Las Vegas 31st December 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3121 Las Vegas – Tutu

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

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

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

3121-4

 

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

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

3121-3

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

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

3121

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

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

3121-5

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

Thanks for reading,
Same time next week
-Hamish

 

Musicology San Jose 2004

I have for a long time now avoided the Musicology shows. To be honest, I haven’t been very open minded about these shows, I only listened to them shallowly and for too long I have regarded them nothing more than a crowd pleasing package. In recent times I have come around, and I have been overdue in blogging about these shows. When looking for a good show to listen to from this tour, I found the concerts far more rewarding than I anticipated, and there is some really great shows circulating from this tour. The show I am listening to today is from San Jose, and the main reason I chose this one is due to the acoustic guitar set, which I believe is one of the longest- if not the longest, from the tour. There is plenty more to enjoy on this recording too, and with a running time of slightly over two hours there is something for everyone.

1st June, 2004. San Jose, California

I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I really enjoy the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame video introduction, the speech from Alicia Keys does a fine job of neatly summing up all the reasons I am a Prince fan. Whoever wrote that speech, be it Alicia or someone else, they certainly captured the passion that keeps me listening to this day.

Musically the show opens with Musicology, and it’s a rousing rendition that makes the album cut sound rather tepid. The recording is outstanding, it’s an audience recording of the highest order- outstandingly clear and crisp sounding, every instrument and Prince is heard in perfect balance. The rhythm guitar is heard much better at this show, and it gives it just a little more oomph that I need. I often think of Musicology being a longer song, here I enjoy it so much that it seems to go by in a blink of an eye. Greg Boyer and his trombone end the song on a high, and I am very happy with what I have heard so far.

Let’s Go Crazy has a Vegas sound about, with the horns playing prominently and Princes guitar a little more in with the band. His solo is clean and clear, and although it doesn’t have any real fire to it the crowd do cheer appreciatively. Candy playing a solo is a nice touch, I don’t find myself too enthusiastic about it although it’s not bad in anyway. Prince closes the song in the manner to which we have become accustomed, and like everything else in the song it’s nice, but doesn’t raise any pulses.

The pop of I Would Die 4 U is infectious, and as soon as it starts I feel myself warming to the show. I don’t know if it is nostalgic value, or the performance, the song has a life of its own and the show ups tempo. It’s barely a minute, and I was grinning though it the whole time.

Prince Musicology 3

I am very surprised as we next get a fuller take of When Doves Cry. The earworm of a keyboard riff, and a fantastic sounding elastic bass keep me hooked, and although some verses are missing there is still plenty here to listen to an enjoy. It’s an interesting arrangement, and one I could happily listen to again.

The keyboard intro of 1999 leads us straight into a crowd pleasing Baby I’m A Star. Crowd noise is minimal on the recording, but there is plenty of whoops and cheers as Prince rips through the song. Four songs straight from Purple Rain, Prince is definitely playing to please the crowd. I aren’t enamoured with Baby I’m A Star, it’s a shade too polished and clean for me. The horns get plenty of play, and it sounds to my ears a little too close to a Vegas revue. There is a piano interlude mid song which I find far more enjoyable and it’s more than enough to keep me interested to the end.

For me things the show goes up several notches as Shhh begins. That guitar and drum introduction gives me time to prepare myself for what I hope will be a highlight. I am rewarding with an excellent rendition of a long-time favourite. Prince’s vocals are brilliant and the recording does him justice, capturing every nuance of his performance. Prince’s guitar playing matches his vocal performance, the tone is just right and the sound is crisp and restrained with the emotion present but reined in. John Blackwell doesn’t sound as strong as we sometimes hear, but that may well be up to the recording as much as anything. The last minute of guitar work from Prince is outstanding, and it transports me away from the glitz and glamour we heard earlier.

I have always loved the D.M.S.R. performances from the Musicology tour, so as the music starts I am already looking forward to hearing what comes next. The vocals are strong, the music funky, and the horns sound great with their top-end sound. The song has a fantastic slide to it, and this is heightened with the bass sound under it all. Greg Boyer and his trombone appear for a solo that keeps the party groove going. I am not surprised to hear the Crazy In Love riff thrown in, its horn vamp working well with the D.M.S.R. groove. Prince has a swagger to his voice and he is running the show, both the crowd and band responding to his calls. Candy’s solo is fun, but its Mike’s break with the vocoder that I really dig, I could have easily listened to much more like this. I had almost forgotten about Maceo Parker, and he does a fine job of playing us out to the end of the song with Prince chanting with the audience.

The briefest of introductions from Love Bizarre and Glamorous Life sound before we swing into I Feel For You. Princes vocals are a little lost in the sound of the band, but asides from that the song is just as good as it has ever been. The sound is warm, and there is a comforting feel to it. The bass pops out my speakers and the crowd responds to Princes calls adding to the familiar feel.

The pulsating rhythm of Controversy keeps us firmly rooted in the 1980’s. The bass and drums drive along while Princes crystal vocals sound sharp over top.  The guitar does become stronger after the first verse, and anyone who follows this blog regularly knows this is moves me most. I don’t truly feel the song until Candy plays a scorching solo, and the bass ramps up. It pulls me right into the song, and I stay there as some choppy guitar plays. Prince reminds us of some of his great catalogue by singing several lines of Love Bizarre before Candy gets another moment followed by the rest of the band. It’s very much one of Princes ‘band leader’ jams, with the band stretching out and getting a chance to groove on it while he calls the changes. This is a band that is often overlooked, but on listening to this I realize that they are very versatile and they had been with Prince for some time by this point. Housequake is in the mix too, with the horns making themselves heard again.

I find the piano interlude by Renato Neto to be a pleasant surprise. I am gobsmacked when I hear the “she’s crying, it’s backwards’ from Purple Rain playing. There is no way in a million years I could have ever guessed that I would hear this in concert. It’s an interesting diversion before Renato begins to play God. His piano playing has a tender solo sound before Maceo joins him playing saxophone. I like the sound of the sax, although I preferred the solo piano that we started with. The saxophone sounds good with the piano and the final sustained notes he plays get the crowd cheering, before the song closes gentle with the solo piano again.

Prince Musicology 2

The acoustic set begins with Prince playing a heart-warming rendition of Little Red Corvette. With the song stripped back like this there seems to be much more room for Prince to inject emotion with his vocal performance and guitar playing. The crowd lend their voices to the chorus and there is real warmth to the recording.

I have never been a big fan of Cream, but hearing it like this I feel the roots of it and I get a lot out of it. Prince is in fine form with his humour, and chastises the crowd for lip-synching as they sing along. It’s almost like a camp fire sing along in places, and it has a lot of heart to it. If it was played more often like this I would be a much bigger fan of the song.

Sometimes It Snows In April is tailor made for an intimate performance like this. The naked sound of Prince and his guitar has never sounded so good, and this is one of the best live recordings I have heard of this song. There are cheers and calls from the crowd, but the recording is perfect, and I can only hear them as background noise, Prince and his guitar is front and centre the whole time. All in all it’s an excellent recording of a beautiful song.

I have always preferred the live versions of Dear Mr. Man over what was released on album, like I have said on previous songs here there is much more warmth and humanity to it.  The crowd clap along and it’s very in tune with the feel and the soul of the song. Prince plays loose with his guitar to end the song, and for me this song is the heart of the show.

He follows up by playing a few lines of The Most Beautiful Girl In the World. I look forward to hearing the whole song, although we only get half a minute, and surprisingly I aren’t too bothered as the next song is a glorious sounding Adore.

