21 Nights book launch – the aftershow

Several weeks ago I started writing about the 21 nights book launch and subsequent bootleg covering the event. It’s taken me longer than I though to return to this bootleg, but the second half of the recording covers the almost three hour aftershow and is well worth the wait. This is another Eye records release, it’s only by chance that they have had so much coverage on this blog recently, and although it is an audience recording it still holds my attention as Prince plays with a lighthearted touch across the sprawling set.

11th October 2008 (am) Hotel Gansevoort, New York

The pairing of “Crimson And Clover” and “Wild Thing” has grown on me over the last ten years. The fact that Prince dirties up the sound at this performance and gives the song some grit is all the more appealing, as is the hurdy gurdy guitar break that serves as an improvised opening. Prince leads us through delicate verses and well crafted choruses, but the real action occurs between these moments as he spits fire with several flights of fancy on the guitar that inflames the audience and the casual listener at home alike. The audience are loud in their appreciation, the only negative of this audience recording.

Prince’s cover of “Let’s Go” was in vogue at this stage of his career, and the performance of it here is true to form. It is punctuated by shouts and burst of guitar heroics, but for the most part it stays neatly boxed, and all Prince’s guitar work is nothing more than pretty packaging with no real gift to be revealed.

The a capella introduction of “7” suffers on this recording, the fully engaged crowd drowns out anything happening onstage with their singing. The song itself comes and goes quickly, there is no catch or hook to lure the listener in. Prince doesn’t give it time to work its magic, and it eventually decays into “Come Together”

The “7,” “Come Together” combination doesn’t initially excite me, although I must admit I do find myself singing the chorus with Shelby J before I know it. The recording perks up, and so do I, with Prince’s stabbing guitar solo, but interest wanes for the singalong. As always, great at the concert, not so great here at home.

The wheeze of keyboard heralds the arrival of “1999.” This band may not be The Revolution, but they do hold their own with a version that could have been lifted from anytime in the 1980s. The distinctive voice of Shelby keeps us in the present,even as the crowd indulge in the chant of “Party” over Prince’s scratch guitar. It is these final minutes that stand out for me, and with Princes high pitched singing and funk guitar 2008 disappears from view in a fog of electro funk.

Prince continues with his musical time machine, “Controversy” just as firmly rooted in the past as “1999.” I am surprised to hear Prince himself comment on this with his quote “they say where you from? I tell ’em the 80s” He lives up to this comment with a synth heavy, funk driven rendition of this classic slice of Prince 80s output. Shelby can be heard (imploring folks to clap their hands and stomp their feet), but the song firmly remains in Princes hands with his vocals and guitar the key sonic signature of the song. Even the bass break doesn’t derail this feeling, and it is almost with sadness that the song comes to an end after five minutes, bringing the curtain down on this diversion into nostalgia.

The comment “You ain’t ready for this” sums up my ambivalence towards “Sexy Dancer/Le Freak,” – I’m definitely not ready for it.  “Sexy Dancer” gets a thumbs up from me, “Le Freak,” however, leaves me less than cold. It lacks a distinctness, the music sounding watered down from the preceding songs.

It was P-funk who belittled The Doobie Brothers with their “It was cool, but can you imagine Doobie-in’ your funk?” line. As is his way, Prince goes against the grain, instead celebrating the Doobies with an infectious, and surprisingly likable, cover of “Long Train Runnin’.” There is an added energy to the performance, Frédéric Yonnet providing some harmonica that is a celebration it itself and lifts the song beyond the diesel locomotive sound of the original. Princes train isn’t as driven as the Doobies, but it does carry more sounds and textures lying deep in the grooves, making for a well rounded listen that delivers on several levels.

All these other songs are merely children in the presence of “Shhh,” a song that is steeped in maturity and strength. The lyrics are light and can’t compare to the power of the music that is the bedrock of this song. The guitar blows at storm force across the recording, while the drums crash like waves on a breakwater as the song reaches its hurricane peak. Even on this audience recording it has a radiating power that can’t be ignored, and it blows the doors off any doubts I might have about this bootleg.

There is audience noise marring the beginning of “Musicology,” as well a touch of feedback. It is airy against the concrete of “Shhh,” and this is further emphasized by the appearance of “Prince And The Band.” As much as I like “Prince And The Band,” it is a guilty pleasure and not comparable to “Shhh,” or even “1999” that came earlier. With such a spread of material, some of Prince’s later songs suffer in comparison, and “Prince And The Band” is certainly one of those.

Things become harder and heavier as “3121” marches into view. Like most of the other songs, the audience detract from the moment, but one can’t blame them for enjoying one of Prince’s strongest songs in the latter part of his career. The guitar break he laces it with adds just enough venom to make it a dangerous moment. I temporary forget the audience noise and focus on the dark clouds that swirl around Prince’s guitar solo.

There is a slightly deranged sound to “Girls And Boys.” To my ears it is unbalanced, and the fact that Prince lets the crowd do all the singing definitely counts against it. He does pick up the baton for the second verse, but the sound remains out of kilter, the song not quite meshing into the killer performance that Prince’s guitar break hints at.

“Honky Tonk Woman” comes in waves, the initial crunch of the guitar riff, Shelby’s soulful voice, and then the incisive guitar solo by Prince. As a Stones man I fully approve, even if this slice of retro rock doesn’t reach the heights of some of the other performances of the evening.

There is a lack of bite to “Stratus” and although I usually love the meandering way that Prince takes us down various rabbit holes, this time it just doesn’t spin my wheels. It continues to grow and evolve, but there is not enough change for my liking and for the most part I feel we are stuck in the same place. There is other bootlegs where this song is outstanding, unfortunately this concert doesn’t live up to those high standards.

The moment is saved as Prince rasps his way through a light-headed-sing-along-at-home rendition of The Rolling Stones “Miss You.” The recording isn’t quite good enough to catch the nuances as Prince invokes the spirit of Mick Jagger, but it does capture the busy harmonica work by Frédéric Yonnet. Prince shines a different light on the song with his guitar work, it is a delight on the ear, but hidden behind the not-so-soft veil of the audience recording.

Prince stays on this classic rock trip as he sashays into “Red House.” Without ever becoming challenging, it manages to tread the fine line between a smooth listen and something that slips into the background.It is one of the least demanding parts of the show, yet at the same time the one part that rewards a closer listen.

“Purple Rain” is a smoldering, slow burn that never ignites into life. The delicate introduction sets the standard for the song, and it stays with this low slung sound for the duration, even Prince’s final guitar break fails to fly as is it’s wont. Thin and sickly, this “Purple Rain” can’t match the performance captured on the first disc of the earlier concert.

The bootleg derails with a brief set by Dave Chapelle. Although it makes the show complete, it does break the flow of the music, and to be honest I would have been forgiving of Eye records if they had have left it off. Normally a completest, in this case it is unnecessary and adds nothing.

The music resumes with Shelby J and “Brown Skin.” It has a sense of purpose and brings a fullness back to the concert after the anorexic “Purple Rain.” Forceful and proud, Shelby gives the song the respect it deserves in one of the stronger songs in the set.

An audience members comment of “Do you think he’ll play Raspberry Beret?” suggests that this audience isn’t as cool as Prince and the band. No doubt this commentator was disappointed as the next twenty minutes Prince takes on a series of well-considered and mature cover versions. “Summer Madness,” “In The Morning,” “Can’t Hide Love,” and “Free” all have an easy way to them and a vibe that hints at Sunday mornings relaxing in the Sun. The music flows easily, transporting me far down stream from the Prince hits we heard earlier on. On a raft of gentle keyboards and soulful vocals, Prince drifts a long way from the “Raspberry Beret” wanted by the audience, and offers something far more refreshing and cool.

Equally relaxed is “Cream,” in this case the music is well behind Prince and his vocals. This isn’t served well by the recording, for the most part it sounds distant and is a lot harder to listen to than the previous few songs.

It is “U Got The Look” that gets the crowd screaming, again messing with the recording. Prince’s guitar is forceful, yet weakened by the quality of the recording. It is an enjoyable enough performance, but with the recording as it is, it is another moment that could have been more.

I am pleased when the funk arrives back in the form of “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” although I could do with a lot more bottom in the recording. The bass is hot, but it deserves a better recording, and one can only imagine how it would sound with a heavy sound. The segue into “Partyman” is unnecessary as far as I’m concerned, but I understand that this is the way Prince chooses to present it. As much as I love Prince’s original material, it was “What Have You Done For Me” that really caught my attention.

