Bennetts Lane, Melbourne 2012

This week I will be posting about two shows as both are short, yet they interesting for several reasons. Firstly, the legendary Bennetts Lane impromptu performance. Anyone who has spent time on the internet reading about Prince will be familiar with this concert; Prince made an appearance at Bennetts Lane jazz club early morning of 29th May, 2012. The show was only announced very late, and Prince and the band played to a crowd of about seventy people. In almost darkness, Prince played for close on three hours, with a setlist that is chock full of goodies. From all accounts this was a humdinger of a show, and it made all the mythical by the fact we don’t have a complete recording of it. We are spoilt nowadays by the scope and quality of recordings available for most shows, and this bootleg harks back to earlier days when shows were only partly available, or not available at all.The recording appears on an Eye records release, and covers a half hour period early in the concert. We don’t get the gems promised by the setlist, but it is a taste of the flavour of the evening and I have to say it well and truly whets my appetite for more. I thoroughly recommend taking time to go online and read about this concert from those who were there, there is so much more to this performance than what is heard on the recording.

 29th May 2012(am) Bennetts Lane, Melbourne

I am salivating from the first moments as John drums up a funky brew with Erykah Badu’s “On & On.” There is the wow factor from the very first seconds, John’s percussive sound setting a vibe that the small audience responds to with shouts of encouragement. The recording picks it up well, band is clearly heard, and although the audience call out they aren’t right in the microphone and sound almost as if they have been added in for atmosphere. Prince introduces himself with his first tentative notes stretching into the darkness, before the guitar takes an authoritative tone and lights the room in its luminescence.I have heard “Stratus” many times over the years, and wasn’t expecting much from this performance. Instead, the band floor me with a well rounded and satisfying performance. I think it is partly down to the recording, it is steady in its sound, and seems to have the mix in balance. Part of me wants Prince’s guitar to sound louder, but sitting lower in the mix works well for the song over all and I have no complaints. The band idle loudly behind Princes guitar sound, waiting for the clutch to be dropped and the concert to accelerate into the next few songs. It is John Blackwell that puts the pedal to the metal with a drum break that carries power, speed, and finesse in a combination that drives the show forward.

There is a break in the recording next, “Stratus” fades out at the end before “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” fades in, delivering us late into the song. We only get the last few call and response of “must be something in the water you drink” before the song fizzles out.

It’s not all that bad though as the following song is  “Strange Relationship.” The bass may not be particularly prominent on the recording, but there is plenty of funk dripping from the keyboards and Prince’s vocals. However, things flip when Cassandra plays her solo, the piano barely audible and the bass suddenly becoming the backbone of the song. It is a very loose performance, one that I feel as much as I hear, and it’s about this point that I decide I would gladly sell right arm for a soundboard recording of this entire gig.

Even “I Like Funky Music” sounds better in this context. A song I could happily pass on, here it becomes part of the “Strange Relationship” jam, and rather than drag it down it adds to it with the audience becoming involved with the chants. I must praise the keyboards again at this point as they continue to solo and delight me with their sprinklings of stardust.

This funk jam continues to evolve, and “Up For The Downstroke” reminds me of how much this white boy has learnt about the history of funk from Prince. My first introduction to Parliment/Funkadelic/George Clinton was from hearing performances like this and then going back to find the original artists. This performance is worthy of those predecessors as the song swells and bloats,Prince and the band playing the audience as much as they are playing the music. It remains a beautifully unfocused, all encompassing jam that is further enhanced by cameos from “Fantastic Voyage” and “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” Its not an intense jam that fills the recording, but it is one of the most enjoyable I have heard for a long time, and again I am quite ready to sell my bodyparts for more of the same. Oh to be there!

I am seriously overwhelmed as the the jam continues to creep across the land, this time swallowing up Mary J Blige’s “Be Happy” and consuming it into the body of the music. I regret that I am sitting at the computer at this stage, such is the urge just to get up and let my body move to the music. In my book, there is no higher recommendation. I am an old jaded fan who spends too much time listening to bootlegs, but performances like this are what I live for.