Adore works very well in this setting, with only the acoustic guitar playing I find that Princes vocals gain an extra emphasis, not that they need it – the crowd certainly knows every word, as do I. It’s abridged, and only runs a couple of minutes before Prince breaks the spell with “remember that song from High School’ as an introduction to Sweet Thing.

He does very little singing on Sweet Thing, instead it’s the crowd that do all the heavy lifting in providing vocals to his guitar playing. His playing is indeed sweet and the song sounds just like its title. It’s a lovely moment, and it takes me back to a time and place.

Likewise, Raspberry Beret sounds equally as sweet and pop. In this format it works even better as there is much more space for the crowd to sing along with Prince as he plays. Naturally enough he ends after a verse and chorus with the traditional “I think I love heeeerrrr” Short and sweet, but definitely it has its place here.

Things get more upbeat with Prince playing I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man. It works well acoustically, and I like that I can hear what the key components are for me, Princes vocals and his guitar. I have always had an enormous soft spot for this song, and I am delighted to hear it in this context. Prince seems to be in a great mood, playing with the crowd as they sing the chorus, and I can’t help but hark back to that feel of a camp fire sing-along.

There is more humour as Prince next plays the opening to Jail House Rock and singing the first lines.  He pauses and tell the crowd “We can be Princes, but we don’t want to be no Kings” It gets a cheer from the crowd and a big grin from me at home.

Telemarketers Blues is equally humorous. There isn’t much happening musically but the lyrics are always a lot of fun, and the last minute of Prince crooning and playing the blues is worth hearing. It segues in 12:01 which is a good bookend to it, and as it is similar in sound and humour they work well as a pair.

I begin to lose interest in the acoustic set as On The Couch plays. It doesn’t stand out in its vocal performance, and the guitar playing isn’t particularly strong or interesting, and for me the enthusiasm for the acoustic set wanes about now.

7 signals the return of the band, and I enjoy hearing the bass line in particular. The backing vocals seem too strong for the song, and for a while I hear them more than I hear Prince. It’s no bad thing, as the song is kept to barely two minutes, so it doesn’t get long enough to bother me.

I hadn’t anticipated hearing Sign O The Times at this show, but I’m sure glad it’s in there. The horns add a nice little riff to it, and I like that there are a few other differences too that don’t for a moment detract from the song. It’s not the bare bones sounding song we know from the 1980’s but this re-imagining of it for the 2000’s works much better than some of his other updates. There is even a howling guitar later in the song that pulls back to a Santana sound that works equally well.

Prince Musicology 4

I play The Question Of U a lot here at home, so I am not too excited to hear it on this recording. It’s a good clean version, nice sounding, but not as intimate sounding as I have I have heard at some after shows. The guitar break almost has me eating my words, as Prince shows us why he is so highly regarded as a guitar player. His guitar says plenty as it howls and whines with emotion. The last squeal in particular before it changes tone has me beside myself. The music slows and Princes plays a stabbing break that shudders and shakes me, before he builds up to The One.  I have always felt an emotional connection to The One, and here it lives up to my expectations as Princes vocals capture the emotion of the lyrics. There are the lyrics of Alicia Keys Fallin sung by the girls, but its Princes singing of The One that holds me. He releases a final emotional charge with a fierce guitar solo to finish.

Let’s Work is completely different from we have just heard, and it takes me have a minute to get into it. It’s a chance for Rhonda Smith to really shine, and shine she does. Her bass work is solid, and the solo she gives us is a lot of fun. It’s rather short before the horns come back in, but still worth hearing.

U Got The Look has a very different sound to it, initially there is no guitar at all, and it’s unlike anything I’ve heard. The keyboard fills all the gaps, and Princes guitar can be heard later in the song, without ever coming right to the fore and dominating.

Life O The Party stays with this upbeat vibe, and it too sounds just as shiny and bright. The bass and drums lock in, while the brassiness of the horns keep things moving up top. I enjoy the party atmosphere, and I know that this signals the end of the show is getting near.

Soul Man is a welcome addition to the set list. Prince doesn’t sing, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest as I am sure the crowd is on their feet already for this. It’s all part of the greater medley, and a lot of fun.

We segue right into Kiss, it’s not the strongest version I have ever heard, but in a show like this it serves a purpose and that is to keep the party going to the end. It’s a chance for the crowd to scream and shout, and in places sing along. It’s still part of the surge to the finish line, and after a couple of minutes we plow into Take Me With U.

I don’t normally get a lot out of Take Me With U, this one is an exception. I find the band give a push to it, and it works well in this party like finish. The crowd get another chance to sing along and the horns once again take over, with Mike Phillips playing Meet The Flintstones, as well as Greg Boyer and Candy both playing solo lines too. John Blackwell’s shout out sees him playing 777-9311 before a sample of The Time saying “we don’t like new wave’ ends the medley with Morris’s inane laugh.

The main show ends here, and we get a couple of minutes to catch out breathe before Prince and the band returns to play Call My Name. It’s the first proper seduction ballad of the show, without any competition in its category I find it’s great and a song I would often overlook gets the attention it deserves. The song is a welcome addition to the show, and I enjoy the horns and keyboards in it just as much as I enjoy Princes vocals.

Prince Musicology 1

Purple Rain opens without fuss, just a quick piano line from Renato before Princes guitar plays a strong lead break that takes us to the opening lines. The rest of the song ebbs and flows as is its way, until Prince unveils the guitar break that will carry us to the end of the show. The crowd of course have their final opportunity to add their voices to the show, and the whole thing comes to a conclusion with an overall feeling of togetherness and positivity.

It’s been a while since I listened to a proper main show like this, normally it would be something I eschew in favour of a good after show, however this one has shown me that I should be more open minded. Not only was it a very good main show, it was also something from a year I have shied away from for too long. The Musicology tour has a great many circulating shows, and now I see why so many people enjoy them- a good configuration of the NPG, an interesting acoustic set and a lengthy performance makes this a good listen for all occasions. I shall be digging through more of these Musicology shows in the next few months, and hopefully I will have a few more gems to blog about.

see you next time,
Hamish

 

 

Le Bataclan 2002

When it comes to these shows from Le Bataclan, I have saved the best for last. The last couple of shows I have written about were good, today’s one is another level all together. In my research for this one I found that many people spoke of it as being one of the greats, and some thought it was even better than the small club show of 88. I have already praised one show from the ONA tour as one of the greatest (Copenhagen aftershow), and my first impressions of this one is that it might just trump it. The setlist has some highlights, and some great song selections are in there. It’s also better than the Copenhagen gig in that it runs for two and a half hours, so there’s a whole extra hour for me to enjoy right from the go. I have been looking forward to listening to this one for some time, and I think it’s a fitting way to end this Bataclan trilogy.

29 October, 2002. Le Bataclan Paris.

The show has barely started, and already I am saying wow, wow, and wow. The first song of the night is an instrumental, not that there is anything too unusual about that, except this one gets me. The drum shimmers and Renato Neto plays some figures over it, and it’s a mature jazz sound that I warm to right away. It’s not too often that I really feel Renato’s playing, here is an exception. There are the drums, piano and a bass, and it starts the show in fine style. The playing gets hotter, and then cools off before it begins to build again. Each movement draws me in more, and Prince plays his part for the first time of the night with some guitar playing that has his loud strong style that was often heard at this time. It’s not crunching, but it’s definitely the heaviest instrument playing. Things get serious later when everyone hits the same groove, and I get the feeling that the warm up is over, and the band is together, and tight. A brief drum solo, and then we spin off into another direction, the horns appear and we hear a hint of funk. It’s doing the song a disservice to write about it, this has to be listened to rather than written about. This is a fantastic opener, and if the rest of the show is this good then it will certainly be one of the greats.

