This week’s show I will be diving back into the Gold era, and a show from Prince’s Japan tour of 1996. This is an absolutely fascinating period, not just musically, but the whole drama and change surrounding him. I may not have fully understood it all at the time, but now in retrospect I see there is a lot going on, and some great shows to revisit. Having shed his ‘Prince’ persona, his music and look strikes out in a bold new direction, and it’s hard for me to remember what I thought at the time, but I now know that it was something extremely brave and creative. Money and his battle with Warner Bros. may have been the motivating factor, but it ended up being so much more interesting and creative. In 1995 he steadfastly refused to play any of his back catalogue, here in 1996 the first cracks are being to show and quite a few ‘Prince’ songs are on the set-list, as well as the opening music which nods to his past. By 1997 the doors to his past are reopened, with him again embracing his back-catalogue. It’s somewhat of a shame, and it would have been very interesting to see what would have happened if he stuck to the path that he struck out on 1995, one can only wonder. Today’s show is from Osaka in early 1996, his only tour of the year being a Japanese tour in January. The quality isn’t great, but anything that documents this era is well worth a listen.
11 January, 1996 Osaka, Japan
My anticipation is at an all time high as the show begins, and it more than delivers as the first words we hear from him are “Osaka, Prince is dead, long live the New Power Generation”. It thrills me just to hear it, and I know I am crossing over dangerously into FAM territory. There is the immediate nod to the past that I alluded to earlier as the synth intro of 1999 is heard, but Prince reclaims the here and now with opening riff of Endorphin Machine. What a start, a blaze of guitar, lights and screams- from both Prince and the audience. It’s a lively way to open the show, and I can only think that had I had been there it all would have been overwhelming. The sound of the recording isn’t great, and sometimes isn’t even good. Yet, for all its faults, its still captures the sound of the moment rather well. I may not hear the band all that well, and Princes vocals aren’t all that clear, but I can still hear the energy and enthusiasm of the performance, and in my book that counts for a lot. And besides, if the sound isn’t good I can always just watch Mayte and her dancing, always a pleasant distraction. Prince drops a verse and chorus from the song, and shortens it considerable, he never lets up on the driving guitar sound and momentum of the song. I am surprised by how much noise he can generate from a single guitar, the NPG are doing a great job of rounding out his sound and giving him a fat sound to play against.
With Prince still working his guitar we are straight into the next song, which is the excellent Shhh. The band is on the money for this one, as is Prince. His vocals sound just like they do on record, and if this was a soundboard recording I am sure we would hear much better just how good he sounding. It’s disappointing he cuts this song short too, after a verse he does play a great solo, and then suddenly cuts it short as the grind of Days Of Wild begins.
I always think of this as an after show song, which is a folly as it always sounds great, even in the bigger concerts. The recording isn’t good enough to truly capture the ominous rumble of the song, but it’s easy enough for me to imagine how it would have sounded. The highlight is always when Prince says “oh by the way, I play bass guitar”. This show is no exception and we get a couple of bass breaks, the first one, and then another one later in the song as the crowd chant. Prince looks the business as he plays, and I would love to see a show where he played bass only through the whole show. He makes it look so effortless, as well as a lot of fun. The camera jumps around a bit at this point, and I kind of like it. It’s that old fashioned sort of boot, where you know it’s not going to be great to look at, and yet you need to watch it. Some more chanting, and then the briefest of pauses before Now.
What I like most about Now is the keyboard sound. Prince’s rap doesn’t do much for me, it’s all about that organ sound for me, and I know that yet again it’s Morris Hayes giving it to me. The song is hollow sounding when he isn’t playing, it’s the chorus that has the full sound that I like. Prince implores the crowd to ‘jump up, jump up, now!”, and I don’t know if they do or not, but I know that I certainly want to. The song quietens to a groove and while Mayte plays with the audience Prince straps on his purple axe and gives us some funky keyboard sounds. For me the song becomes much more interesting for me at this stage, as there is plenty of keyboard jamming for me to listen to. A few lines of Babies Making Babies is sung by Prince at this stage, which is pretty standard for this song. He then even goes so far as to plug in his guitar, so in the space of two songs we have seen him play every instrument onstage, bar the drums.
I am loath to use the word ‘funky’ too much, but as they lurch into Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine, that is indeed the first word that comes to mind, and rightly so. The keyboards and guitar play right up hard against each other, before easing back and Prince singing. There is a lot going on, and all the instruments via for my attention. Be it Princes guitar, his singing, or the keyboards and bass line, I want to hear it all and soak it all up. Of course I just want to unplug my headphones and dance around the room, but that wouldn’t be much of a blog post now, would it? The song winds to a close with a minute of Prince playing alone on the guitar, before the band jump back in for a furious finish.
