.

 

This audience recording finishes with some funk in the form of “Dead On It” and “Housequake.” “Dead On It” is notable only for inclusion, musically it doesn’t muscle up  to the other songs performed in the evening. “Housquake” is more rewarding, there is some punch to Prince’s performance, and the beat alone is  reason enough to always dedicate time to this song. Unfortunately this is where we leave the concert as the recording finishes midsong, leaving us to only guess what the following “Miss You” (with Ronnie Wood) “I’ll Take There,” “Chain OF Fools” (both with Mavis Staples) and “Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic” offer in the way of musical treasures. Part of the “Miss You” performance with Ronnie Wood can be seen on the circulating footage, with Prince giving a fine impersonation of Mick Jagger, and the Sabotage release of this show has tacked the 20 second snippet onto the end of the recording, a waste in that it doesn’t offer much listening value, although I have to admit the video footage out there looks fantastic.

This is almost one of the greats. A 1988 era aftershow, a bevy of guest appearances, and some of Prince’s finest music all makes for a memorable performance. On the downside, the recording is just on the rough side of good, and incomplete. In itself this would be no bad thing, but having seen parts of the video, we know that this show has so much more, and the thought that it exists on video out there makes for a frustrating listen, always there is the voice in the back of my head saying “this could be so much better” Until we do get a better recording of the show, we will just have to make do with what we’ve got. It’s not perfect, but it is definitely a show that every needs to hear at least once.

Thanks for joining me again
-Hamish

The Astoria 1995

Recently I took a good listen to the Emporium set from London 1995. Viv Canal kindly got in touch to let me know that he had seen his first aftershow about this time at another London venue – The Astoria. This got me to thinking that I should give this one a listen to as well, and I did wonder about it as I couldn’t immediately recall hearing it before. Some digging revealed that I do have it, and it was actually a bootleg I remember very well, as I paid far too much for it back in the 1990’s. It has sat unloved on the shelf for too long, and is well overdue for another listen. It’s immediately made more appealing by the fact that both George Benson and Chaka Khan play with Prince and the band, and I do wonder why I haven’t played it more. The reason being, perhaps, that the recording isn’t great? I don’t recall, and there’s only one way to find out, let’s give it a spin.

9th March (am) 1995, The Astoria London

George Benson makes his appearance on the first song of the set – Glam Slam Boogie. Without hearing it and just seeing the name on the case it seems like a match made in heaven, one can almost hear the guitar sound of George Benson working very well with the lighter guitar playing that Prince sometimes indulges in. The reality is not quite what I expect, but still well worth the listen. Prince tells the crowd that George Benson is one of his heroes, and I fully believe him, you can hear it in the way Prince plays- there certainly is some influence there. The song is a fine introduction for the band as they each play their own solo as the groove carries us along just right. The sound of the recording is much better than I remember, and I am finding it to be a very easy listen. Each instrument can be heard clearly, and the drum sounds full without ever taking over. It takes some time to reach George Benson and his playing, and he is well hyped up by Princes introduction. His solo is worth the wait, and as he plays I can hear how Prince has been influenced by him.  The solo is shorter than I hoped, and Prince resumes his dialogue with the crowd, this time having them singing “ooww, weee, oooww”. They sound great, and for a minute I am a touch envious and wish I was there.

1995 GlamSlam

We go from one hero to another as the soft introduction of Sweet Thing brings Chaka Khan to the fore. It’s ethereal sounding, the sound of the keyboard wash while the guitar cascades, I am lost in the music as it plays. The crowd recognizes Chaka as she comes to the stage, and there is an appreciative applause before she begins her vocal delivery. I thought the intro was beautiful, things get even better as she sings. Its glorious in every way, and already I am regretting I haven’t been playing this bootleg more often, things are off to a wonderful start. The vocals are the centre piece as they intertwine, raise and fall, and I feel myself falling in love as I listen to it.

Things become more upbeat as the guitar begins a wah-wah sound and You Got The Love begins. A song from Chaka’s back catalogue, it’s not something I am overly familiar with, but I do like the bands performance, and Chaka always gives a great vocal performance. As the song plays on I find I am swept up by it, and I find I am turning it up louder and louder as it goes- always a good sign. There is some silky guitar work near the end by Prince, he sounds good but it’s not enough to upstage Chaka or the band especially as they up the groove for the climax of the song.

1995 Prince

Love Thy Will Be Done initially sounds distant, but soon enough it becomes stronger as the audience claps along. It’s got a sound that is right to be played with, and sure enough it is played out with a suitable long introduction before Prince speaks. As he counts off again the sound suddenly opens right up and he plays some punchy guitar that serves as a wakeup call. It’s probably wrong to say this, but I prefer Martika’s singing to his, at least based on this performance, however the guitar playing amply compensates as I find the performance again to be top notch. I have to give special mention to the last lead guitar break, it had just enough fire to ignite the song for me.

Following straight after is Funky. I loved the version that he played at Emporium, this one tonight doesn’t reach the same heights for me, although the chorus has me sitting up and taking notice, especially as Prince hits us with a blast of lead guitar every time. Things get seriously intense after the last chorus, and at this point the guitar is deep and rough sounding, it’s just the sort of naked raw sound I like to hear.

1995 Prince Netherlands

I actually salivate as 18 And Over begins. I have always had a soft spot for it on the album, and in the last few years I have warmed to the live versions, to the point now where it is something I look forward to in the set. The music is enchanting, and I find Princes vocals to be just on the right side of clever, I listen with a big sloppy grin on my face as he sings. People get different things out of different shows, and for me this is the highlight. I don’t care if there’s no guitar solos, or a soaring vocal performance, the mood and groove of the song is just right for me. Despite the smutty lyrics the music retains a sense of elegance, its beautifully balanced.

Prince next plays homage to another one of his heroes with an enthusiastic cover of Graham Central Stations I Believe In You. The first couple of minutes is very much a band performance, until Prince begins to play his guitar with a loud solo that claims the song as his own. There’s still plenty of funk there, but Prince certainly puts his stamp on it with his crisp and crunchy guitar sound.

As The Ride begins I know we are about to get a whole lot more guitar, yet in a completely different style. Sure enough after a slow steady start Prince begins to weave his magic on his guitar. It’s got an easy swagger to it, and as Prince is so fond of saying, they do indeed sound as if they have days to play. He plays his solo for quite some time, and I find it interesting to listen to without ever feeling its punching me in the face with intensity. In particular I like the way he gets the guitar to whinny and rear up like a horse, the sound of it definitely evokes that image.

1995 P and M

The last song played by the band for the evening is an extended Get Wild, I say extended but in reality it’s always this way, played out to the max. The popping bass solo is cool, all “up” sounding and bright. The smile stays on my face Prince has the crowd singing “play that motherfuckin bass” -oh to be there! Mr Hayes comes to the party with a trademark solo, very playful and heartfelt. Tommy matches him with a more electrifying break, its shorter and much sharper.  As it becomes a jam and groove with Mayte dancing, it needs to be seen as much as it needs to be heard, all the calls for her to shake her money maker has all sorts of images playing in my mind. I hope for much more music to follow but the song ends at this stage, as does the show.

As a final exclamation point, Gold is played over the P.A. It is on the recording, nice and clear and, although it’s good to hear, it doesn’t add anything else in terms of the show, especially since it was later released and now familiar to us all.

Personally, I think Viv was lucky to see this as his first after show. The centre piece of the show was the band themselves, and at this stage of his career Prince was very trusting of his band, as I have written of other shows from this era the band sound like they are a gang, bonded together against the world. This isn’t a setlist to set the world on fire, but it was all played  well and passionately and with the bonus of George Benson and Chaka, it all adds up to make this a show worth listening to. Thanks for the recommendation Viv, I will be putting this one in the car for the next road trip.

have a great week
next time, back to 1986 for the end of The Revolution
-Hamish

 

London, The Emporium 1995 – Part 2

The bootleg I listened to last week covers two nights that Prince played at The Emporium London in March of 1995. Last week we listened to the first show from March 22nd, and today I will be listening to the second part of the recording covering the show on the 23rd. This bootleg is hugely popular, and I know it many people hold it dear. The 3 CD pack covers two nights, and those two nights Prince gave us a fantastic mix of styles and songs. Last week’s show I had a great time listening to, and I expect more of the same this time round.

23rd March (am), 1995, The Emporium London

The opening drum solo has me excited right from the beginning. Drum solos aren’t my thing, but I listen carefully as Michael B rolls around the kit, and already I have a good feeling about this show. The drum solo is achingly short, but starts the gig with an exclamation point.

We roll into The Ride, and the band have me hooked as they groove on it. Prince sings with swagger and drawls over some lines which gives it a nice bluesy sound. The sound of the recording gets much better after a weak start and when Prince calls “dirty up” as he begins to howl on the guitar it sounds much warmer on the ears. This recording is feeling different from the previous night already, there seems to be much more of Prince and his guitar right from the start, and as is usual he plays for some time over The Ride, effortlessly in his cool. That good feeling I had at the start of the show is proving to be well founded.

Prince1995a

This is further emphasized as Poorgoo begins and the crowd take up a chant right from the start. Prince draws a smile as he asks how they are doing, then replying “Bullshit” before asking again. He’s cheeky and funny, and it sounds relaxed on the recording. The guitar is the centre of attention and this time it’s darker and stronger, and much more in the mix. I liked the guitar in The Ride previous, here he takes it up and notch, and there is the feeling that both he and the crowd are beginning to warm up.

The crunching start of Honky Tonk Woman is electrifying, and it’s at this point that I realize we are essentially getting a performance of The Undertaker project, but with the addition of Morris Hayes. There is a moment of heavy distortion on the recording that has me nervous for a second, but it resolves itself as Mr Hayes gives us another classic sounding solo. As the song closes out Prince delivers a great line with “One time I opened for the Rolling Stones, I go booed off. Perhaps I should have played that shit”

Bambi adds a bit more fire to the evening, and the intensity rises as Prince plays some blistering guitar. The only negative being, at this stage the recording becomes a little thin. Still, Prince sounds great and I am able to look past the quality of the recording and enjoy it for what it is. After a good start, things become even better as it does become just about Prince and his guitar playing. The song builds until we are left with a final flurry from Prince that ends in a furious howl.

I was listening to the album version of Zannalee only earlier today, and I am happy to hear it again here in the live context. It’s much more lively, and sounds nice and gritty with some of the polish rubbed off for the show. It’s still uplifting in spirit, and at first I find I am listening to Morris Hayes on the keyboard, but once Prince begins to solo its game over. The singing is joyful sounding, and the overall vibe of the performance and recording is fun. It’s another gear change in the show, and takes us to another level.

Prince Slave 95

Prince speaks as the groove of The Undertaker begins, with a speech about guns and troubles in America. I have high hopes for the song, especially as Prince introduces Eric Leeds to the mix. First though we have a great lead break on the keyboards. I am unsure to exactly who is playing, but my word its good, nice full organ sound swirling around. I know for a fact it’s Tommy Barbarella who plays the next solo, Prince has the crowd chanting his name as he plays. It’s more piano sounding, and although it doesn’t reach the heights of the previous solo, it’s still very good. I could go on and on about this song, this performance is very groovy, and the only thing that could make it better would be a little less chat from the crowd. Eric Leeds playing the last minute is just the icing on the cake.

We cut into something much more up-tempo next as the band takes on Funky Stuff. It’s infectious, with its quick sound, and Eric playing some runs over the first minute before the swirling organ returns, with the swing of it driving us forward all the time. Part of me wants to move, and part of me wants to listen and catch every note that Eric blows our way. Eric is at the centre of it, and I could sit for hours listening to him play over this sort of music. It’s brilliant stuff, and I am pleased I chose this particular recording to listen to this week.