Prince 2002

The guitar jam that follows has a very different vibe. Prince riffs as he sings to the crowd “Good morning to you”. I can’t think of anything more fitting, and after this initial riff there is some suitably heavy guitar playing as the horns join in. The crowd joins in next, picking up the chant of “Good morning to you”. It seems so simple, and yet I find myself enjoying it just as much as I enjoyed the complexity of the opening jam.

The song morphs into Bambi, and I aren’t surprised to hear it in this context. The sound of the show changes, and I find I don’t have to listen as hard as I am so familiar with the song. It’s not as heavy as I have heard, the guitar is nice and clean sounding, and I am impressed by how much guitar noise Prince can generate just by himself. His soloing in the latter part of the song swirls around in my head, it’s something I could listen to for days. It does stop unexpectedly, giving Prince a chance to sing another verse before his guitar re-enters the fray. As with the previous two songs, I rate this very highly.

We rock on well and truly next with Prince’s take on A Whole Lotta Love. Prince nails the main riff and then Renato Neto surprises me again with a fantastically futuristic solo. Prince backs it up with one of his own, before a howl signals a break down a chance for the crowd to sing. This leads to Prince singing as the band quietly plays behind him. I keep waiting for the music to explode back, but Prince strings me and the crowd along for sometime before switching to Family Name.

Family Name starts with just Prince and his guitar, and soon enough the rest of the band join. The horns and the guitar are what I hear most, and the song moves along quite quickly. Things get more interesting later in the song, Prince stops singing and lets the music speak.  There is some loud guitar work, which Prince acknowledges at the end of the song as he asks the audience “Ain’t too loud am I?”

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A guitar strum and clap throws me initially, but the band joins and we get a very different take on Something In The Water (Does Not Compute) It’s very mellow sounding, the cold feel of the drum machine is missing, and replaced with an organ sound, and some sharp and loud guitar work by Prince. The organ is quiet, and holds it together while Candy plays a sweet sounding solo. It’s totally in keeping with this band’s sound and the make it their own. What I like most is a drum break on the tom toms near the end of the song while Prince plays sharps of guitar, it’s very cool, and makes me feel like a Beatnik.

The opening riff of The Question Of U snaps me back to reality, as Prince plays the riff over the drum sound. His voice is sounding as good as ever, and before I know it I am singing along. Renato adds his sound with a piano solo that fits the mood very well. Prince returns for his stark sounding guitar break as I nod along, smiling knowingly.

I love hearing The One in this setting, my only negative is it’s only a minute, which is a real shame because I could have easily listened to it all night long. Prince sings, and then as he begins his solo we switch to Fallin’. He only sings a line or two before his guitar work really takes over, and his playing is superb. I don’t have any words for it, its short and yet every note is perfectly placed.

Prince steps back as the band shows their chops with an easy take on Take 5. Renato excels in this, and his solo early on is just as good as Prince’s solo we have just heard. Very different in sound, but just as brilliant. Maceo adds his sound to the mix, and the crowd can be heard yelling their approval. As Prince sings Ain’t No Sunshine the song takes a darker and quieter sound, and at this stage there is some very sweet singing and interaction between Prince and the crowd. Like everything previous at this show, everything has its place and sound perfectly in line and as it should. The song ends with the men and women in the crowd trading lines, something that sounds surprisingly good.

Surprisingly good is apt for the next song, for it is both surprising and outstandingly good. She’s Always In My Hair is always a must listen for me, and this one has some of the best guitar work of the show. It’s heavy when it needs to be, and also light when Prince demands it. His latter solo in particular is a show stopper, it certainly stops me and I just sit and listen. The song doesn’t have the break down that I have come to expect, and it ends just under three minutes.

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It doesn’t matter too much for people who like Prince’s guitar work, as he next gives us some guitar soloing for a minute of two before the band pick up a groove. He continues to solo as the crowd chant “It ain’t over” – nothing too fierce, he plays in and out of the music before the horns enter with the It Ain’t Over riff. I did expect it to go like this for some time, until Prince begins to talk about “here she comes in them hot pants” and I know a change will be coming soon. He does draw it out, with the crowd providing a soul clap as the horns and band swirl around. The moment I am waiting for never comes, as Greg begins to solo on the trombone, not a guitar in sight. The other horns join and I think the guitar will never enter, until suddenly it does for a minute. The chant of “It ain’t over” quickly returns and the song ends with Prince singing us straight into Shake.

Shake, now I didn’t see that coming. Prince leads the crowd in the singing of “Shake!” while he provides the lines in between. It’s very refreshing to hear Shake again, and Candy gives it a new sound with her energetic solo. Prince sings her praises, literally, as the ‘it ain’t over’ refrain sounds on the horns and the audience keep up the shake chant. It ties together beautifully, and I am beginning to understand how some people lose their heads over this recording.

The band pick up a funky groove, and I aren’t surprised that it’s James Browns I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door, I’ll Get It Myself). Prince does well to weld it to his own The Work, Pt 1. There is a natural fit there, and Maceo is right in his element as he takes an early solo.  The band pull back and there is some funky play between the horns and Prince’s guitar which I just love. When the groove resumes its much more horn infused and it’s the riffing of the horns that carry it along. The Work Pt 1 is much more evident at this stage as Prince sings it proper. There’s plenty more of Candy to come, and I don’t mind that at all. Even John has a chance to play a drum solo before the song eventually comes to a close.

777-9311 is short, and leaves me floored. Prince is jamming on the bass, and he is sounding fierce. Normally it’s the drum pattern that I listen for, in this case it’s Prince’s bass work that demands my attention. This alone is worth the price of admission.

Prince thumbs us easily into Hair. It’s considerably more laid back than anything else we have heard in the last half hour. It’s twice as long as 777-9311, but still much too short for my liking. Prince plays a brief bass solo which I hope will go on, instead he defers to Renato who plays a cool sounding solo that takes us to the end of the song.

Brick House continues this easily flow, Prince’s bass playing is loud, and for this one the horns make their presence felt, especially Maceo’s solo. The song is not much more than a verse and a solo from Maceo, and I dig every second of it.

Things stay in this vein as Prince gives us a laid back Skin Tight. I have heard this very funked up on other recordings, tonight he sounds more laid back as they play it. Prince chooses not to play the whole song, and it gets a brief treatment before they segue into Cool.

Cool is indeed cool. It’s not over worked, and the mood stays laid back. What I appreciate about it is that Greg gets to play a trombone solo, which generally isn’t cool, but in this case most definitely is. The pace quickens mid-song and the bass work of Prince and Rhonda catches fire. There is some great stuff in there, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. As the crowd cheers Prince calls “touch the bass” but I feel like it is the bass that has touched me.

There is some spirited clapping and chanting by the crowd before the music returns with All The Critics Love U In Paris. A pounding beat and some great electronic noises get things moving, there is futurist keyboard solo that starts things off very nicely. It’s the keyboards for the first couple of minutes that really get my attention, much more than the groove and the beat. There is no singing, and it’s very much a jam over the top of the rhythm track. Both keyboards sound excellent, and the song fantastic.