The show continues to accelerate in this way as the band quickly swarm over “It’s Alright” It is similar to the previous songs in both sound and intent, a seamless part of the setlist where all the jigsaw pieces come together. After a weak start to the concert, this half hour is where the treasures lie, and it is worth the wait.

An equally brisk “Alphabet St.” has the crowd on board with hand claps, to the detriment of the bootleg. Prince is crisp and sharp with his guitar, and it keeps the tempo of the show up as we approach the end of the concert.

Prince rounds out the show with a string of songs he gave away to others. “The Bird” opens this feeding frenzy, before giving way to “Jungle Love.” I prefer “Jungle Love” for its fierceness and the blowtorch guitar solo that Prince ends the song with. It is worthwhile for that moment alone, the guitar shining out in the audience noise.

There is a long introduction to “The Glamorous Life,” but the song is little more than this. The song vanishes soon after the introduction, it is fleetingly pleasurable but ultimately unsatisfying.

However, there is satisfaction to be found in the last song of the concert – “A Love Bizarre.” Prince loads it at the front end with a guitar line that has a fierceness and fire unheard elsewhere on the recording. For the first time the music rises above the quality of the recording, giving the show a punch and direction that is lacking elsewhere. It is a shame that the rest of the show doesn’t sound as purposeful, but I am more than happy to have this to cling onto. It is an ending that is unrepresentative of the concert, giving the show perhaps more gloss than it deserves.

After listening to the earlier show in this set I was looking forward to hear this later aftershow. It did not live up to expectations. The biggest problem was the quality of the recording. While nowhere near as bad as some I have heard, the audience was still far too prominent and detracted from several key moments throughout. As always I found some positives to enjoy, but the show did leave a bad aftertaste in my mouth. I would happily listen to the first concert in the set again; this one I’d take a pass on.

Thanks again
Hamish

NOTE: The Eye package has Prince’s guest appearance with Q-tip as an extra bonus track. It doesn’t sound like much on the CD and is a waste. But the guest appearance is one of my favorite videos. The reaction of the crowd when Prince appears on stage is priceless, and Prince himself has never looked so cool. You can check out the video below, it’s well worth a look.

 

21 Nights book launch 2008

2007 was a big year for live concerts for Prince, 2008 not so much. Whereas 2007 saw him play a long residency at Vegas followed later in the year with a 21 night stand in London (coupled with a string of great aftershows), in 2008 Prince played only a handful of shows and a few guest appearances. Coachella is the most well-known of these concerts, but as far as bootlegs go, it is his 21 Night book release and charity concert that generates the better bootleg. The show sees Prince triumphantly celebrating his 21 nights in London with a show that is brings a satisfying mix of new songs, covers and some old friends. It’s a balanced mix and Prince plays with a freshness that infuses the music with an inner energy – all which can be clearly heard on a great, yet underrated, bootleg.

10th October 2008, Hotel Gansevoort, New York.

The bootleg starts in the best way possible with the inspiring debut of “Colonized Mind”. It may be its live debut, but it sounds faultless on the bootleg. Prince has the balance just right, with the song sounding both thoughtful and a powerful statement at the same time. This is emphasized with with Princes solos that are all brute strength. He may pause and linger over the lyrics, letting their meaning hanging in the air, but it is when he unleashes his guitar that he is at his euphoric mind bending best.  Its hard not to be caught up in the fervor of the moment, and as I stated earlier, this is the perfect beginning to the bootleg.

It may be only an audience recording, but it is a very good one and this is highlighted with “1999” that has a freshness I don’t usually associate with performances later in Prince’s career. It’s a sweaty, frenetic rendition, the band breaking loose of their restraints to set up the party early on. The recording is fantastic, not only do Prince and the band sound great, the crowd are equally involved. But for me the best feature of the recording is Prince’s rhythm guitar which adds a vibrancy and sense of urgency.

The storm quietens for a more relaxed “I Feel For You.” It is still upbeat and fun, but not quite as frantic as the previous “1999”. With scratchy guitar and quirky keyboard, it is of its era, and the following “Controversy” reinforces this as it comes quickly after as an euphoric celebration of Princes early 80s’ sound. It is a sizzling rendition, the band tearing through the song as if it was brand new. The attack doesn’t let up with Prince engaging in some guitar foreplay that doesn’t ever reach a climax put keeps me hanging on and crying for more.

Prince is content to stay with his back catalogue, “Sexy Dancer” feeling like a natural selection to follow. The “Sexy Dancer” – “Le Freak” combination was heard many times over 21 nights in London, and the later 20TEN tour, making it feel rather overplayed to my ears. This rendition differs in that it retains its freshness and is livened up by a Frédéric Yonnet harmonica solo that adds novelty without silliness. It may not look much when reading about it on the set list, but it is another important piece of the show.

The cover of the Rolling Stones “Miss You” is always going to be a standout for me. I don’t care if Prince plays it on a a ukulele  recorded underwater and reaches me on an 8th generation tape -I wanna hear it.  In this case things couldn’t get much better for me, it is another storming version, with Prince doing a his best to channel Mink Jagger -something he does supremely well. Equally of note is the color that Frédéric Yonnet brings to the song, his harmonica grounding the song with a classic sound. However, this moment is all about Prince, with his vocals that whine and rasp through the lyrics, then his guitar playing which goes to battle with Frédéric Yonnet before the inevitable victory that sees him ending the song amidst cheers from the crowd. The song is six minutes long, but that is no where long enough for me, I could quite happy listen to it three or four times in a row. (Blame my Dad, he was a Stones man)

The mood of the concert changes immensely as Prince drapes the stage in the blues -“Satisfied” easing the crowd into a hush. With the keyboard swells coming like deep breaths, it is Frédéric Yonnet that provides the rush and impetus that moves the song forward. In fact, most of the song belongs to Frédéric, and I must admit he certainly gets the best out of instrument as he wraps me up in the sound of his harmonica.

“Beggin Woman Blues” comes straight out of the same box, the groove so slow and steady that it is barely alive. I love the humorous aspects of the song, although the music itself hardly holds my attention. In the stillness of the music Prince’s lyrics stand as an oasis, and his words wash over me as it croons some of his funniest lines. The drama comes in the final minutes as the swirls and washes of organ emerge from the groove and crash like waves until we are washed ashore at the end of the song.

It is a sleek rendition of “Purple Rain” that follows easily on, smooth and shiny, there is no jagged edge in the music at all. Even Princes emotive cry fails to bring emotion to the song, the ingredients are in place yet it fails to draw me into the music. Prince’s guitar bristles to begin with, but then fails to build to anything more than a whitewashed version of something we have heard many times before. It’s a bit much to expect “Purple Rain” to deliver every time, and this is one of the rare occasions when the song doesn’t meet expectations.

The most exciting part of the bootleg comes next as Prince plays freewheelin’  version of “A Love Bizarre”. The funk on it is immense, and nowhere more so than in the opening stanza as Prince opens the song with some raw scratch guitar. It is synth-pop masterpiece with Prince’s guitar serving as the exclamation point on each jolt of funk/pop. His takes to a finely woven solo that spreads a spider web of sound across the recording, the funky roots still visible beneath it all.

In complete contrast is “What Is Hip?”, which is stuffed full of sounds and instruments. As good as they sound they don’ have the cohesive power of the previous number. On any other recording this would be good, yet on the this recording next to “A Love Bizarre” it is a let down. Less is more, and with no sharp edge the song overwhelms me with noise, the only standout being the chant of “what is hip!”

I’m not always the biggest fan of “Stratus,” however this is one version I can get behind with its unflinching sonic weight that fills all corners of the room, leaving no space for anything else bar the dense music. Sure, there is Princes guitar work in there, but for me the keyboards sit at the heart of the matter, with a heavy handed sense of drama that drags the music into murky waters.

It is “Cream” that has to follow this sonic tornado, and it is a light breeze in comparison. It is “U Got The Look” that brings a heavy crunch back into the show, as Prince excels at turning his guitar into a battering ramp, striking the audience again and again with heavy blows from his instrument. It is a short yet intense performance, and one that rings in my head for several minutes afterwards.