Things slow again as Prince is heard again when Johnny begins. I can’t decide if the lyrics are silly, or brilliant, all I know is that this is great performance of the song. Prince is obviously in good humour, and his call of “Tommy, tickle me” that starts Barbarella’s solo again has me smiling. This is very much a band performance, no one person dominates, and this is highlighted as Prince calls for everyone to solo at once. NPG in the M***F**ing house indeed.

We spin back into Funky Stuff, which to my ears sounds faster than before. The playing is more loose than previously and it becomes fantastically funky as Prince sings Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine. I can speak highly enough of this particular performance and again Eric Leeds is on hand to add that little bit extra. This is perhaps my favourite version Prince covering this song, it’s mind blowingly cool.

Prince 1995 guitar

Prince keeps Eric close by as the next song in the setlist is Asswoop. Again it’s fabulous to have a rarity like this in the show, and I like that Eric receives the praise and credit from Prince. We feel a million miles away from the guitar heavy first half hour, this is very light sounding, and a chance for Eric to show us a different side of his playing compared to what we have heard so far at this show. The band stay in the background as Eric solos, and yet again I have to praise this band for being so versatile, and just down-right badass. They truly were one of his greatest bands.

17 is a natural fit to follow straight after, and keeps Eric Leeds front and centre. As much as I enjoy the song, I can hear the intensity of the show drop off, and things do feel like they are going in slow motion for a while. That doesn’t detract from my enjoyment here at home though, and I get a kick out of hearing another rarity.

The next song also features Eric Leeds, an instrumental of The Most Beautiful Girl in the World lead by the saxophone. Anyone who has heard the remixes of The Most Beautiful Girl In The World won’t be surprised by this, and it is a nice arrangement. There is also delicate guitar work by Prince which holds my attention. Prince does come to the microphone for the chorus, but it’s the crowd that does the bulk of the singing, and that is a cool live moment which is what these shows are all about.

I recognize I Believe In You right away, it is another song I have heard countless times. This band is tailor made for songs such as this, and I have to mention Morris Hayes again who is all over this one. He does eventually give way to Eric Leeds, who has another moment that carries us to the end of the song.

Things get seriously funky at this point as the hard, heavy grooves of Days Of Wild takes up. This is one for the ages, with plenty of audience chanting, the deep groove, and Eric Leeds carrying the first few minutes, before Prince sings- not spitting the lyrics as strongly as usual, instead sounding more relaxed and groove focused. Likewise, the first bass solo isn’t as strong, similarly sounding more relaxed and groovy. The song is not brain crushingly heavy as it sometimes as, instead it seems to be more colourful, but all the same it’s locked into that fantastic groove. Prince is certainly getting his money’s worth out of Eric as he gives us another withering solo before Prince comes back singing Hair. There is no mistaking, this is a proper aftershow, especially when the audience take up the Days Of Wild chants. Now, this is the sort of funk I love.

Prince1995

We stay in that funky place as next Prince introduces the song Funky. It’s another chance for the crowd to sing and be part of the show, and they take to it with great gusto. The audience chatting we had at the start of the recording is now a distance memory, and they are well and truly engaged in the show at this point. Prince has the perfect response with several quick guitar breaks that serve as a counter point to the crowds chanting. There is a brief rap from an audience member that, although not musically great, still very much keeps in the spirit of the evening, and I love that Prince includes it.

Glam Slam Boogie is a chance for the band to stretch out and take a turn to solo. It has an easy way about it, and it feels as if it might go all night long. Eric’s solo is more in the background than previously, and I can hear the guitar lines much clearer as the band plays. With the crowd chanting their lines I feel like I am almost there myself. Barbarella plays a piano solo with some seriousness about it, although it does get faster and lighter as it goes. Prince calls for a “Five in the morning solo” from Eric, and I think everyone in the crowd and I know exactly the sort of thing he means. Mr Hayes gets the same call, and he ably delivers something that I would call a “five in the morning solo”

The crowd is right into Sexy MF, and sing every line perfectly, much better than I could ever do. It’s impressive to hear, and another cool aftershow moment to hear them singing the verses to Prince. We get a well-rounded performance with a solo from Eric before Prince picks out an equally sharp solo on his guitar. As Morris plays another solo I can see that this show has been heavy on solos from everyone, and has been a showcase for this band, and it highlights again how good they were.

“Clap your hands, clap your hands” and I wonder what will follow. Prince answers soon enough with some funky guitar and “Pussy Control”. It’s an interesting start, and he keeps it in this vein as the song kicks off. The groove is strong, and it has a much funkier and darker sound. Princes rap isn’t as fast as on record, and the band are much more prominent. The chorus is also much more laid back. I have to say, I love this arrangement, as much as I like the album version, this one tops it. I think it’s that extra element of funk that does it for me, and the sheer coolness of it. The obligatory sax solo and the swirling organ of Morris Hayes seals the deal for me.

This ain't a photo session motherfucker

This ain’t a photo session motherfucker

The segue into Funky design is equally cool, with the sax and Prince’s call of “G” taking us through. Prince does chide an audience member “this ain’t a photo session motherfucker”, which makes me laugh even after all these years. Prince sings the first line of Funky Design and the crowd pick it up immediately with the chant. As Prince rails against DJs, and praises the virtues of live music I am reminded of how much I must have played this over the years, I find I can match him word for word as he speaks. Strangely enough I can’t remember his lyrics, but I remember little speeches like this. The song increases in speed a fraction and I can hear we are building to the finish. Sure enough things increase in intensity before Prince brings things to a halt with “On the one”

This is one of the great bootlegs. It may not be one of the great recordings, but as a package it is sublime. The show is phenomenal, and the recording does a serviceable job of picking up not just the music, but also the vibe of the show. I have listened to this plenty of times over the years, and listening to it more closely now I think it will still be being played at my house for some years to come. There are other shows from this period I enjoy more, but if I am honest this one is just as good as anything else from 1995.

Thanks for reading,
Same again next week
Hamish

 

 

London, The Emporium 1995 – Part 1

This week’s bootleg has a special place in my heart. It may not be the greatest bootleg of all time, but it is the one that I have listened to most. When I was younger I lived in London for a few years, about the same time I bought my first iPod, and the music I had on it was severely limited. Today’s recording was one of the few Prince shows I had with me, and I listened to it many times as I shuttled back and forth from work.  It was quite some time before I was able to put more music on my iPod, and over the course of the year I listened to it countless times. The show itself comes from 1995,  a couple of weeks after the Wembley show, but a few days before the Paradiso show and the Dublin show with Bono. What I find so good about these shows is that they are all extremely different from each other, and stand up to repeated listens. It’s at this time that Prince released Exodus with the NPG, and this show is an interesting mix of songs from that album and some other odd songs from that era that never really found a home. It looks like an unusual mix, but they all work well together.

22nd March (am), 1995, The Emporium London

Given the lay of the land at that time, it’s no surprise that Prince begins the show by heavily promoting the Exodus album. He gives the crowd some titles and they respond with a supporting cheer to every title. Then we get into things with a chugging drum sound, some swirling organ and the song Big Fun. Its cooler than cool, and although Prince does sing early on, it’s the sound of the organ and bass playing over the drums that carries the day. The looping roll of it is broken by Eric Leeds sax playing, and listening to it now it’s easy to get carried away by the snaking sound of it, my head nods involuntary to it as the it flows on. This is the first live performance of Big Fun, and it is a tremendous debut, at almost 10 minutes of mostly Eric Leeds and Morris Hayes things couldn’t get much better.

Prince London 1995

A sharp change in tempo moves the show along briskly, and its Race that next gets an airing. In a lot of ways things are very similar to Big Fun, with the song being another chance for Morris Hayes to strut his stuff, the first few minutes being a nice showcase of his sound. Things become more balanced as Prince sings, but I find I am enjoying the band performance just as much as Prince. The jam feel resumes, and we have a nice Controversy riff played on the keyboard, which in this context sounds very cool to my ears. We also get a “the roof, the roof, the roof is on fire” chant, which has appeared in Prince concerts and shows many times over the years. Just like the Controversy riff, the appearance of a few lines of Girls And Boys reminds us that Prince isn’t quite dead, even if the setlist would have you believe otherwise. I do like the Goldaxxe and the solo played before the segue to the next song is worth a listen.

I have always liked Superhero, and I especially like this version. It’s not a great recording, what makes it so good for me is the band, and the energy they infused it with, both at the chorus and the keyboard riff. It swings and has a funk to it that makes me move. It has an uplifting keyboard riff, with somewhat of a funky Commodores feel to it, and I can’t help but think of Machine Gun when I hear it.

Dark by name, the song itself lightens the show, and with Eric Leeds again playing it continues to follow the brightened sound of Superhero. The horns have plenty of long swells, and with the keyboard playing similar long chords it is very warm sounding. I thought the first half of the song was good, the second half was even better as Eric Leeds takes over. He doesn’t push anything too hard, instead he flows in and out beautifully. As always I find Eric’s contribution just as important as Princes.

Prince Slave 95

Sweet Thing is a firm favourite of Princes, and of mine. The cascading guitar is beautiful, and even with this average sounding recording it is still sharp and clear. Stacy Francis does all the singing, I’m not taken by her, although she does win me over as she gets deeper into the song. I think she would be better served on a higher quality recording, but her vocal abilities are clearly demonstrated here. For me the high point is near the end of the song as the guitar echoes her vocals, a touching moment that works well despite the cracks in the recording.

I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl) was first covered in Vienna 1987, here it makes a reappearance.  The robotic, automatic funk of the guitar is killer, as is Princes vocal delivery. This time its Barbarella who gets a shout out for a solo, but he is no more than starting when we swiftly transition into Skin Tight.

This is a song I always get a lot of mileage out of, the guitar, bass and keyboard interplay slays me everytime, as does Princes vocals. Its keep minimal at this show, barely a couple of minutes, however that is a great two minutes and I can hear the band are doing their thing with style through and through.

The funk doesn’t let up for a instant, with the next song performed being Funky Stuff. I know the chant right away, but in this case resist the urge to sing along as Eric Leeds again plays up a storm. When we reach the break down things heat up, with Prince calling on Eric to school the audience. Prince preaches about real instruments and his words are reinforced by some great sax work that is matched on the guitar. There is also the classic moment when Prince calls for the band to give him 25, something they do very well.

Exodus

When one is tired of the Santana medley, then one is tired of life. This is the moment when Prince engages in some of his lead guitar fireworks. Its a fitting tribute to his hero, and I can only imagine how full blooded this would have sounded at the show. Prince is a great one for sharing the spot light, so we get a Michael B moment as well as a solo from Tommy Barbarella. Both are good in their own way, but it’s Prince and his guitar skills that we want to hear in this song, and he delivers that in spades in the final few minutes. He switches from a buzzing guitar sound one moment to a razor sharp sound the next, and its right now that I am lost in the show and forget that this is an audience recording.

Prince tells us that Mayte says they can’t leave until they do Get Wild, I don’t believe him but I am thrilled to hear it. This song is very much of the time, and to me sounds like the sort of funk jam that Prince would write with ease in the mid 1990’s. As you might expect there is plenty of chanting and a casualness on stage as the music raises and lowers in intensity. Eric gets a moment as does Tommy Barbarella again, and mostly it is Prince toying with the audience and the band. I only wish I could see it, especially as Prince calls to Mayte to shake her money maker. There is a camaraderie you can hear between Prince and the band and do sound like a good bunch of friends together on stage. This is a jam that sounds as if it might last all night, and they do throw everything bar the kitchen sink into the song, making it an epic 15 minutes.