The guitar is back to front and centre as Prince plays Alphabet Street (Including The Ballard Of Jed Clampett). It’s light sounding coming after All The Critics, and yet just as enjoyable. Prince doesn’t jam on it at all, and it’s just a pause before the next song begins.

Prince begins a slow groove and the crowd picks up the chant “NPG in the motherfuckin house”. I am laughing as Prince stops the music and tells the crowd they got the wrong chant “We aren’t going to do nothing to nobody’s mamma up here tonight” The music resumes with the crowd chanting “NPG in this funky house”. Over the groove Candy begins to play. Everything is slow and very relaxed sounding. I like her solo, and I like when Prince has the crowd singing “Oh Candy” as she plays. Things stay on this gentle course with a piano solo following. Like everything tonight it’s a joy to sit back and listen to.

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All The Critics Love U In Paris next, and this time it’s in a different form. It’s much more insistent, and Prince sings the lines as you expect. The guitar and keyboards are lively and the horns too add their sense of urgency. Prince commands Maceo to blow the roof off, and he gives it a good effort. It has me wanting to get up and dance, and that’s a sure sign that it’s pretty damn good. Renato too seems to have found an extra gear and he more than does his part in keeping the up-tempo groove going.

I couldn’t imagine what they might follow with, and I am delighted to hear that it is Dolphin. The opening guitar is full of emotion, and it’s a credit to Prince and this band that they can still play something so heartfelt after such an extraordinary show. Prince’s vocals are just as clean and beautiful as his guitar playing, and during the chorus he switches from singing the chorus to playing it on his guitar instead, just the sort of thing I like to hear. I can’t decide what I like most about this, his vocals, his guitar, or the piano playing behind him. All of it is worthy of my time and attention and truly the sum is greater than the parts, and the parts are mind blowing. It’s one of those songs that I never want to end, and as soon as it finishes I decide that this is my new favourite bootleg.

The Santana medley that follows seals the deal, and there’s plenty of Prince on the guitar as well as some frenetic keyboard from Renato. Prince excels in these medleys and the he does the sound of Santana so well, as does Renato Neto on the keyboards. The two of them trade solos on their respective instruments. I am running out of words for this show, I would love just to switch off the computer and sit back and enjoy it. If ever a show deserved to be called a ‘headbuster’, this would be it. It has it all, and there’s so much to enjoy at such a high quality.

Even after two and bit hours, the crowd still chant for more, and they are rewarded with an instrumental Come On. The bass is fat and full which is nicely offset by the keys and some scratching. Prince starts a chant and very aptly it’s “party till the sun come up” The choppy rhythm guitar has me bobbing, and I find myself subconsciously chanting along.

Prince sings Housequake so slow and relaxed it’s far removed from the album. A rhythm guitar, bass and drum are the main building blocks as Prince sings his lines slowly before building the crowd to a chant of “Time to get funky”. The horns swell through the song, and there are a couple of solos, all of them on point. I am thinking it might slide by in this way until the end, but there are more fireworks from Prince and his guitar and the song gains in intensity. Suitably he finishes his solo and the song as the crowd continues the chant for another minute.

I admit it, I slept on this one. I have to agree with what others have said about this recording- it certainly is one of the greats. I can’t fault it, the performance is tight, the band is on form, the setlist is perfect, and the crowd is a big part of the fun. I may have overlooked this show in the past, but it will be on high rotation now for a very long time. Just fantastic in every way, and a fitting way to remember all the great shows from the Le Bataclan. I am going to go listen to it again right now, have a great day where ever you are, see you next time.

-Hamish

 

Volcanoes Night Club 2003

Today’s show is a rather random selection – I was thinking about what I was going to listen to next, and I chanced upon this recording from 2003. There doesn’t seem to be too much to it, but Stretchin’ Out (In A Rubber Band) seems to feature prominently, and that has me a little excited. I often play this song when I am driving, but I don’t recall ever hearing Prince’s take on it. So, it’s with anticipation that I take a listen to today’s show, I am sure I have listened to it in the past, but right now I have no recollection of it all. Right, it’s time to stretch out, and get this thing started.

17th December, 2003 Volcanoes Night Club, Honolulu, Hawaii

My excitement is tempered somewhat by the crowd noise, and sound of an audience recording. It’s not bad by such standards, it just takes my ears a minute or two to adjust to the sound of it. The first song in the set is Mama Feelgood, and it does indeed make me feel good, especially with the sounds of the horn section and a sharp sounding keyboard. The horn section is particularly strong, and I impress myself when I recognize the sound of Maceo Parker in the mix – I must have listened to too many of these shows now. Rose Ann Dimalanta is singing, and it’s a shame that the recording doesn’t really do her justice, she sounds secondary to the band, and her vocals aren’t picked up very well. As always, there is something positive to counter balance this, and in this case it definitely is the horns, which increase in intensity as the song progresses. The keyboards too get plenty of time to play, and the song stretches out as it gives us a good idea of how the rest of the gig will play out. It’s topped off by some funky guitar licks that whet my appetite.

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The funk continues as the next song begins, and it grooves right from the start. The band locks in nice and tight and my head really starts bobbing. They slide through Yes We Can, and then we hear Prince singing for the first time “Ain’t It Funky Now”. Rose Ann Dimalanta quickly pickups with singing Yes We Can, and the band stay on this groove for some time. I like how smooth and seamless it sounds and, if not for the quality of the recording, I could easily close my eyes and groove out to it. It feels light and summer like, and conjures up all sorts of imagines as I nod along to it. The song takes another up turn as Prince begins to sing Yes We Can, he sounds much stronger and louder on the microphone, and the show seems to pick up some momentum too. At the same time my ears prick up, and I listen for more of him. I am rewarded by a simmering guitar break that gains in intensity as it plays us through the last couple of minutes.  On a soundboard recording this guitar break would be excellent, as it is, it’s just very good.

Things don’t let up as next we get a great version of 1+1+1=3. It’s got a great funky intro, with plenty of guitar and groove. The scene is set as Prince has the crowd chanting “we like to party” early on, and they are very enthusiastic in doing so. There isn’t any lyrics sung, but at an after show like this, that is irrelevant, It’s all about the music and the groove. The energetic trombone solo from Greg Boyer sounds like a lot of fun. All the horn section is in on the party, and Maceo plays a brief solo too before there is a horn riff from all of them. It’s nicely counterbalanced by Prince and a laid back guitar solo which I didn’t expect to hear at this point. It’s refined and only takes on a heavier tone when the band pause and we catch a breath. The band pick up right where they left off and now the party gets serious, I can hear it oozing out of my head phones. This song has a little bit of everything, there is Life O The party in the mix, as well as Stretching Out (In A Rubber Band) as well as instrumental Hot Pants. Although he played parts of Stretching Out in the last two songs, it wasn’t quite the full on version I had hoped for. Still, what I have heard so far from these first three songs has been very good, so I have no complaints at all.

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No Diggity is bass heavy, with a fat squelching bass at the start. It’s not until a minute in does it become apparent what the song is, with the introduction of the keyboards and Chance Howard singing. It’s missing some of the sharpness that I like in the song, but I put this down to the recording rather than the performance. What I really like about the song is the solo from Candy on sax. It’s bold when it needs to be, and adds a brighter sound to the recording. The song doesn’t do much else later, but that chorus is so catchy that I sing heartily along to the finish.