A brief “Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough rounds off this jam, before the recording ends with a final hit out from John Blackwell. At this point the recording is raggedy sounding, with John’s drums distorting. In some ways it is probably just as well it finishes here, least my previous buzz from the funk jam is shattered by this less than stellar sound. Nothing against John himself, it is purely the recording that is sounding rough at this stage.

There is no mistaking, this a great show and one that I want to hear a lot more of. A sparkling setlist is matched with a classy performance, and throw in the vibe of the room and this makes for one heck of a show. It is all the more disappointing then that we can only enjoy a half hour of the performance, with another two and half hours missing I can only imagine how good the rest of it is. Again, I strongly recommend researching more about this gig, with first eye accounts the music takes on a whole new dimension. I am grateful for what we do have here, but I want so much more. This recording creates a thirst that I know will never be quenched, no matter how much I hope and pray. Worth hearing, just try not to think about what we are missing.

Thanks for joining me, as this show was only short I will take a quick listen to another short show I have been meaning to cover for sometime.
-Hamish

Melbourne 2003 Aftershow

Last weeks blog about the Melbourne show of 2003 left me unsatisfied. As much as I enjoyed it, it was an incomplete recording that left me wanting more. As luck would have it, I have in my hand the aftershow from the same evening. This is a complete recording, but it is short – clocking in at just under an hour. I don’t mind that too much at all as the contents within are interesting – an unusual arrangement of Musicology (still five months away from being released), a slowed down “The Work Pt 1.” and a left field cover version in the form of “When The Saints Go Marching In.” It’s a tidy setlist that keeps the listener engaged throughout as Prince leads us down various musical alleys and backstreets. It is in contrast to the greatest hits package served up at the main show, making in an even more intriguing listen for me.

23rd October 2003 (am) Melbourne, Australia

Prince emerges regally through the crowd noise, although the audience recording cannot match the moment and is not quite good enough to make out his introduction. It matters little as the music takes its rightful place at the centre of the recording for the live debut of “Musicology.”  In the smaller and more intimate venue it sounds soulful and full, the drums especially sounding huge in the opening stanza. The horns are still busy, and Prince delivers his vocals with panache, but it is less Vegas sounding than on the Musicology tour, and for my ears it resonates with its soulful roots showing. Maceo and Greg Boyer are well into their work early here, and they are infuse plenty of kinetic energy into the song, Maceo with his furious saxophone solo, and Greg with his mighty trombone solo that for my moneys tops him. It’s early days and Prince is still playing with the arrangement for this song, in this case it is broken into two with  “Brick House” making a cameo appearance between the two sections. As much as I love “Brick House,” in this case I aren’t too fussed. Prince is bold with his vocals, and it is unfortunate that there is a slight distortion in the recording at his loudest moments. It is left to the horns to save they day, and they segue back into Musicology with aplomb and remain the main focus of my listening experience for the rest of the song.

It is Rad that sings “Ooh,” but she is far from the centre of attention as it is the rest of the band that grab the song and shake it up into a cocktail of horn and keyboard funk. Another shot of trombone action from Greg Boyer leaves me drunk in its wake, the music a powerful mix of 100 proof funk that is overpowering and intoxicating. There is little I can do but lose myself in the moment as Prince demonstrates exactly what aftershows are all about – purity of the musical experience.

“Peach” is lost to me in the general noisiness of the recording, the vocals washed away in the waves of crowd noise and general thinness of the recording. However, the recording does a good job of capturing the horns (here, and throughout) and especially Prince’s guitar. It is a shame then that he doesn’t engage with his instrument as much as you might expect, and asides from a couple of storming runs there is little guitar to be heard.

Rising on the back of the horn motif comes “The Work Pt.1” My soul sings as the horns play, but for me the meat and potatoes of the song is the rhythm guitar that arrives later in the song. Even as the sound becomes busy and spreads out in several directions I can still hear the guitar, a style I have always gravitated towards and held dear. The rest the song goes by in a blur and there is much to admire in the way the band all play so uniquely but blend their styles and sounds together seamlessly. This may not be the best recorded version, but there is still plenty there for those that listen close.