The chant of “Lets get satisfied’ takes us into the next song which is Funky Design. It still retains a shout of “Get Wild” for the first minute before some lead guitar takes us to a different place. When Prince starts chanting “Blow your mind, blow your mind”, thats when the song starts proper for me. The song is full of strut and swagger, and its always empowering to hear Prince sing it. I would bust out a couple of verses myself, but it ends after a verse and chorus.

Prince tells the crowd that they’ll be back the next night (next weeks blog post) and a laid back dripping Johnny brings us towards the end of the show. Its an excuse to have the crowd chanting “NPG, in the M***f*** house, before we have some tasty keyboard playing. I was expecting this be stretched out as well, although it stops abruptly with Prince calling “On the one” and the show is over.

They say familiarity breeds contempt, but listening to this show again I find my feelings to it are just as warm as the day I first heard it. An audience recording, true, but it covers  a show from the most fascinating few months of Princes career. There are other shows from 1995 that I enjoy more, but this has its place in the canon, and its part is an essential piece of the story. In my life I have heard this recording 100’s of times, and I think I’ll be giving it a few more listens in future too.

Thanks for taking the time to drop by
See you next week
-Hamish

Diamonds and Pearls, Earls Court 1992

With such a long and varied career, it was inevitable that were times in my life when I walked away from Prince and his music, only to return later when he had further evolved. I have written before of the early 90’s and how I missed a few years after feeling disappointed with Diamonds and Pearls and the couple of albums after. Nothing wrong with the albums or the shows, I was just at a different point in my life. In recent times I have returned to these albums and show, and it has been a revelation. I have had this show on DVD and video for some years, but it never quite seemed to play right and I struggled to watch it. However, I watched this show a couple of weeks ago for the first time in many years, and I was blown away. The performance is very smooth and slick, and Prince is playing at close to his best. I watched it as if seeing it for the first time, and this time I am feeling very passionate about it.

24th June, 1992 Earls Court, London

Rosie is a treasure. Her vocals on the opening Take My Hand, Precious Lord are divine, and I can hear the passion and depth she brings to the show. It’s a spellbinding moment in the darkness before Prince appears in the smoke to open the show.

Thunder plays powerfully in the live setting, its more fleshed out than on record and the band add a lot more weight to it here. The guitar in particular has a lot of power. There is a lot to take in with the dancers and action on stage, but it gains focus as Prince steps forward to play a great sharp solo with a glassy clean sound.

Earls court 1992 A

The guitar is gone for the next song, and we get a lot more dancing as Daddy Pop begins. Although I no great fan of the song I do get a buzz from seeing Prince and the dancers performing.  He is a great showman and it’s hard to take your eyes off him here as he dances and prances around the stage. Rosie adds her voice to the mix and the last few minutes of the song seems to have a little bit of everything, both visually and musically.

The introduction to Diamonds and Pearls is quite lovely with some gentle guitar luring me in. On screen Prince is dancing, but he is no match for the ballerina on stage. The song really takes off as Prince plays the piano and sings. It’s too loud for my taste, and I find it’s not as beautiful as it could have been. It does settle down as it goes, and the balance is restored when Rosie sings. Prince shows his versatility, singing, dancing, playing the piano, as well as the guitar, it four minutes he shows all his gifts, especially if we throw song writing into that mix.

I do wonder about Let’s Go Crazy as it begins, but Prince allays my fears with a short but fiery rendition. True, it is flashy, but Prince keeps it so short that it never loses focus.

Kiss is all about the show, and there is plenty of action on stage as he performs. Surprisingly I am right into this, and if I could I would stand up and dance myself. The funk is strong and Prince plays on that to the hilt. This is one of the best versions of Kiss that I have seen for a long time, and I am kicking myself that it has been sitting unloved on the shelf for so many years.

Earls court 1992b

From the high of Kiss, we sink to a low with Tony M singing Jughead. Ok, so parts of it aren’t too bad at all, it’s only when he yells at the crowd that I begin to switch off. Listening closely tonight I can hear that this song has the potential to be in a similar vein to Sexy MF – the music is almost there, however it’s hard to go past Tony M. I get a surprise to see Prince singing from the dressing room, and it’s at this point I relax and enjoy it for what it is. The jumping up and down and yelling near the end is a lot of fun and takes me back, and is probably what I was doing myself back in 1992.

Earls court 1992c

Purple Rain comes as a real surprise next, it’s in total contrast to what we have just heard. The second surprise is how great it sounds, Prince soloing for half a minute at the beginning before addressing the crowd. He sounds sincere as he thanks them before giving us some more of that intense guitar sound. As he sings all the performance from earlier in the show seems to take a backseat and we get a sincere rendition of Purple Rain. I wasn’t quite at arm waving stage, but I was the closest I have been for a long time.

Earls court 1992d

Prince has the crowd chanting “Live 4 Love” and it’s pretty obvious what’s coming next -one of my favourite songs off the Diamonds And Pearls album. It opens with some blistering guitar work from Prince, he is soaring at this stage. It cuts back sharply as the vocals start and the song itself maintains the intensity. Sonny T playing a brief solo is a highlight, although it is offset by another Tony M rap. My heart lifts with a dual guitar solo that stamps its authority all over the song.

Earls court 1992 r

Good times follow with a mix of Rosie singing, crowd clapping and some horns, we are definitely taking a funky turn. Prince is on the piano at this stage, and there is the feeling that anything might happen. What does happen is Prince leaps on the piano to give us a burst of Delirious. If it sounds great, that’s because it is great. The horns make it oh so much better than I expect, and I am all in. I didn’t think it could get any better, but Levi plays a solo, the horns kick up a notch and I am running out of words for it all. Breath-taking.

Everything seems to happen at once next, Rosie sings Willing and Able, Tony M raps and the horns funky things up for a good minute. I like it far more than I should and I am having a great time watching this here at home.

Prince then plays what would had been a new song at that time, Damn U. It’s still six months away from being released, but it gets a great response from the crowd.  Prince’s vocals are exquisite, and he very well matched by the horn section, they match him all the way in their quality of performance.

Earls court 1992 e

The audience seem to know the words to Sexy MF much too well, and they take great delight in singing the chorus back to Prince. Initially I enjoy Prince, but the horns get better and better, and they steal the performance from him as far I am concerned. I had forgotten Tommy Barbarella was in this band, both he and Levi play their solos with plenty of heart and it’s nice to see them get their moment.

The next ten minutes are the very highlight of the show for me. Firstly, a magical Arabic introduction and dancing which gives it a mystical feel. Then Prince appears and we get a fantastic long version of Thieves In The Temple. It’s dark and dirty, then a funky guitar appears and Barbarella plays a break and we are deep into it. Prince is nowhere to be seen, but the music is powerful and irrepressible throughout. As the song slides into its breakdown Prince appears, chain hat covering his face and he sings the lyrics to It. I can’t stress enough how great this sounds, there is a very real intensity through the whole song. As he screams the finale of It I am in fanboy heaven. However, he’s not done yet and what comes next is one of my favourite Prince live moments of all time.  With just an acoustic guitar he plays a funky guitar break for five minutes, and when I say funky I mean it is FUNKY, he is on fire. I am speechless by the time he finishes, this is what being a Prince fan is all about.

Earls court 1992 f

I am still catching my breath as Prince and the band ease back, firstly playing an easy sounding Strolling before a segue into Insatiable. It’s so smooth and alluring, it’s a fresh sound after the earlier intensity. Prince starts seated at the piano, and then is soon upon it before finally settling on a shower of pearls to deliver the rest of the song. It’s clean and has a warmth to it that I find appealing. Levi plays a summery sounding break that seals the deal for me, and I decide this is my second favourite part of the show.

Earls court 1992 j

Gett Off gets off to a jump start, with seemingly all the main parts playing at once- the scream, guitar riff, and Tony M rapping right away. For all its lewd lyrics, Gett Off sounds a little tame at this show, that is until Prince picks up the guitar and plays his solo. He doesn’t exactly set the roof on fire, but I applaud the increase in intensity. We swing quickly into Gett Off (housestyle), a song that has never worked for me listening at home, but seeing the show I can understand how it would work in a live setting. For me Tony M is at his best now, and the interplay with him and Prince is fun. It’s got the feeling of a last hurrah as the dancers come forward and have their moment in the spotlight.

Earls court 1992 h

A brief break before the encores begin with a crowd pleasing Cream. The look and sound of it is indeed creamy, Prince looks the part and his vocals are velvety as he sings. Seeing it in this setting I am reminded of the pop landscape at the time, and it does fit well with my memories of the early 90’s. Prince entertains himself, having the crowd ‘meow’ and ‘woof’ back and forth, something which I too get a lot of amusement out of. Unfortunately the recording ends not long after this point, but not before we get a minute to enjoy Rosie singing Chain Of Fools. It’s a good point to check out of the show, and seeing Rosie sing means we leave on a high. It’s regrettable we don’t get the final encores, but I am well satisfied with what I have got up to this point.

Earls court 1992 i

I am annoyed at myself that I haven’t made more of an effort to listen to this show over the years. It is a great show, and I have no one to blame but myself. There is just too much out there, and it’s easy to skip over this to other time periods I am more interested in. The show sounded great, but more importantly it looked great, which is a big part of a Prince show. Now I have seen this one, I will certainly be going back through the collection to see more from this year.

Thanks for reading,
take care
-Hamish

 

 

 

Amy Winehouse appearance 2007

Last week I took in an aftershow that opened with the vocal talents of Bono singing The Cross as the opening song. That set me to thinking about similar shows where guest vocalists make an appearance. I have already covered the 1988 aftershow with Taylor Dayne, and this week I will take a listen to a 2007 aftershow that begins with Amy Winehouse. In the last few months I have caught the very highly recommended documentary of her life, and I can see what an outstanding talent she was. At the time I followed her through the tabloids, but there was much more to her, and she was purely about music, as well as a wonderful performer. With nothing but respect for her I can’t wait to relisten to this show and reflect on the talent that was Amy Winehouse.

22 September 2007 The Indigo O2, London

I was anticipating hearing Amy sing right from the start, instead the show opens with a lovely sounding instrumental, with a piano and keyboards to the fore. It’s a suitable opening as the band feel their way in and get the levels right. Near the end you can hear Prince testing the mics “one, two, one, two” – it is very much an instrumental sound check.

Love is a losing game

Some soft guitar near the finish leads us ever so gently into Love Is A Losing Game. The piano and guitar interplay is spellbinding and as Amy begins to sing she gets an appreciative cheer from the crowd. For all her troubled life, here she is an absolutely angelic, her voice is simply beautiful, and as Prince begins to play lead guitar it lifts it to another level. I have seen grainy youtube footage of this performance, just listening to it is even better, I can concentrate and wallow in Amy’s every word.  Prince does his best to match her feeling with his guitar playing, and as wonderful as it is I still can’t get past Amy’s voice, it’s unique and something wonderful. Normally I listen to whole shows rather than individual songs, in this case I would make an exception and would happily pluck this song for any playlist. As the song finishes Prince says “I got tears” and I know exactly what he means.

7 has a raw sound and the guitar is heavier which I really dig. Prince plays while the crowd sings for him, and it’s a sound I find most enjoyable. Prince does his vocal duties as the song goes on, and he too is in fine voice this evening, and he needs to be after Amy’s performance.  Already this is proving to be an excellent show, and I see there is plenty more good things to come.

That raw sound persists into the next song which is a pumped up version of Come Together. Come Together popped up on a regular basis over the 21 nights, this one is much better than any of the others I have heard from the main shows. Prince plays some fiery guitar mid-song which has me gasping for air, it’s head spinning stuff and we are only three songs into the show. The song is well and truly ‘Princeified’ as they stretch it out to nearly ten minutes with plenty of cool interplay between the instruments.