I love the next moment as someone in the crowd yells “play some old school!” I can’t help but laugh as he calls it out. Prince then does the opposite and plays something current from the time. Ooh! is a another chance for Rose Ann Dimalanta to sing, and this time she sounds better, especially in those moments when she is backed by Prince. I do like the song, but compared to everything else in the show it seems to fall through the cracks. There’s not much of a chance for the band to really play, and Prince is minimal throughout. There is a guitar break late in the song, and this is about the only moment when I feel any interest in it. It’s not a scorching solo, instead it’s a sweet little sharp sound that is very enjoyable.

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All The Critics Love U initially sounds shallow. It’s got a hollow electric sound to it, however this improves immeasurable when the bass gets stronger. The beat is hypnotic rather than insistent, and its sounds soft to my ears. Maceo’s solo sharpens things up, there is no denying that he is a master at what he does. For all that though, it doesn’t reach the heights of some of the earlier songs, and it’s a disappointing ending to the show. The shallow sound of it reminds me of some of the Diamond and Pearls era mixes, and for a show in 2003 it definitely has a 1990’s sound for this last song. There is some chanting with the crowd, which I guess is a fun way for them to finish, but I can’t get past that dated sound. Greg Boyer makes amends with a spirited trombone solo to finish, and the show closes on a high, I’m smiling here at home.

This was an odd little show, I can see how I easily over looked it. Although it didn’t feature Stretched Out (In A Rubber Band) as much as I had hoped, there was still plenty there to recommend it. I enjoyed hearing the horn section and Prince himself sounded very at easy. It may be sometime before I play this one again, there are too many classics out there to listen to, but next time I won’t wait so long before I give it another spin.

Thanks for joining me again,
have a great week
-Hamish

 

North Sea Jazz Festival Night 3

Before I take a listen to today’s show, I feel I must first apologize. Reading some of my more recent posts and comparing them to some of my earlier ones I see that my standards are slipping, and my recent posts have been shallow and empty. I read them, and I can see that I am not really feeling what I am writing. The problem is, like many people, I am very time poor. You might think that its easy to find a couple of hours to sit down and listen to a Prince show, but I barely have two hours to spare. Often I am racing against the clock, and I can see that my enjoyment and appreciation of the shows is dropping. So, instead of knocking this out quickly between other attention grabbing activities, I am dedicating as much time to this as it takes. My doors are locked, my blinds drawn, and my mobile phone turned off. Prince and the third night of the North Sea Jazz Festival has my complete and undivided attention.

Obviously I have quite a few Prince bootlegs, and there is plenty to choose from every time I have an urge to hear a live show. My criteria to decide on what to listen to is quite simple. The first and overriding consideration for me is setlist. I want to hear something unusual, something I haven’t heard before- be it B-sides, deep album cuts, or unreleased tracks. Secondly, the intensity of the performance is important to me. Shows where Prince is on fire, and you can hear him singing and playing with a lot of passion. Thirdly, the quality of the recording. I can overlook this, if the first two criteria are more than met, but if its an average recording of an average show, then its unlikely to get much play at my place. The last thing I look for is pretty shallow- a cool cover. Anything eye catching and interesting, for example any boot with a cover by The Reverend gets me interested. There is plenty of boots out there that look better than the album covers of Prince’s official albums, and that’s one thing that makes the bootleg scene interesting for me.

This third show of the North Sea Jazz Festivals ticks several of the aforementioned boxes. The setlist looks great on paper, I see a couple of B-sides, some rare tracks and a couple of internet only releases, as well as an unreleased track -what could be better! I can’t comment on the intensity of the performance yet, but the quality of the recording is just fine, and the art work is pretty to look at, so I have a confident feeling for the show.

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11 July 2011, Ahoy, Rotterdam

Right from the start the show lives up to expectations. Laydown is a song that sounds like it was written to open shows. Prince has so many great songs for opening a show, and this one is just as good as any other. What I like about it is that it’s a statement of intent from Prince. The sound of the music matches his lyrics, as he sings about laying it down there is an intensity that has me believing it. Even with it not sounding as sharp as I expect, I still find plenty to admire about it, and it does hook me. Prince’s guitar is to the fore, often I am torn between my love of rocking Prince and funky Prince, on this recording we start with rocking Prince,and that’s just fine with me.

A sudden change of music and styles is common from Prince, and as a fan I expect to hear a variety of styles from Prince throughout a show, throughout an album, and even within a song. He lives up to  this as the intensity of Laydown quickly fades as the band lower the mood with The Question of U/The One. The opening strains of The Question Of U sounds, before the band quieten and Prince begins singing The One. The One is a fantastic song, and its a shame its not known by a wider audience. Sure, most Prince fans know and love it, but the Purple Rain/Raspberry Beret causal radio listeners never got a chance to hear this one, and that’s a travesty. Prince’s lyrics are clever and heartfelt, and at this show he delivers his lines with a lot of passion that I don’t always hear on this song. Often he is very smooth as he sings it, here he is throaty and sings from a deeper place that gives me a sense that he singing for me as well as him. Maceo plays later in the song, at earlier shows he was outstanding, and on this song he is much more restrained and sounds very good without ever taking over the song. Its to his credit that he plays within the song rather than over the top of it. I think the song is coming to an end, but Prince teases it out further, and it feels much more like an aftershow gig. He firstly plays some fragile sounding guitar as the music comes up, and then after a couple of minutes steps back to let the band play -and play they do, the sound becoming more free as they progress. The music gains intensity as Maceo plays again, and then Prince returns with another guitar break that by now is sounding like a completely different song. The music pulls back once again, and over the top of The Question Of U Prince begins to sing the unreleased Gingerbread man. The lyrics are intriguing, a simple story of the Gingerbread man that with Princes vocal delivery sounds like it could mean so much more.  Its then that Prince brings out his secret weapon- Morris Hayes. Morris Hayes is the special ingrediant of Prince’s band, even though it took me many years to recognize it. He has played with Prince for such a long time, and he delivers at every show, his playing filling out Princes sound, and his solos are always right in the pocket. His playing should not be under estimated, and he deserves much more credit than he gets. I listen carefully to his organ break, and I have nothing but admiration for him. By now the song has been running for a good 15 minutes, and every minute of it has been worth the listen. Its Prince playing for the love of playing, and he is giving us a great vocal delivery, some sweet sounding guitar, while the band play beautifully behind him. I am not sure the rest of the gig can match this, but I certainly hope so.

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Things stay on track as Prince next plays When Eye Lay My Hands On U. Its not the show stopper that the previous song was, the band is fine and so is Prince, its just that I don’t enjoy the arrangement so much with Prince singing with the backup singers. Shelby is a shade too much for me, and I preferred earlier when I could hear Princes voice alone. I don’t have too long to think about this, as Prince begins to play his guitar, and with plenty of face pulling he plays a very tidy solo. Its not one for the the ages, I couldn’t pick it out of a line up, but its good in that it fits nicely in the song, and that is an art in itself. The second half of the song is much more to my tastes as Prince sings alone over a quieter band. I like that I hear his voice much better, and he adds some humanity and soul to a fairly clean sounding song. Its enough to save it in my view, and he even adds some moans and howls that seal the deal.

The song segues easily into Brownskin, with Shelby taking the lead on the vocals. This arrangement isn’t as intense as I have heard elsewhere, and usually I dismiss it as a a throw away, at this show I like it much more, especially as Maceo comes and adds his sound to the mix. The song starts gently but soon is fiery and gains an added push as it goes. Prince is playing guitar, I can’t hear him in the mix, its very much all Shelby and Maceo. Maceos second break is the one I like the best, its a little longer, faster and sharper. There is a bonus later in the song as Prince begins to play guitar matching Shelby’s vocals lick for lick. The song returns to its structure, but now I am satisfied as I can hear Prince much better and his guitar sound is what drives the latter part of the song.