I want to like “Angel,” I really do. But in this case I can’t find it in me to like it. The vocals are good, the recording is fine, and the band play well. I guess I just have to face facts and say this type of music just isn’t me. Don’t let that discourage you, its a nice moment on the bootleg and there is plenty to enjoy if this is the type of thing you like.

The concert ends on a high with Prince giving a worthy rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” He is not the star of the moment though, the highlight comes with a typical Morris Hayes solo that carries a powerful undercurrent to the feeling Prince is singing about. It may not put an exclamation point on the concert, but it is a strong finish.

This is a great bootleg. The show is short yet punchy, and there are many songs here that shine brighter than they normally would in a longer show. I don’t always give credit to concerts from this point of Prince’s career, but this is one I can definitely recommend. There is a the aftershow from the same night on the bootleg, and I will cover that next week. If it’s even half as good as this, I am in for a real treat.

Thanks again
Hamish

1993 New York – 26th March

Sometime ago I took a listen to a concert from the Act 1 tour; 24th March in New York to be precise. Now here I am a couple years later taking a look at the recently surfaced footage from the same venue just a couple of days later. The show is exactly the same, but the new footage is very well shot, especially considering it is audience filmed. Although I am well versed in the performance Prince put on throughout the Act 1 tour, this new video has me again enthused and the quality of the filming makes it a rewarding couple of hours. I cannot speak highly enough of this new footage, the years rewound as I watched it and the concert tour seems only yesterday in my mind. It’s hard to believe it is almost 25 years ago.

26th March, 1993 Radio City Music Hall, New York.

It is an aggressive looking (and sounding ) Prince who takes the stage for the opening number. 24 years on, his outfit looks slightly ridiculous, yet he owns the look and comes across as a strong character rather than a figure of ridicule. “My Name Is Prince” carries this strong image and aggression, the lyrics spit hard and the music is forceful. Tony M is a good fit in this context and I find I warm to his rap and with a guitar solo from Levi Seacer the song is forceful and bold. Add the outstanding footage to the mix and we are off to a great start.

With “Sexy M.F.” the concert slows, yet it retains an intensity. This time it is Tommy Barbarella who provides a focus, his solo is long enough to be interesting without derailing the song. Levi also provides a solo, in this case he does ‘fly’ under Princes command, the notes taking flight from his guitar as he has his moment.

“Damn U”, now we’re talking. It may not have the momentum and push of the first two songs, but it stands strong in it’s own right with Prince lounging against the piano as he sings it provides plenty of memorable images early on. Later, Prince takes centre stage as he provides a smooth lyrical delivery that is well served by the recording.

Prince puts the piano to good use for “The Max”. The music regains some intensity, and with Prince banging on the piano there is plenty of energy in the performance. However, the final few minutes are giving over to Prince and Mayte posing and preening, and the music, while staying focus, loses some of it’s drive and energy. It’s hard to complain about this though, especially as it looks so great.

One of my favorite songs from the Symbol album has always been “The Morning Papers” and I find the performance of it here delivers all I want from it. With Prince singing and playing at the piano the song builds, before Prince takes to his guitar to add some extra expression and colour to the song. The guitar never reaches the expected heights, but Prince makes up for it in the following “Peach”. Prince serves up a guitar onslaught, complete with plenty of posing and preening, that makes the next few minutes a highly enjoyable and entertaining watch. These two songs leave me, and I am sure more than a few in the audience, with a big stupid grin on my face.

“Blue Light” is as warm as a summers breeze, it never ignites into anything but it is nice come down after the guitar filled “Peach”. It is “The Continental” that has me again sitting up and taking notice, with it’s insistent guitar line and Prince’s forceful vocals, the song becomes an embodiment of the whole performance and evening, all that is good and great about the Symbol album is right here. And it’s not just Prince and his guitar that shines, Mayte takes her turn as the music slows and she provides some easy lines. This mellow vibe stays with us for sometime as Prince pulls dancers on stage, normally I would find this unsatisfying on a recording, but the visual are clean and easy to look at and I find its an equally enjoying part of the show.

The concert continues on quickly at this point, “The Flow” comes and goes, it is fresh and Prince engaging with the band, before this slow for yet another personal favorite “Johnny”. As much as I love the lyrics, I find it is the solo by Levi that captures my attention. He provides a sharpness to the mellow groove and stops the song from meandering as Prince talks to the audience and the dancers. He does take his place at the piano for the final minute and this heralds in the next section of the show.

Seated at the piano, Prince presents a gentle “Sweet Baby” before offering up his pièce de résistance of the concert – “When God Created Women/3 Chains Of Gold” I still find it extraordinary every time I see it, even if it is overworked and outside anything else Prince has ever done. It takes itself very seriously, and perhaps this is why Prince gets away with it, he is truly believing in what he is playing and presenting.

Prince gets to take a break as Mayte takes centre stage for her sword dance. It may not make for the greatest of musical moments, but it is suitably weird and typical of Prince to provide something unexpected. There is no surprise as “7” follows this. Upbeat and infectious, it is strangely out of place compared to some of the other more demanding music presented at the concert. It does provide a lighter moment and Mayte on roller skates seems a completely normal event.

“Lets Go Crazy” is equally out of place, yet it elicits squeals of delight from the crowd as it begins. I find it jarring when songs like this appear when Prince is musically in another place, but one can understand why it must be in the setlist. Prince plays a shorten version and as provides only the briefest of guitar breaks before moving onto “Kiss”. This works better as it has another new arrangement (no surprise there) and it takes it place easily among the other music Prince is promoting at the time. With the dancers fully utilized it again becomes a visual experience and one captured well by the taper. There is a completely natural segue into “Irresistible Bitch” that  jumps off from the guitar line. Prince’s funk tunes work best for this show, this song highlights the point as well as anything that has come previously.

The show becomes a whole lot more serious as Prince again picks up his guitar for a great rendition of “She’s Always In My Hair”. Of course, I am a huge admirer of this song, so any version rocks my world. This one does have an extra kick to Princes guitar playing and I can’t take my eyes from the screen as he plays. There isn’t much to the vocals, the guitar is the main focus, and rightly so when it is at this level. The song is short but serves as a punch in the face, the concert intensifying with this performance.

“When You Were Mine” sees Prince staying with his guitar jam. The song may have it’s nostalgic sound, but Princes look is anything but and he plays with a fierceness throughout. With the previous song, these are the most straight forward moments of the show and they work as the crowded stage gives way to something simpler, Prince and his guitar playing rock music.

Next comes the obvious pairing of “Insatiable” and “Scandalous”. With Prince at the piano, the show again regains a basic format, the only embellishments coming from the appearance of Mayte again on her roller skates! That’s not quite the only nod to a stage show, strings of diamonds lower from above, no doubt being recycled from the Diamond and Pearls tour. Of the two songs, I prefer “Scandalous”, but that is neither here nor there, they are both seductive and spellbinding. As Prince falls to the floor shrieking, I am completely mesmerized, this is one bootleg I will be coming back to again and again.

“Gett Off” doesn’t quite reach these same heights, nevertheless it is still fascinating to watch. There is plenty of Prince and Mayte dancing together, but the best moments come every time Princes fingers flash across the fret board. The guitar riff is hypnotic, and I am well and truly caught up in the song by the time it finishes. “Gett Off (Housestyle)” is a lot of fun, and although I can’t see the crowd, I am sure they are all on their feet. The song is ended in darkness as the band take it to a slow groove for “Goldnigga” Not normally something I listen to, it this case it’s only half a minute, and with Princes creamy vocals singing the lines it does have its merits.

There is quite the sing-a-long before Prince takes the microphone for the opening lines of Purple Rain. The rendition here, although not unexpected, is surprisingly good. I have heard this thousands of times, yet Prince still holds me enraptured as he sings his signature song. It is a full version that is played and Princes gives a sincere and focused vocal performance before he resorts to his guitar. Once again I feel fully engaged with his performance and despite my ambivalent feelings about Purple Rain, I am still swept up by the moment and spectacle of it.

With pimp cane in hand, Prince rips through the encore of “Partyman”, he promises to tear it up and indeed for the next few minutes he does. It is fast and furious, a lot of the subtlety of the song is lost under the heavy and quick groove. With chants of “Party up”, Prince’s intentions for this song are abundantly clear, and the party rolls on through a wild sounding “Loose” that he tacks on to it.