Prince 2007a

Next Prince gives us a much loved cover of Honky Tonk Woman. The guitar riff sounds full in the venue, and the band sound great on the groove. Shelby takes lead vocals, which may not be to everyone’s taste, but truth be told she sounds great. She belts it out with great gusto, while Prince and the band rock on behind her, and they sound well in the groove, the highlight for me being when Morris Hayes bangs out a solo on the keys. I am sure by now you are well aware how much I love the sound of him on the keys, he always delivers.

I am not sure about Rock Steady. It seems to have the Whole Lotta Love bassline, and although it gives it an ominous sound, I don’t think the bassline works very well when the singing starts. The rest of the band though sound hot, and all of them a right on the money. The keyboard swells, the guitar chimes and there are just enough horns to liven it. Beverly Knight is on vocal duties and as good as she sounds, for me it’s the horns that steal the show.

Prince guitar riff opens Whole Lotta Love next, and there is an initial rush of excitement in me although I have heard it many times before. I do quite like this rendition, it’s an instrumental and as you might expect there is plenty of Prince howling away on the guitar. I like my funk just as much as anyone, but I am in awe as Prince rocks out on the guitar, it’s a face melting solo that has me flying.

Shhh gets off to a heavy start, there is still guitar pyrotechnics from Prince as it begins. It drops back as Prince sings, and I find I am lost in the music. Although I have heard this countless times, it’s still one of those songs that hits me every single time. Prince is quiet/loud, rough/smooth, emotional and passionate, all those things which I love about his live performances the most. The vocals are oh so good, but then that guitar playing comes in and I wonder how it can possibly ever get any better.

Prince 2007

All this guitar and rock malarkey is put to one side as we hit a strong groove in All The Critics Love U In London. The band go to town on this one, and there is plenty to dance to before any sort of vocals begins. Keyboards, horns, guitar, all of them lock in and play on the groove for what seems the longest time. And even then it’s not long enough for me, I could nod along to this all night long. Once again I find the horns practically alluring, they do add so much to his sound when they have to. The horns maintain their dominance right through the song, the whole 17 minutes, and never once to I tire of them.

We get more funk next as the pounding of the bass drum leads us into Sexy Dancer – Le Freak. I am a fan of both songs, so this plays to my tastes. Shelby is back out front, she does a well enough job but in this case I would have preferred to hear Prince. It’s a party song, so there is some element of Shelby extolling the crowd to get up and party.  I get a lot more enjoyment and satisfaction as she steps back and we once again get a funky trombone solo.  It’s this solo that carries us through to the end before the bass of Chelsea Rogers starts.

I am fan of Chelsea Rogers, it’s an easy listen, the bass has a good pop to it. Shelby sings it, and injects plenty of energy. The trombone can be heard in the background, adding a nice fat sound to it. Prince accompanies Shelby later, and this sounds very cool to my ears, my only wish is that I could hear him better. This song sounds like it was it would have been a lot of fun to be there, you can hear the crowd dancing and moving along to the song. It’s not quite so much fun here at home, but it is a good listen.

Misty Blue has a great horn intro that sounds very inviting. Shelby is singing again, and this is the Shelby I like, laid back and singing rather than hyping the crowd. She does a good job on the song, but for me it’s not Prince, and I find I am waiting patiently for it to end so we can get to the main attraction. On another show, or another recording I would find this to be great, but right now this isn’t what I want to hear.

It was Mr. Chris of The Soul Brother Show that introduced me to Mother’s Finest and it’s only recently that I realized that is where this next song comes from. Baby Love has its moments here, although it’s not a patch on the original. The band sound great when the rock on, and Shelby sings loud and passionately, so I can’t quite figure why it’s not as good as it appears on paper. For all that though it is very good, and does raise the level up again after the previous couple of songs. I think having Prince soloing on the guitar certainly helps in this respect.

2007 tpur book

A couple of excerpts follow, firstly a few seconds of Love Changes, then some funky guitar riffing on Kiss. Then we are back in business proper as Prince tears into Alphabet St. It’s one of those times where I can’t help but love it. Firstly, Prince stops and lets Josh play that bassline, and it sounds fantastic. Then the band rejoin and things begin to pop and swing. Maceo joins the fray and puts his trademark sound all over it, upping the funk levels considerably. In fact to my ears Maceo pretty much owns the song, even when Prince is grooving on the guitar it’s still Maceos sound that I am listening to in the background.

The horns remain the centre of attention well into the next song which is Get On The Boat. It becomes a party jam with the horns providing the lead riff that everyone else plays off. Prince does break it down for chanting and singing and it’s obvious that he is getting into party mode at this stage. Renato adds some delicate funky notes while Prince sings with the crowd. The chanting does wear out after a minute, and the band return with a sound that takes a different twist, it seems to have more of a flourish to it.

I am less than impressed as I hear them begin to play Love Rollercoaster next, however it is kept mercifully short and they quickly segue into another song I dislike, Play That Funky Music. I am pleasantly surprised though, there is very little singing and it quickly becomes an exercise in Prince’s guitar playing. He plays lead and without ever getting overly heavy he plays some very fast and sharp runs. If it was always like this, I would much prefer it.

Prince next takes his time to address the audience, telling them to look after Amy Winehouse, before telling them it was time to mellow out before taking public transport home. He then proceeds to hit us with a rocking version of Anotherloverholenyohead. The singing is great, as is the band, but once again it’s the guitar break that seals the deal for me. Prince was very fond of playing this rocked out version at the time, and I must say it is something I take a great deal of joy from. I also like the Rock Lobster coda he throws in, something I grew up listening to a lot.

We stay with this rock sound, although Prince slows it down for a smoking rendition of Villanova Junction. As the sounds of Morris Hayes simmers underneath, Prince lays on the guitar sound. Like so many other songs, I could listen to this one all night long and I would never tire of it, so I somewhat disappointed as it draws to a close after a few minutes, if it had have been twice as long I would be a very happy man.

Guitar strapped on, we steam into Peach next. It offers nothing new at all, but is infused with an infectious energy. I should be sick of it by now, yet tonight I find I enjoy it just as much as anything else, and it’s easy to imagine Prince playing this with a big sloppy grin on his face.

2007 Prince

Stratus seems to usually arrive earlier in these shows, tonight we get it towards the end. Tonight it’s Renato’s playing that I enjoy the most, he solos for the first half of the song, and he seems to capture the mood of the piece just right. The second half is a contrast with Princes guitar doing all the talking. He has the same spirit as Renato, but injects it with a lot more passion and fire. The two complement each other very well, and for me it shows the strength of the band.

The steady sound of The Question Of U sounds, and after the somber guitar opening Mike Phillips plays some soulful saxophone that sets the tone for what comes next. Prince quitens the crowd, having them snap their fingers, and I can hear the emotion fill the gaps. The One follows, and as always I sit open mouthed and listen to it. It’s a fantastic song, and it deserves much more attention than it gets. Prince singing is the only thing that matters through the song, and he does some great screams that convey the emotion of the song. Maceo plays after Prince has sung, he is good, but for me the best part of the song has already been. Likewise, Renato’s playing is fine, without ever coming near what the earlier part of the song was like. Things get back on track as Princes guitar plays the The Question Of U refrain to bring the song to a close.

It’s a very funky bass run that signals the beginning of What Have You Done For Me Lately. It’s shaping up to be particularly funky as Prince talks to the crowd and stretches the intro out with some more guitar. It’s got a lively sound as the girls begin to sing, and it gets better as the horns join the fray. Its easily grooves into Partyman, and it’s at this stage I feel we are into the medley that will carry us to the finish.

The crowd mostly sing Partyman while the horns provide the main riff. It’s up beat and fun, although it doesn’t have any shape to it, and for me it swirls around a lot without ever going anywhere. Maceo is the best part of the whole thing, his playing is exciting and energetic, and listening to this makes me want to dig more into his catalogue.

It’s Alright is the final song of the evening, although to be honest by this point I am tired of this party medley to finish, I much preferred the heavier emotional songs earlier in the night. It is an upbeat way to finish the show though, and I can hear plenty of whops and cheers as the song and the show come to a finish.

This show has proved to be a mixed bag. The first few songs were top notch, I can’t fault them in anyway and if the whole show had been at this standard we would have something special on our hands. The show is overly long, and there is a little too much Shelby J and filler.  However, the highs were superb, and I would happily listen to them any day. Definitely a show where I will cherry pick the best songs for playlists.  The highlight for me was the appearance of Amy Winehouse, and listening to her sing with Prince only served to remind me of what a huge loss she was. When I remember her I shall remember her like this, in her element singing her wonderful songs.

Thanks for reading

Hamish

Amy. Winehouse

 

London 21 nights – September 12th

I really liked the 21 nights in London shows. They were aimed at the masses, yet the set lists were varied every night, and there was just enough there for more serious fans. This show from the 12th September 2007 is a favorite of mine. Again, it was a show I was lucky enough to attend, but after repeating listening’s on CD,and watching the DVD I find that it’s not just the thrill of being there, this is a very good show and worthy of repeated listening’s. As with the previous recording from the 21 night that I covered, I apologies in advance if I stray from purely the recording onto some more personal observations. For me this is a total package.

12 September 2007, O2 Arena, London

The hall of fame opening gets tiresome if you trawl your way through all the recordings from this run of concerts, but on the DVD I am watching I find it’s a nice inclusion. The familiar talking heads gushing about the genius of Prince is quite touching, and I find I enjoy it more now than I did at the time. I don’t have the urge to skip it, and it’s a fitting introduction to the show.

Prince 2007

Opening the show is 1999. It’s played exactly as is on the album, with the robotic voice beginning. It’s a fine choice to open with, and serves as a good ‘on your feet’ type number. Prices vocals sound thin on the recording, where Shelby J sounds big and bold. My ears do adjust to the sound, and it’s not too bad. This is not a sound board recording, but for an audience recording it’s not too bad at all. The keyboards do carry the bulk of the song, I certainly hear them a lot better than any other instrument on stage. I love the sound of Princes funky guitar, but it isn’t heard much here at all, just a little near the end of the song as the band quiet down as Prince sings “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb” The song ends with Prince calling “London, I am here, where are you”

There is plenty of nostalgia early on, the very next song is I Feel For You. It has plenty of pop and sparkle, even after all these years. I hear much more Shelby on it than Prince, but she does a good job, and she doesn’t take over the song, Prince is much more in the mix as the song progresses. The horn section give it a brassy sound, as you might expect from a horn section.

Things move along at a fair clip as we segue into Controversy. I enjoy the electric sound of it on record, but this performance has lots of horns and backing singers which fill it out much more than the song I love from the early eighties. It’s very much played for audience participation, and Prince gets the crowd singing along early. This continues on to the “People call me rude” sections he has then sing the lines back to him before the ‘Clap your hands, stomp your feet” becomes the chant from him and Shelby. The horns get a nice break, and then this is further empathized when just the drum plays while they jam some more. I am not a big fan of it, but next Prince calls for Maceo to solo, and this blows the doors off it. He sounds awesome, and I have a whole new appreciation for horns. I can see why the man is a living legend. Maceo plays for a good minute, and he is really going to town on it. Prince changes tack shortly after by asking the crowd if they know about the Quake, before encouraging them to jump up and down. As always, I aren’t a fan of this. It would be fine if you were at the show, but on the recording it leaves me feeling shortchanged. Luckily he only does it briefly before closing the song out.