Empty Room sounds like the classic that it is. Princes opening guitar and vocals are soft and gentle before he ups the intensity and emotion. The music is good, but its the lyrics, as well as Princes guitar, that really make this song what it is. I can hear Princes lyrics clearly, and the song gains a lot from that. He sings his lines with a full sound, before stepping back and playing his guitar, emphasizing the emotion with his playing while giving us time to digest his lyrics. The guitar and lyrics compliment each other well, both highlighting the emotion of the other. Its a fantastic balance, and even though I don’t always give this song a lot of thought, I can’t deny that its great.

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Calhoun Square next, and even though we hear it plenty at aftershow gigs, its still a surprise as he begins to play it here. Its missing something on this recording, and I wonder if its the sound, or the venue. Its too relaxed sounding, that’s not a big criticism, its just not as I usually hear it.  I can’t complain about the band sounding relaxed, they have sounded relaxed all show and it gives the sound of the show a joyful sound, the band sound best when they are having fun. Calhoun Square feels very short compared to the previous songs, and it quickly ends as Prince stops and quickly speaks to the crowd.

The following song is People Pleaser and Prince introduces Andy Allo to the crowd as she takes vocal duties. As a people pleaser myself, I really like the title of this song, as well as the lyrical content. It sounds pretty good live, and Andy does a great job of getting it across to the crowd. Maceo also adds some weight to it with his playing, and it would be a pretty miserable sort of person that didn’t enjoy this song. Its not heavy with Prince,and not as funky as some of the other songs played tonight, but it does have its place in the set list, and gives us a fun break before Prince takes the show back.

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Prince claims the stage back in style as the opening riff of She’s Always In My Hair sounds. Its not as heavy as the 3rdEyegirl version of late, nevertheless it’s still got Princes distinctive guitar sound all over it. I find that even with Princes guitar sound, there is still something missing. It’s too clean sounding to my ears, and lacking that raw, impassioned sound. Its still great to listen to, and Princes guitar break does have me smiling, yet its much shorter than the current configuration, and ends quickly after Princes guitar break. Its a timely place to end, I am just hungry for more as Prince closes down.

Future Soul Song pulls us gently into Princes softer side. Its great to actually hear Prince play something off the current album at that time, and I applaud him for that, as its something that doesn’t happen enough now days. I like it when Prince has confidence and faith in his current music, and is wanting to share it with us.The song is very smooth, and Princes spoken middle section adds to the gentle feel of the overall song. The band is quiet, and this only heightens the message Prince is singing. The guitar playing again has has Prince pulling faces as he plays, and I can never quite decide if that means he is really feeling it, or its just part of the act. Although the singing is nice, its Princes guitar playing I keep coming back to, and he gives us another couple of guitar breaks, both short but heavy on his tone and feel. As a Prince fan, its exactly as you might want to hear. The song ends just as softly as it begun, its not the most memorably song of the evening, but it is the most pleasant.

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I get a chance to collect my thoughts for a couple of minutes as Prince spends some time getting the sound just right on stage, he has obviously learnt his lesson from the first night. What happens next is a surprise and a casual moment that I appreciate. Prince begins to play, then tells the audience “this is what happens in practice” as he turns to John and talks him through the beat. The real surprise is what comes next as Prince begins to sing Girl. Now, this is one song I never expected to hear. An airy sounding B-side, it stands up well in the live setting. I used to play this a lot in my early days, and I find myself singing easily along with it as they play. Princes sings the first verse, then the lovely Andy Allo sings the second, with the sweet lyric change of “boy..” The bass bobs along more prominently than in the original, and Prince adds a guitar sound, that although slight, fills it in a little more. Maceo has his horn also in the mix, and as much as I love it, I still think I prefer the original. With that said, I would love to hear more of it live, so Prince can do what ever he wants with it, so long as he plays it onstage. The latter part of the song is a very laid back sounding groove, as Prince squeaks and tweaks his guitar. Its not captivating, instead just a lovely pleasant groove that has me in mind of a lazy Sunday. This feeling is heightened as Maceo plays the last minute, and for a second I close my eyes and imagine that I am in a Georges Seurat painting.

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A brief band intro and Prince basically tells us that the party is about to start “That kick drum ain’t going to stop.” The first song they play is Partyman, although I struggle to pick it, asides from the lyrics. Rather strangely Prince calls for the crowd to pull their cell phones out, this from a guy who is always telling us to enjoy the show in the old fashioned way. Its just after this that the party begins, and Prince and the band hit their groove, with the keyboard horn sound especially prominent. I can’t complain about it all, but its just not my thing, its a little hollow and fake sounding. I change my mind somewhat as it drops to just the beat and the crowd very loudly sings “ohh way oohh” in a way that suggests that a great time is being had by all.

What follows is You’re The One For Me, a song I didn’t previously know before I heard it here. Shelby takes the lead vocals, and its a song that I immediate warm to an enjoy, I think I really need to go back and hear the original of this. Once again, Prince introduces me to another song and act I hadn’t previously known. Prince plays guitar on the back half of the song, and he has that Santana sound that he often favors on the guitar. John Blackwell gets a chance to play a solo, before the song moves on.

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With the kick drum still pounding, I am not the least bit surprised to hear Controversy next. What does surprise me is how fresh and raw it sounds here. Not raw in the rocked out sense, rather its the urgency of it that takes me. I find that in the last few years, about this stage in the show, Prince plays Controversy, and its an uptempo dance number  where the crowd get to sing and jump. This performance its gains some more of its funk sound, and the drum and synths are right in my ear, and they really give it a big push. True to form, later in the song Prince has the crowd jumping up and down, but I am more that satisfied with what I have heard up until now.

The kick drum continues as the keyboard sounds and Prince begins his spoken word intro to Let’s Go Crazy. Its disappointing that this is the arrangement of Lets Go Crazy that I don’t like. Prince and the band fair race through the song, and there’s no much left for me to enjoy. Prince sings the chorus a few times, briefly plays guitar and then finishes it without a guitar break. Its a song I have heard thousands of times, so I didn’t feel I needed to hear a kick ass version every-night, but I would rather not hear it at all rather than hear this truncated version.

Delirious is fun,a s always, the band persist at breakneck speed, and me and the crowd both appreciate Princes free spirit. Another aspect of the song I liked, was that the band got a chance to solo, only very briefly, but still the had that chance.  Prince then returns to Lets Go Crazy, and this time he does close out the song with his guitar howling.

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The medley is dispensed with, and we again get a full proper song with 1999. This is the type of 1999 I like to hear, there are no bells and whistles, the song is heard just as it was 30 years ago (That sentence makes me feel old) The syths are nice and loud, and Prince sings in a strong voice. The only part that I would want to hear better is his rhythm guitar, but later in the song I do indeed hear it much louder and clearer. Even played in full, the song still feels very short, and soon Prince is waving farewell to the crowd as the song ends.

Prince takes a break now, and we get Maceo and the band playing Pass The Peas. It excited me not one jot. It does have its time and place, but right now, listening close, its something that I want to skip over to get to me next Prince fix. However the sound is good, the band is in fine form, and Maceo’s playing belies his age.