The band storm through “1999”, Prince is relentless as he and the music stay in constant motion, bringing the end of the show to a frenetic finish. Prince dances, sings, and plays guitar in a flurry of activity that makes me feel tired just watching. As the song evolves in “Baby I’m A Star” this momentum is maintained,Prince slows down but the band and music stay focused and forceful.

“Push” is the final song of the night, although for the most part it is an instrumental jam. Prince is an integral part, he plays the purple axxe through the song and it is a lot of fun to watch. With Prince interacting with the band, playing with them individually, there is plenty to hold the eye. Tony M has his moment, but this song is all about groove rather than lyrics and vocals. The show closes with a quick rap from Prince, before he and the band dance off the stage, bringing to a close what has been a phenomenal show.

A lot of great recordings have surfaced over the last 12 months since Prince passed away. Of the ones I have stumbled across, this is the best. Previous footage from the Act 1 shows has been circulating for sometime, but none of them come close to the quality of this one. A brilliantly filmed show from one of Princes most fascinating years, this one merits a second or third look.

Thanks again
Hamish

1994, Roseland Ballroom New York

Following on from last week’s blog, this week I will be listening to another show from 1994 -the soundboard recording from the Roseland Ballroom New York. On the surface it seems to be similar to the show from the Palladium earlier in the year, but a preliminary listen the other day reveals that this one has raised the bar higher, and with some additional songs in the set list it offers a different listening experience. I know I spoke highly of the show last week, and I somewhat regret that now that I have heard this one and it’s even better.  There is a lot to be said for this one, so I guess I had better get on and say it.

12th December 1994, Roseland Ballroom New York

The recording opens with an incomplete Endorphinmachine. The first portion of the song is missing and the recording picks up just as Princes guitar solo is in full flight, before he slips into the spoken word breakdown. Its wonderfully clear, and even incomplete it is well worth the listen. Prince isn’t setting the world on fire here, but he is sounding strong and clear, something that bodes well for the rest of the recording.

I have previously often written of my ambivalent feelings toward The Jam, the version played here leaves no doubt in my mind, it sounds fresh and light and is great introduction to the band leaving me completely sold on it. The keyboard solos are lighter, they lift the song, and the guitar line underneath is well served by the recording, every nuance is recorded and easy to hear. Normally I enjoy the first organ solo, then drift off as the rest of the song plays, today is different and I listen enraptured to every moment. I enjoy all the different elements, as each member plays I listen to them with enthusiasm and never once do I lose interest.

roseland_sb_cd_label

Last week I wrote that Shhh was the highlight of the show. This week’s performance trumps that, it is hands down one of the best versions I have heard. A lot of this has to do with the recording, its silky smooth, and I can feel the song as much as I can hear it. Prince’s performance sounds steamy and the recording is so good I can almost hear the sweat dripping off him as he sings. There are two aspects to the song, firstly the vocal performance which is sensual and full of desire, and then the guitar breaks which start with a smoky stutter before becoming full blooded and soaked in passion. Both parts of the song are beyond compare, and as Prince wraps it up with the guitar crying I decide that this is my new favourite version.

Days Of Wild also benefits from this soundboard recording, it has a lightness and clarity as it squelches across the soundscape. Without the heaviness Prince’s vocals can be heard clearly, and every syllable enunciated has been captured by this fantastic recording. The groove continues it’s roll, and even as Prince sings Hair, the underlying Days Of Wild rumbles along before we return to the chorus. The song has a couple of twists and turns which keeps it interesting, as well as the heavy funk there is a lighter guitar break that drops out of nowhere, before it closes with the crowd chanting.

We have another long funk workout next with Now. It’s the latter part of the song where things get interesting, the band go into a long extended groove before Ninety-9 joins them and begins to rap. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is interesting to hear something different, personally I’m not overly enamoured by it although it does keep me listening. However there is no denying the pulse of the organ groove under it, and this is what keeps the song and me moving forward.

With the quality of the recording and a slight echo Prince sounds ethereal as he sings The Most Beautiful Girl In The World. The music is fine, but it does sound of this earth while Prince’s vocals seem to come from someplace else entirely. This is the hit song of the year and was played constantly, yet here it is as fresh as ever, its pure pop sound undiminished by constant rotation. With the keyboards showering the song in their colourful runs, it ends on a high that has me smiling for several minutes after.

Princes vocals sound somewhat detached from P.Control, although it is held together by the music. The vocals are clear but not as loud as I expect, maybe the recording is too clean for its own good. The band are very tight through the song, and there is not a loose moment in the whole thing, it is play as straight as can be. It’s a good moment in the show, without exploding into anything more.

Letitgo has Prince talking about his contract for the first minute before the band slips into the easy groove. It has a seductive slide to it which gets my head bobbing from the start. The song lacks any real punch; it stays on the gentle side of a groove with the wheeze of the organ carrying the versus before the song opens up for the chorus. It’s an enjoyable few minutes although like the previous song it doesn’t punch things to the next level.

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We get a treat next as the band plays the first live performance of Pink Cashmere. The stabs at the beginning add some sharpness to it, although to be honest it is Prince’s singing that is the main attraction of the song. There is added interest in way of a jazzy interlude which briefly takes the song to a different plane. Overall Prince keeps it relatively straight and this song is the biggest benefactor of the soundboard recording, Prince vocals sound great as do the keyboards and drums through the whole song.

A minute of guitar noodling leads us into a version of The Ride that seems to be slightly faster. Prince doesn’t dwell on it as is his usual way, instead the song moves along at a steady pace allowing him to quickly cut into this work on the guitar. The normal slow burning guitar is replaced by something quicker and sharper, there is still a buzz to it but the notes come in flurries rather than being drawn out. The song is shorter than normal, the final minutes dominated by Prince talking to the crowd as he plays.

Race has things moving, and like other songs on this recording it gains a lot from the soundboard recording – Prince sounds cleaner than I have previously heard in live versions of this, and the song gains an extra level of energy. It rattles and rolls without settling down, and Tommy’s solo keeps it off balance, it never feels like it settles into a groove. That is until Morris plays on his organ, and it is at this point that the song and the band hit their straps and drive it home. There is some excellent keyboard sounds from all involved in the final minutes of the song, and at that point it becomes looser and more of a jam.

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I was looking forward to hearing Superhero, it is a great NPG song that deserves more coverage. The up-tempo beat and quick groove gets the energy levels up, especially midsong when the drums begin to pound with the Superhero refrain. Things get wild from this point on as the keyboards go off piste with some very cool solos that lead naturally into Outa-space. We are fully into the jam at this point, with plenty of different sounds coming at us thick and fast. The groove however remains constant, and I find that I have to resist the urge to get up and dance to it. The final few minutes bring the greatest surprise, with Morris indulging in some playing that has come straight out the church while the rest of the band fall silent. It’s an interesting moment, and although I am use to the God and religion in Prince’s music it is still a surprise to hear such a church moment at this stage.

The organ sound returns as the final song of the evening begins, and the first couple of minutes are all Morris Hayes before Get Wild kicks off proper. Its bright and shiny, with the keyboard playing horn parts and giving it some extra sparkle. Things become much more serious as Prince unleashes some heavy guitar. It’s brief as it ushers in the next part of the song, plenty of loose solos provided by all. Princes vocals are again sounding detached in the mix, luckily it’s all about the band and the music for this final hoorah. The highlight is certainly the bass, as the song plays this is the moment I look forward to and it doesn’t disappoint at all with some thick yet sharp bass playing.  The disappointment comes from the fact that this is the final song, and as it wraps up I am still hungry for more.

It’s refreshing to hear a show such as this in soundboard, and in years to come I am confident it will be highly regarded. Prince and the band are lively and play a tight and enjoyable show. I have only listened to this a couple of times, and I will be listening to it plenty more times in the years to come. A great show, a quality recording and a beautiful cover, you really couldn’t ask for anything more, this recording deserves all the coverage it gets.

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Club Black 2004

If you fall off a horse the best thing to do is get back on it, and that’s exactly what this week’s post feels like after listening to last week’s recording from 2004. It was an assault on the eardrums, and I need to get back to listening to other shows from 2004 to reassure myself that not everything is so tough to listen to. This week’s show is just the tonic, recorded a month later it is a joy to listen to, both the recording and the performance. The show at Club Black is recorded at the aftershow coming on the heels of the Rock N Roll hall of fame induction, and is well regarded in the fan community, and from my initial impression I can see why. It’s got crowd noise, like all recordings, but the band is heard crystal clear through the whole show, and they are playing a great set. This one is a breath of fresh air, and I feel refreshed as soon as I begin to listen.