Prince 2007a

A bit of blues next as Prince and Renato Neto start a smoky rendition of Satisfied. It feels like quite a jump after the last few numbers, but its par for the course at a Prince concert. Prince plays up the song as much as he can, and you can hear the audience reacting to him as the song progress. With just him and the organ, it’s the lyrics that matter most, and the crowd is hanging on his every line. Mike Phillips breaks up the proceedings with a sharp sounding sax solo. It’s not my cup of tea, and but I do like it when Prince ends the solo with a few screams of his own. There is plenty of humor in the performance when Prince runs through ‘the rules’ He begins with “Can I talk to just the ladies” which immediately brings forth plenty screams and whoops from the crowd. He then runs through the rules, such as “learn to work the toilet seat, if it’s up, put it down” He half sings half speaks, and as he runs through his lines I can’t help but laugh out loud. It’s all funny, because it’s true. He ends it with one more “satisfieddddddd” and the steady beat of Cream begins.

It doesn’t sound great on this recording, the beat is a too insistent, and I find it’s all I concentrate on. The band plays well, Prince sings well, but the mix has me scratching my head. Prince saves the song somewhat with his brief but worthwhile guitar solo. For a few moments I stop concentrating on that beat, and I enjoy the song. The last couple of minutes of the song are decent, and I am happy as it transitions to U Got The Look.

U Got The Look isn’t too guitar heavy. With only Prince on guitar there is a little more space, and I enjoy the drumming much more. Prince keeps a good rhythm line going on his guitar and it’s not too loud or distortive, but it does have a nice little buzz to it. His solo is reined in, and surprisingly I enjoy it just as much like this. He plays sharp but not too extravagantly.

Musicology is neither here nor there. It’s not good enough for me to enjoy it, yet there’s nothing bad about it. The song moves along, but it never moves me. I do like it as Prince moves around the band for each of them to play. The drums and trombone In particular I enjoy the most. Things take a very interesting turn as Prince injects Prince And The Band into the song. It takes my brain a few seconds to register what I am hearing, but yes, Prince And The Band is a nice fit to it musically. “Ohh Funky London” is the next chant we hear. But after listening to quite a few of these concerts, it’s something I could happily pass on. The crowd sound like they are enjoying it, and it certainly achieves its goal of getting the audience involved. Greg Boyer ends the song with a funky few seconds of trombone. A song of ups and downs, the jury is still out on this one.

Next is the highlight of the show for me, the Prince piano set.  Prince prefaces it by telling us what a beautiful thing music is, and how a little music can make everything all right. The first song in this piano set is Little Red Corvette. Little Red Corvette has taken on many guises over the years, but I always enjoy a piano rendition. The crowd obviously enjoy it too, and they sing along. Prince’s vocals don’t sound 100% focused on the music, but his piano playing is delicate and sweet. He toys with the audience a little before the song ends with a cheer.

I am not a great fan of I Would Die 4 U, but the piano arrangement played here is my favorite version of all time. I absolutely love this part of the recording. Prince starts singing and playing quietly and softly singing but after the first verse he starts playing the keys harder and harder, his head starts bobbing and the song becomes much stronger. His vocals take on that impassioned sound (real or faked) and it’s got an emotional feel to it. It’s a shame it’s only a minute, but it’s a great part of the show for me.

Prince 2007b

How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore has long been a stalwart of the piano set, and here is no different. I still enjoy it, but it’s no different from any other version I have heard. The quiet bits are quiet, and the loud whiny bits are still loud and whiny. Everything is as it should be. I am impressed that he doesn’t shorten it here at all, and he plays it right through to the fade out of “Why don’t you call me sometime…”

Another great song follows with Something In The Water. For me there is plenty of emotion in the song as Prince plays it alone at the piano. The stripped back sound leaves just Princes voice to listen to, as there is very little happening at the piano. His vocals don’t have the cold empty sound of the 1999 recording, they are more rich as he plays with the arrangement. It’s not outstanding, but it is very good.

There is a real 1999 flavor as he follows this with Delirious. I dislike this song, but I find in the piano set that it is very fun and enjoyable. If it was like this more often I could really warm to it. It’s rockabilly sound comes through well on the piano, and you get the sense that it was written in this way.

Another 1999 treat next as Prince plays Free. Not one of the stronger tracks on 1999, it gets much more of my attention on this recording as it’s played surrounded by other piano tunes rather than surrounded by the cold electro funk of the 1999 album. Prince plays it delicately and it lacks some of the cheesiness of the recording. This is a great piano set, and it’s a pleasure to hear so many songs from 1999 get an airing.

Prince 2007d

Darkness, then the sound of the introduction of If I Was Your Girlfriend – ‘look at the bargains over here ladies.” I become excited at prospect of hearing If I Was Your Girlfriend, but it quickly changes to the chant of we will rock you. This flows nicely into an up-tempo bright brassy sounding Lets Go Crazy. I am not crazy about the song, but it does fill me with hope that we might hear the set similar to the super bowl set. The horns keep it moving brightly along, and with the keyboards it has a very full sound. Prince does play his breaks, but they are somewhat overshadowed by the band, and this is further heightened when he does some call and response with the crowd which seems to take more attention away from his playing.

There is the fanfare of 1999 and Prince keeps the party going with Baby I’m a Star. We are definitely getting the super bowl set, and I’m pretty damn happy about that. Baby I’m a Star is just a transition song, and we are very quickly into the next song.

Prince 2007c

Proud Mary is up tempo and mostly horns. As with Baby I’m a Star it very short, no more than a verse and chorus before the music turns around and we get something darker and slower.

Prince begins All Along The Watchtower with a nice guitar break. I say nice, but I mean great. He plays much longer than he does at the super bowl show, his guitar playing goes for perhaps a minute before he sings. He makes the guitar moan and whine, and it’s a more expressive solo. There’s nothing fast in it, just song clean drawn out notes. Already it’s on my highlights reel of this show. I am so used to hearing the sound board quality of the super bowl show that I first I find Princes vocals a touch off here. But that’s the recording, rather than Prince himself. He sings the first verse, before the music takes an upswing and the next highlight strikes us.

The Best Of You sounds just as good at this show as it did at the super bowl gig. Sure there isn’t the added intensity of the falling rain, but Prince definitely has his funk face on as he contorts himself with the guitar sound. I would have liked to hear the guitar clearer, it’s mixed in with the rest of the band, but the song does sound good, and it’s worth it just for the showmanship.

Prince 2007e

Take Me With U follows on, and it feels light and breezy after the heavy guitar tones of all Alone the Watchtower, and The Best Of You. It’s not quit as poppy as it sometimes sound, there is too much in the sound, but the crowd are definitely enjoying it, I can see plenty of hand waving on the DVD.Princes vocals are a little ragged, which is unusual, normally his vocals are crisp and clear.

The opening strum of Guitar keeps the tempo and vibe up. Prince sings, but I’m not really interested at this stage, I want to hear what he can do with his guitar. Like the previous song, his vocals still sound rough so it is a relief when he stops singing and moves into “guitar god ‘mode. His guitar breaks aren’t on the great level, but they are lots of fun, and a good listen. The advantage of the DVD is I can see how much he turning it on for the crowd and it’s about the show as much as the playing itself. And on a personal note, when I was at this show there was a guy in front of my with his young daughter, and as he came to our side of the stage he saw her and gave the biggest nod and wink before pulling out another face driven solo. The song finishes with Prince standing still and delivering up one final guitar break.

The songs from Lets Go Crazy to Guitar had been played without break, so it’s somewhat of a relief when Prince pauses to address the crowd. He breaks things up with his patter about “what can I play next, I got too many hits” The opening strum of Kiss ends this moment and he gives us a very smooth rendition of Kiss. The first part of the song I don’t find very interesting, but I do like it much more when he picks up his guitar for a funky rhythmic break. He changes the “You don’t have to watch’ line to “Big Brother” thus firmly dating this as a mid 2000’s performance.

Prince 2007f

Purple Rain is one of the weaker songs on this recording. The mix seems to be all out, it opens with the keyboards, but they feel out of balance, and things don’t improve when Prince sings. For most of the song it sounds to me like Princes voice is overtaken by the keyboard.  It doesn’t have the clean sound I associate with it, the sound where I can hear every instrument playing together, instead it sounds like they are thrown up against each other and it’s a battle to who will be loudest. I cross my fingers that it will improve when Prince starts his guitar break. It does improve, Princes guitar is much louder and cuts across everything else. And what I really like is that he is playing it on the Horner, which to my mind is the way it should be played, as that is how it was originally recorded. Prince keeps the guitar break modest, and the crowd is soon singing their “oowww owww ooooswws”. All in all the song is kept very short and tidy.

There is now a break before the band return for the first encore. The encore begins with the song Chelsea Rodgers which sounds like a classic pop song here. It begins with some nice bass and threatens to be funky, but when the band join it becomes very pop. I do like the song, and this is a good performance of it. Princes vocals aren’t heard very well, I can hear Shelby J better than him. The horn lines aren’t as intrusive as I expect, they lack a sharpness, but they do have a break which gives them a chance to be heard. Maceo gets another break later in the song as does Greg Boyer on trombone, and both of them sound great to my ears.

Prince calls for the lights to be turned off, and we here the synthesizer sound of Sexy Dancer. The music is Sexy Dancer, but its Le Freak that Shelby and the band sing over it. Prince himself doesn’t sing, but he does provide the rhythm guitar underneath. There’s not enough Prince in the song for my liking, it’s all Shelby and the horns, with Prince calling the shots. Renato does play a solo on the keyboards, its note perfect but fails to move me. Things improve immensely when Prince plays, we have a minute of funky rhythm guitar before the band move back in. The song finishes up with Princes rhythm guitar and the band.

Prince 2007g

Play That Funky Music finishes before it begins. The rhythm guitar kicks off nicely, but after the band join in Prince ends it after only a few lines. It’s not a must listen to me, so I aren’t too upset by it at all.

Shelby J comes to the spotlight again as she leads the band through Crazy. I like her vocals a lot, and she does a fine job singing this. As much as I enjoy it, once again there is very little Prince in it, so I find my attention waning. I love the vocoder sound playing the background, and this is one part of the song I listen to the most. Shelby then proceeds to sing I Can’t Get You Out of My head, but here I feel she overdoes it, and it’s not as good as the original. With a final shout out to Shelby from Prince the song ends.

Prince then comes back on to the microphone for Nothing Compares 2 U. It’s very much Princes song, but he only sings every second line here, preferring to let the crowd do the rest. It’s great for the crowd, but a frustrating listen here at home. Mike Phillips improves things no end with a fantastically enthusiastic sax solo. He gives it all he’s got, and it’s the best part of the song in my eyes. Prince then sings one more chorus with the crowd before the song ends. This song could have been so much more, but it feels like they skimmed over it a bit, the only thing that really stood out was that great sax solo.

The main show proper ends at this stage, but Prince does return for another encore with a sampler set. As you well know it’s going to be a lot of teases and short snippets, but we will give it a listen anyway.

The first song to get an airing is Sign O The Times. Prince doesn’t mess around too long at the start and surprisingly sings the whole first verse before we jump right into Pop Life.

Pop Life is another surprise, he doesn’t tease it at all, and sings the entire verse and a chorus. Being the sampler, the music sounds exactly as on record. Prince sings from his stool, and freed from any instrument engages the audience with lots of eye contact and waving.

Mountains is another pleasant surprise to my ears. Unfortunately this time it really is a tease, before just a few moments of Irresistible Bitch is played.

Doves Cry fairs a little better, Prince does sing the first verse and a chorus. As always I am hungry for more, but Prince moves on.

The opening of Erotic City has me disappointed, as I know there was no way he was going to play it. Sure enough after a few bars he moves into something more suitable to his current convictions.

Alphabet St has the crowd dancing. Once again there isn’t too much I can say about it, as it too only has the opening verse. Its good while its there, but its barely there at all.

Prince takes the cheers of the crowd, before telling them “I gotta do this for me” and the funky shuffle of DMSR begins. Another 1999 song, it has me overjoyed. As is the way of the sampler set, I get my hopes up and then it fades away. I am just thankful we get the first verse as we do.