It is Chance Howard’s time to claim some spotlight as he comes forward for his take on “No Diggity.” Its a relaxed cover version, the rhythm section however is flawless in their work, and although this isn’t the most energetic version in circulation it is still interesting enough in it’s own way, especially when Maceo adds his talents to the mix. Truly a legend, he elevates every song as soon as his saxophone is heard on the recording.

Prince leads hand clapping into “When The Saints Go Marching In,” and this version isn’t just about the horn section as you might expect. There is some excellent keyboard to be heard, but at only a few minutes there is not really enough time for anyone to show off their abilities. However, the crowd like it and it is a neat way to bring us to the last song of the evening.

That last song is an instrumental jam, and a fast and furious one at that. The key elements are all in place, chants, whoops, the various band members playing sharply throughout. It isn’t an elongated jam as we often hear at aftershows, in fact its one of the shortest jams I think I have heard at barely a couple of minutes. That doesn’t count against it in this case, as the crowd sound as though they have been whipped into a frenzy, and its is easy to understand why as the music vortex’s and increases intensity. It isn’t what is expected, but it is a good way to finish the show, putting an exclamation mark on all that has come before.

An interesting little bootleg this one, it doesn’t sound quite like other aftershows in circulation, yet it has its own irresistible style and feel. There a few nuggets sprinkled through out the set that keep the listener engaged, and it does come as a nice palate cleanser on top of the mainshow I covered last week. The recording is far from perfect, but the contents of the bootleg more than make up for it, making for an engaging listen from start to finish.

 

Melbourne 2003

Prince didn’t jump straight from the ONA era into Musicology. There was a year gap, featuring a world tour that took in only Australia and Hawaii. I find these shows interesting as they are the stepping stone between the two, and we can see the crowd pleasing hits played with a trace of the ONA concerts heard in the smooth and easy style in which this band play. The concerts in Australia should have been a great chance for me to see Prince play live, Australia is only a four hour flight away, unfortunately I was out exploring the wider world and was living in London at that time. My opportunity to see Prince play would come later.

There are several releases of the concert I am listening to today, I am listening to the Overfunk’d release as to my ears it sounds slight better than the other versions. An audience recording, it is pretty good – with no distortion, the mix is about right and I can clearly hear and enjoy the music throughout. The only thing that counts against it is that it is an incomplete recording, we are missing the opening bracket of ten songs, but it is a long show, and what we to have is plenty enough to cover two discs.

22nd October 2003, Melbourne Australia

The recording begins with “The Beautiful Ones,” and it immediately puts me in mind of the ONA tour from the previous year. With Maceo Parker on saxophone, the introduction lingers and Maceo does what he does best and fills the room with a steamy atmosphere. With the band draping their sultry veil across the soundscape it could have easily been lifted from any 2002 show, and I am more than happy with that as I am infused with the ghost of concert’s past. It’s not all about the past however, this is not Purple Rain Prince, and as he sings he very much Prince of the time. His voice doesn’t ache and bend as it had previously, and as much as I love his performance here, I must admit it is workman like in the most professional way, no bells or whistles here, just a straight delivery that serves his maturing sound well.

I have similar feelings about “Nothing Compares 2 U.”  Prince is good, without ever flooring me, and it is Maceo Parker who’s brief moment stirs up the passion with me, and within the song. The recording shines though, and even though I haven’t shown any real enthusiasm for the first couple of songs, I am greatly enjoying the bootleg.

It is “Insatiable” that first has me swallowing hard and listening close. Now this is what I came for, a delicious delivery that has the crowd swooning at the show, and me having all sorts of feelings here at home. The more Prince croons, the louder the crowd swoons, and I am giddy with fanboy love as Prince walks us through a vocal maze, following the trail of bread crumbs that Renato Neto lays. Its a lethal combination, the song sneaking up on me and drawing all the oxygen from the room.

Although “Sign O The Times” moves in the opposite direction, it demands listening to just as much as the previous “Insatiable” and drives out a funk groove that is irresistible. I am disappointed that the crowd get to sing along, while here at home I have to stay quiet as my wife sleeps in the other room. It matters little, I lip sync along with them in a a happy delirium, and I am happy to report that “Sign O The Times” gets a whole nine minutes to funk and roll across the the recording. The real action begins after Prince finishes his lyrics, rad. (Rose Ann Dimalanta)  gives a brief and electric keyboard solo that leaves me wanting more, and it gets better as John Blackwell plays us through a turnaround that leads the music into a swirl and even more keyboard work that excites me in ways that I never knew a keyboard could.