16th March, 2004 Club Black, New York

The sharpness of the recording is apparent from the very first note that is heard. There is a considerable cheer from the crowd, but once they sit back and listen you can hear the band just fine. The opening song is a showcase for the horns and keyboard, a full and clean Footprints is the first song of the evening. There is some sax work, be it Maceo or Candy, to begin with, and this is well worth the time it gets. Not to be outdone, Greg Boyer blows up a storm on his trombone, it’s got a big bounce to it and fills out the sound. The best is saved for last however, with a piano solo dominating the final third of the song. A great moment early on, this is the cue to close your eyes, sit back and take it all in. Already the memories of last week’s blog are receding.

Prince 2004 a

Prince gives Musicology plenty of hype from the get go, pausing the band early on to tell the crowd “you’ll ain’t ready”. After the obligatory applause the song starts proper, Prince has the band in his pocket, everything is smooth and fits together perfectly. There’s no fire in the performance, the band is too cool, and they glide through the song with ease. The saxophones do raise the levels somewhat, but for the most part it’s smooth as glass.

Things do morph, and Maceo plays us into Tighten Up. Maceo never lets me down, and as the crowd chants “Don’t stop Maceo” he blows up a storm. As he steps back, Mike Scott steps forward with a guitar break that is distinctly his. With the guitar sounding so clean and funky, Mike is in his element. The consummate bandleader, Prince keeps everyone involved with firstly a piano break, and then another chance for the rest of the horns to play. As an easy jam this song works, and it’s a great chance to highlight the band early on.

Shhh is introduced as “a quiet ballad” which greatly undersells in what is in all honesty one of his greatest songs. The band keep things low-key and the song belongs to Prince and Prince alone, firstly with his vocal performance, and then with his guitar break that starts with a lone whine, and ends several minutes later in a howl. Normally it would be Prince’s guitar playing that would have me waxing lyrical, and although the guitar here is of his usual high standard (the second guitar break in particular), it’s the vocal performance that gets under my skin, Prince still sounds as if he means every word even after all these years. The final workout on the guitar leaves us on a high before we get funky with the next song.

Mike Scott always sounds great playing D.M.S.R, his guitar tone has a sharpness and gives the song a new lease of life. Prince too seems to be sharper, he sings with a freshness that belies his age, and the age of the song. The horns add some sparkle, the song suddenly sounding brand new again. I Like The Way You Move is seamlessly brought into the mix, and Prince acknowledges OutKast as the crowd chants and sings. The band hit the groove as the crowd join them and the next few minutes are the perfect storm where the show becomes a party. With the horns and guitar all jamming and adding different lines it becomes an irresistible dance, time seems to slip away as I am caught in its funky web.

House Party continues on right where D.S.M.R. left off, it’s down low steady funk keeping the band locked in tight to a groove. Its slower and heavier, and keeps the heads bobbing as the band play. It’s for the most part a showcase for the horns, they play plenty over the steady groove, and they sound brighter against the low heavy beat.

The flurry of A Love Bizarre and Glamorous Life run us into a sprightly sounding I Feel For You. Princes vocals aren’t the sharpest, it’s up to the horns to inject the sunshine and brightness into the song. They are everywhere, their clean sound elevating the song wherever they riff.

We stay firmly in the Eighties with the appearance of Controversy. The guitar is initially low key, before it explodes out of the gate at the one-minute mark with some fabulously funky sounding playing. Prince and the band play well, and it’s an enjoyable listen, but when the rhythm guitar plays it becomes something else altogether, the moments are short and easily the highlight of the song.

The piano interlude by Renato is light and undemanding. It’s a tasty morsel between courses, and at a minute long it doesn’t out stay its welcome before we return to something special from Prince.

That something special is a soulful rendition of The Beautiful Ones. The song flows easy, firstly with some piano, and then some sax playing that has wings. For a while I forget that this is even The Beautiful ones, with the sax playing for some time, before we return to some cascading piano playing for a couple of minutes. All of it is classy, and it’s even better when I consider that Prince has yet to sing. And sing he does, when he does appear on the mic it’s with a gracefulness and measured performance. He sings beautifully, seemingly without pushing himself. There is emotion in his vocals, not over wrought, and well balanced performance that demonstrates his experience, showing us all that sometimes less is more.

Nothing Compares 2 U is noteworthy for the contribution of the Candy Dulfer. Prince’s vocals are as to be expected, but it’s the sax solo that soars and lifts the song. With no female counterpoint to Princes vocals, it’s this saxophone sound that provides colour and contrast to the performance, and it’s only fitting that the sax is the last thing we hear as the song fades out.

Prince pours it on for Insatiable, and gives a vocal performance that befits the subject matter. I have heard plenty of great performances of this song before, and I can safely add this one to that list. Prince’s vocals are smooth as butter, and have a creamy thickness to them that washes over you as you listen. Prince does deliver a spoken thanks to a list of people midsong, he’s very gentle with it and it doesn’t interrupt the mood at all. The transition to Call My Name is equally smooth, he called for the lights to be turned down low early in the song, and it still retains that late night dimly light through the whole 7-8 minutes. Call My Name is softer than on record, and Prince’s lyrics are dripping with passion and lust as he sings. As Renato plays some piano I reflect on Princes vocal performance on the last few songs, he has been sublime throughout, and this really is a master class.

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The rhythm track of Sign O The Times has a heavy dose of funk in it, and the introduction takes on a more dance-able tone as Prince hypes up the crowd. His vocals come quick and clearly, before the horns again begin to raise the heat a little. In fact, with the horns and piano playing it becomes an entirely different beast altogether, the seriousness of the song washes away and we are left with a funky little jam.

The balance is restored with a low key The Question Of U. Prince gives us plenty with this one, his guitar early on sounds as good as it ever has, there are some nice runs and fills that keep us engaged, before the song strips back for some guitar noodling. Things get even better as he sings new lyrics over the quiet music. It’s refreshing and intriguing, I find myself listening closely as he sings these words. I can’t believe how fantastic the last 30 minutes have been, and Mike Phillips puts his spin on things with a solo that easily matches every else thus far, this band is on top of their game right here. His playing in the last minute is outstanding, it demands listening.

The One and Fallin’ come together, intertwining with each other, and fitting well. The One has always been a song I look for in setlist, the version here is good, but it can’t compete with all we have just heard. Prince does come back strongly on the guitar, at first it doesn’t grab me, but it does get stronger and stronger and soon enough I am swept up by it and carried away.

Things change direction as Prince calls for the house lights and the band groove into Let’s Work. The bass isn’t as loud as I would like, and it does sound brassy with all the horns playing. In some ways it loses it attraction for me because of this, it doesn’t have the sweaty sound that I normally look for. The band do give it plenty of energy though, and soon enough it becomes U Got The Look.

U Got The Look has an electric sound to it, the guitar isn’t strong at all, and it has a more interesting sound because of this. That is until Prince calls “Turn me up Scotty” and begins to solo, crisp and clean in this case. The crowd come to the party with some singing that doesn’t add much to it, but does sound like fun.

It’s at this point that it becomes a jam and a party as Prince begins to call people on stage and the band begins a medley of party songs. All the usual suspects are in the mix, Talkin Loud And Sayin Noting, Life O The Party, and Hot Pants are prominent, as is Princes ‘Uptown up’ chant. Things move quickly, the beat and the dancing being the most important things. Soul Man adds some brightness, and seems appropriate for the performance that Prince has thus far delivered. Chance Howard takes on the vocal duties, leaving Prince to party up and keep things moving. It all ends with a crisp and poppy sounding Kiss. The horns and the guitar outdo each other to be heard, and the song is full and bright sounding. The guitar has a superb tone, and for me is the star of the song, I could have done with the song being a whole lot longer. Prince ends with a simple good night, and suddenly it’s all over.

This recording was better than I could have ever imagined. I had heard others speak highly of it, and although I have heard it before I don’t remember it being as good as it was. The first third was great, but the second third was outstanding, and it’s this part of the show that I found mesmerizing, Prince was at his peak with the band doing a fantastic job of supporting him. The end was weaker, but still well worth the time. I rate this recording highly indeed, and I am almost tempted to call it essential. When I think of 2004, this is how I want to remember it, a great show and a brilliant recording.