Raspberry Beret probably gets the best of the sampler set. Prince has the beat playing on the sampler, but then plays piano live over the top of it, which gives it a nice simple feel. He trades lines with the crowd, for the first verse and then finishes the chorus, and the song with the audience singing “I love her” and him replying “I love you too” Theres nothing great musically here, but it is a nice way to finish the show with the audience. The recording and the concert end at this point, no bombastic finish, just this easy sentiment.

Asides from the sampler set, I thought this show was great. It can be broken down section by section, he started with a block of hits, then a nice piano set, the superbowl set, a block of guitar heavy songs, a dancey/party encore and then the sampler set. Purple Rain was a disappointment as was the sampler, but everything else was about as much as I could ask for, especially hearing so much off the 1999 album. If I was choosing a good mainshow to listen to, I would choose this one. The fact that I was there is just the icing on the cake.

Take care
Hamish

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first night of 21 nights

Today’s entry is gong to be a little different from anything else I have written. I have written about some great recordings previously, and some significant gigs in the world of Prince, but this one is special to me for another reason. Today I will be writing about the first night of the 21 nights at the O2 London. Not only is it the first night of that series of concerts, it is also the first time that I ever saw Prince playing live. For me it is impossible to detach the recording from being at the event itself. I normally try to be fairly objective in my writing, but today any semblance of objectivity will go out the window. A lot of my memories and feelings are tied into this recording, I can’t listen to it without all these coming to the surface. So with that in mind, let’s take a listen- the CD is in the player, my cup of tea beside me, but in my mind I am coming up the escalator at North Greenwich station, and the excitement in the air is electric.

8 August 2007 O2 London

Opening the show is a video of the UK Hall of fame introduction. Prince is definitely marketing himself as an Icon/legacy act at this stage, and the video serves as a useful reminder to the fans there that he has had an outstanding career. I find it a little ho-hum, but it very much sets the scene for what comes next, and definitely gets the excitement levels rising in the crowd.

Prince 21 nights 2007

I am not convinced that Purple Rain is a great song to open a show with. Although, once again, I have to concede I do understand exactly why it is here at the beginning of the show. Prince is making a statement, opening his 21 night stand with the song that is most closely associated with him, and from the most stellar part of his career. On a personal note- this is not one of my favorite Prince songs, it has been played at 100’s of concerts over the years, and has long since lost its sparkle for me. But, this was my first time to see Prince after being a fan for 25 years, and as he rose out of the dry ice, singing his signature song, I have to say it was pretty emotional. There may well have been a tear in my eye (I am sure it was just from the dry ice). On listening to the recording now I find that away from the hype and excitement, it is actually a good rendition of the song. Instead of the hanging guitar chords at the beginning, we get a nice little piano intro. It’s not drawn out at all, and Prince starts singing without too much intro. The drum beat isn’t as strong as it used to be, and the music sounds very much in the back ground, this is all about Princes vocal delivery, and its nice and strong right from the start. To his credit, he does play a full version, every verse is there as it should be. I am always pleased when it gets the full treatment, and the crowd is in fine voice for every chorus. The guitar solo has a fine sound to it, it’s not muscular as it sometimes sounds on the symbol guitar. There is nothing extra or unheard in the guitar break, but it is very decent sounding. It is a little strange to hear the crowd singing “oww, owww, owww” and knowing that this is still the first song, and we have a long way to go yet. I found it enjoyable, but perhaps a much better measure would be what a more casual fan thought of it- immediately after the song finished my friend, who had rather reluctantly come along to the gig, turned to me with a massive grin on his face and said “That was brilliant- I got my moneys worth right there with that song”.

Prince 21 nights 2007 1

Girls and Boys ups the tempo, and for me the gig begins now. Although the recording isn’t soundboard, it still is good, and Girls and Boys sounds great. Prince has a great funky sounding vocal delivery and the keyboards and horns propels it along in a non-stop fashion. This is the funky Prince I enjoy most, and it is an early highlight. The best part of it is when Maceo takes over and delivers a killer solo. It just takes off, and has a life of its own. There is also a trombone solo, which although not as good as Maceos solo is still a different addition that I really enjoy. Prince does break down the song at one stage for some audience singing of Dance, Music, Sex, Romance- it does break the momentum, but things ramp again with some more great horns and singing straight after. This song has lost nothing of its funk after all these years. It finishes with Prince yelling “Somebody scream!” It’s an excellent start to show after the slow start.

Third song in and things really pull back with a smoky version of Satisfied. It’s quite a change after the stomping Girl and Boys, but as Prince says- he’s got two sides and they’re both friends. There are plenty of roars from the crowd as Prince performs this one in typical seduction mode. It sounds like the ladies in the crowd are hanging on every word as there is screams and yells after almost every suggestive line. Maceo gets a nice lead break, and he shows of another side of his playing- completely different from the previous song. He is definitely a master, and I love listening to this one too. Maceo finishes up and we return to the seductive sounds of Prince. It sounds like he could deliver this easily all night, but he winds it up after just another minute.

Normally I would readily dismiss Cream, but this one is a more up-tempo, and the drums and horns are more to the fore. It strengthens the song a lot, and I find I enjoy it much more than I have in years. Prince reminds the audience midsong that he wrote this one looking in the mirror, and the crowd gives an approving cheer. The guitar break is worth mentioning, the sound is not as weak and thin as the album version, and although it’s very short, it is an improvement in my opinion. I also find the horns add a lot to it, they aren’t playing anything extra, but they do fatten out the sound.

We segue easily into a rock number next as U Got The Look gets an outing. With only Prince playing guitar it’s a less rocky than usual, but he makes it for it with some extra oomph in his vocals and the drummer does give it plenty too. His lead break is good, but does sit low in the mix. We can perhaps blame limitations in the recording for this, but his guitar sound does sound a little lost amongst the other instruments. It’s a shame, as it I have often felt that this song hinges on the sound of his guitar breaks in it, and here it comes across as much lighter.

I don’t think I have ever heard a version of Shhh that I didn’t like. This one is no exception. Again I am somewhat limited by the quality of the recording, but Prince sounds just as good as ever. This song dates from my favorite era of Prince, and I only wish that more songs from this period were played live now. Of course he delivers the verses with plenty of passion, but its the guitar playing where the emotion really comes through on this song. His guitar says what his voice can’t, and sitting here today listening to it I find it brings all sort of emotions out of me. A fine performance of one of his greatest songs, this one is only let down by it being an audience recording. The song ends with a half a minute of furious guitar work, and I am already reaching for the repeat button.

Prince 21 nights 2007 3

Musicology sounds like a song that was purpose written for shows like this. A throw back nostalgic song in both sound and lyrical content, it’s very much tailored for audiences like this, as well as serving as an introduction to the band. It’s a party song, and you can hear the audience responding to it, it very much lightens the mood. Again, Maceo is very much a highlight in this for me, his playing is exceptional. The other band members all play well too, no slight against any of them, but Maceo is the one I enjoy most. There is some chanting of ‘Funky London’ and the audience does seem to get behind this a lot. It does perhaps go on a little long for my liking, but I always prefer that rather than having songs cut short.

Prince takes the time to talk to the crowd between songs at this point. It’s a nice couple of minutes, he asks about his stage, how’s the band, and then mentions his excitement of playing in London again.

The up-tempo beat of I Feel For You has me back on board. Prince doesn’t have to try too hard with this one, it has a nice inner energy to it, and pushes all the nostalgia buttons to me. This isn’t the greatest version I have heard, Shelby (love her) is just a little too strong on it, and although she doesn’t drown out Prince I definitely hear her voice more than his. If anything, it feels there is a little too much on this one. It doesn’t have the cleanness that I like about it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s not as great as it could have been.

Staying in the era, Prince calls for Controversy next. It’s got that great pounding beat, and what I like most about it, is the beat doesn’t overwhelm everything, as per other recent versions I have heard. The bass is nice and prominent, and it’s a great throw back to his early years. The horns are another nice touch and give it some color. The only problem I have with it is when Prince calls for people to jump up before the main groove. It seems to derail the song somewhat. But more than making up for that is another appearance of Maceo. His sax is sharp sounding against the neat, and it works very well. Later in the song the rest of the horn section join for a horn break, but it doesn’t seem to work quite as well. But I do like that they played around with it. And there is a nice break when just the trombone plays that I enjoy.

Prince 21 nights 2007 2

Things slow down as Prince leaves the stage and Renato Neto and Mike Phillips play an instrumental What A Wonderful World. I have been effusive in my praise of the horns so far on this recording, but here is a bridge too far for me. With Prince not on the song at all I find my attention quickly waning. Although it all sounds pretty, I find this one bland and am bored with it before we even get half way.

Somewhere Here On Earth, although sounding good, barely gets my pulse going again. I am not going to dismiss it though, Princes vocal deliver on it is excellent. I would like to hear more ballads in this vein as he ages. It’s got an easy listening sound to it, with a nice gentle horn playing in background. Prince has a nice croon in his delivery and I could well imagine him singing like this in a piano bar well into old age. And that is the reason I don’t like it. The quality is excellent, there is no denying that, but it’s too safe, too middle of the road for my tastes. It’s a nice deviation in the gig, but in the end I find it to be a side dish, rather than the main course.

Lolita has questionable lyrics, but an upbeat pop sound. I have seen a variety of opinions on this song, it’s very much a song you either love or hate. I enjoyed it on record, but here it doesn’t match that. Prince’s vocals are easily heard, but not easily understood. I can’t make out the words, and this time I’m not sure I can blame the recording. The O2 does have some sound issues, and I am putting it down to this. The song is OK, but it does finish before I can form a strong opinion one way or another.

Prince then engages the audience with “I got more hits than Madonna got kids” I have heard it plenty since then, but at the time it was still quaint and funny. I am expecting him to then play one of these hits he is alluding to, but instead we get a reprise of the last chorus of Lolita.

Prince 21 nights 2007 4

We are back on track when steamy groove of Black Sweat begins. It doesn’t have the dark sound of the album, but it still sounds good to my ears. It could have been much funkier and heavier, but the crowd seems pretty happy with this arrangement, and so am I. The only things that count against it is Prince shouting “I got too many hits” midsong, and the fact that it barely reaches the three minute mark before it ends. After the last few songs dragging us down, it would have been good hear this one worked up more and injecting a bit more funk into the evening.

There is another interlude as Prince name checks possible songs he play next. This elicits a predictable response from the audience before the strum of Kiss brings us to the next song. Prince gives the audience a few chances to sing along with this one, and they respond with a loud call. The best part of the song is very much the guitar solo, his guitar has a nice tone to it, and as I say so many times, it sounds great. Prince does have another couple of crowd pleasing moments- the lyric change “You don’t have to watch desperate housewives, or big brother” and then lets the audience finish out the song singing themselves. It’s very very short, but it is crowd pleasing.

There is some more of Prince name checking possible songs he could do next, before he decides to go old school with If I Was Your Girlfriend. Again, to leave the recording for a moment, this was the point at the gig where ‘I lost my stuff’ so to speak. This song is a top 5 favorite for me, and to hear it live was sensational. And today as I listen back to it, I realize it’s not a great version, but every gig will be someone’s once in a life time chance to see Prince, and sometimes the quality of the song doesn’t matter, the fact it’s played is enough. Back to the recording itself, it’s a light version of the song that is played. It’s very much played as an upbeat party type song. There calls from Prince for the crowd to wave their arms side to side, and Prince addresses the audience informally several times, which takes me out of the song. There is a very nice deep organ groove under it, and that is what makes the song for me on this one. Princes asks the crowd if they are having a good time, and he gets a rousing cheer in response.