The Most Beautiful Girl In The World almost sounds out of place after the last few songs. That Prince can go straight from something so funky to such pure pop has never failed to amaze me, and listening now it’s hard to believe that a minute ago this guy was channelling the spirit of James Brown. The vocals are outstanding, and the only thing better is the tightness of the band, this song really demonstrates how good they are, as they stop several times and then pick up right where they left off. Prince isn’t to be outdone though, and later in the song he delivers some lovely falsetto that only he can.
In the privacy of my own home I love Pussy Control (that is a sentence I never thought I’d write), in public I am a little more reluctant to enthuse about it. This live performance isn’t great. Prince’s rap isn’t clear, and he doesn’t really shine until singing the chorus. There is some nice work for us to listen to on the keyboard, but overall the song is lacking and leaves me wishing it could have been more. I thought this would be better live, and I am not sure why it doesn’t work for me, but I suspect Princes rap has a lot to do with it.
I like Letitgo, it sounds different from other songs at this show, and it always leaves me with a strange feeling that I can’t quite put my finger on, a sort of unease when I hear it. The performance here is good, and I especially appreciate Tommy Barbarellas solo. The song has a nice pop chorus to it, but I sense something darker underneath it, and I think that is what I latch onto and gives me the uncomfortable feeling. Prince takes time to involve the crowd with some singing, before it abruptly stops and the gentle piano intro of Starfish and Coffee begins.
It’s great to hear this played in full, with the full band treatment. Often we get short lines of it in the piano medley, and it’s only on this Japanese tour of ’96 and the ONA tour do we get the full version. It’s a curious choice to get the full band treatment, and this is the first ‘Prince’ song of the night played, so I wonder what the thinking behind it is. I prefer the first part of the song more, the second half is free and loose, and I don’t enjoy the keyboard solo so much, but I am sure that it must be to some peoples taste.
With the opening chords of The Cross sounding we are immediately throw right back to the 1980’s. Princes’ playing is crisp, it sounds sharp and contrasts the keyboard sound that is also prominent. I was expecting his guitar to ramp up as the song progresses, so I am thrown when it’s the keyboard that firstly drives towards the climax. Order is restored when Prince does begin to work his fret board, and it’s a joy to listen to, as well as see as he strikes a series of rock star poses. It’s not as deep and spiritual sounding, I find that it’s just as enjoyable however, especially when I lean back and soak it all up.
The Jam, I feel I am writing about this song almost every week, it is such a part of his repertoire. I don’t tire of it tonight, as not only to we get a great solo from Morris Hayes, we also get a very tidy solo from Tommy Barbarella, a man I often overlook. It’s great to hear the keyboard guys playing, and the song loses something as Prince calls Mayte to dance and the music takes second place. This arrangement of The Jam offers nothing that we haven’t hear before, however it serves as a good bookmark in the show, and a chance for us to catch our breath and admire the skills of the individual band members.
A plodding beat, and I immediately recognize One Of Us. I find the beat pedestrian, and the song is saved by the uplifting sound of Princes guitar, without which there would be very little joy to be found. I prefer this cover to the original, and if I had never had of heard Joan Osborne I would swear it’s a Prince original. I do like Prince’s guitar sound in the song, but his vocals aren’t picked up by the recording very well, so I find it hard to give it too much praise. Prince does play guitar hero as the song nears the end, and this is where it picks up for me, I can hear his guitar much better than his vocals.
I didn’t know that this band and this incarnation of Prince did Do Me Baby, so as the song starts I am very curious to see how it will sound. The keyboards initially sound as they did all those years ago, perhaps the sound of a swirling organ the only difference. Obviously Prince sounds much more mature, and a lot of the vulnerability is gone. However this is replaced by a strength and sense of showmanship that more than makes up for it. He dances and sings boldly, and although not as dangerously sexy as when he was younger, he still commands your attention.
Sexy M.F. is another surprise, and as the keyboards play their intro a funky beat begins. It’s a shame too that Princes vocals aren’t sounding 100% on this song, and I have to again wonder if it’s his rapping. The keyboards however are wonderful, both Tommy and Morris sound great, and I like when Prince stops singing and we can just listen to the two of them play. There are a few calls from Prince to the audience to sing with him, but the song quickly winds up and we get another song from the back catalogue.
Considering that If I Was Your Girlfriend is such a fan favourite, its surprising that there isn’t too many great live versions out there. I would love to be writing now that at this show it sounded perfect and left a deep impression on me, unfortunately I cannot. It passable, again it’s as much the recording as anything else. The vocals are murky and in my opinion that is the key element in the song, and if that is lacking then the song doesn’t stand up on its own.