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Prince repays my patience with the always excellent Something In The Water (Does Not Compute) This was one song that I really latched onto in my teenage years, and I am always thrilled to hear it live. Prince sings at the microphone, leaving the piano to played by the band. I get the feeling that it maybe would have been better with him at the piano, as his hands move and swing with the music, making it look like a dance song rather than a plea to love lost. His vocal performance cannot be faulted and even though its not as emotionally wrought as I like, its still excellent. Prince ends the the song by confirming that it is Cassandra on the keys.

Another emotional love lost song next, this one has a completely different feel to it though, as Prince and Shelby give us a sonically full Nothing Compares 2 U. This song doesn’t mean as much to me as the previous song, and yet I can’t help but feel the emotion in it. Both Prince and Shelby are in fine voice, and they more than do the song justice. Asides from Shelby and Prince, the other highlight of the song is the Morris Hayes organ solo. He really is great, and I am listening to him more and more carefully on every recording.

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There is barely enough time for us to catch our breathes before the band pound into Take Me With U. Its not a classic performance of it, but I haven’t heard it for a while, and I find myself easily enjoying it. Andy is stronger sounding on the mic than Apollonia ever was, and the song is sounding much stronger and fuller overall.

The old one two punch follows with Raspberry Beret very naturally coming next. There is plenty of space for the crowd to sing, but they are sounding rather quiet by this point. Perhaps the recording isn’t picking them up, or maybe they are jaded and a little over the Take Me With U/Raspberry Beret combo, much like myself. Prince still seems to be enjoying it, and its is uplifting to see him still playing pure pop.

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Cream has a strong Maceo presence, and it feels so natural and good I am wondering why this arrangement wasn’t played more often. Prince doesn’t sing too much, only the first verse and chorus, and from then on its all Maceo. Its a good use of the sax, and something I find interesting.

Cool is absolutely timeless. Prince does more than enough to reclaim the song, and he is indeed the epitome of cool as he sings and struts across the stage. The almost obligatory Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough is thrown into the song, and the band are sounding like they are having a lot of fun onstage. The groove comes effortlessly, and I could see the band just sitting on the groove for hours. After some time for dancing, Maceo gets a chance to play, and he gives a nice riff before Prince calls “Vegas” and the show comes to an end.

I thought the second show of these three was outstanding, but in many ways this one was just as good. It was a delight to hear some of these selections in a live setting,and in particular I really enjoyed hearing Girl live. There was a sense that perhaps Prince wasn’t entirely happy with the sound, but it certainly didn’t come across in the recording. All three of these shows had their own unique character, and perhaps the best way to appreciate them is to listen to all three.  This one was my favorite, but any other given day I may well say the second night.

Thanks for joining me, next week more of the same, but completely different
Take care- Hamish

 

 

North Sea Jazz Festival Night 2

Following from last week’s post on the first night of the North Sea Jazz Festival, this week I will be taking a listen to the second show. I would like to thank those that contacted me about the last blog post, especially Roy and John who were both at the show and provided me with some much appreciated first hand information. I was unaware that these Prince shows came after the main shows, and began after midnight. With that in mind, Prince is playing to a much more hardcore fan base, and I think that is really reflected in the set-list of today’s show. The first show was plagued with sound issues, and the overall show was uneven. This second show has quite a few interesting song selections, and I am sure that with a good sound it will be an excellent show. I have heard many good things about this show, so I am eager to begin.

10 July 2011, Ahoy, Rotterdam

This is apparently not your run of the mill main show, and Prince lets us know that right from the start with his choice to open with Joy In Repetition. The opening bare piano playing to the hushed auditorium has a beautiful melancholy feel to it, and the swell as the rest of the band enter is equally clean, but brooding sounding. This is a fine choice to start with, and I’m sure many of the hardcore fans out there appreciate Princes intent. It would be easy to open with an up-tempo crowd pleaser, but this is a better choice for the audience and venue. Prince’s delivery is excellent, and he sings as if he is in a small club. In fact there’s times here that as I watch him, I can picture him delivering the same performance in the studio. His singing is very much part of the song, and it does sound as if he is living it and feeling it. I had expected him to sing with his guitar in hand, but instead he clutches a small bunch of flowers in his hand as he sings, a much more feminine choice than the masculine guitar. Andy Allo is onstage drawing on her easel, and I could easily imagine David Bowie doing something like this in his stage show back in the 1970s and 1960s. Here it seems unnecessary, and is out of place. I am disappointed to see that she has drawn the symbol, I was hoping for something more creative. I anticipate a great guitar solo from Prince, and I am surprised when he introduces Maceo for a solo on his saxophone. It’s not something I would want to hear every time I played this song, although I do like it here. Prince doesn’t let me down though, and does bring out his guitar to play us out to the end of the song. The song ends with a sultry and alluring Prince and the bare beat. It’s an excellent opener and has set the bar high for the rest of the show.

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Andy Allo’s Nothing More throws me, for its similarity to The Love We Make. The music is close, and I temporarily start singing the wrong words as it begins. Andy’s voice seems very quiet, and although she sounds nice I wish she was a little louder in the mix. This point is highlighted by Maceo, as he begins to play he is nice and loud, and I find I am following him more than Andy’s vocals. Prince appears with his guitar, and the song very naturally becomes The Love We Make. Prince is total command of his performance and he knows what the crowd have come for. He plays slow, and takes his time with the guitar before he begins to sing. The difference between his vocals and Andy’s previously are quite glaring. He is much stronger on the microphone, and very confident and full sounding. I suppose thirty years of being a superstar will do that for you. This is another song that I often enjoy, both for the vocals, and the music. After being drawn in by the gentle melody’s of early in the song, Prince then unleashes his guitar break, and I find I mentally take a step back.  After listening carefully early on, I want to lean back and just soak up his guitar sound.

Next there comes another surprise as Mountains begins and Prince is joined on stage by Seal. I was going to say pleasant surprise, but I am less than impressed by Seal and his performance. He doesn’t sound great on the mic, and at times he seems to be mumbling. I’m not sure if he knows all the words, and he is mumbling to cover up. His voice initially isn’t strong, and I wonder if he is slightly hesitant. He does sound much bolder on the following lines, but I still don’t understand everything he is singing. Prince’s rhythm guitar is much more interesting to me, and after Seals exit the band begins to sing the song again from the beginning. Now it’s obvious Seal didn’t know the words, and I do feel for him. At least he made an effort, and his ad-libs will keep me amused on future listens. The song gets a lot of energy near the end, especially as Maceo begins to solo as the guitars get a nice rhythm going. The singing of Come Together at the end doesn’t do anything for me. Sure, the groove is still there, and it does add to the light atmosphere, it’s just that there is nothing very interesting going on for me to listen to. Prince does chastise for the crowd for taking pictures, and urges them to participate, and now that I am officially a grumpy old man, I agree with him.

At this point I must compare this show to the previous night. The first night Prince looked far more businesslike as he went about his playing, this second night he looks very much more relaxed, and you can hear that in the music, it does sound like they are having fun playing together.

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Alphabet Street has the crowd singing along to Prince and his guitar, and even as he speeds up they keep with him. The band enters and the song hits a deeper groove that sounds just like it did in the good old days. Prince plays a short honky tonk break as the organ leads the band in the groove. The song does get the extended treatment, and Prince strips the song back several times to encourage the crowd to sing. It’s all good fun, and I am ready for the next song by the end of it.