The combination of “The Question Of U” and “The One” reached its peak during the tour of 2002, for my money those performances will be never be bettered, and although this version is sonically very similar, it lacks that magical quality that was heard the previous year. It is slightly more labored, and deadened in sound, there is a lightness of touch that is missing, and although the song is guitar heavy, it is this finesse and delicacy that makes it what it is. The chunky guitar by Prince midsong does briefly have me breaking into a sweat, but that sweat turns cold as the band go though the motions later in the song.

“Let’s Work” has things jumping again, and it sounds nice and sharp on the recording. The horns in particular leap out at me in their energy and brightness. Prince doesn’t work the song too long, it is only a couple of minutes, but it does signal the next upbeat part of the performance.

In the same vein, “U Got The Look” is a short, sharp shock of energy and pace that accelerates the concert further. The guitar sounds strangely quiet as Prince solos , and for me this is one of the key reasons to listen to the song and its muted sound leaves me silently frustrated.

The show is gathering pace rapidly at this point of the bootleg, as Prince tears through a series of covers and upbeat numbers. We firstly get an embryonic version of “Life Of The Party,” which is too busy for its own good until it settles for the chorus. It is the following “Hot Pants” where the groove gets hot and heavy, one can almost feel its hot breath on their neck as the groove becomes dark and dangerous, hinting at an unseen sexuality. Prince breaks the mood with  “Life Of The Party” rap, and before I can fully immerse myself in the bass end of the song it transitions to Chance Howard and his lively rendition of “Soulman.”   It’s hard not to like it, and I find a smile spreading across my face as it plays though. Its sounds so summery and easy, for a minute I consider tackling it next time I go to karaoke.

It is a keyboard push that drives “Kiss,” its pulse beating just under Prince’s lyrics throughout. I like the sound of the keyboard, but I could take or leave the rest of the song. I appreciate the new arrangement, but “Kiss” is one song that I have heard far too often.

Prince’s cackle introduces “Take Me With U” and one can appreciate why as the band and the crowd respond with energy and love. Like the previous “Kiss,” this is one song I have heard too many times, yet I fully understand why it has been a constant in the setlist over the years. An uplifting song from Prince’s most successful album, it never fails to elicit a response from the crowd and re-energises the concert.

The main set is rounded out by a full rendition of “The Everlasting Now.” It encapsulates the full talents and scope of the band as it moves quickly across musical territory, throwing up all sorts of sounds and styles. The funk grows and evolves through the song, the ground never quite solid beneath my feet as the band move swiftly through this soundscape. It is a fitting end to the main show, and a great reminder of how good this band is.

The piano set encore opens with an understated “Adore.” As much as I love bootlegs, I have never enjoyed hearing “Adore” on bootlegs, mostly because the screams and shouts of the audience ruin the moment for me as Prince plays the one song that truly connects to my heart. Here is no different, each line greeted with rapturous shouts and squeals of excitement, and as much as I share their enthusiasm it does take me out of the moment. The song does get its full five minutes, which for me is an exercise in frustration as the crowd stay prominent.

Prince keeps with humor as he segues into “Sleep On The Couch.” He takes his time over the delivery, each line hanging in the air so it can be fully digested by those listening. I laugh a little early on, but soon enough I am cocooned in Prince’s vocal delivery and lose myself in a soft delirium. A song that didn’t promise much, I am surprised by emotions it brings to the surface.

Emotion is the name of the game as Prince has the crowd clap as he plays an soulful version of “Forever In My Life.” Head bobbing, hand clapping, it has its own unique rhythm that is offset by Princes lyrics and vocal delivery that speaks of love and honesty. Its only brief, but it is the perfect fit with the two previous songs.