Thanks for reading
See you next week
-Hamish

Act 1, Radio City Music Hall 1993

I have been a listening to Prince for more than 30 years now. The main reason I have stuck with him for so long without losing interest is the diverse range of shows and music available, there is always something different to listen to if I get tired of whatever I am currently listening to. The last few weeks I have listened to an after show with Amy Winehouse, a tight Revolution rehearsal, as well as a stripped back piano show. This week’s show is in many ways completely different from those recordings, we are looking at a show from the Act 1 tour of 1993, a tour that is high on spectacle and theatrics. The music couldn’t be considered ‘classic’ Prince, but it is refreshing to see him play most of the album that he was promoting at that time. A lot of the songs in this show have disappeared from his live performances now days, this show is a good chance for me to revisit them again and remind myself just what a fun, yet mad, period this was.

24th March, 1993 Radio City Music Hall, New York.

What drew me to this show was the fact that it’s a DVD of the concert, and that is important as these shows are a treat for the eyes, and often we need to see the action on the stage as Prince and the band play out various subplots through the show. Visually it’s an exciting ride, and the music too gives me a thrill. The opening My Name Is Prince sets the tone for the evening well, plenty of Prince braggadocio, strutting around stage with cane in hand and chain hat on. I may not be the greatest fan of the rest of the cast on stage, but I do like the guitar chopping away under it all. There is always something on stage to hold my attention, so as Tony M spits his lines I find myself looking and listening for other action on stage. The appearance of the ‘Arab Princess’ and a couple of other Arabs seems completely unconnected and over the top, yet it is perfectly of the time and these over the top shows.

Prince 1993 NY4

 

Sexy MF has the music back to centre stage, for the first part of the song anyway. I can’t fault the sound of the band or the performance at all, the song sounds great. I admit, I love looking at Mayte too, but at times it seems the music takes second place to the other shenanigans on stage and the dancers, Mayte and Prince all engage in moves and sequences. Like I said earlier, this show is all about spectacle.

Things settle down with Damn U, and for the first time in the show I find I can listen to Princes voice, and the music is the first priority. It’s a very 90’s looking performance with the dancers and in their colourful suits and moves. The best moments for me come is as Prince is alone at the microphone singing, much to the delight of the crowd who squeal in appreciation.

This show is great in that it highlights so many songs from the Symbol album, and the performance of The Max that comes next is a real treat. The music sounds thick and powerful, and Prince brings his best dance moves to the party. The highlight though has to be when he sits at the piano and belts out a few bars, the crowd cheer and I know that I aren’t the only one that feels it. Prince loses me late in the song however, as he snaps polaroid’s of the band as the music softens. As he sits at the piano again for a seduction scene with Mayte I hope for more playing from him, but in this case the piano is little more than a prop.

Prince 1993 NY3

The reporter sequence is just as unnecessary here as it is on the Symbol album, the payoff here though is we get a nice rendition of Morning Papers with Prince playing the piano, before climbing on it for a guitar solo. The solo is a lost opportunity, he doesn’t shred the guitar, electing instead to play a very tame solo, by his own standards at least. The final solo is better to my ears, although that could be because I pinned so much hope on it.

The guitar levels go up considerably next as Prince stays strapped up for Peach. The intro gives a good insight to what will come next, and we get some minutes of grunting/chugging guitar through the song. It’s still young and fresh sounding, and it gets a pass from me here. Prince finally releases the guitar frenzy I have been waiting for, not one of the greats but definitely a lot of fun and the highlight of the show so far.

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Then from left field we get the reggae infused Blue Light. Prince is the master of changing moods and sounds at a drop of a hat, and this is no exception. This song is not often played at my home, yet it has its place, and listening here I find it very enjoyable indeed. For its lightness it still has enough of a groove for me to lean back and enjoy. It does capture that summer feel that was Prince’s intention.

The Continental is great to watch, and equally good to listen to. The first part of the song comes on strong, and has plenty of Prince swagger and guitar sound. It’s got an intensity that the recording doesn’t capture, but I know that if I had have been there it would be pulsating. I also have just as much praise for the coda, with Prince singing his “how you wanna be done” lines before Mayte takes her part of the song. This is where watching it becomes a bonus, as Prince performs plenty of lewd dance moves as Mayte sings.

Now for something I never thought I would say. Prince segues into Everyone Get On Up and my first thought is that I much prefer Camen Electra’s version. You might think from that comment that it is incredibly bad, it’s not. It just comes across as lacklustre, and Prince is dialling it in. The crowd singing and dancers on stage make it look like a fun time, and I am sure it is, it’s just not that great to listen to.

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Another annoying reporter segment before we get Prince spinning into Flow. I like the Prince section of the song, my attention sags when Tony M is on the microphone. The whole song gets a great lift with a trumpet solo, which makes up for some of the theatrics being performed on stage. There is an element of silliness to it all that makes me wish they would just stick to the music. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s all part of the show and the spectacle.

Johnny is much more the sort of thing I like, slowed down I find Tony M’s rap much better, and Prince’s lyrics always have me chuckling away to myself. It’s a nice break in the show, and the slow groove works for me at this stage of the concert. Normally I much prefer Prince to Tony M, but both of them are good here.

Prince at the piano raises my hopes for what might be coming next. What we get is Prince playing as he sings into Maytes eyes. His lyrics cover a range of songs, and although I recognize all of them instantly I fail to pick the titles. The And God Created Woman/ Three Chains Of Gold is off the wall crazy, and something I could only see Prince doing. He does it supremely well here, playing at the piano as the band and the dancers carry the weight of the visuals. The scope and ambition of the Symbol album is all here with Prince giving us a sound and performance that seems equally brilliant and completely mad. And best of all, it all works in the live setting. There is plenty of theatre to match the music, and all that comes to a head as Prince plays his guitar in front of a row of performers pointing pistols at him. I don’t know if I should be saying bonkers or brilliant.

Prince 1993 NY5

Any other show with a woman dancing with a sword on her head, I would say what the heck were they thinking? Instead, with this being the show it is, it all seems perfectly normal. The dance and the Arabic intro is the perfect lead into 7, and it makes perfect sense. The song gets a great reception, having been a moderate hit only a couple of months before. The performance is lively with Prince playing and singing at the microphone. Musically it’s not too different from the version I know so well, and I do get a kick out of seeing Prince perform it with a smile on his face.

A brief break, then the encores begin with an arrangement of Let’s Go Crazy that is a little too ‘busy’ for my tastes. There is a lot going on, and Prince and the song is lost in the noise of it all. It is a thrill to see him in the light, guitar strapped on, it’s a shame the music isn’t quite so iconic in its sound.

Prince 1993 NY

Kiss is also lacking that clarity of sound that I think would give it a lot more emphasis. It maybe the recording, or the show, but there is a sharpness that is missing from the sound of it. The performance I do find employable, especially when I sit back and watch it rather than think too much about it.

The groove slips easily into Irresistible Bitch, and it seems a good match for this 1993 Prince. It stands up well when compared to songs like Sexy MF, and I like Prince having a foil to sing to in the form of Mayte. Her sassiness is a good counter to his cocky rap, and the music gets a nice round funk sound that is timeless.

The funk doesn’t last too long, Prince goes for a guitar driven song next with one of my favourites – She’s Always In My Hair. In this show where all sorts of things have been happening on stage, it’s a joy to see Prince playing something heartfelt, and seeing him pouring it into his guitar playing is fantastic. It grounds the show after some of its other flights of fancy, and I connect with Prince and the show at this point.

An interesting guitar interlude that goes for several minutes has me speculating what might be coming next, but I failed to guess at Insatiable and Mayte on roller skates. It’s Prince the balladeer at the piano again, and as he sings bathed in blue light I am completely drawn in. None of the distractions matter when the music is as great as this. It’s a double header with Scandalous incorporated easily into the music. Again, it shines in the fact that there aren’t distractions to the music, Prince simplifies the show and the music is all the more stronger for it.

Prince 1993 NY1

The concert is getting stronger as it goes, and Gett Off I another solid performance. Prince and his guitar both sound great, and the crowd responds well as he segues into Gett Off (Housestyle). Prince does well to keep up with the music, and the crowd are part of the fun as they sing along. The band interplay is great, especially the guitar and the percussion. The biggest surprise is I expect it to go like this for some time, instead the music suddenly slows into Goldnigga. I like the sudden change and groove, although it’s very short.