Wait a minute, did he just say “this song is from Batman, Vicky Waiting”? Yes indeed, and now I am very glad I chose to give this show a listen. This tour was the only tour where Vicky Waiting was regularly played, and it’s refreshing to hear it live. I don’t know the last time I listened to the Batman album, it would had to have been a good few years ago. Prince doesn’t play with the arrangement too much, there is a nice minute of organ solo as Prince and Mayte engage in some onstage antics, asides from that its played straight down the line. It’s so good to hear something like this that we don’t often get live, and I find that I listen very carefully to it as it is such a rarity. Not a great song, but the show is richer for having it in there.
Prince then deals with the weight of his past with a simple solution – a purple medley. As the sound of the Batdance song begins he tells the crowd “Is it alright if I play some Prince songs?” The start is just as on record, and with all the sounds and lights it’s initially hard to tell if they are just playing the song on the PA, or actually performing live. Live performance is the order of the day, and it’s kind of cool to see Prince quickly run through the songs. It’s similar to the modern day sampler set, with the difference being it’s a full live band playing quickly to keep up. For those of you not familiar with the Purple Medley, It covers Batdance, When Doves Cry, Kiss, Erotic City, Darling Nikki, 1999, Baby I’m A Star, Diamonds and Pearls and Purple Rain. The single contains more songs, but for this show Princes closes it after a few lines of Purple Rain.
7 has its Arabic prelude, and being a bit different, I quite like it. Its starts sounding like Around The World In A Day before morphing into a more Middle Eastern sound. This is a chance for Mayte to demonstrate her skills dancing with a sword. I have always enjoyed the music, and Mayte and her dance is no bad thing either. 7 is light sounding, especially when I look back at the first half hour of the show, nothing wrong with being light, it does give the show some balance. It does at times sound out of place, and I think it’s in the show as much as for Mayte as anything else. The drum has a great pounding sound as the song breaks for the crowd to sing, and apart from the guitar sound later in the song this is as good as it gets for me.
The encore begins with Billy Jack Bitch. The lyrics aren’t my thing, but I love the music of it. After a long organ intro Prince glides to the front of the stage and after thanking the audience he tells them that he is no longer Prince “that name belongs to record companies” and he believes in music. His speech goes for a minute or so, and it’s the standard lines about music and record companies. Billy Jack Bitch finally starts proper and there’s a good energy release. The keyboards have a good sound, as does the drums and bass. The vocals are lacking in strength and clarity, again it’s not Prince, and it’s the quality of the recording. That doesn’t prevent me from enjoying it though, and it gets better as it goes along.
As the crowd cheers the music segues to I Hate U before suddenly changing to 319. It’s all very short lived, a verse and a chorus before we hear the NPG operator speaking and the song stops all together. I would have liked to have heard either one of these songs in full, and it’s another Prince tease near the end of the show.
As Gold begins I know that this will be the end of the show. It has that climatic feel, and is a great way to finish the show. Prince’s vocals sound better here than they did earlier in the show, and I am pleased that we are finishing on a high. Prince’s guitar sounds a little twangy later on as he sings, and I don’t know if that is the sound he is aiming for or not. If fact the guitar seems out for most of the song, and I decide it’s definitely not the sound he was aiming for. However the solo sounds well enough, and it’s enough for me to overlook the earlier issues. The song ends with him playing shoulder to shoulder with Tommy Barbarella. It’s a strange sight, most of the show Prince has barely interacted with the band, and instead Mayte has been his main foil on stage. He looked very much a solo performer, and at one point as I watched him I had a feeling that he looked incredibly lonely standing alone at the front of stage. He must have been carrying a huge weight at the time, and although he and the band spent countless hours together, there is still a sense that he is alone. Of course this was the same time that he was about to marry Mayte, so perhaps I am reading too much into it, of course it’s only natural that he should be giving her so much attention instead of the rest of the band. The show ends on a high here, with the refrain echoing around for a few final times.
Hard to know exactly what I thought of this show. Sure, I really liked it, but then again I like most shows I listen to. The show itself is an interesting snap shot of what was happening at the time. Prince was only a month from marrying Mayte, and with the return of Prince songs to the set list the end of the war with Warners is signposted. I liked that this show was a bridge between two eras of Prince. We had all the classic Gold era songs in there, the dense funk of Days Of Wild for example, as well as some interesting selections from his Prince days. I particularly enjoyed hearing Vicky Waiting, as well as Starfish And Coffee. A curious show, but one I would recommend, it you don’t mind an audience recording.