The song segues easily into Pink Cashmere. I often overlook Pink Cashmere, but it is actually a very good song. It got a little lost in everything else that was happening in Prince world at the time it came out, which is a shame, as it has the sound of a hit to my ears. The rendition here is smooth enough, and Mike Phillips plays an upbeat Sax solo on it, which does lift it up a lot. As he finishes Prince says “Careful Mike, you might get someone pregnant” His easy humor always makes me smile, and it’s a fitting comment for a nice solo. There is some nice Prince talk near the end of the song, and surprisingly it’s not corny at all. I would have enjoyed it much more, if he hadn’t of then started singing “Oh funky London” again. Mercifully it’s only for a couple of bars before the band jump back in and bring the song to a close.

I hadn’t expected to hear 7 next. It’s played very straight and doesn’t seem to deviate at all from the original recording. At this point I am reminded of why I dislike audience recording, there is a loud hand clap on the recording, and for the duration of the song I find it hard to listen beyond this. The song is played well, but like I said before there’s not too much about it that stands out.

The band then moves directly onto the next song, Come Together. There was a time when I would have loved to hear a cover such as this, but in this case it mostly disappointing. It’s obviously played with the UK audience in mind, but it’s mostly Shelby that I can hear. The first half the song I mostly concentrate on her voice, and the annoying audience hand clap. The second part of the song through picks up immensely and Prince plays the best guitar solo of the night. It’s a shame the whole song wasn’t as good as that solo, but at least the solo does redeem the rest of the song. The song finishes, predictably enough with the audience clapping and singing “Come together”

Every week I write that I don’t like Take Me with U, but that whatever particular version I am listening to at the time is great. Maybe I should just face facts, and admit that I probably do love this song. The drums aren’t the strongest on this, but the keyboards are sounding very bold. They have a nice full sound to them, especially during the chorus. Prince’s voice has a slight echo to it, and that is not due to any of his doing, it’s the sound in the venue that is at fault. The song gets the energy levels back up and this continues as the next song starts quickly after.

Guitar is one of those songs that always sounds ‘up’. It’s hard to imagine Prince playing this without a big smile on his face. The sound isn’t great during the song, his first break does sound a bit muddy and lost, but the second break is much more clear and crisp. I always think of this as being a very short and sweet song, but it does seem to go on for a while here, there is more verses than I remember! But the playing on it is good, and I always enjoy anything that showcases Prince guitar playing. The end of the song is when he goes deep into it, and there are some nice moments during his playing.

Another 360 next as Prince puts down his guitar to sing a beautiful rendition of Planet Earth. Yes it’s beautiful, but it fails to engage me emotionally. I think this song could sound better and he could do more with it. This sounds good to me, but I just can’t connect to it. There is almost too much band in it, and I do wonder if it would be better served with a stripped back arrangement. I should point at that the song does also suffer from being a less than ideal recording. Listening to this I am reminded of my teachers comments at school “Shows potential, could do better”

A longer break ensues, before we get an encore. Shelby J leads the band through a fairly robust version of Gnarls Barkly’s ‘Crazy’. It’s redundant and doesn’t add anything to show, asides from giving Prince a break and showing off Shelby’s vocals. There is no denying she’s got talent, but like many people I do tire of her extolling the crowd to ‘Put your hands up’. I do like the funky break when they start to sing ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ and I would have preferred to hear a full blown cover of that rather than Crazy. It is however of its time and place, and in 2007 that was THE song, so there is no doubt that the audience at time enjoyed it.

Prince is back in form with a fantastic Nothing Compares 2 U. Asides from letting the audience sing a line here and there, it is great to hear him perform on this. Like a lot of songs on this recording, it does have its positives and negatives. He does only sing the first verse, but then he hands it over to Mike Phillips who plays a very decent sax break. Prince returns after the sax break, and sounds much more impassioned. If anything he sounds too passionate, and the song loses some of its emotional clout. The audience is left to sing the last few lines before it fades out.

“Dearly beloved” followed by a long pause and organ into leaves me hanging for what seems an age. After a long tease Prince eventually follows up with “we are gathered here today, to get through this thing called life” and Lets Go crazy follows proper. There isn’t much left of the song, Prince skips all the verses and plays the first guitar break straight off, before encouraging the crowd with “lets go crazy, go go go”. There is another brief guitar break and some more singing along with audience. As I said before there is no verses and no choruses sung, it’s all guitar and sing along. It ends, predictable enough, after a couple of minutes with Princes guitar howling ending. “Thank you and good night” ends the main part of the show.

Pausing for a minute, I would like to explain what happened next at the show. All the house lights came up, there was a minute or two of cheering, a few technicians appeared on stage and the crowd began streaming out of the exits. Not being in any hurry to leave, me and my friend stood for a few minutes discussing what a great time we had, and comparing highlights. After a couple more minutes there was a shout and Prince came running across the floor of the arena and hauled himself back on stage, sending the technicians diving to get out of the way. Immediately there was a rush as people clambered to get as close to the stage as possible, and people came running back into the arena. Prince picked up his guitar and began to play solo (it should be noted, this was the best moment of my life).The lights dim and the show resumes. And on that note, we return back to the recording.

With just his Horner guitar for accompaniment Prince now plays a solo version of Little Red Corvette. In a mark of just how great this song is, it more than stands up in just this simple arrangement. The lyrics and basic melody is all that is required for this one. It seems to gain something more from the simplicity of it. Although he doesn’t play the whole song, these couple of minutes are more than enough, and this song stands out as a highlight of the recording.

Prince then calls for all the lights to be turned up and again with just him and his guitar plays a very simple, yet beautiful version of Raspberry Beret. Having been there, I would have to say it was amazing how he made a 17000 seat arena feel incredibly intimate. It was more like a camp fire sing along than a rock concert. Prince only sings the first verse and a chorus before letting the crowd sing “I think I love her” and replying with “and I love you too.

Keeping in character he then plays Sometimes It Snows In April. This is one of the better versions I have heard, the audience don’t drown it out, and with only Prince it shows off his playing and vocal skills much better. He isn’t totally unaccompanied, there is a keyboard playing softly along with him, but it still does have a lovely solo sound to it. I thought it may have had that over played sound about it as many of his songs from the 1980s do, but it still sounds like its fresh and has legs. It’s a great way to finish this mini solo set.

Next the band rejoins the stage and after a couple of “Oh funky London” from Prince (enough already) we get a nice brassy rendition of Get on the Boat. With all the horns onboard, this one really jumps. This works much better live than it does on record and it’s a shame that its cut short in its prime. It sounds great here, and it really needed to be played in full.

Thankfully another one of my favorite songs follow, with A Love Bizarre. This recording is really finishing on a high, the last few songs are all top notch. Love Bizarre sounds good, with the girl’s vocals fitting in very well behind Prince, it harks back to the Shelia E days (although I don’t want to be accused of wallowing in nostalgia). The horns again shine out, they go all sorts of places I didn’t expect during their break. Unfortunately, and it is hard to be critical about something so small, Prince does begin to chant “oh funky London” again, and it’s at this point I inwardly groan. But it’s only briefly and does lead us into the next song.

I didn’t expect to hear the music of Sexy Dancer again, but here it is in all its glory. On the downside, the lyrics are dispensed with, and instead Shelby sings Le Freak over the top of it. It’s not such a big deal, they are a good fit and the song is enjoyable enough. There is not enough Prince there for my liking, I can only hear Shelby, and then a brief but enthusiastic sax solo. The song has the vibe of a party or disco, and when Prince is heard again it is to get the crowd chanting “oh funky London”. Insert sad face here. And its on this note the show ends proper.

There is plenty of interesting moments in this show. Opening with Purple rain, the mini solo encore, and of course it is the first of his 21 nights and Prince is obviously trying to make a splash in London. Asides from being there, this show was enjoyable for me to go back and listen to. I was amazed how many of the moments and songs I had forgotten already (I had no idea he played Black Sweat, I don’t remember it at all). A pleasant recording, it was a good listen asides from nostalgia value.

Thanks for reading
Hamish

 

Koko Rocks

This weeks recording -I am going to take a gamble with this one. Todays recording is not a favorite, much loved recording, but instead a recent one which I have never heard before. Today I will be taking a listen to Prince playing at Koko London from last week. Before I have even heard a note, I already have mixed feelings about this one. At first glance there are a couple of positives and also a couple of negatives. Firstly the negatives – it is a audience recording, and a greatest hit show to boot. I am not a great fan of either. On the plus side – it is a smaller venue, and also a recent show, so it will be something new to my ears and I won’t have any preconceptions about it. The other thing about it which is making me curious is the songs from Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue as they say. So, lets drop the needle and see what we got

February 2nd, 2015 Koko London

Prince Koko 4

As the recording begins you can actually hear the anticipation as the audience awaits the music to start. The opening chords of Purple Rain is greeted with plenty of cheers and squeals as you might expect. The recording is actually not too bad- I can hear everything I need to hear. The crowd is all onboard right from the start and you can hear them singing along line for line. Prince himself sounds fairly relaxed, there is no intensity to his singing, and the whole vibe comes across as casual and happy. His guitar sound early on sounds like this may be a pretty rocking gig. It was just after I thought this that I can hear some audience members talking, which instantly takes me out of the song. Soon enough Prince and the band get a little louder and more raw and I am happy again. Throughout I can hear his guitar sound nice and deep and I hold my breath as I wait for the solo. And, it’s a good one! All the usual elements are there, as well as some nice deviations by Prince. Nothing too off the chart, but it does have a good rocking sound to it. The crowd is well in the mood for “ahhh, ahhh, ahhh” but Prince closes them down soon enough. The reprise is short, there is a minute of crowd singing before Prince brings it to an end with his guitar. We are off to a good start.

Prince tells the crowd that they are going to play 14 hits in a row and the band start the grind of the modern take of Lets Go Crazy. I am not always the greatest fan of this one, but I haven’t listened to any 3rdeyegirl recordings for a while, and it’s not the chore that I sometimes find it is. It sounds like its going across well tonight, and I enjoy the guitar divergence midsong. It adds a little lightness to a song that sometimes sounds bogged down in its modern incarnation. The band sound tighter than some of the other shows I have listened to, and looking at it I guess they have been together quite a while now. They have certainly lasted longer than I expected, and full credit to them. My only quibble would be that perhaps the song lasts a minute longer than my attention span does, but as always that’s my problem rather than a recording problem.

Take Me With U takes me by surprise with its nice fresh sound. There is a nice guitar sound at the beginning that is playing what was originally a keyboard on record. It’s only a small thing, but it has me listening right from the start. The song is nicely balanced, and although the guitar leads it, it still feels light and has a pop shine to it. Liv’s singing is very good, and it’s nice to hear her adding to the fullness of the song. I should have tired of this song years ago, but today it’s still getting me moving in my chair.

And joy of joys, the next song isn’t Raspberry Beret! Instead we are treated to a solid performance of U Got The Look. Sure I have been critical of this in recent blog posts, but again on the recording it’s a nice crisp performance. Both the guitars have a clean but heavy sound, and I can clearly hear what they are playing. It’s a change from some other performances where the guitar is lost in muddy sound or distortion. Liv can once again be heard doing her thing, and I admire her voice for standing up against all the guitar sound. For a minute I thought it was going to degenerate into a guitarfest, but the band quickly moves into Funknroll, much to the delight of the crowd I might add.

Prince live at Koko, London.

It’s very cool, and as usual I like the live performance of it much more than the album recording. The band really own this one and it’s very obvious that this is one song that they all buy into, and belong on. The breakdown and Princes guitar sounds like a lot of fun, and gets plenty of shouts from the crowd. It sounds very much like a good time, and I can only imagine what it would have been like to be there. I think cool is the word that suits this song tonight, and Prince plays us out with some more cool guitar playing.