Purple Rain swells and floats into view next, with plenty of audience singing long before the song starts proper. The song is given plenty of time to breath, and is played quite solemnly compared to the over the top show we have seen previously. Prince seems invested in the song, and he not only sounds great but he looks great as he sings and plays onstage. Kneeling on stage to sing, or arched back playing guitar, he is physically playing the song and the performance is just as important as the sound. My only reservation is the guitar does sound a little thin in places, but overall it’s no big thing. The highlight of the song is the coda Prince plays after the rest of the band has stopped, just the single guitar sound before he finishes the song with one final refrain.

Prince 1993 NY7

The is a final encore and a sense of inevitability as it opens with a frenetic sounding Partyman. A lot of the subtleties are lost as it is pounded out and Prince puts his all into the visual performance. I can’t deny, its a lot of fun, and when I stop being so uptight I find that it does live up to it’s name.

Without pause we quickly cut to 1999, its uplifting sythn riff a clarion call to all who want to party and have a good time. The backing singers aren’t very clear, but I can hear Prince and that all important main riff well enough. Its just as frantic as Partyman before it, and before I know it we are chanting “party”. It does weary me by the end, however my flagging spirits are lifted by the sound of Baby I’m A Star.

The horn section sound very good on Baby I’m A Star, it’s a pity that the recording doesn’t capture them very well. Prince is well and truly showboating now, his dance moves carrying him back and forth across the stage. It’s all a lot of fun, and things get even better when he puts on the purpleaxxe to jam at the front of the stage. Of this final 10 minutes of the show this is my favorite moment, and Prince too seems to be having a great time. Prince then plays puppet master to a couple of dancers, which I read all sorts of things into. It’s an anticlimactic ending as Prince disappears from stage and the music comes to an end.

Prince 1993 NY2

This show captures a moment in time where the show itself almost takes precedence over the music. There was certainly times in the show where I felt Prince was putting all his creative energies into the stage show rather than the music. It’s no bad thing, but in my mind Prince is all about music, and this is my primary focus when I see these shows. The show itself is very interesting, he is certainly trying many different things, some work and some don’t, and he isn’t afraid to try something new. Although not my favorite look and sound, I still found it fascinating to watch. This is a great document of a very interesting time in his career.

Thanks for reading
take care- Hamish

 

 

 

The Garden, February 7th 2011

All thanks this week to Ryan Mark, who asked when I was going to write about this show. At first I confessed that I didn’t recall it at all, but upon further prompting by Ryan I came around and decided to have a look. I am not one for the “Welcome 2” concerts, as much as I love the hits and enjoy Princes back catalogue, I enjoy something more fresh and exciting to my ears. Ryan did point out that Prince was in a great mood on this particular night, and the show was extremely enjoyable, so with that in mind I sat down and revisited it- and oh boy was Ryan right. It looks like a typical greatest hits show, with the additional pluses of a couple of guest appearances, some great performances, and as stated earlier Prince is in a great mood and very playful. It was well worth a second look.

7 February, 2011, Madison Square Garden

I had completely forgotten that this show opened with Laydown. After a brief spoken introduction Prince appears. It’s an unexpected surprise for me, and a very welcome one. The heavy bass opening is greeted with screams from the crowd, and Prince responds with a strong aggressive vocal. He does work the crowd while singing, punching the air and raising the roof. Things get more interesting from my perspective when he pulls out his guitar and begins to play. With plenty of concentration on his face he plays a gritty break that captures the whole essence of the song in half a minute. There is another verse before Prince starts showboating on the guitar and the song winds down to its conclusion. I like this show already.

Prince Madison Sq 1

1999 is the more traditional opening I could have expected, and the crowd seem to rise as it’s played. I do like the fact that this is a nice clean version, that is the mix is closer to what we heard in the early 80’s without too many embellishments. Prince’s guitar is well in the mix, as is his vocals with the girls. I’m not surprised to hear that this is the abridged version, and the crowd is soon singing ‘party’ with relish. As always my favourite part is near the end as Prince sings “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb” with the guitar accompanying him. It’s all fairly predictable, and yet perfectly enjoyable.
Prince Madison Sq2 A howl on the guitar as the band slow down and the lights turning red signals what’s coming next. After several moans on the guitar Prince sings the opening lines of Little Red Corvette. Another song aimed squarely at the nostalgic market, the crowd trades lines with Prince throughout. I do like the mournful sound of the guitar, I would like to see Prince push that sound much more. Most of the song is shallow in the emotional stakes, and it’s not until Prince goes into the guitar break does the feeling really come out in the song. He first delivers the guitar break as heard on album, before slowing down once again and begins to stretch his notes out. With only slight prompting the audience join in hand clapping, and it does give it a soft live sound. The best is yet to come as Prince gets on the microphone and recreates the moans of the guitar vocally. He moves to the slow down section with some dancing that is suitably gentle, and the crowd softly sings “Slow down”. I had tired of this arrangement, here it once again draws me back in.

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Over the sound of a piano Prince begins some pillow talk to the ladies before the lights come up and The Beautiful Ones commences. This performance here is a knock out. Not only is Prince on the piano and singing well, he is also joined on stage by Misty Copeland dancing. I don’t normally like dancers with Prince, I prefer to concentrate on the music, but Misty adds a lot to the show and I can’t take my eyes of her as she twirls around the stage. Any reservations I might have about the state of Princes voice at this stage of his career are dispelled as he builds to the end of the song, singing to Misty a top of the piano before they both finally disappear into the stage.

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The sound of the Controversy guitar next, and I know exactly what to expect. This performance is very typical of how the song has sounded over the last 5 years. The beat is loud and full, and Princes guitar adds the sharpness that the song needs. His vocals are a little lacklustre, yet the guitar sound is so good I forgive him for that. I lose interest as the crowd and Prince sing “New York” before we have the typical “clap your hands and stomp your feet” chant. He never quite loses me though, and I do enjoy the guitar solo that follows a minute later, for me that is what saves the song from being mundane. Prince cracks me up as he asks Shelby to find him someone to dance with “I want a big fine sexy Momma” One lucky woman is brought up on stage to dance the bump with him, and she looks like she enjoys every moment with him. There is further hilarity as Kim Kardashian comes on stage and stands still while Prince dances around her- before ordering her off the stage. Prince seems to be having a lot of fun with the crowd before eventually winding the song up.

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The set list seems to jump around a lot, there is fast song, slow song, fast song. He keeps to this as the gig again slows down as the opening music of Purple Rain begins. It’s a good one, with the crowd singing away for a bit, before Prince picks some gentle figures out on his guitar. He sings all the verses and he puts plenty into his vocals, there is never the feeling that he is just going through the motions. One thing I have noticed about his shows is that every night he plays Purple Rain, it’s always as you expect to hear, and yet in the last minutes on the guitar break he stretches out and finds new things to play. If not for that I would have probably given up listening to Purple Rain, as it is the one constant from all his shows and something I have heard hundreds of times. Here is no different and it’s the last minute of the guitar solo that I enjoy most.

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The concert takes an upbeat pop turn next as Raspberry Beret begins. Prince is absent at first, having disappeared into the stage at the conclusion of Purple Rain, but he does reappear a minute into the song to encourage the crowd to sing. It’s an interesting version, the first couple of minutes its instrumental, and even once Prince appears it’s sometime before he sings. He does seem to be having a great time, playing with the crowd and teasing them and encouraging them.

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The segue into Cream is smooth, and yet the energy levels seem to drop. The girls are very cool with their backing vocals, all fanning themselves as they sit on the piano. The song is neither here nor there for me, its smooth sounding yet there is nothing in it that I can really latch onto. A lot of people would enjoy it for its smoothness and I can’t really fault the performance.

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I love hearing Cool live, and the performance at this show is something I get a lot of enjoyment out of. Prince gets ?uestlove out of the crowd to play cowbell on the drums with John, and I feel a little sorry for him as he has to reach over John to play- it looks very uncomfortable to me. Prince calls for just the drums and gives ?uestlove a couple of shouts for the crowd to acknowledge. The crowd energy picks up a lot during this song, and I can feel their energy here at home. I do cringe a little at Prince and Shelby dancing, but their smiles and laughter are very infectious and there is no denying that they are having a great time onstage.