Another treat for me next, as the bass groove begins for Dear Mr. Man. I am very surprised to hear it, and now that I am hearing it live I wonder why I don’t play it more off the album. Prince plays the bass himself and you can hear him adding his flourishes as Maceo plays a solo. He repeats the trick after another verse with Morris Hayes playing an organ break while he locks down the groove on the bass. I don’t just like this, I love it. And it gets even better for me when Prince begins to sing If You Want Me To Stay. This is one of my most played songs of all times, it’s on almost every playlist I make. To hear Prince sing it while playing bass is fantastic for me, and just when I think it couldn’t get any better, Prince plays a bass solo. This show is really something, and when Prince says “Ya’ll got the funky face, don’t ya” I swear he is talking directly to me. The song then finishes with Prince and Maceo playing side by side, and it’s a fitting funky finish for a funky song.

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Another funky cover version next as Prince sings Stand! Initially just him and his guitar, before the rest of the band join him later in the song. I prefer when it’s just him and the organ, and when the rest of the band join in the song loses momentum. Order is restored when Maceo plays a staccato sounding solo that sharpens the sound.

Things take yet another twist as the song morphs into The Jacksons I Want You Back. Shelby takes the lead in the singing on this one, the beginning is very good, but she scats, raps and talks later in the song and it loses some of its appeal. Prince singing the bass line though does make me smile and is a great touch, especially when the band stops and leaves just Prince singing the bass line to close out the song.

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There is a brief pause as Prince adjusts the onstage sound, but it’s nothing like the previous night show, this time it’s just minor tweaks. The show resumes with a soft sounding introduction to When We’re Dancing Close And Slow. It’s got a lush sound with plenty of atmospheric sounds to be heard. Prince’s vocals aren’t overly strong, but they are well worth listening to as he gives a beautiful clean performance. Andy serves as a counter voice to Prince, and she trades verses with him. Again she is good, but she pales in comparison to Prince. Even when he is singing soft and slow there is a presence to his voice that Andy just doesn’t have. That’s no slight on her at all, she does a fine job, but she is no Prince. The song builds slowly, with Prince adding guitar lines and the piano playing an understated solo. It has a floating sound and feel to it, and I am impressed how Prince can create that feeling in a live situation. We float gently back to earth, before a pounding beat moves things along.

The next song is also sung by Andy Allo, and this time she wins me over completely. She sings The Look Of Love, and owns it. Having Maceo playing on it also adds to its depth and complexity and it’s the first Andy-centric song that I really feel. Her stage presence goes up several notches and she works the stage back and forth much better than previously. There is a more confident sound to her voice, and she is very a home in this song.  Prince doesn’t sing or play, so it’s even more surprising that I give this song plenty of praise. Maceo plays another hot sounding solo, followed by a cooler one as the music slows down and the song comes to a gradual end. I wouldn’t have thought this would be a song I give attention to, so I have to hand it to the band, they really got me on board for this one.

Prince is again front and centre and gives us a nice minute of guitar before the next song begins. Nothing too exciting, nice more than adequately covers it, and it’s more for the benefit of the sound guys than for the audience. What follows is a stomping version of Guitar. Guitar is a little ‘by the numbers’ for my taste, its light and throw away, and yet I can’t deny it’s got an energy to it, and it certainly earns its place at this show. Knowing what is coming next, I can see that this is a transition song, signposting what is to follow. The sound is full, and there is the fat rock sound to the song that the recording picks up well. Princes solos are solid and crowd pleasing, and you get the sense that he is playing with a knowing smile.

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This show keeps delivering surprises, and what comes next is the best of them all. The band strips back to just a power trio of Prince, Ida and John Blackwell and serve up some good old fashioned rock. Ever since the Undertaker there has been a chorus of voices online wishing for more of the same. Prince has done something similar in the Josh and Cora power trio after show during his 21 nights run in London, and this garnered a lot of online chat and excitement. This show here the band strips down to a trio for only three songs, and it’s an exciting moment to hear these songs played in a raw form. The first played is I Like It There from his Chaos and Disorder album. Nowadays we have heard it a lot from the 3rd Eyegirl, at this Festival it’s still a rarity, and the crowd responds as such. The bass and the drums sound deep and heavy, and Prince emphasizes this with his strong guitar sound. His playing is loud and strong, it’s not free as you might expect, it stays very heavy and in the rock vein. This song makes Guitar seem pale and weak in comparison. A great moment, and it’s about to get even better.

Prince plays the opening to Colonized Mind, and I want to close my eyes and lean back and enjoy it. The guitar tone is much sharper than the previous two songs, and all the better for it. Prince is playing cleaner, and yet he sounds just as strong as ever. Less is definitely more, and this is the song I prefer most of this selection of rock songs.  Princes’ playing is more emotional, and whereas the other songs it sounds like he is playing for the sake of playing, here every note carries a weight to it. It’s so good I have to listen to it twice.

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Bambi is the obvious choice to round out this power trio segment. Bambi isn’t as heavy as I thought it may have been, I could easily name several other versions I prefer. It’s by no means bad though, and I do enjoy Princes soloing, especially later in the song when he plays lighter and faster. The song finishes with a couple of fast runs from Prince before his long howl brings this part of the show to an end. It was an interesting part of the show, and something he has explored much more in the last couple of years with his 3rd Eyegirl band.

Prince acknowledges the sound issues from the previous show with an apology to the crowd, before they play a loose sounding Johnny B Goode. Andy shares the mic with Prince, its unfortunate that I can hardly hear her. It does improve as she sings alone, but then again she disappears as Prince begins to sing again. Maceo does a much a better job at making himself heard, and his sax adds some nice top end after the previous guitar heavy sound. Prince and the band blend Peach into the mix, and Prince plays a solo that sounds straight off the record. The sound strips back as the band play Peach and Prince has the crowd clapping and singing before he himself sings Peach. I am not so excited by the crowd singing “oowww weeee” but I do have a lot of time for Maceo as he plays a long solo. I am caught off guard as the song ends here, I was expecting it to go for some time, and I am again caught off guard as it starts again. I have been a fan long enough now not to be caught out by these things, or so you would think.

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Following all this noise, Prince takes another turn as he sings the classic The Beautiful Ones. He sounds great, not the same as when he was younger, but still very good. This song has stood the test of time, and even if Princes voice isn’t as pure, he still gets plenty of emotion in there. The climax of the song is the part everyone is waiting for, and Prince does give his impassioned pleas to the crowd, without the shrieks and screams I had hoped for. Like I said, he’s not a young man any more, but he does give enough to the song that it strikes an emotional chord with me.

Shelby implores the audience to put on their dancing shoes as the beat of Dance (Disco Heat) begins. It’s an ‘up’ way to finish the show, and one last burst of energy from the band and crowd alike. The band keeps the groove going while Prince engages in some awkward looking dancing. The song quickly segues into Baby I’m A Star without any let up in tempo or energy at all. This is a great song to finish the show with and harks back to some of his classic shows. The sound is good, and it about not that usually the band have a chance to show us what they’ve got. Instead Prince sings the verses, engages with the crowd, and only leaves room for one quick solo and groove. Maceo does hit the groove in great style and this could have been drawn out so much more as we have heard in previous years. Prince elects not to do this however, and instead the song ends just as I thought it was really about to take off. Still it’s a great end to a brilliant show.

Listening to this show I can’t help but compare it to the first show. The difference between the two is night and day. Whereas the first show had its technical difficulties and the band sounded uptight, here the sound was sharp and the band played with a lot of confidence and freedom. I thought Princes song choices were very good, and I like that he threw a power trio moment in the mix too. Not everything worked, but 90% of the show had me listening close and smiling. A nice comeback after the first show, and this one certainly lived up to the hype surrounding it.

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

 

 

 

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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