I have tried to avoid using the word funky too much when writing this blog, but I can’t help but use it for the beginning of Controversy. 3rdEyeGirl strike me as being a very unfunky band, the opening guitar rhythm is right on the money. They don’t let up as the song kicks off properly, and this stripped down band takes me right back to the original sound in the eighties. I have to be honest, I was even clapping in the air at one point. The crowd are feeling funky too, with a chant of “Ow wee ow” starting mid song. Prince comments “I see you all come to jam tonight” before singing controversy. There is then some very fun call and response between Prince and the audience, they can’t quite match his squeals and sounds, but they more than make up for it with volume when he says “now somebody scream!” The song ends, and I find myself thinking this was the best version of this song I have heard for ages.

The timeless intro of 1999 moves us right along, and I can feel the smallness of the venue and the vibe of the band. It’s very heavy on bass, with everything else floating along over the top. Prince sounds like he is having as much fun as the crowd and I marvel at his ability to play at such a level still after all these years. An average gig by Prince is still better than 90% of everyone else’s, and this gig is far from average. They more than do the song justice, and like all the best versions I can hear plenty of Princes guitar in the mix.

Staying with the 1999 album, next song up is Little Red Corvette. It’s played in his modern ‘slow down style’ but its not as drawn out and emotional at the start as other times I have heard. It’s slightly let down by crowd noise in places, and although Princes voice isn’t always clear, his guitar certainly is. After 30 years I still feel a rush as he plays the guitar solo, before pulling it back and taking it down a notch to his slow hand guitar, and eventual “slow down” refrain. There is a lovely moment before his slow down lines, where he emotionally sings about “I know what I want, I want you” The crowd gentle sings “slow down” in the background while Prince delivers his lines. For me it was a surprising highlight, and I find myself totally in the moment. Mindfulness with Prince, who would have thought. The song continues to offer surprises as it ends with Prince and the women of the audience singing “oohhh oohh ”

Prince Koko 3

It gets even better when Prince sings Nothing Compares 2 U over a bare keyboard. In my mind this is the way it should always sound. The band joins after the first verse, but the song still holds its emotion, and Prince ups his delivery when the drums and bass enter. I have to say, I was a little worried when he says “on the guitar, Donna”, but her solo is pitched just right, and is kept nice and short. Prince comes back with plenty more character in his voice, and the crowd carries us home. It’s short, but all done in the best possible taste, and like all good things leaves me wanting more.

I love this version of Kiss. Anyone who has read any of these blog posts knows that this is quite a statement from me, I am what they call “a hater” when it comes to this song. But here on this recording I find it very appealing. It has some interesting keyboard running through it, and is seriously lacking its distinctive guitar signature. Although not a fan of the song, I have always liked its guitar sound, so for him to drop it out, and I find I like it even more, I am very surprised. That same guitar sound returns in the second half of the song, and it’s nice and strong. I could just listen to that rhythm all day. If you want to hear a different take on a classic, I recommend you bend your ear to this. The band jam on it a little later in the song, and its all good to me.

I am not very familiar with Paloma Faith, but Princes cover of her song Only Love Can Hurt Like This is just divine, and Liv gets a chance to do what she does best on it too. Gentle at the start with some beautiful singing during the verses, the chorus skyrockets when Liv gets her lungs right behind it. As an unfamiliar song to me, this will certainly be one that I will be revisiting. There is some very decent lead guitar in the latter part of the song, but it’s Liv that holds it all down, and the second half is very much her voice versus the power of Princes guitar. Princes guitar wins out, but I am never going to complain about that. I would like to hear a better recording of this one, and maybe a better mix from the desk, but it is definitely a cover with potential and I’d like to hear more of it.

Prince Koko 2

Prince then asks for the lights to be turned off with the comment “it’s not a country and western show” and that brings a smile to my face. That smile gets even bigger when I hear the opening of Doves Cry. Although not a pristine recording, it’s good enough when the music is this good. After a few bars the music stops and the leaves the crowd singing. Yes, it is the dreaded sampler set. But tonight Prince plays this one pretty straight and I am pleasantly surprised as we get four minutes of the song played in the form I know and love. There is some interaction between Prince and the crowd, with a few “owww owwws” from both.

I wait with baited breath as Sign Of The Times begins. Will this be cut short, or will I get a good chunk of the song? Thankfully it’s the latter, and there’s also some meaty guitar work in there for me to enjoy. It’s not particularly sharp, but it is suitable grime and has a heaviness to it. Once again the crowd is in good voice, and Hannah on the drums gets a good work out near the end of the song. On a better quality recording this would be a standout.

Hot Thing get the familiar sampler set treatment, as Prince teases us at the start, before delivering the song proper. It’s got a nice groove to it, but the beat is slightly weaker. Prince pushes it out forcefully in compensation, and both me and the audience enjoy it. I am happy to see this one get a real play rather than a sampler tease, and by the end I wish it was longer.

One if my all time favorites is next with the big sound of Love Bizarre. I would just seconds from leaping to my feet and dancing, but instead I am bitterly disappointed when it ends after just 40 seconds of intro. Such a lost opportunity, I think it would have gone down a storm.

The sampler tease continues as the music of Darling Nikki is played next. There is no way in the world he was ever going to sing it, and as we all expect it ends after 30 seconds.

Pop Life has me back on board, although it’s played very short at least we get a verse and a chorus. A classic pop song, it’s impossible to hear this without feeling some sort of joy. I find myself singing along loudly with it, and I am sure my neighbors are thankful when it quickly ends.

I Would Die 4 U sounds upbeat and fits with this ‘pop’ section of the gig. I would have loved to hear a little more of it, but Prince ends it after the first chorus with a simple “Thank you so much, good night”

It is of course another tease, and immediately the beat of Forever In My Life begins. This is no tease, and Prince takes his time with the intro, before singing the words we all know so well. I mouth the words rather than sing along, I don’t want to miss a note of this. Prince sounds great and I find myself inwardly moaning again that this isn’t a soundboard recording. The arrangement played here somewhat resembles the one that appears on Sign Of The Times movie, and there is plenty of time for the crowd to sing along with “alright, alright”. The only thing missing is Boni Boyer singing the house down, but we are nicely compensated by Prince providing some bass lines. A very electric sound cuts through the vibe as we near the end, but the mood is restored by some great singing by Prince, and the audience doing their best to emulate him.

Prince  Koko 1

I’m not sure this is the band for Housequake, but in the sampler set they seem to get away with it. My ears aren’t sharp enough to tell you who is playing what, but it all comes together alright. Not the funkiest version in the world, but the sampler provides the kickin beat while Prince keeps the energy levels high. Ida gets a moment on her bass, and this is probably the high point of the song for me. Donna also plays a brief solo, but I find it takes me out of the song, and I am pleased they don’t play on it too much longer. They hold it together long enough to get through it, but I fear it may unravel after another minute.

Oh WOW, was my first thought as they begin U Know. Its sounds like its going to be fantastic, but Prince says “You’ll cant have that” and I know we aren’t going to get too much more. Sure enough it ends before it even starts. There are a few boos to be heard from the crowd, and I can fully understand their feelings… I am quietly booing here at home. You can’t always get what you want.

I feel similarly cheated when he plays only the intro to Gold Standard. It’s good to see he isn’t biased, both old and new songs get the short shrift, but I would have liked to have seen a little more faith in the newer songs, especially the ones that get an obvious reaction from the crowd.

If I Was Your Girlfriend gets the same shabby treatment, it’s barely worth mentioning here for the time we hear it. I barely register it before it ends.

Normal service resumes with a loud, slightly heavy rendition of Guitar. Prince’s voice on the recording comes across as a little muffled, but the guitar is the real star of this one. Its sounds great not only during the verses, but also when the solos start. Of course this suits Donna very well, and her solo is on point throughout. I am even happier when Prince adds his guitar to the mix later in the song. At this stage I find the recording slightly uneven, but there is not a huge dip in quality. Once again Prince wishes the crowd “Good night” before bringing us right into Plectrumelectrum.

I like the song well enough, but it just sounds a touch labored here. It has plenty of rock flourishes, but they do sound heavy handed to my ears. Of course I am listening too carefully to it, and I find that once I close my eyes and go with the sound it’s much more enjoyable. To me it sounds like a good rehearsal song rather than a song that got a proper release. I have no real problem with the song, but it does out stay its welcome by a minute or two.

Prince begins again by saying “I would like to dedicate this to a friend of mine”. There is a brief moment while he gets the stage sound right, before a gentle intro to breakdown. My favorite song on the Art Official Album, when I saw this on the setlist I was immediately very excited to hear it. I was not disappointed in the slightest. Sure, the recording isn’t the greatest, but I can still hear that Princes voice is note perfect. The song sounds a little lighter in the live setting, it seems to be lacking some gravitas, but I can’t quite pin point what it is that’s missing. Maybe it’s the fact that I can hear the audience talking during several segments of the song. But there is enough there for me to love every moment, and when the guitar enters it adds just a shade more emotion. Very good song, and on a better recording it would have been excellent.

It’s followed up by a fantastic intro to Whats My Name. I love that this is getting an airing. There are better renditions of this song out there, I enjoy hearing this one but its not top shelf. A lot of the crowd sound somewhat disinterested, and the again it does affect the quality of the recording and listening experience. All the pieces are there, but it’s not as strong as I would like. This song could be much more muscular and beefed up, it’s a shame it’s not at its full potential here. Things get better when the guitars are in full flight, buts its not quite there.

Stratus is sometimes great, and sometimes not so great. I know its purpose is to show off the different band members talents, but some times I just don’t feel it. This is one of those occasions. Donna’s first solo is nice enough (the fact I used the word nice rather than something else should tell you enough) but by midway through the keys I find I am beginning to tune out. Things are better in the second half, a little more heavy sounding and some good bass and drum. And surprisingly to my mind it’s enough to save the song. By the time it finishes I am pretty happy with what I have heard.

The opening chords of Sometimes It Snows In April fills me with joy, and as Prince sings the opening lines I am off to my happy place. But sadly he ends it after the first couple of lines, and the guitars jump in with Dreamer.

This band is well suited to Dreamer, and even though I was disappointed about Sometime It Snows In April, I am very happy with Dreamer and its performance here. The guitar playing is less pedestrian and the band sound like they are energized once again. The song is saturated in guitar solos and all of them are sounding good. After the solos ease back, there is some nice heavy guitar work that sounds good, before Prince sings the title a few more times. The song ends just after this, and despite clocking in at almost seven minutes it still feels like a shorter song, the energy kept me in it throughout.

Lets Work caught me off guard, with its heavy intro. I am much more comfortable once its classic groove takes up the song proper. Late into the show now, and yet Princes voice still sounds fresh and he does a nice impersonation of his younger self. The bass playing on this is excellent, and I find myself grooving along to it nicely. I didn’t expect this band to play it so well, but it is very good.

I am further surprised when 3rdeyegirl take on Cool, and they make a good job of it. Liv takes on a lot of the load here, especially when she first starts to sing Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough. It does sound a lot like other renditions we have heard in last few years, but that’s not a complaint at all. The first half of the song is all Liv singing Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough, before Prince sings Cool proper in the second part of the song. This is very much a crowd pleasing song, and there sounds like a lot of fun is being had when Prince gets them singing. There is a coupe of cool moments when Prince gets the crowd to soul clap and I am instantly transported to his 1980’s hay day. The song ends with the classic Prince “Las Vegasss!”

So all in all a very fun gig. The setlist and performance are good without being great. The recording is as one would expect for an audience recording, its fine- it’s far from being terrible, but there were moments when I found myself wishing for a soundboard. This is not an essential must listen, but you have access to it then it’s a fun couple of hours.

Next week we will stay with the London theme and I will take a look at a gig that is very close to my heart.
take care
Hamish