Prince runs the band well, as he calls the band to change and stops ?uestlove with a quick “Thanks ?uestlove”.  Ida starts Lets Work with some excellent bass work before the band fill out the sound. As with the last song there is plenty of Shelby and Prince dancing, and the vocals take the backseat a little as the dancing continues.

I was surprised to hear U Got The Look next, after all that dancing the guitar sound catches me off guard. Prince doesn’t bother too much with the song, with a yell of “turn me up” he plays a short yet rocking solo, before the song resumes with another chorus before Prince plays the riff out of the song. As he disappears into the stage again I realize that the song was only a couple of minutes.

There is a lovely long piano intro into Nothing Compares 2 U next. Prince is initially off stage as Renato plays, but he reappears and begins to address the crowd. There is a very touching moment as Prince dedicates the song to Bobby Z and wishes him a quick recovery. He tells that many people helped him along the way and Bobby was “a good fine soldier” He goes on to mention several other causes, before singing the opening lines of the song. It was worth the wait, as his vocals are just brilliant, and he is well accompanied by Shelby. The much maligned Shelby does a fine job, and her voice is strong and clear. The interplay between her and Prince is excellent, and there does seem to be genuine warmth between them. Mr Haynes plays a full organ solo, and with a call of “take us to church” he ups the ante. Not to be out done Prince gives his all for a final verse and chorus before the song ends.

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As the beat of Crazy begins I expect to hear Shelby take the lead vocals, instead is something unexpected, Ceelo Green appears to sing his own song. He gets quite a cheer, but not as loud as Prince gets when he appears and picks up his guitar. His playing is restrained, yet has a touch of fire to it. He doesn’t steal the song from Ceelo, but he certainly puts his stamp on it, there’s no mistaking whose show this is. As much as I prefer to hear Prince sing and play, I do enjoy hearing him just contribute his guitar sound to someone’s song. He adds a lot, without ever taking over the song completely, which I am sure must be a very tempting thing to do.

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Prince keeps his guitar on and calls a series of chords that eventually leads us to Lets Go Crazy. I do like his intro here, there is some extra guitar noodling which is fun and adds a sharpness to a sometimes tired song. I aren’t as enthused by the rest of the song, the keyboards are too bouncy for my tastes and the song doesn’t deviate from what I have heard plenty of times before. I am fortunate that it is kept short and half way Prince transitions into Delirious.

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I was wondering what he could do to freshen up Delirious, but Renato plays a quirky keyboard solo, the likes of which I hadn’t heard before and I am happy with that. As Prince gets the crowd clapping Renato plays another more rockabilly sounding solo on the piano before Mr Hayes takes a turn with the organ. It’s all very Vegas and fun and Prince leads the crowd back into chants of “oh no lets go” over Johns drum beat.

I get my wish for something newer next as Prince plays Dreamer. The opening of it sounds very good as it sounds out, and Prince is focused on his playing. It’s strong on the guitar sound, but this changes midsong as Frédéric Yonnet strolls up on stage and plays energetic harmonica (He does literally stroll up on stage). It gives the song another sound and dimension, that is until Prince reclaims it a moment later with a guitar solo. There is another treat as Prince plays the unreleased Welcome 2 America. Its little more than a few lines and a guitar solo, and a very good solo at that.

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Prince takes a break from the guitar as he sits at the piano. I was hoping for a piano set, but instead he opens with a sample of When Doves Cry. He calls to the crowd “we gonna be here all night, who going to pay the bill?” He doesn’t play much over the sample, after playing the intro and a couple of lines he begins Kiss.

He steps away from the piano to sing Kiss. It’s a very electric sounding arrangement, the keyboards have a very electric sound to them. I aren’t feeling the music, but I do enjoy the performance. Prince is all smiles as he plays with the audience. There is a lot of interaction as he sings and he works most of the stage. The song ends with a single drum beat and Prince dancing alone in the spotlight. He’s not as young as he used to be, yet he still moves smoothly even if his dance moves aren’t as extreme as they used to be. It’s enough to elicit plenty of screams from the ladies in the crowd, and a few men too.

I was half expecting the sampler set before, but it’s only now that he resorts to this box of tricks. He first teases the audience with Nasty Girl as the house lights come up, before another tease of Forever In My Life.

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He then settles on Sign O The Times, which is would be great if not interrupted by him looking at an imaginary watch and wondering aloud “how much time I got”. It does take me right out of the moment. Alphabet Street then gets a couple of lines before something better comes along.

That something better is Love Bizarre, and Prince gives it far more attention as he steps away from the keyboard. I can’t get enough of this song, and do generally enjoy it at every show I hear it. My only complaint here would be that the band sounds a little thin, but that may the recording rather than the performance. There is a fantastic keyboard solo that sticks in my head. That is the high point of the song for me, after this plenty of dancers come on stage as Prince begins to toy with Hot Thing on the sampler.

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I forgive this interlude as he plays a fuller version of Pop Life. It’s definitely full of pop, and there is plenty of smiling faces as he plays it. Prince does hover near the keyboard, choosing not to engage with the dancers on stage too much. It is frustratingly cut short as he lurches into another crowd pleasing I Would Die 4 U.

As good as I Would Die 4 U sounds I don’t get my hopes up too much as I know it will be cut short soon enough. Prince doesn’t disappoint as he quickly dispenses with it and the sampler moves to the next tease.

The next tease is All The Single Ladies, and although they don’t play the song it does provide a funny moment. One guy is enjoying it way too much, and Prince highlights him with the spotlight as he has its moment. It’s very light-hearted, and the guy makes the most of his moment.

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Prince calls for John to play something, and the band strikes up If I Was Your Girlfriend. Prince tells them “I can’t do that, someone might get pregnant” which, although corny, does bring a smile to my face. The band do however continue on and brings sings it from on top his piano. This is a good cleaning recording and the song shines. Prince’s vocals are clear and all the parts I want to hear in the song are there. I am pleased to report too that he does play the full song, now the sampler part of the show has been dispensed with. It’s rare that I have heard this song sound so good, and it’s a good reflection of the show. I must make mention too of Renato, his piano near the end is a nice little touch.

Prince calls the band to play Insatiable, and its sound is every bit as good as the previous song. It’s popular with the audience, I can hear them singing along clearly. The groove is nice and gentle and I love the sound of the organ quivering underneath. Prince does perform as he sings, but it’s mostly his vocals he is concentrating on, and the payoff is great. He does take time later in the song to acknowledge the band, and they do play very well.

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Prince continues in the same vein as next the opening notes of Scandalous sound. This is a great sounding trio of songs, and I think to hear them all together is a great way to near the end of the show. I can’t decide which of them sounds best, but rest assured this one is just as good as the previous two songs. I can’t speak highly enough of the last 10 minutes we have just heard.

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Prince caps all this off with Adore, which has me beside myself. The crowd is on its feet singing and I know just as many people feel about this song as I do. Prince lets them sing at first, but then picks up the microphone to deliver his lines. He sings in his falsetto, and yet still drops down to his natural voice in places. His vocals are passionate, playful, full of character and just downright great to listen to. I have been listening to this song for almost 20 years now and this show is just as fresh as the day I first heard it. I am surprised by the very simple ending as Prince and the girls sink into the stage, a fantastic ending to the show.

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The encore starts out with Prince and the band playing a smashing version of Mountains. Again it’s a nice surprise to hear an old favourite. The girls carry the vocal load well, and Prince isn’t heard until the chorus. The song is very much a band sound, and there is again a lovely moment as Prince calls Bobby Z right before the bridge. The song becomes a jam as they begin to play Shake Your Body. Prince roams the stage, apparently having a lot of fun, even playfully tossing a chair from stage and encouraging a fan to take it. The crowd seems amused and Prince waves at the crowd as they move onto Everyday People. The mood is very upbeat, and this comes across well on the recording, you can almost hear the smiles. I can’t say I’m too surprised as I Want To Take You Higher follows, its completely in character. The crowd is well and truly on their feet and dancing and Frédéric Yonnet returns for another shrill harmonica break. The band hit their groove for the last couple as minutes as Prince solos before dropping his guitar into the crowd. There is one final hurrah before he sinks into the stage for one last time.

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I could not have guessed how must I was going to enjoy this show. For a relatively recent hits show, I was caught off guard by the sheer fun of it. Although I couldn’t pinpoint one moment that made it great, there was enough very good moments to make the whole show one to enjoy. The last half hour of the show was the highlight for me, and a reminder of just how good Prince is every show.

Until next week
Hamish

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