“One Kiss At A Time” gets a different arrangement, and is a fine match for “Forever In My Life” I am surprised that Prince sticks with some of the risque lyrics, but he is doesn’t engage with any curse words, so I guess in his head that makes it all alright. It is a surprising end to the piano set, a set that I have found most enjoyable, my feelings about “Adore” not withstanding.

As much as I enjoyed the piano set, I am more than happy when the funk returns with “All the Critics Love U In Melbourne.” I like the insistent funk drive of it, and the color that the keyboards and saxophone add. Maceo is at his very best at this point, the music and concert orbiting around him as he plays. The keyboard rhythm later in the song is a match for him, and it is a devastating few minutes of funk that has me applauding at home in appreciation.  “Phew, can’t nobody mess with this band” is my only thought as the song ends.

The keyboards are equally to the fore as a frenetic “Alphabet St.” follows. It is derailed by Princes interruption to talk himself up to the crowd, but as a performer at the top of his game, he has every right to brag and enjoy the spotlight. The song never regains momentum though, and I feel the constant stoppages would be better left out.

There is an easy jam that leads into “Days Of Wild”, a jam that tidily takes a low key funk groove and allows Prince to chant with the crowd. The serious business comes with “Days Of Wild” as it stomps across the landscape, bringing a tension to the previously lighthearted concert. Its not as quite as dangerous as other performances I have heard, Prince is enjoying himself too much, but the music has a touch of malice the keeps it just on the right side of the ledger.

The final song of the night is of course “Purple Rain.”  as befitting a greatest hits show, the moment is milked for all its worth, with the usual introduction sweeping across the arena before Prince begins to punctuate it with some lead guitar. Its a worthy rendition of a much loved classic, but there is nothing new here for anyone who has followed prince’s career. The final guitar break has me interested only for nostalgic sake, Prince isn’t breaking new ground, but he is playing his signature song to an appreciative audience at the climax of the concert.

This is a bootleg that you don’t hear much about, yet I would happily recommend it to anyone wanting to hear a quality audience recording of what is a standard hits show. The band are coming off some fantastic 2002 shows, and although different in style, they are just as good here in 2003 as they were the previous year. it may not be a complete show, but it never drags either, making for a bright and easy listen. For those that were there this is an excellent document of that experience.

I see there is an aftershow from the same night that has caught my eye, I shall give that a listen next week.

Thanks for reading
Hamish

The Palace, Melbourne 1992

I have had a fair number of down-under fans contacting me of late, so it’s only right that this week I listen to a show recorded in Melbourne, Australia 1992. This is a nice little aftershow from the Diamonds and Pearls tour, and serves as a period piece of that era. With plenty of horns, and the rapping of Tony M it is instantly recognizable as being from the early 90’s, a period that hasn’t always aged well. The recording itself is interesting, it is an audience recording, and there is certainly plenty of crowd noise, but the band itself is recorded very well, everything sounds as it should.The extra audience noise isn’t right next to the microphone, it gives the recording a lively sound, and it’s easy to listen to and picture yourself there.

22nd April 1992, The Palace, Melbourne

There’s only so many ways you can start a show, and Prince’s “Australia…..1,2,3,4” is as good as any. Things are off to a hectic start as all the band jump in with Tony M and we get a breakneck The Flow. I don’t normally gravitate to this song, yet somehow I get swept up by this performance, and as the crowd screams and squeals I find that I am just as into it as they are. The horns round out the sound with a full clean sound that is the opposite of Tony M’s rap which is deep and fast, although I hardly have time to register as the song zooms by.

Call The Law rolls over the crowd, and me here at home. The first minutes roll easily by with a fat groove, before Prince is heard playing lead guitar for the first time in the evening. He is sounding great right from the start, but keeps it short as Tony M raps some more. Upon his return with the guitar things heat up considerably, and the final minutes are filled with an intense guitar sound that has the crowd screaming. Prince makes it wail, and this is shaping up to be a great show, there is plenty of funk and guitar being brought to the fore already.

Prince Oz 92 b

I can’t quite get used to Tony M doing the spoken word introduction for Housequake, although that is a minor quibble. Despite some crowd noise, this is upbeat funk infused version, with plenty of rhythm guitar and brassy horns for those of us that enjoy such things. Being an aftershow this gets the full treatment, firstly it is sometime before Prince sings, and then when he does he stretches and pulls the song in a few different funky directions. The horns are uplifting, while the main beat is almost a stomp, it is something that most people would find irresistible to dance to, and you can tell the crowd is feeling it as they chant loudly along with it. It deviates much more later in the song, as first a funky guitar then some great horn work takes us to the stratosphere. The world slips away as the band jam effortlessly for some time.

When You Were Mine seems to come from an entirely difference place, and it’s hard to believe I am actually hearing it after the funkfest of Housequake. The band sounds smaller suddenly, although the horns play they are much quieter and Prince and his guitar is alone out front in the sound. There are some interesting adlibs (that my Mum might not appreciate) before we get the coolest moment of the song – a soulful horn solo that lifts the spirits and carries us to the end, it’s a wonderful moment and a great finish to it.

They follow this up with an extremely laid back jam, which is serves as a backing tracking for some rapping by Tony M. He adjusts his style for this, and his deeper slower raps sound better in this context. It’s an easy groove that floats on by, until the sound of Prince’s guitar cuts through the air. As with the other guitar he has played at the show he has a fantastic wail on it, and there is plenty of sustained notes as the crowd cheers after every burst.

Prince Oz 92

As the crowd claps the beat the band slowly build to the next song, first the beat, then a touch of guitar, topped with some horns before it all comes together and bursts out into Gett Off (housestyle). Its impressive how quickly Prince can get the lines out, as is the moments when the crowd sings the chorus with him as one. I love how tight it is despite the speed they are playing, this is a definite heart starter. The only respite we get is a the solo from Levi, he plays quick but the music pulls back and makes room for him. The recording is full of sound next as the horns return to the fray, and they put their mark on it for a good few minutes. Prince returns but it’s the trumpet that gets the final say as it plays the last few minutes, competing with a keyboard solo for the highlight of the song.

Purple House takes a few minutes to warm up, or perhaps, if I’m being honest with myself, I am impatiently waiting for the guitar soloing to begin. The horns are the most noticeable instrument, they dominate whenever they play, and Prince’s vocals seem very quiet in comparison. The guitar that I am expecting never comes, there is some beautiful guitar played midsong, although it’s short and not nearly enough for my taste. The song however is a fine rendition, and well recorded, and you can’t really ask for more than that.

Things slow even further with the ever so gentle Damn U. It glitters softly in the back ground as Prince croons to the delight of the ladies in the audience. Prince sings so well that it’s easy to forget that this is a live show, except for the sound of the audience. The horns too play their part, and there is certainly some magic woven as Prince seduces the audience, and the microphone, with his vocal performance.

Prince Oz 9 c

We change tack again next as Prince begins the self-aggrandizing My Name Is Prince.  As the “Prince” loops play over there is a very interesting opening with plenty of percussion and other loops in the mix. It’s all worked in extremely well, and even without Prince singing for the first minutes it commands attention. The horn rises build the sense of anticipation before Prince hits the microphone and punches out his opening lines. The song flies, not only do we have Prince and his lines, there is also more Tony M (sounding good) and a great horn solo that leads to some scratching, something I had not expected to hear. As the crowd chants “do that, do that” I am with them every step of the way, the song is a jam and I never want it to stop.

With plenty of encouragement from the audience the band is finally persuaded back for an encore of Sexy MF. Prince introduces it as a love song, although it’s anything but with a greasy guitar sliding us right into the Sexy MF chorus. There is plenty of whoops of delight from the crowd and they sing the chorus with plenty of enthusiasm. Its stronger and funkier than on record, it’s a shame that something is lost in the album version, that bit of extra fire and passion goes a long way. With plenty of horns, Tony M and the crowd, its everyone in for the final hurrah. It’s a great ending to what has been a great show, even I have been surprised how much I enjoyed listening to it.

This show has been a revelation to me. It’s not an era I listen to often, and being an audience recording I had previously shied away from listening to it often. The performance however was fantastic, and I found I even enjoyed Tony M in places. A great show, a nice recording, this one deserves more love than it gets, and I have been just as guilty as anyone for not giving it more praise. All in all, another good bootleg experience.